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Konrad Werner: Who’s really in charge?

We now know that the BND is just as uncontrolled and unaccountable as the NSA. And Angela Merkel's administration seems to have no idea what's going on.

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So now we know why Angela Merkel didn’t seem all that upset over the whole NSA thing. It’s because last week we found out that the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s version of the NSA, has been using the same “selectors” (mobile phone numbers, email addresses) to trawl-spy through the communications of its own diplomats, a French foreign minister, the World Health Organization, the United Nations children’s organization UNICEF, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Up until now, Germany’s story had been that the NSA had done all the mass-data trawling, and the BND had merely helped out, without questioning the rights and wrongs too much, and anyway they had to, because otherwise the USA wouldn’t share their intel. The “What were we gonna do? It was blackmail!” line was helped out by middle-class Germany’s readiness to blame the USA for everything. This always plays into the German government’s hands in a crisis. But it turns out that the German intelligence agencies are at least as zealous and unaccountable – the main difference being that they have fewer resources, and are apparently a lot tighter, or at least that’s what the lack of a German Snowden suggests.

In this light, Merkel’s outburst on the issue – “Spying among friends is just not on!” (something she only said after it turned out that her mobile phone was being tapped by the NSA – rather than merely those of the people she represents) now sounds a bit different. What could she have meant? Either her outrage was just pretend, or she had never been informed exactly what the BND did. OR: the BND just spies on whoever the hell it likes and doesn’t tell anyone in the government about it. Much like with the NSA, that’s the conclusion you’d have to come to, but it would be weird, given that spying on the WHO and UNICEF obviously isn’t about maintaining security, but about being scared about knowing less than anyone else – in other words it’s about politics and power. And you’d think that was the government’s turf.

Obviously the German government functions like every other government (and in fact most people) – only admit what you can no longer deny. And it seems like the BND follows a similar information-sharing policy with Merkel’s government. So who’s in charge round here?