Germany needs to quickly clear up spy charges: Steinmeier

Reuters News
Posted: May 01, 2015 11:31 AM

By Andreas Rinke

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The German government needs to quickly clear up accusations that its BND foreign intelligence agency helped the United States spy on government officials and firms in Europe such as Airbus Group, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday.

The reports in Der Spiegel magazine that the BND helped the U.S. National Security Agency over 10 years embarrassed Germany and upset many in a country where surveillance is a sensitive topic due to abuses by the Nazis and the East German Stasi.

The magazine also reported in its Friday edition that the BND in 2013 ordered staff to delete 12,000 internet "selectors" -- IP addresses, email addresses and phone numbers of German government officials -- that it had been tracking for the NSA.

"We've got to work to clear this up as quickly as possible to know what happened -- and what didn't happen," Steinmeier said during a visit to the Slovenian capital. He said the focus of the investigation should be in parliament.

Steinmeier, a leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left grand coalition government, declined to comment when asked whether the scandal was tarnishing Germany's reputation.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a close ally of Merkel and her chief of staff from 2005 to 2009, denied that he lied to parliament about intelligence cooperation with the NSA. Her chancellery has said that since 2008 it was aware of the NSA interest in spying on European defense firms, even though parliament was told in 2014 it had no information about that.

The SPD's deputy leader, general secretary Yasmin Fahimi, joined in the criticism of the chancellery by left-wing opposition and the media on Friday.

"The chancellery's supervision of the BND was a total failure," she told the Passauer Neue Presse daily. "It's responsible to make sure the intelligence agency behaves."

German media have also reported that BND officials helped U.S. agencies spy on the French president's office, the foreign ministry in Paris and the European Commission.

Airbus Group said on Thursday it planned to complain to German authorities over reports the BND had helped the United States to spy on it and other European firms.

When allegations emerged in 2013 that the United States had bugged Merkel's mobile phone, she declared: "Spying among friends is not at all acceptable".

(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Janet Lawrence)