Merkel aide denies wrongdoing in German-US spy affair

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 11:36 AM
Merkel aide denies wrongdoing in German-US spy affair

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's top security official denied any wrongdoing after appearing Thursday before a parliamentary committee over allegations that the country's spy agency acted against national interests in its cooperation with U.S. counterparts.

The government has faced scrutiny over what the chancellery knew, and when, of the Federal Intelligence Service's activities since a report last month suggested it may have helped the U.S. spy on European companies and officials as long ago as 2008. It issued a tightlipped statement acknowledging "shortcomings" at the agency, known by its German acronym BND.

The agency is overseen by the chancellor's chief of staff — a post current Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere held from 2005 to 2009. De Maiziere and incumbent Peter Altmaier both were to testify behind closed doors Wednesday to the parliamentary panel overseeing intelligence services.

German weekly Der Spiegel has reported that the BND for years monitored telecoms traffic using filters provided by the U.S. National Security Agency, and that by 2008 German intelligence agents discovered that some of the filters — known as selectors — related to European arms companies and French authorities.

De Maiziere told reporters after his testimony that he didn't hear anything in 2008 of "search terms from the U.S. side, selectors or similar for the purpose of economic espionage in Germany." He said there was no talk of company names either.

He said that, in 2008, there was a request from the U.S. to expand cooperation that he termed "problematic" and was rejected. He wouldn't go into details but said the rejected cooperation would have involved ditching "safeguard measures" at Germany's Bad Aibling spy station.

"Nothing remains of the accusations against me," de Maiziere asserted.

The latest affair has raised awkward questions for Merkel, who said following reports in 2013 that the NSA snooped on her cellphone that spying on friends is unacceptable.

Merkel, Germany's chancellor since 2005, said this week she still believes that shouldn't happen and that she is willing to testify before a separate parliamentary inquiry already looking into the NSA's activities.