July 21, 2013 4:04 pm

Surveillance claims cast cloud over Merkel’s campaign

Revelations about intensified co-operation between German and US intelligence services are weighing on chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election campaign amid fresh protests against US surveillance of German citizens.

Der Spiegel, the German magazine, claimed in a report on Saturday the US National Security Agency has provided German intelligence services with an NSA espionage tool known as XKeyscore.

Quoting a secret NSA document obtained by Edward Snowden, the US intelligence contractor turned whistleblower, Der Spiegel also reported that the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service “has been working to influence the German government to relax interpretation of the privacy laws over the long term to provide greater opportunities of intelligence sharing.”

Responding to the claims Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV German domestic intelligence agency, told Bild am Sonntag the BfV had tested the NSA software but had not put it into operation.

Gerhard Schindler, head of the BND, told the same newspaper that there had been no “monthly passing of millions of data from Germany to the NSA” via his agency.

Der Spiegel’s previous reporting that the NSA is obtaining around 500m German metadata every month – in part via the NSA’s use of the same XKeyscore software – has stirred up a political furore in Germany due to the country’s history of domestic spying under the Nazi Gestapo and East German Stasi.

Claims about US surveillance have received huge media coverage ahead of German federal elections in September although it remains unclear whether opposition attacks on Ms Merkel will sway voters come polling day.

An ARD poll last week found 69 per cent of Germans are dissatisfied with the government’s efforts to shine a light on the NSA affair. However, a similar proportion say the matter is not an important electoral issue for them.

The German government values intelligence co-operation with the US in the fight against terrorism and yet is under pressure to assure voters it is not subservient to Washington and  takes seriously their concerns about privacy.

In depth

US Security State

US security state

Analysis of revelations about the extent of the surveillance state in the US

On Friday Ms Merkel’s scheduled pre-holiday news conference was dominated by the NSA affair.

The chancellor insisted that Germany is “not a surveillance state” and she tried to seize the initiative by outlining an eight-point plan to improve data security.

However, German media found her answers about NSA programmes lacking in specifics and derided her insistence on patience for the US to provide more answers.

Keith Alexander, NSA director, had earlier made a German fact-finding mission to Washington appear weak and ineffectual by telling an audience at the Aspen Security Forum last week: “We don’t tell them everything we do or how we do it. Now they know.”

Around 450 German protesters staged a colourful and deliberately ironic protest in front of suspected NSA listening post known as the Dagger Complex in the village of Griesheim, near Frankfurt, at the weekend.

The protesters brought binoculars and cameras to the high-security facility in order to “spy” on the NSA. Anti-surveillance protests are scheduled to take place in large cities across Germany on July 27 under the motto: “Stop Watching Us”.

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