Germany: Discussing anti-spying deal with US

DPA Berlin | Updated on August 14, 2013

The United States stopped short on Tuesday of confirming a German cabinet minister’s assertion that Berlin and Washington are discussing an unprecedented anti-spying agreement.

Ronald Pofalla, who holds ministerial rank as chief of staff of The German Chancellery, said on Monday that initial contacts had been held between German intelligence officials and the US National Security Agency (NSA).

He said full talks would get under way this month on what he called a unique opportunity to set standards for the future work of Western intelligence services.

In Washington, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told dpa Tuesday that the US had “been consulting closely with the German Government to hear their concerns and ensure that our close cooperation on counter-terrorism and intelligence remains as effective as possible.” She did not directly address Pofalla’s claims.

“We have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” she said, pointing to remarks last week by President Barack Obama that the US was “not interested on spying on ordinary people” and focussed only on potential terrorist plots.

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency told dpa on Tuesday that its chief, Gerhard Schindler, had written to the NSA chief on August 9 calling for talks to begin quickly with the goal of working out an agreement.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Monday he was establishing a group to review the spying programmes as part of a move announced last week to increase transparency and restore confidence in the Government.

Clapper has been criticised for not telling the truth about the programmes in congressional testimony before the surveillance programmes became public.

After the White House drew criticism for Clapper’s role in the review, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden clarified that the review panel would be selected by the White House in consultation with the intelligence community and would not report to Clapper.

She described Clapper’s role as “facilitation” for the group, which he would not direct or lead.

Pofalla revealed the intelligence talks after a lengthy meeting with German opposition legislators, who have been critical of the response by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government to alleged US internet data collection.

Already this month, Germany scrapped decades-old agreements under which it shared surveillance data with the United States, as well as Britain and France. The agreements related to telecommunications intercepts in cases of safety risks to US, British and French troops based in then-West Germany.

Merkel’s Government has said it is reviewing the scale of intelligence cooperation with the NSA after fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden began revelations two months ago of US Government programmes to harvest telephone and email meta-data.

Snowden has received temporary asylum in Russia.

Merkel’s Government has insisted that the BND and the BfV domestic security agency are in control of any sharing of intercepts and have complied with Germany law.

The Snowden case has thrust privacy issues into the debate ahead of German national elections on September 22.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Tuesday with Brazilian officials in a bid to smooth relations after Snowden’s allegations that Brazil was the Latin American country that the United States spied on the most by intercepting electronic and phone communications over the last decade.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota after meeting with Kerry in Brasilia that the surveillance issue was “a new kind of challenge” that could cast “a shadow of mistrust” on relations.

Kerry said that Obama was willing to give explanations but also urged a focus on shared US and Brazilian goals.

Patriota said that explanations were not “an end in themselves.”

“Explanations do not mean that we accept the status quo,” he said.

Published on August 14, 2013

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