German spooks want to target foreign reporters

And for the same reason they targeted German reporters until they were slapped down by the Bundestag. . .for that matter, for the same reason Richard Nixon illegally spied on reporters in the U.S.

What’s the German word for Plumbers? Oh, yeah: Klempner.

You remember the Plumbers, don’t you?

They were the squad of ex-spooks and other devious souls dispatched by the Nixon White House to find out who was leaking embarrassing things to the White House press corps.

Targets included reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

One special target, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, was even earmarked for assassination before it all went bad for tricky Dick.

So what about those Klempner?

German spooks slapped down

From the 27 May edition of Deutsche Welle:

The German government’s parliamentary committee has confirmed allegations that Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) agents illegally spied on journalists to expose their sources.

The 180-page parliamentary report made public determined that measures taken by the BND against German reporters in an effort to shut off leaks violated the law.

“Regarding the accusations in the press that the Federal Intelligence Service … illegally spied on journalists in order to expose their sources, it is to be ascertained that such observations did take place … these measures were predominantly illegal,” the report read.

BND agents picked through the journalists’ rubbish and traced their research, the report stated. While none of the reporters were bugged, agents used other measures against them to try to uncover their sources, including stealing a box of his papers that one journalist had thrown away and tracing another’s research in the federal archive.

The report, compiled by Gerhard Schäfer on behalf of the committee, also called for the agency “to formally apologize” to the journalists whom it spied on.


The head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, apologized to the media shortly after it was released and promised to take steps to prevent such abuses in future.

“As president of the BND, I apologize for all rights abuses that resulted because of steps taken by the service,” he said.

If at first you don’t succeed. . .

Caught black-handed and dressed down for spying on their own country’s journalists, Germany spooks are trying an end run by getting legislation to spy on non-German reporters covering their country.

During our own journalism career, we’ve encountered lots of reporters from other countries, and one thing we can say for certain is that there’s always a lot of communication between foreign correspondents and domestic reporters in the countries they’re covering.

So spying on the foreign correspondents is sure to turn up a lot of information on and communications with the German press corps.

But the whole idea of spying on the Fortuh Estate has raised a lot of hackles, including officials of the world’s largest intergovernmental security agency, with responsibility for arms control, press freedom, human rights and the promotion of human rights, and fair elections

From the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an official body with representatives from 57 jurisdictions:

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about a proposed law on the German Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND, Bundesnachrichtendienst), which was debated in the Bundestag, Germany’s Federal Parliament, today.

“Increasing surveillance capabilities of journalists is a clear threat to media freedom,” Mijatovic said. “This draft law runs counter to the very core of fundamental freedoms such as media freedom and freedom of expression.”

The draft law increases BND’s capabilities to place foreign journalists under surveillance. Moreover, no exemption is made for the work of journalists, and journalists without citizenship of the European Union can be subjected to surveillance without an explicit court order.

“I call on the German Bundestag to revise the current draft law and ensure proper the protection of journalists regardless of their nationality,” Mijatovic said.

More opposition to the law

Needless to say, journalists themselves are up in arm, as is a leading journalism NGO.

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the German ruling coalition’s parliamentary groups to immediately amend a proposed law on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, in order to prevent the BND from spying on journalists.

The bill empowering the BND to place foreign journalists under surveillance is to be debated in parliament.

Instead of clarifying issues, the federal government has completely abandoned the protection of foreign journalists and is poised to legalize measures that would constitute grave violations of two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and media freedom.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

“We are dismayed to see that Germany’s politicians want to allow our intelligence agency to spy on foreign journalists,” said Christian Mihr, the executive director of RSF’s Berlin bureau.

“Until now, Germany’s intelligence laws have spared journalists but the BND bill no longer includes any provision exempting them from surveillance. The BND has journalists from non-European Union member countries in its sights. The German authorities seem to regard media freedom as an exclusively German right and to be unconcerned about what happens to this freedom beyond their borders.”

Different status according to nationality

The bill would not permit spying on German citizens and would permit only limited spying on the citizens of other EU countries. But it would permit unrestricted spying on the citizens of non-EU countries if it was decided that the result would help to protect Germany.

Exemptions protecting journalists, such as those in paragraph 3 of Germany’s so-called G10 law – a law specifying the restrictions that can be placed on the constitutional right to the confidentiality of email and telecommunications – are completely absent from this proposed law.

The bill would, for example, allow the BND to place the New York Times under surveillance if the newspaper received confidential information that the German authorities regarded as sensitive.

There was an international outcry just a year ago when it was revealed that the US National Security Agency had been spying on the German magazine Der Spiegel. In its current form, this bill would allow the BND to act in a similar fashion. Worse still, it would allow the BND to share the information it obtained with foreign intelligence agencies.

Instead of depriving foreign journalists of the protection enjoyed by their German colleagues, the government should have addressed the shortcomings and omissions in Germany’s legislation.

RSF has repeatedly pointed out that the G10 law protects only professional journalists who are paid for their work. Bloggers, who in practice are unpaid journalists, do not get the same protection. This has major consequences in many countries, especially in dictatorships where ordinary citizens are liable to be persecuted if they try to function as journalists.

“Under the G10 law, these courageous activists become the BND’s unwitting collaborators when they communicate with informants,” Mihr said.

In the light of all these issues, RSF’s German section has decided to file a complaint against the BND. RSF already lodged a complaint with the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig on 30 June 2015, accusing the BND of spying on its email correspondence with its foreign partners and journalists, thereby endangering part of its work. The case is to be heard on 14 December 2016.

RSF’s work is essential both for journalists working in Germany and those working in countries with autocratic regimes (such as Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and China) who exchange sensitive and confidential information with RSF.

Germany is ranked 16th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.


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