Two weeks ago we were informed by Der Spiegel that the NSA was capturing "500 million data points" of voice and e-mail communication of German citizens - each month! The "revelation" unleased a firestorm of anti-American and anti-Merkel frenzy. According Spiegel columnist Jakob Augstein Obama had transformed the US to a totalitarian state whose mission was to "control" Germany. His colleague Sascha Lobo had a real hissy fit ("man hat ein fucking Recht darauf, in einem fucking Rechtsstaat mit einer fucking beachteten Verfassung zu leben.") And the story dominated the campaign of SPD candidate Peer Steinbrück, who over and over again essentially accused German chancellor Angela Merkel of treason (" Jeden Monat wurden 500 Millionen persönliche Verbindungsdaten von uns abgesaugt... ahrelange, millionenfache Grundrechtsverletzung“).
Just one problem for Augstein, Steinbrück, Spiegel & Co: The massive spying on German citizens by the NSA never happened. First, the "500 million data points" were collected by the GERMAN intelligence service BND, and transfered to the NSA after any reference to German citizens was scrubbed. Second, the data involved communication data from Afghanistan - nothing to do with Germany. The truth was finally acknowledged in Der Spiegel:
Should the BND information be correct, it could provide Berlin a convenient way to save face. The data gathered in Bad Aibling apparently would seem to relate to the BND's legal foreign surveillance targets, which consists primarily of data transmitted in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
In response to inquiries, the BND confirmed that it does transmit connection data to the NSA. But it notes: "Before metadata relating to other countries is passed on, it is purged, in a multistep process, of any personal data about German citizens it may contain." According to the BND, its surveillance does not apply to German telecommunications and German citizens. In addition, say BND officials, there is currently no reason to believe that the "NSA gathers personal data on German citizens in Germany."
Still, Der Spiegel is trying to gin up a scandal, implying that the decades-long cooperation between the NSA and the BND is somehow illegitimate.The respected Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was much harsher in its assessment, blasting Steinbrück for his defamatory accusations: 500 Millionen Irrtümer (5oo Million Mistakes):
Die (SPD) hatte die Diskussion über den Umgang der Vereinigten Staaten mit weltweit geschürften persönlichen Daten aus sozialen Netzwerken, Internetsurfing oder Telefonaten nutzen wollen, um die Bundesregierung mit der Kanzlerin an der Spitze als Marionette der NSA zu denunzieren. Das ist nun vorerst missglückt, und Peer Steinbrück hat seinen Ruf gefestigt, mitunter unbedachte Äußerungen zu tätigen.
For Augstein, Steinbrück, Spiegel & Co America is always the bogeyman, but this particular line of attack evidently blew up in their face.