National Security Agency whistleblowers Thomas Drake and William Binney will testify before a German parliamentary committee on July 3. They both will give testimony as part of an inquiry into details of NSA surveillance in Germany, which have been revealed through news stories based upon documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
German parliamentary members had been discussing the possibility of sending an “informal delegation” to Moscow for an “informal discussion” with Snowden. He did not want to provide testimony from within Russia. As a result, Snowden declined to testify, according to Jesselyn Radack, one of Snowden’s legal advisors and the national security & human rights director at the Government Accountability Project (GAP).
Radack will be present as a legal advisor to Drake and has been authorized by the parliamentary inquiry to speak about the “legal conditions” in which Drake is testifying before the committee, including the risks he may be taking when considering he was “prosecuted for disclosing information concerning intelligence services.”
The Bundestag committee of inquiry, which consists of eight members of parliament, decided upon a “mandate” for this inquiry in March. A copy of it indicates the committee will likely be asking questions about surveillance by the “Five Eyes” states—United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—and their collection of data and interception of communications in Germany.
The committee will also ask about how data was collected, retained, checked and analyzed by surveillance programs operated by the NSA and the British spy agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), as well as how private companies helped these agencies. It also hopes to learn more information on the use of diplomatic missions or military sites for surveillance and to what extent German, European or international laws were violated.
Recent stories in the German newspaper Der Spiegel have rekindled interest in NSA activities in Germany. Der Spiegel reported on June 18 that documents show a close cooperation between the NSA and the Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND, German’s foreign intelligence agency. The BND apparently played a key role in working with the NSA’s Special Source Operations to tap a fiber-optic cable. The two agencies then conspired together to cover up evidence that personnel had been involved in such spying activity.
Der Spiegel noted, “Heavyweight constitutional law experts Hans-Jürgen Papier, Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem and Matthias Bäcker stated that the BND is potentially violating the German constitution by working with data received from the NSA. Furthermore, they argued that basic constitutional rights such as the privacy of correspondence, post and telecommunications apply to Germans abroad and to foreigners in Germany. That would mean that surveillance performed by the BND and NSA is constitutionally unacceptable.”
This relationship between US intelligence and German intelligence, as well as the relationship between the US and German government, which Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama both wish to maintain, is believed to have played a key role in stymying efforts to bring Snowden to Germany to testify. Merkel did not want to visit the US in May and face the issue of Snowden visiting Berlin.
When this news broke, Radack was in Germany. She thought Germany was having a “June 2013 moment” because it was like when NSA revelations first broke in the United States. The BND had been denying cooperation and “people were actually taking it really seriously,” especially because of the country’s unique surveillance history with the Stasi.
“No other country in Europe plays host to a secret NSA surveillance architecture comparable to the one in Germany. It is a web of sites defined as much by a thirst for total control as by the desire for security. In 2007, the NSA claimed to have at least a dozen active collection sites in Germany.”
Additionally, “The documents indicate that the NSA uses its German sites to search for a potential target by analyzing a ‘Pattern of Life,’ in the words of one Snowden file. And one classified report suggests that information collected in Germany is used for the ‘capture or kill’ of alleged terrorists.”
“According to Paragraph 99 of Germany’s criminal code,” Der Spiegel explained, “spying is illegal on German territory, yet German officials would seem to know next to nothing about the NSA’s activity in their country. For quite some time, it appears, they didn’t even want to know. It wasn’t until Snowden went public with his knowledge that the German government became active.”
Documents show a European Technical Center (ETC) in the south-central German city of Wiesbaden is a “primary communications hub” and intercepts and forwards data to “NSAers, warfighters and foreign partners in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.”
Another project in Wiesbaden, the Consolidated Intelligence Center, is being built for $124 million and will have “data-monitoring specialists” that will have even more vast capabilities to scoop up data than the ETC currently possesses.
For those unfamiliar, Drake and Binney are senior NSA officials who worked through “proper channels” to challenge the collection of phone calls and Internet communications of millions of Americans. Drake and Binney, along with two other NSA whistleblowers, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis, grew concerned about an NSA program called Trailblazer, which became a private contractor boondoggle that would not appropriately protect Americans’ privacy when collecting data.
When going through channels was failing to produce results, he communicated with reporter Siobhan Gorman, who at the time was working for the Baltimore Sun.
Subsequently, Binney, Loomis, Wiebe and a House Intelligence Committee staffer Diane Roark, who had been working with them to challenge NSA programs, each had their homes raided by FBI agents. The government suspected they were sources for a story on NSA warrantless wiretapping in the New York Times by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. Drake also became a target as well and was charged with violating the Espionage Act. He faced the prospect of serving multiple decades in prison if convicted until the government’s case collapsed in 2011. (For more, watch FRONTLINE’s “United States of Secrets“ which tells the story in full detail.)
Radack concluded this is Germany’s “chance at some accountability.” Unlike US politicians, German politicians actually want to hear from NSA whistleblowers. They will be eager to hear about whatever the two whistleblowers have to share on the NSA’s spying activities in their country.