Berlin wanted Washington to agree to hands-off rules on spying to help mend fences after Edward Snowden. Now Germany is convinced the best bet is a deal with European partners.
BERLIN — The German government is currently negotiating an anti-espionage pact with fellow European Union allies that would prohibit these countries from spying on one another. As confidential talks about such a European "no-spy pact" continue in Berlin, details are starting to emerge.
The objective of the agreement is to ban political and economic espionage among the participating countries. No such current ban exists. Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the center of Britain’s Signal Intelligence activities, is the agency the German government believes has conducted the most extensive data gathering within Europe.
Documents provided by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden show, for example, that the British have been monitoring large numbers of emails sent by German citizens, and listening in on phone calls. The GCHQ is thought to have access to three fiberglass cables via which most of Germany’s overseas communication take place. From the roof of its embassy in Berlin, the British are also alleged to have spied on government communication in Berlin.
The United States has no intention of halting its monitoring of German government officials. Apparently President Barack Obama’s administration believes in taking every possible step to protect the country from terrorism, and all frontiers have long been crossed in that endeavor.
In intelligence circles, France traditionally has had the reputation of specializing in targeted economic espionage — also in Europe. Its foreign intelligence service, the DGSE, is believed to systematically monitor telephone calls, emails and social networks.
The pact currently being shaped would only allow monitoring of this type to take place for pre-agreed purposes such as suspicion of terrorism or dissemination of weapons of mass destruction. The foreign intelligence services of all 28 EU states would also agree not to ask other intelligence services for information about their own citizens should seeking such information conflict with national legislation. In the past, such requests were often seen as a way of chipping away at national data protection laws.
The idea for the pact came about in 2013. When first reports appeared of a German-American no-spy agreement, which is now at risk of not being finalized, several European countries expressed interest in joining up. But to avoid further complications of already difficult talks, the German government refused.
Instead, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, invited representatives of European intelligence services to Berlin for formal talks. Within the EU, Chancellor Angela Merkel had been promoting the idea of an agreement on joint standards for intelligence services, and she charged the BND with organizing talks, a government spokeswoman said.
The negotiations are “an ongoing process of confidential talks.” Three rounds of these talk have taken place so far under the leadership of BND Vice President Guido Müller.
A no-spy agreement between Germany and the U.S. had been intended to patch up transatlantic relations after the NSA affair. But it has long been clear that the U.S. is not interested in such an arrangement. Berlin is believed to have recently lost hope for such a pact.
According to sources close to negotiations for the EU pact, the various intelligence services mostly see eye-to-eye on the objectives. But some countries, notably Britain, would rather not have a formal agreement. The possibility of issuing a joint statement instead of an official pact is also being considered.