Your Friend and Neighbor

VIENNA/BERLIN | | oesterreich

VIENNA/BERLIN (Own report) - The United Nations is protesting against the surveillance of its Vienna-based institutions conducted for years by the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND). The Vienna International Center ("UNO City") "expects" that member states "respect the organization's independence as well as the inviolability of its premises." According to recent reports, from 1999 to 2006, the BND had monitored at least 2000 communication lines in Austria including those of the Vienna Chancellery and 128 telecommunication lines of the United Nations. The BND's espionage in Austria has been known since 2015, but never clarified, because the competent German authorities, including the German Chancellery, refused to render Vienna the necessary assistance. The BND is accused of repeatedly refusing to tell the intelligence service monitors their reasons for spying, for example, on a "public body" of an EU member state. At the time of the large-scale spying in Austria, the current German President bore the highest responsibility for BND activities.

Known Since 2015

The fact that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has been conducting large-scale surveillance of targets in Austria has basically been known already since 2015, when a list of so-called selectors became public, which could be assigned to persons and organizations in Austria. Selectors are, for example, e-mail addresses or telephone numbers, whose data streams can be searched to investigate the communication of their owners. It also became known in 2015 that the BND had systematically siphoned off data of a communication line between Luxembourg and Vienna - with the support of the German Telekom.[1] Austrian administrations were also tapped. Austria was not the only partner country, whose government had been spied on by the BND in cooperation with the US military intelligence service NSA, which had furnished important computer programs in exchange for data collected by the BND. Reports in 2015 revealed that the French foreign ministry, the Elysée Palace and the EU Commission were also systematically being tapped. These activities were aimed at "political spying on our European neighbors and EU institutions," an insider was quoted.[2] Already at the time, observers had suspected that the BND and the NSA were particularly targeting international organizations based in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was explicitly mentioned, in whose network the NSA-suspected "Regin" spy malware had already previously been discovered.

Clarification Prevented

Attempts by Austrian authorities to obtain clarification on German espionage in their country were obstructed by the competent German authorities, including the German Chancellery. As soon as the BND's cyber espionage came to light, criminal charges were filed in Austria, the Director of the Austrian Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Peter Gridling reported.[3] However, the investigation in Germany by Vienna's states attorney's office was unsuccessful, because the competent German authorities refused to assist clarification of the case. "Germany's Federal Prosecutor General turned down a request for legal assistance by Vienna's states attorney's office," while top BND officials "repeatedly pointed out" that assisting in the investigation would be "a political decision" that "would have to be made by the Chancellery." Between December 17, 2013 and March 14, 2018, Peter Altmaier was Minister of the Chancellery and therefore, the final authority over BND activities. Altmaier is today Minister of the Economy and is considered one of Chancellor Angela Merkel's closet confidants.

UN, OSCE, IAEA, ...

Austrian media reports gave an impression of the extent of German espionage activities at the end of last week - only an impression, because according to German sources, the list of selectors currently in circulation in Austria only includes a portion of the BND's targets in the neighboring country.[4] It is clear that Germany was not only spying on the Austrian Chancellery, its foreign and defense ministries, but also on numerous embassies, including those of Russia, and Iran, along with the diplomatic missions of France, Greece, Sweden and the United States. Altogether, 75 embassy communication lines were affected. The BND targeted journalists and religious communities, as well as large companies and financial institutions (Voest, Bank Austria, Raiffeisen Central Bank), arms producers (Glock) and Austrian branches of multinational corporations (Ericsson, Bombardier). German intelligence was particularly interested in the Vienna-based international organizations. The BND "vacuum cleaned" data from at least 128 United Nations telecommunications lines. The BND was spying on the OSCE and the IAEA.

Control Impossible

The United Nations has now protested this spying on its Vienna offices. In a press statement Monday, the spokesperson for Vienna's UNO City, Martin Nesirky, pointed to the UN's "Privileges and Immunities." "We just underline that the UN Secretary-General expects the Member States to respect the independence of the organization and the inviolability of the premises," namely, "in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the UN Privileges and Immunities Convention."[5] Meanwhile, the German government has dissociated itself from these espionage measures. The actual substance of such a dissociation should not really be taken too seriously. In fact, last week it was reported that the BND is de facto still in the process of undermining supervision imposed last year in a revision of the BND Act. For example, the agency is now required to have approval for its sensitive surveillance measures. However, it regularly "refuses" to provide its designated supervisors with "information, or in some cases gives them redacted documents." It still is hesitating to respond to why a "public body" of an EU member country was being spied on.[6] Proper monitoring of intelligence activity is still practically impossible.

The BND's Top Supervisor

Germany's current Minister of the Economy, as Minister of the German Chancellery at the time, bore the responsibility for Germany refusing assistance to Austrian officials in solving this issue of German espionage in their country. The responsibility for the espionage itself - which according to current reports, began in 1999 and lasted until, at least, 2006 - lies with the former Minister of the Chancellery, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Germany's current president had had the supreme supervision over Germany's foreign intelligence service, which was directly subordinate to the chancellery. This holds true not only for the BND's Austrian espionage activities, but also for its implication in the CIA's "anti-terrorism" activities, which included kidnapping terrorist suspects around the world and having them interrogated in notorious torture centers. Among those supervising the CIA's torture centers at the time, is the current CIA Director, Gina Haspel, who in 2002, was heading the CIA's torture center in Thailand. And Germany's current president is among those, who made sure that the German intelligence officers provided the legwork. (For example in Lebanon or Syria, german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7])

 

[1] See also The New German Arrogance (II).

[2] See also Die neue deutsche Arroganz.

[3] Srdjan Govedarica: BND-Überwachung "nicht neu" für Österreich. tagesschau.de 18.06.2018.

[4] Fabian Schmid, Markus Sulzbacher: Die Liste: Wen der deutsche Geheimdienst in Österreich ausspähte. derstandard.at 15.06.2018.

[5] BND-Überwachung: Wiener UNO-City pocht auf "Unverletzlichkeit". nachrichten.at 19.06.2018.

[6] Reiko Pinkert, Ronen Steinke: Mauern, schwärzen, schweigen. sueddeutsche.de 14.06.2018.

[7] See also Die deutsche Weltpolitik und ihr Minister and A President's Policy.