BND chief reprimanded over journalist spying scandal

The intelligence committee of the German parliament issued a sharp reprimand on Thursday to Germany's BND intelligence service for spying on German journalists reporting on Afghanistan, but stopped short of demanding that its director resign.

BND chief reprimanded over journalist spying scandal
BND Director Ernst Uhrlau. Photo: DPA

Parliament’s relationship with the leadership of the BND is destroyed, committee Chairman Thomas Oppermann, a Social Democrat, said on Thursday after a two-hour hearing with BND director Ernst Uhrlau. The intelligence service said it would replace the heads of some divisions and other administrative positions.

The committee called the depth and intensity of the spying into emails between a German reporter from newsmagazine Der Spiegel and an Afghan politician a serious violation of civil rights, in a unanimous statement read by Oppermann.

German spies read and saved emails sent over a six-month period – June through November 2006 – between Spiegel reporter Susanne Koelbl and Afghan trade and industry minister Amin Farhang, according to the newsmagazine. Uhrlau told the reporter she had been spied on, and apologized, last Friday.

According to the magazine’s website, Spiegel Online, the reporter was not the original target of the probe. Her emails were caught by a spyware program installed on Farhang’s computer.

The parliament committee said on Thursday the emails should have been deleted as soon as the BND realized they were from a German.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat, criticized the spying and said BND employees should feel especially bound to follow the law. “It’s especially aggravating when they violate the law,” he told German news agency DPA.

Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele said Uhrlau is personally responsible and called on him to resign.

Reports earlier on Thursday showed the spying could have reached farther than the Spiegel offices.

According to a report in the Thursday edition of daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung, German spooks spied on journalists up until last year. Ulrich Tilgner, a former correspondent for German public broadcaster ZDF, told the paper a high-ranking German diplomat in the Afghan capital Kabul warned him in 2007 he was under surveillance due to local contacts he made while investigating the case of an abducted German engineer.

“It was at that moment that it became clear to me that the laws in place in Germany are apparently tossed away by German officials abroad,” Tilgner told the paper.