Afghan spying scandal grows

Kabul believes Germany’s foreign intelligence service may have spied on several Afghan ministers, a newspaper said on Saturday, after news broke that the agency illicitly monitored the economy minister’s emails.

Afghan spying scandal grows
Bugging row shows dark side of diplomacy. Photo: DPA

The Afghan government believes the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) not only spied on emails between Mohammad Amin Farhang and a reporter for the German news weekly Der Spiegel, but also tapped Farhang’s work and private phones, and may have spied on his colleagues too, according to German regional daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

The fact that half a dozen Afghan ministers speak German may have “facilitated the BND’s work,” the newspaper wrote.

Der Spiegel reported late last week that Farhang had been the target of a spying operation that had involved one of its journalists. Now it is saying the entire computer network of the Afghan trade and industry ministry could have been under surveillance.

The incident of the email spying infuriated Farhang and sparked sharp criticism by a German parliamentary commission against the BND and its chief Ernst Urlau for undermining faith in the agency.

“I am appalled and repelled by these methods, which should not be used in a state respecting the rule of law. Such a thing must never be allowed to happen again,” Farhang told Der Spiegel on Saturday.

Now Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chancellery office is launching a special investigation into whether the BND was spying on other Afghan ministers.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called his Afghan counterpart Rangeen Dadfar Spanta on Saturday to apologize, expressing regret over the spying of emails between Farhang and the journalist, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

Urlau apologised personally to the Der Spiegel, journalist in question, Susanne Koelbl, whose emails were read by BND agents from June to November 2006.

The German government said Friday the incident had not prompted a formal protest from Kabul but that it would make efforts to smooth over matters.

While it remains unclear why the BND had set its sights on Farhang, who has a German passport and lived for several years in Germany, Der Spiegel, said he had been the source for several of its articles in recent years.