Turkey Spying

Berlin Must Ensure Intelligence Services Operate Within the Law

Erdogan and Merkel. Source Reuters
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's working relationship may be soured by revelations of German intelligence services spying on Turkey.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s intelligence-gathering agencies can’t operate outside the law. The country’s secret service’s operations need to be critically reviewed to ensure they have a clear legal basis.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) allegedly intercepted telephone calls to and from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.
    • There’s an increased interest in Turkey because of its proximity to some of the globe’s most troublesome conflicts.
    • Despite the importance of spy agencies in protecting the nations they serve, they should be held accountable to the rule of law.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Not long ago Germans were up in arms about the escalation of spying activities by U. S. intelligence gathering agencies, but now the Americans are outraged by the activities of the German Federal Intelligence Service, the BND.

The intelligence service apparently has been spying on Germany’s allies. There is evidence that it has been tapping into data compiled by NATO ally Turkey for years while intercepting phone calls from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, as a “byproduct” of spying efforts.

Intelligence agencies exist to siphon off information from abroad to ensure the security of the nation. Outrage from friends or allies should be muted by that understanding.

It’s more plausible than surprising that the BND would be deeply interested in Turkey, a nation that is an important yet problematic partner located in the middle of a region riven by political and military crises. Yet the BND and the German federal government find themselves in the awkward position of justifying their actions just weeks after they excoriated the United States for similar activities.

Intelligence agencies exist to siphon off information from abroad to ensure the security of the nation. Outrage from friends or allies should be muted by that understanding.

What’s the difference between the behaviour of the U.S. and German spy agencies? What kind of espionage is necessary and what kind is required in these difficult times? What eavesdropping methods are consistent with the law? Or are the secret services worldwide already beyond any control?

Politicians in Germany this weekend were quick to dismiss accusations of spying on allies. Foreign politicians were reportedly not specifically targeted by intelligence operations, they said. However, should any such intelligence activities have happened unintentionally, the findings reportedly would be erased. But it is questionable whether that has happened up until now.

Despite its importance, Turkey is not viewed in Berlin as comparable to its European allies or the United States. Turkey is indispensable to Germany’s domestic security. The official line is that spying on Turkey is indispensable for Germany’s domestic security.

That may be so, but even intelligence-gathering agencies can’t operate outside the law. It is time the German secret service’s operations were critically reviewed to ensure they have a clear legal basis. Control mechanisms on spying should also be examined. Doing anything else undermines the legitimacy not only of the secret services themselves, but also of democracy and the rule of law.

This article was translated by James Breen. To contact the author: kersting@handelsblatt.com

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