surveillance case

States, Secrets and Scapegoats

freedom of press dpa_distort
Protesting for freedom of the press in Berlin.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Coalition partners in Germany’s government are protecting themselves in the scandal, says the author.

  • Facts


    • The current case involved publication over the Internet of confidential government documents, concerning plans to monitor social media in the fight against terrorism.
    • Two bloggers from the Berlin-based Netzpolitik website reported they were being investigated for treason.
    • In 1962, the newsweekly Der Spiegel published secret defense ministry documents. The newspaper was raided and editors jailed, but courts later ruled in Der Spiegel’s favor. The defense minister at the time lost his job.
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The shrill chorus of those calling for the head of Hans-Georg Maassen is really only about one thing – finding another patsy.

Mr. Maassen, president of the Office for Protection of the Constitution, was only obeying his directives, by trying to protect an official or even a state secret.

He did pretty much what the chief executive of Apple, Google or BMW would have done if they had suspected industrial espionage. He got his legal department involved and reported the incident.

But Mr. Maassen is head of the German secret service – he doesn’t sell computers or automobiles – so the treason affair is a political one.

It’s no coincidence that the interior minister, who is also in charge of protecting the Constitution, is Mr. Maassen’s boss.

Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister, can give the latter directives, especially in the case of tricky issues like “treason.” Indeed, the affair is a classic example of a case where “can” should sometimes be replaced by “must.”

So far, Mr. de Maizière has managed to avoid any clear statement about his responsibility in the matter. One thing is clear: He was the only person who could have prevented the politically calamitous scandal at an early stage – quickly and above all quietly.

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