It’s not every day that Angela Merkel faces a parliamentary investigative committee, but her testimony on Thursday was needed to wrap up an investigation extending over three years into surveillance activities in Germany by the U.S. National Security Agency and its collaboration with the German Federal Intelligence Service, the BND.
The chancellor, who is seeking a fourth term in September, answered questions from lawmakers over seven hours. She repeated earlier public statements that she was unaware of the extent of spying operations between U.S. and German intelligence services.
“I knew nothing about it,” Merkel told committee members, according to news agency Reuters. “I had trusted my former chief of staff.”
The parliamentary investigation was launched a year after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed secret U.S. eavesdropping operations in 2013. The activities included hacking phones of German government officials, including Ms. Merkel.
The revelation caused a diplomatic spat with the Obama administration, prompting the chancellor later to declare that “spying among friends is simply not done.”
But reports later revealed that the BND, which is overseen by the chancellery, had been cooperating with the NSA to spy on allies and on German companies for years.
“Spying among friends is simply not done.”
Ms. Merkel admitted having no knowledge of how closely German intelligence officers cooperated with their U.S. counterparts until 2015, long after reports of her cellphone being bugged by U.S. spies.
Throughout the inquiry, Ms. Merkel stuck to much of what she had said in the past.
The chancellor reiterated that she first heard about the German intelligence service’s alleged cooperation with the U.S. agency in 2015, from her chief of staff Peter Altmaier. She said she “could not have known” about the collaboration in Germany because she had nothing to do with it.
In 2013, it emerged that American intelligence officials supplied so-called selectors, consisting of IP addresses, emails and phone numbers, for the BND to download into its monitoring systems to spy on targets.
The German agency provided the Americans with intelligence data, which was later revealed to be on companies, organizations and politicians in Western Europe, including Germany. The targets of this corporate espionage allegedly included Airbus, previously called European Aeronautic Defense and Space, or EADS, and helicopter maker Eurocopter.
At the start of the week, the parliamentary committee questioned Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, the state secretary of intelligence in Ms. Merkel’s chancellery, about Germany’s collaboration with the NSA. Asked about the selectors, Mr. Fritsche passed the blame on to the BND, claiming the agency had not adequately checked the hundreds of thousands of selectors provided by the NSA.
The German parliament has since barred the BND from engaging in corporate and political espionage in other European Union countries and institutions, and has been given new powers to keep watch over the country’s top spy agency.
At the inquiry, the chancellor said again that “spying among friends” was unacceptable, adding,“If that happens, we need to intervene.”
And the German leader also defended her government’s failed attempt to strike a mutual “no-spy” agreement with the United States, admitting that her efforts fell short despite “intensive work.”
Ronald Pofalla, her former chief of staff tasked with coordinating Germany’s intelligence activities, was accused of lying about Berlin and Washington negotiating an agreement not to spy on each other when, in reality, there was no firm commitment from the Obama administration to negotiate such a deal.
Mr. Pofalla announced the talks shortly before federal elections.
The parliamentary committee aims to complete its report by the end of June.
John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org