Frustrated by news emerging from hearings of the Bundestag’s NSA Committee of Inquiry about NSA spying on Austrians, fed up with the Austrian federal government’s failure to act against foreign intelligence services operating on Austrian soil and suspicious that the NSA circumvents local laws on data collection by getting the data from partners in other European countries, Der Standard columnist Fabian Schmid reports that every party represented in the Austrian parliament is united in demanding ‘all diplomatic measures’ be taken to prevent this from continuing.
Columnist Fabian Schmid describes a growing sense among Austrian lawmakers that only the creation of their own NSA Investigative Committee will permit them to get to the bottom of just how spied upon they and their citizens really are:
Despite being active for more than a year, progress at the German Bundestag’s Committee of Inquiry is sluggish at best: the Committee’s efforts are “unsuccessful so far” according to Reporters without Borders, with the Committee members themselves growing increasingly frustrated. In addition to missing files and manipulative skirmishes with the Bundesnachrichtendienst (German Federal Intelligence Agency or BND), memory gaps on the part of important witnesses has been a major challenge.
So again on Thursday: Harald Fechner, who had spent more than 28 years at the BND, most recently as director of signals intelligence, made an appearance before the Committee that can certainly be described as “bizarre:” In responding to questions, the former agent repeatedly referred to the Live Blog [of Committee Hearings] at Netzpolitik.org, which he referred to more than his own memory. And when he did have something new to add to the record, he contradicted the testimony of other witnesses.
For instance, Fechner asserted that top secret “Operation Eikonal,” in which the BND vacuumed up Internet cable data for the NSA, had already concluded when he was took up the post of signals intelligence chief in April 2008. This directly contradicts the testimony of his predecessor, according to whom Eikonal wasn’t wrapped up until later. On the subject of the BND station in Bad Aibling which the NSA operated until 2004, Fechner said the BND still benefits today from the technology of the Americans. According to Fechner, “The antennae were inexpensive.” Bad Aibling is widely associated with the Austrian intelligence station at Königswarte, which in this connection is also said to have received a number of new antennae worth tens of millions of euros.
[Editor’s Note: According to the Snowden documents, “Operation Eikonal” involved BND cooperation with the NSA in skirting Germany’s G10 Law, which forbids the monitoring of the personal communications and data of Germans. Bad Aibling Station was where German intelligence officers are said to have captured and analyzed satellite data from abroad – telephone calls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. Members of American intelligence attached to the NSA were also stationed on the grounds.]
‘Ring Exchange’: A system for comprehensive collection
Fechner was also questioned on the selectors and filters the BND used to screen Internet traffic. Der Standard, among others, has also discussed the fact that non-German E.U. citizens are not protected under German Basic Law [the German Constitution]. The NSA Committee of Inquiry addressed this issue several times during its meeting on Thursday [Mar. 19]. For instance the Green Party representative on the Committee, Konstantin von Notz, discussed the concept of a “ring exchange,” something NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned of: U.S. intelligence works with a number of E.U. countries that filter out traffic belonging to their own citizens. However, because of the number of collaborating countries, the U.S. is ultimately able to obtain data on all E.U. citizens.
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