- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2015

After angrily upbraiding the U.S. for its electronic spying networks that targeted Germans, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has been rocked by two reports in less than a week charging that German intelligence targeted U.S. arms companies, the FBI, a top French diplomat, several international organizations and allied government departments, and even a German diplomat working for the European Union.

The revelations are already proving awkward for Ms. Merkel, who personally complained to President Obama after reports two years ago that the National Security Agency had tapped her cellphone, famously saying at the time, “Spying among friends just isn’t done.”

Her spokeswoman Wednesday would not confirm the press reports of German spying but told reporters in Berlin that there would be a full investigation of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the federal intelligence service.

“The duties of the BND do not include political reconnaissance work against our partners,” German government spokesman Christiane Wirtz said.

German public radio station rbb-Inforadio aired the latest expose Wednesday in a report that claimed the BND had spied on U.S. defense entities such as Lockheed Martin and the FBI, as well as such targets as the World Health Organization and the International Criminal Court.

Perhaps more explosively, the report said German spies snooped on French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Hansjorg Haber, a senior German diplomat who served as Berlin’s representative on an EU observer mission to Georgia and later worked at EU headquarters in Brussels.

The radio report, which did not cite its sources, follows close on the heels of a weekend report from the respected magazine Der Spiegel that claimed the Germany spy agency engaged in a widespread surveillance operation monitoring the phone calls and emails of the U.S. Department of the Interior and its equivalent agencies in Poland, Austria, Denmark and Croatia.

In addition, diplomatic offices of the U.S., France, Britain, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the United Nations and the Vatican were monitored, according to Der Spiegel.

The State Department’s hotline for travel warnings and nongovernmental organizations such as Care International, Oxfam and the International Committee of the Red Cross also were targeted.

With much of the federal government closed for the Veterans Day holiday, there was not a quick reaction from the Obama administration to the latest revelations.

Officials at the Central Intelligence Agency’s office of public affairs, as well as at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment Wednesday. The State Department did not respond to requests for comment at deadline.

Privacy and security

With privacy and state snooping politically sensitive issues in Germany, the BND was already the focus of a parliamentary inquiry in Berlin into the extent of its surveillance and its targeting guidelines. It was reported in May that, despite Mrs. Merkel’s anger, the agency was aware of and cooperated with the National Security Administration’s surveillance program based out of Germany.

If true, the scope of Germany’s spying program seems to be more closely aligned with U.S. intelligence programs than previously stated.

Separately, citing Germany’s far-reaching data protection laws, U.S. software giant Microsoft announced plans Wednesday to build data centers in the country in an attempt to shield customers from U.S. surveillance.

The tech giant said it will provide cloud services, including Azure and Office 365, from facilities in Magdeburg and Frankfurt.

The centers are slated to be up and running in the second half of next year and will “offer customers choice and trust in how their data is handled and where it is stored,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said. They will be operated in partnership with Deutsche Telekom.

The company said Wednesday that it would give German customers of its online services the option of storing their data in centers it plans to build in Germany, The Associated Press reported.

European consumers, privacy advocates and lawmakers have cited reports based on leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to claim that customer and client data stored by U.S. companies aren’t safe from U.S. government eavesdropping. Such concerns pose a threat to firms such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon, whose business model is increasingly built around data storage and cloud services such as Microsoft’s Office 365, the AP reported.

Speaking at a presentation in Berlin on Wednesday, Mr. Nadella said the facilities “will ensure that customers’ data remains in Germany and that a German company controls access to data in accordance with German law,” the Economic Times reported.

The European Court of Justice last month struck down the “Safe Harbor pact” between the European Union and U.S. that allowed foreign companies to transmit personal user data to servers in the U.S. without running afoul of local privacy laws in the process.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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