Britain is using its Berlin embassy to spy on the nearby Bundestag, as well as the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Concern was raised following the latest Snowden revelations and prompted the German FM to invite the British ambassador 'for a talk'.
The news comes just one week after the alleged closure of an
American listening ‘nest’ just 150 meters away from the British
embassy, which is believed to be damage control following the
embarrassing details of how the US itself is listening in on
NSA documents leaked by Snowden, and supported by satellite photographs and related information about past spying activities, talk of high-tech listening equipment perched right on top of the British embassy, the Independent revealed in an exclusive.
The allegations prompted the German Foreign Ministry to call on
British Ambassador Simon McDonald to discuss Tuesday's reports.
“At the instigation of Foreign Minister (Guido) Westerwelle,
the British ambassador was asked to come for a talk at the
Foreign Ministry,” the Ministry said in a statement.
“The director of the European department asked for an
explanation of current reports in British media and indicated
that tapping communications from a diplomatic mission would be a
violation of international law”, it continued.
The roof of the British embassy appears to contain a white,
box-like structure that only shows up when photographed from
above. The suspected listening device has been mounted atop the
roof since the embassy’s opening in 2000. Germany’s centers of
political power are all built around the Brandenburg Gate, within
easy reach of the facility’s equipment.
The strength of the equipment has been assessed as such that it
can intercept mobile phone conversations, Wi-Fi traffic, and even
long-distance calls made from anywhere in Berlin.
The reason for the suspicions has to do with the striking
resemblance of the device to Cold-War-era toys used by the
British in West Berlin. There, housed in the now defunct
Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain), the GCHQ used to intercept
messages between Russia and East Germany.
“We don’t comment on intelligence questions,” came the
reply from British Prime Minister David Cameron’s official
spokesman. But according to some, like the German Green Party’s
MEP, Jan Albrecht, “If GCHQ runs a listening post on the top
of the UK’s Berlin embassy it is clearly targeting politicians
“This is hardly in the spirit of European co-operation. We are
not enemies,” Albrecht said in response to the spokesman’s
All this is happening in the midst of a spy scandal involving
America’s own spying on classified German communications.
But unlike the American case, the Germans appeared to have missed the connection with a similar-looking unit perched atop the roof of the British embassy, the Independent believes – despite there being reason to think the suspected British listening post could even have been linked to a similar NSA device that became the centerpiece of the US-related scandal.
Evidence of the United States’ own secret listening post has
embarrassingly popped up in infrared images taken by Germany’s
ARD television, showing an anonymous rooftop building. The
facility’s heat signature shows that it has now been shut down,
almost immediately after Angela Merkel told US President Barack
Obama: “spying among friends – it cannot be.”
The device was housed in a structure resembling a box –just like
the one on the British embassy’s roof – complete with fiberglass
windows through which signals could pass without interference. It
was reportedly a joint effort by the CIA and NSA, with agents
from both agencies picked for the highly classified Special
Collection Service (SCS) unit.
‘Stateroom’, as the initiative was christened, is described as
“covert SIGINT [signals intelligence] collection sites located
in diplomatic facilities abroad... [including] SCS (at US
diplomatic facilities) and government communications headquarters
(at British diplomatic facilities).”
The “concealed collection system,” as the document refers
to it, actually depends on “sheds” hidden inside fake
windows. “Collection equipment on a building is concealed so
as not to reveal SIGNET activity…antennas are sometimes hidden in
false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.”
The secrecy of those missions was nearly air-tight, with work
being carried out by a handful of diplomats whose real
assignments were unknown even to the majority of their own
“These sites are small in size and in the number of personnel
staffing them. They are covert, and their true mission is not
known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility
where they are assigned,” the paper said.
The document leaked by Snowden explains just how important the
embassy bases are as a technology for NSA and other clandestine
agencies. So much so that a fake embassy site was once built in a
wooded areas outside Washington, DC, to test the efficacy of the
spying devices, as well as train field agents for the specific
purpose of manning those stations.
And the device outside DC also closely resembles the one atop the
British embassy in Berlin.
According to Snowden’s leak, such operations were run by all
signatories of the ‘Five Eyes’ agreement – also including Canada,
Australia and New Zealand.
Further information was found in another NSA document, pertaining
to how the agency recently closed an estimated 100 similar spying
stations in embassies around the world, transferring their
workload to Britain’s GCHQ. Apparently, the SCS has been
operating a total of 19 facilities in Europe in 2010, along with
the discovered Berlin and Frankfurt posts.
These revelations come just as German intelligence figures
traveled to DC with the intention of negotiating an end to NSA
spying on German land.
However, Britain also being Germany’s close neighbor, the latest
allegations could prove even more damaging than the ones related
to the US. The Independent believes that, if the equipment atop
the British embassy is indeed an interception device, it is
highly unlikely that it would not have been used to capture
Merkel’s communications. The chancellor is known to conduct a
large portion of business over the phone.