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Germany, US to negotiate Washington-proposed ‘no spy’ pact

Published time: August 12, 2013 21:21
Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery and German Minister for Special Affairs, Ronald Pofalla, gives a press conference after a closed-door parliamentary oversight committee hearing on the socalled mass surveillance programmes case at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, on August 12, 2013. (AFP Photo / Tim Brakemeier)

Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery and German Minister for Special Affairs, Ronald Pofalla, gives a press conference after a closed-door parliamentary oversight committee hearing on the socalled mass surveillance programmes case at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, on August 12, 2013. (AFP Photo / Tim Brakemeier)

Germany and the US will begin negotiations this month on an agreement not to spy on each other, a German official said on Monday. The meeting comes in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden surrounding NSA surveillance programs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, told a parliamentary committee Monday that Germany and the US will begin talks later this month on a bilateral ‘no spy’ agreement which, he said, shows that the US is serious about abiding by German law while in Germany. 

“This offer could have never been made if the Americans’ assurances that they will stick to German law in Germany wasn’t actually true,” he told the committee. 

Pofalla, who is responsible for coordinating Germany’s various intelligence agencies, said the talks will offer a unique opportunity to set standards for the future work of western intelligence agencies now that the Cold War is over. 

He also told lawmakers that the government was given assurances by US and UK spying agencies that there is not a system of comprehensive spying and wiretapping in Germany. 

“Unlike many erroneous statements to the contrary, the basic rights of millions of Germans are not being violated,” he said, adding that allegations against the US and UK are now “off the table.”

But German opposition members have been harshly critical of the government’s handling of the NSA spying scandal. 

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, head of the Social Democrats in parliament, has called the government’s decision not to let him testify in front of the parliamentary committee on the NSA scandal "outrageous."

“The fact that they refused me shows that Merkel’s government is not interested in clearing things up,” Steinmeier said on Monday. 

Merkel’s government said that he could not be heard that quickly, as the committee did not have enough time to prepare for his testimony. 

The government defended its decision, stating that Steinmeier used to be the chancellery minister and in charge of coordinating Germany’s secret services. The government said that Steinmeier had previously supported an agreement to strengthen cooperation between the NSA and Germany’s BND. 

But Steinmeier says that such cooperation was designed only to investigate the 9/11 attacks in the US – not to support the mass wiretapping of ordinary citizens. 

Cooperation between German and US intelligence agencies has been strong for decades. According to Der Spiegel magazine, both the BND and Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) used the NSA’s XKeyScore program. The program can target the full content of communications – including where they come from - by using metadata. 

The magazine reported that the relationship between American and German spy agencies is close-knit on a personal level, with a 12-member team from the BND invited over to the NSA to meet specialists on the subject of “data acquisition.”

Until recently, Germany had a 50-year-old surveillance agreement with the US, Britain and France. The agreement allowed German authorities to carry out surveillance operations in order to protect their soldiers who were stationed in West Germany during the Cold War. Germany scrapped the agreement earlier this month as a result of the NSA revelations. 

Germany is a key US ally, but public outrage over spying allegations leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden has been strong. Germany has a troubled history of large scale-surveillance on its own citizens in communist East Germany by the Stasi, as well as during the Nazi era.