Last Thursday a parliamentary committee in Germany began to investigate the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying activities on German soil. Despite some disagreements among its members, the investigative panel may soon question U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden in order to gather further details regarding Washington’s involvement in the matter.
The NSA eavesdropping affair erupted in June 2013 when Edward Snowden, a former collaborator of defense and intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a cache of top-secret U.S. federal documents whose content was subsequently reported by numerous international newspapers, drawing vast public attention.
Snowden’s revelations blew the lid off the activities of the NSA and many of its foreign counterparts, providing evidence that they were engaged in the global surveillance of foreign and US nationals.
In August 2013, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel disclosed details of a rather close cooperation between Washington and Berlin, reporting that the German foreign intelligence agency, BND, had transferred to the NSA’s databases huge amounts of so-called metadata, such as email addresses, telephone numbers and IP connections.
The report sparked a wave of public protests in Berlin, since many German citizens perceived the NSA spying operations as a serious violation of their national sovereignty and privacy.
Furthermore, last October various German newspapers wrote that, in addition to saving a huge amount of private data, the NSA had also targeted Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and used the American Embassy in Berlin as a listening center.
The last disclosures came just few days ago, as Der Spiegel published new leaks, showing that Americans had compiled a dossier containing more than 300 intelligence reports on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as on other state leaders.
The investigative committee is made up of eight members belonging to all the main parties of Germany and was strongly wanted by the Green Party. According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), on its first day of work the panel showed divergences among its members regarding the possibility to invite Edward Snowden to testify in Berlin.
Despite its ambitious goal, the investigative assembly is faced with a daunting task, as the U.S. has so far refused to clarify its involvement in the scandal and continues to ignore a questions catalogue sent by the German Ministry of Interior.
Clemens Binninger, head of the committee and member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was quoted by DW as saying that the U.S. response to the question catalogue would be “an important first step toward restoring trust.”
Binninger hopes in the U.S. cooperation as he is skeptical about Snowden’s ability to provide further details than those already revealed at his hearing at the European Parliament. By contrast, Konstantin von Notz, a member of the Green Party, argued that interrogating the former NSA collaborator would be a logical step for the investigation, since he was the person who first uncovered the scandal. A similar view was expressed by Martina Renner, a deputy committee member of the Left Party, who claimed the panel should interrogate Snowden to try to gain new knowledge, rather than simply studying the files.
Despite the resolve of some committee members to have Edward Snowden questioned, a number of experts believe that inviting the American whistleblower to Berlin may contribute to increase tensions between Germany and the U.S. at a time when both nations need to forge a unified front to defend Ukraine from Russia’s geopolitical maneuvers.
By Stefano Salustri