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The Deafening Silence

Electronic eavesdropping is the biggest scandal of the Merkel era, but it never came into full swing because it was followed by a deafening silence. Merkel was said to be aware of electronic eavesdropping by our American ally, which the French have called it espionage. Could it be that they knew nothing at all? Could her underlings have permitted this to happen without the chancellor’s approval and knowledge?
The opposition demands an explanation, but can’t say anything. The silence around the scandal makes it look like a conspiracy. This is the message from Berlin, after all, where they say ‘keep quiet, the less that comes to light, the less press hype there will be, and the fewer people who will be wounded, thrown out of office, and the fewer (political) deaths there will be.’ And everyone clings to this simple plan.
The chancellor’s political responsibility is in question here regarding the data handled by the NSA, even though it was not authorized to collect this data. But who even decides who can do what? The question is, who knows what happened and is keeping it quiet?
One of the chancellor’s duties is oversight of the German Intelligence Service ( Bundesnachrichtendienst , or BND) and coordination with the other services (military counter-intelligence, Office for the Protection of the Constitution). She is responsible. As you would imagine, no one knows how a chancellor communicates with the officials of these services Do they come to her office once a week for tea and biscuits to report on what our dear friends at the NSA wish to learn about Europe? And, then, they give advice about how to fulfil these wishes?
Even though the chancellor declared “spying among friends is absolutely out of bounds,” and in Warsaw promised a “full explanation” but what hasn’t the chancellor promised?
She has not promised changes in personnel.
Accusations by the opposition are part of the daily routine of politicians. The grumbling of the people will die down as long as the scandal is not really a scandal. A big part of the explanation is buried in the chancellor’s silence. If there is one thing the chancellor does well it is to make the questions go away. Or old friends. The chancellor has already pushed the most important of them out of the line of fire: Interior Minister and party colleague Thomas de Maizière, who was head of the chancellery from 2005 to 2009 and was responsible for the technical oversight of the BND. Did he allow a cooperation agreement between the BND and the NSA to be breached? De Maizière should explain how it is that the BND had suspected since 2008 that the NSA was using cooperation with the BND to spy on European targets. Moreover, there was a memo on this, which de Maizière had with him on a trip to the U.S., but it apparently just disappeared from the files in mid-flight. One of those miracles that only happens to politicians.
The chancellery saw nothing wrong with this conduct at all, and saw it as a guide for future conduct. Even after questions were raised in Parliament (by the Left Party), the Interior Ministry saw no reason to address the accusations of abuse by the NSA with respect to the BND. No one knew anything, no one noticed anything – even the dumbest in our country would find it odd that de Maizière testified before the committee investigating the NSA. What did he say there?
Another one who knew nothing and said nothing is Peter Altmaier, Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery since the autumn of 2013. It is understandable that the stink of the skeletons in the closet left behind by his predecessors would bother him. He has admitted that there are some “technical and organizational shortcomings” at the BND, but this admission is useless. It says nothing about what these shortcomings are and what can be done about them. Gerhard Schindler, of the FDP party, who has headed the BND since 2012, is also saying nothing – even though people demanded his resignation, even though people demanded explanations, even though he also must have known of the shortcomings and did nothing – or did he? We don’t know. We only hear the silence.
Everyone does what they want with their own house, so we ask: What is the boss doing? Is he in control? Or did he just not want to know what the Americans were looking for? Not his department? Not his job? Who is this Adolf-Eichmann-like approach protecting? Ernst Uhrlau, of the SPD party, currently an advisor to Deutsche Bank, headed the BND from late 2005 to December 2011. During that time, there were two known warnings from the BND to the Chancellery about NSA spying (2008 and 2010). If the boss did not know this, what did he know?
Did he alone know what his silence earned him each month along with his salary? Did he take any steps against the NSA or receive any money from them, and nothing came of it? The unanswered questions keep piling up. Uhrlau is also supposed to testify before some board. He will be very well prepared. He will deliver his speech and then it will be over for him. Is the scandal long over with? Even for former Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla? He held that post from autumn 2009 until autumn 2013, and is now a bigwig at Deutsche Bahn. A nice position. At Merkel’s request, the puppet Pofalla will soon be leading the so-called “Petersburg Dialogue”, A German-Russian discussion forum. The puppet master Merkel holds the strings - the prospect of another well-paid job with few responsibilities and a very big financial reward. That must take Pofalla’s breath away. Pofalla was subjected to some ethical questions during his term because of the Snowden leaks. Each time he said he knew nothing, never knew anything and couldn’t remember anything. During Pofalla’s term, the BND reported that the NSA was trying to exploit its relationship with the German intelligence agency for its own purposes. What did Pofalla’s supervisory body do about this? Anything at all? Or did they just let it all happen?
The actions of Klaus-Dieter Fritsche (CSU) have also been questionable. He was formerly vice-president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and from 2005 to 2009, was the coordinator of intelligence services in the Chancellery. Since January 2014, he has been the Undersecretary in the Chancellor’s Office and Commissioner for the Federal Intelligence Services, a post created by Merkel. All of this to send another man of few words to testify before an oversight committee?
If the man who is the liaison between all of these offices and agencies knows nothing, then we must finally ask: What was going on? Was anything going on?
The government wants to investigate and control itself – naturally. It wants to appoint an arbitrator who can inspect all files and evaluate them. He will publically reveal anything he discovers. It is to be assumed that these findings will not be exempt from modifications. It is interesting how an investigation works in today’s German democracy.
The opposition, even the SPD, are clattering for confessions. Sigmar Gabriel has called for the list of spying targets to be published without the consent of the Americans. The SPD puts forth Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He is also very vehement about saying nothing. During the red-green coalition, Steinmeier was chief of staff of the Chancellery. After the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 he was responsible for the agreement for closer cooperation between the BND and the U.S intelligence services. Did he know that the BND would then have to lick the NSA’s boots and allow itself to be used? What have we learned from this affair? There has never been one like it. There have been irregularities that are kept quiet and remain in the file cabinets of the policymakers, who refuse to assume any responsibility.
This all tells us something: Not wanting to know means having no conscience. Perhaps silence is the best option the chancellor has left. It would be awful if she got away with much worse offences (ESM, Fiscal Compact fraud) and now tripped over such a trifle. Seen in this way, fate may be just, but is not justified, of course.
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