Germany vows tougher control of spy agency after new revelations that it spied on allies

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview, to be published on Friday, that a fundamental reform of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) was needed.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview, to be published on Friday, that a fundamental reform of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) was needed. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's justice minister has called for tighter control of the national foreign intelligence agency, after media reported its spies had targeted the embassies of allied countries without the government's express permission.

Heiko Maas told the Rheinische Post newspaper in an interview to be published on Friday (Oct 16) that a fundamental reform of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) was needed.

"Parliament must get all the necessary means for an effective control of the intelligence services," he added.

The media reports were the latest in a controversy over German intelligence that has erupted since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 a widespread US surveillance programme that included tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.

Germany's foreign intelligence agency is already under scrutiny after revelations earlier this year that its officials indirectly helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) spy on European firms such as defence manufacturer Airbus.

The scandal has caused a political uproar in Germany, where privacy is an especially sensitive issue after the extensive surveillance by Communist East Germany's Stasi secret police and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.

The latest reports are seen as an embarrassment for Merkel, who repeatedly commented on Snowden's revelations of widespread US espionage in Germany with the sentence: "Spying on friends isn't on at all."

The German magazine Der Spiegel's online edition and public broadcaster ARD reported that BND officials spied on embassies and other government buildings of allies such as France and the US through so-called "selectors" such as names and internet addresses.

Some of these search terms were not on the chancellery's commission list for the BND agency, suggesting its agents spied on allies without permission, the media reported, adding the government ordered the BND to stop this practice in autumn 2013.