German newsroom spy row escalates

By Martin Stabe

Seeking to quell an escalating scandal about
tactics used to uncover leaks to the press, the German government on
Tuesday banned its foreign intelligence service from using journalists
as informants.

Citing a confidential parliamentary report, the
Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung last week reported that the German
Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, had repeatedly spied on
journalists beginning in the mid-1990s.

In one case, the report said, a reporter had been informed on by two fellow journalists who were in the pay of the agency.

The
report, complied for the German parliament's intelligence oversight
committee by special investigator and former judge Gerhard Schäfer,
said the BND's actions were "disproportionate" and "clearly unlawful".

The
scandal escalated on Tuesday morning when the Berliner Zeitung, citing
sources inside the agency, reported that the BND had targeted
journalists' telephones with wiretaps to uncover their sources for
reports about the agency.

"When there was evidence to suggest
that a journalist was investigating the internal workings of the
Service, his telephone line would be put under surveillance to obtain
information about possible sources," an unnamed agent told the paper.

The practice was said to have started in the mid-1990s and carried on until the recent past.

A BND spokesman, speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, denied the Berliner Zeitung report.

The
chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee, Norbert Röttgen, a
member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, told German media that
his committee's report contains no mention of wiretapping. The
confidential report will now be published.

Also on Tuesday, a
German freelance stepped forward to say he had acted as an informant
for the BND while working at the newsmagazine Focus. He told German
radio station SWR he had, on four separate occasions in the 1990s, met
with a former BND security official and had discussed his collegues'
private lives.

The freelance, who is understood to now regret his
actions, is reported to have said that his motive was revenge after a
colleague at the news magazine had betrayed one of his sources.

Photo: REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

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