German 'CIA' used reporters as informants
A secret report revealed last week that the spy agency had journalists snoop on colleagues.
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Der Spiegel magazine, known for hard-charging investigative work, admitted Monday that two of its reporters were feeding the BND information - one of them as recently as last fall. Focus and Stern, two other major news magazines, have also discovered there were spies among their ranks.Skip to next paragraph
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Focus, Der Spiegel, Berliner Zeitung, and WDR television have also reported that the BND spied on their reporters. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, the nation's largest regional daily, also reported that senior editor Wolfgang Krach was tailed after reporting that the BND helped smuggle plutonium from Russia to Germany. Mr. Krach says the paper learned the news from parliamentarians who attended the Schäfer briefing.
"I was completely astonished," he says in a telephone interview. "I have written many stories about intelligence and never imagined that the German secret service would monitor journalists in Germany."
The BND was known to have spied on at least two journalists even before Schäfer presented his report. The first case to become public was that of reporter Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, who was tailed for years beginning in 1993, after he wrote a book with inside information on the agency.
Mr. Schmidt-Eenboom says he learned he was under surveillance from a former BND agent in May 2005, and two months later began demanding that the government turn over documents related to his case.
But come last September, his pleas still hadn't been answered, so he began threatening to talk to the media. He says that's when he received a menacing anonymous call. "They said if I gave those facts to the public they would slaughter me," he recalls.
Undeterred, Schmidt-Eenboom went public in November. His account unleashed a public outrage and prompted a preliminary parliamentary investigation, which found that he - and Focus reporter Josef Hufelshulte - had both been shadowed for years.
The BND promptly apologized to both reporters. It also turned over Schmidt-Eenboom's BND file, which, he says, showed that the agency had monitored his office with cameras and assigned at least six spies to tail him and his secretary. He also says that agents crouched in bushes outside his home and foraged through his garbage.
Troubled by the preliminary probe's findings, the Parliament committee overseeing intelligence launched a full-scale investigation, which culminated in the Schäfer report.
The BND is hardly the first intelligence organization to tap the press. A number of its peer agencies - including the CIA - have, at times, had agents pose as reporters or used journalists as spies.
In the 1970s, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence discovered that 50 US journalists had doubled as CIA agents during the cold war. The committee condemned the practice in its final report, and urged intelligence agencies to "permit American journalists and news organizations to pursue their work without jeopardizing their credibility." In 1996, Congress debated passing a law limiting the circumstances under which CIA agents could pose as journalists or employing reporters as informers. But the law didn't pass.
While the Merkel administration hasn't announced any specific enforcement measures, it has promised to curtail abuses for reporters' sake. "I can assure you," spokesman Wilhelm said Monday, "that you will always have the federal government as a partner in defending the press, freedom of information, and the basic, constitutional rights of our democratic system."