For almost two decades, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency spied upon scores of foreign journalists around the world, according to a new report in Der Spiegel.
The German news weekly claims to have seen documents that show that at least 50 telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses from journalists and editors around the world have been monitored by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) since 1999.
The surveillance appears to have been remarkably broad: Among the numbers listed were the phones of BBC, New York Times and Reuters journalists in Afghanistan, as well as telephone and fax numbers at the BBC headquarters in London. Local reporters in Zimbabwe, Kuwait, Lebanon and India were also targeted.
Arnaud Zajtman, a Belgian journalist who has worked in Africa for 20 years and whose name appeared on the list, told Der Spiegel that he had no idea his phone was tapped. “It isn’t a good feeling to know that somebody was listening in when you’re dealing with highly sensitive sources,” Zajtman said.
The BND refused to comment on the allegations, telling Der Spiegel that it “comments exclusively to the German government or the committee responsible in the German parliament” when it comes to the “operative aspects of its activities.” The BBC said it had also approached the BND about the allegations, but it had not received a response.
“The BBC’s mission is to bring accurate news and information to people around the world, and our journalists should be able to operate freely and safely, with full protection for their sources,” a BBC spokesperson said. “We call upon all governments to respect the operation of a free press.”
German press groups criticized the reports of surveillance. “We have long feared that the BND monitored journalists as part of its mass filtering of communication data, at least as ‘by-catch,’ ” Christian Mihr, executive director of Reporters without Borders Germany, said in a statement. “The targeted surveillance revealed by the Spiegel investigation is a massive violation of press freedom.”
More details of the surveillance is expected to be released in Der Spiegel’s print edition, which comes out Saturday. The documents detailing the surveillance have appear to be linked to a German parliamentary inquiry into the BND’s role in global surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
The Bundestag investigation into the BND is hoping to determine whether the agency violated the German constitution, which prohibits surveillance of German nationals, according to Deutsche Welle.