Der Spiegel reports: A “top secret” classified NSA document from the year 2010 shows that a unit known as the “Special Collection Service” (SCS) is operational in Berlin, among other locations. It is an elite corps run in concert by the US intelligence agencies NSA and CIA.
The secret list reveals that its agents are active worldwide in around 80 locations, 19 of which are in Europe — cities such as Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague and Geneva. The SCS maintains two bases in Germany, one in Berlin and another in Frankfurt. That alone is unusual. But in addition, both German bases are equipped at the highest level and staffed with active personnel.
The SCS teams predominantly work undercover in shielded areas of the American Embassy and Consulate, where they are officially accredited as diplomats and as such enjoy special privileges. Under diplomatic protection, they are able to look and listen unhindered. They just can’t get caught.
Wiretapping from an embassy is illegal in nearly every country. But that is precisely the task of the SCS, as is evidenced by another secret document. According to the document, the SCS operates its own sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication.
The necessary equipment is usually installed on the upper floors of the embassy buildings or on rooftops where the technology is covered with screens or Potemkin-like structures that protect it from prying eyes.
That is apparently the case in Berlin, as well. SPIEGEL asked British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell to appraise the setup at the embassy. In 1976, Campbell uncovered the existence of the British intelligence service GCHQ. In his so-called “Echelon Report” in 1999, he described for the European Parliament the existence of the global surveillance network of the same name.
Campbell refers to window-like indentations on the roof of the US Embassy. They are not glazed but rather veneered with “dielectric” material and are painted to blend into the surrounding masonry. This material is permeable even by weak radio signals. The interception technology is located behind these radio-transparent screens, says Campbell. The offices of SCS agents would most likely be located in the same windowless attic.
This would correspond to internal NSA documents seen by SPIEGEL. They show, for example, an SCS office in another US embassy — a small windowless room full of cables with a work station of “signal processing racks” containing dozens of plug-in units for “signal analysis.”
On Friday, author and NSA expert James Bamford also visited SPIEGEL’s Berlin bureau, which is located on Pariser Platz diagonally opposite the US Embassy. “To me, it looks like NSA eavesdropping equipment is hidden behind there,” he said. “The covering seems to be made of the same material that the agency uses to shield larger systems.”
The Berlin-based security expert Andy Müller Maguhn was also consulted. “The location is ideal for intercepting mobile communications in Berlin’s government district,” he says, “be it technical surveillance of communication between cellphones and wireless cell towers or radio links that connect radio towers to the network.”
Apparently, SCS agents use the same technology all over the world. They can intercept cellphone signals while simultaneously locating people of interest. One antenna system used by the SCS is known by the affable code name “Einstein.”
When contacted by SPIEGEL, the NSA declined to comment on the matter.