ISIS uses top video game Grand Theft Auto 5 to radicalise and recruit children

The Daily Mail reports: Isis is trying to swell its ranks and train fighters using hit video game Grand Theft Auto 5, claiming that what players do in the game resembles their battlefield operations.

They have posted a video to YouTube carrying their flag showing violent scenes from the game, including police officers being gunned down and trucks being blown up.

At the start of the video a message appears that reads: ‘Your games which are producing from you, we do the same actions in the battelfields (sic)!!’ [Continue reading...]

The Local reports: Children as young as 13 are travelling from Germany to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic jihadists, according to German intelligence agencies.

Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), told the Rheinische Post at the weekend that at least 24 children had headed to the Middle East from Germany. “The youngest was 13,” he said.

Of the 24 who have left, five children have returned with battle fighting experience, Maaßen said. [Continue reading...]

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More opposition to ISIS among Gazans than Europeans

Max Fisher writes: 85 percent of polled Gazans said they oppose ISIS. That’s awfully high, especially considering that Europeans were much less likely to say they held an unfavorable view of the group:

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been arguing that ISIS is indistinguishable from Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza (he is wrong for a number of reasons), it turns out that at least Palestinians in Gaza see a strong distinction. While the Gaza poll did not ask for Hamas approval/disapproval, it did return favorable-sounding results on two questions: “Was the Palestinian resistance prepared for this aggression [by Israel against Gaza],” to which 58 percent said yes; and “do you support disarming the Palestinian resistance,” to which 93 percent said no and 3 percent said yes.

Again, Gazans and Europeans were asked slightly different questions by different polling agencies, but it is still awfully striking that more Gazans gave the anti-ISIS response than did Western Europeans.

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‘Diplomatic earthquake’ as Germany halts spy cooperation with U.S.

IntelNews.org reports: The German government has instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice, according to media reports. The move follows news that Berlin requested on Thursday the immediate removal from Germany of the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station — essentially the top American official in the country. The request came after two German citizens, one working for the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, and one working for the country’s Federal Ministry of Defense, were allegedly found to have been secretly spying for the US. German media reported on Thursday that the temporary halt in Berlin’s intelligence collaboration with Washington applies across the spectrum, with the exception of areas directly affecting tactical security concerns for Germany, such as the protection of its troops in Afghanistan, or defending against immediate terrorist threats. Sources in the German capital claimed that the removal of the CIA station chief was technically a “recommendation for his departure”, and did not constitute an official diplomatic expulsion. However, German observers described the incident as a “diplomatic earthquake”, which would have been unthinkable as a policy option for the German government, barring actions against “pariah states like North Korea or Iran”. [Continue reading...]

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German man arrested as spy implicates U.S.

The New York Times reports: In the latest turn in the yearlong tensions with Germany over American spying, a German man was arrested this week on suspicion of passing secret documents to a foreign power, believed to be the United States. The American ambassador, John B. Emerson, was summoned to the Foreign Office here and urged to help with what German officials called a swift clarification of the case.

The arrest came as Washington and Berlin were trying to put to rest a year of strains over the National Security Agency’s monitoring of Germans’ electronic data, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, and just months after the collapse of an effort by Germany to strike a “no spy” accord with the White House.

While the White House and American intelligence officials refused to comment on the arrest, one senior American official said that reports in the German news media that the 31-year-old man under arrest had been working for the United States for at least two years “threaten to undo all the repair work” the two sides have been trying to achieve.[Continue reading...]

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German student under NSA scrutiny, reports say

The New York Times reports: A 27-year-old informatics student in southern Germany was identified in news reports on Thursday as the first German citizen known to be under surveillance by the National Security Agency since it was revealed last year that the agency had once tapped the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The news came on the same day that two former American security officials testified to a parliamentary inquiry about reports of sweeping digital surveillance and monitoring in Germany by American intelligence, which touched off a major controversy and put strains on German-American relations.

The student, Sebastian Hahn of Erlangen in Bavaria, said he had been active for six years in the Tor network, a group that works to encrypt digital communications, and that he had rented space on a computer in Nuremburg that he said was one of several around the world that direct other computers involved in Tor. Two German state broadcasting channels reported that there was evidence that the N.S.A. was tracking the Nuremberg computer as part of an operation called “XKeyscore.” A server at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is used by Roger Dingledine, a well-known web activist, was also tracked in the operation, the German broadcasters reported. [Continue reading...]

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German government tightens rules for sensitive public IT contracts

Reuters reports: The German government has tightened tender rules for sensitive public IT contracts in the wake of reports about mass surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

Last year former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed U.S. technology companies’ close cooperation with national intelligence agencies by leaking documents on the NSA’s access to the accounts of tens of thousands of net companies’ users.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said suspect firms would be banned from taking on some public contracts in Germany if they had to hand over confidential data to foreign intelligence or security services. [Continue reading...]

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GCHQ and NSA targeted private German companies

Der Spiegel reports: Documents show that Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service infiltrated German Internet firms and America’s NSA obtained a court order to spy on Germany and collected information about the chancellor in a special database. Is it time for the country to open a formal espionage investigation?

The headquarters of Stellar, a company based in the town of Hürth near Cologne, are visible from a distance. Seventy-five white antennas dominate the landscape. The biggest are 16 meters (52 feet) tall and kept in place by steel anchors. It is an impressive sight and serves as a popular backdrop for scenes in TV shows, including the German action series “Cobra 11.”

Stellar operates a satellite ground station in Hürth, a so-called “teleport.” Its services are used by companies and institutions; Stellar’s customers include Internet providers, telecommunications companies and even a few governments. “The world is our market,” is the high-tech company’s slogan.

Using their ground stations and leased capacities from satellites, firms like Stellar — or competitors like Cetel in the nearby village of Ruppichteroth or IABG, which is headquartered in Ottobrunn near Munich — can provide Internet and telephone services in even the most remote areas. They provide communications links to places like oil drilling platforms, diamond mines, refugee camps and foreign outposts of multinational corporations and international organizations.

Super high-speed Internet connections are required at the ground stations in Germany in order to ensure the highest levels of service possible. Most are connected to major European Internet backbones that offer particularly high bandwidth.

The service they offer isn’t just attractive to customers who want to improve their connectivity. It is also of interest to Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service, which has targeted the German companies. Top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden viewed by SPIEGEL show that the British spies surveilled employees of several German companies, and have also infiltrated their networks. [Continue reading...]

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Why Israelis are content to live in a bubble of denial

o13-iconJonathan Cook writes: The 24-hour visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel to Israel this week came as relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine last week, Ms Merkel and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netan­yahu have been drawn into shouting matches when discussing by phone the faltering peace process.

Despite their smiles to the cameras during the visit, tension behind the scenes has been heightened by a diplomatic bust-up earlier this month when Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament and himself German, gave a speech to the Israeli parliament.

In unprecedented scenes, a group of Israeli legislators heckled Mr Schulz, calling him a “liar”, and then staged a walkout, led by the economics minister Naftali Bennett. Rather than apologising, Mr Netanyahu intervened to lambast Mr Schulz for being misinformed.

Mr Schulz, who, like Ms Merkel, is considered a close friend of Israel, used his speech vehemently to oppose growing calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. So how did he trigger such opprobrium?

Mr Schulz’s main offence was posing a question: was it true, as he had heard in meetings in the West Bank, that Israelis have access to four times more water than Palestinians? He further upset legislators by gently suggesting that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was preventing economic growth there.

Neither statement should have been in the least controversial. Figures from independent bodies such as the World Bank show Israel, which dominates the local water supplies, allocates per capita about 4.4 times more water to its population than to Palestinians.

Equally, it would be hard to imagine that years of denying goods and materials to Gaza, and blocking exports, have not ravaged its economy. The unemployment rate, for example, has increased 6 per cent, to 38.5 per cent, following Israel’s recent decision to prevent the transfer of construction materials to Gaza’s private sector.

But Israelis rarely hear such facts from their politicians or the media. And few are willing to listen when a rare voice like Mr Schulz’s intervenes. Israelis have grown content to live in a large bubble of denial. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. spied on negotiators at 2009 climate summit

NewsHuffington Post reports: The National Security Agency monitored the communications of other governments ahead of and during the 2009 United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, according to the latest document from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document, with portions marked “top secret,” indicates that the NSA was monitoring the communications of other countries ahead of the conference, and intended to continue doing so throughout the meeting. Posted on an internal NSA website on Dec. 7, 2009, the first day of the Copenhagen summit, it states that “analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as the deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiation strategies.” [Continue reading...]

Meanwhile, Reuters reports: Berlin and Washington are still “far apart” in their views on the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of Germany but they remain close allies, Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament on Wednesday.

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GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief

The Guardian reports: British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU’s competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top-secret documents reveal.

The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues.

The latest disclosures will add to Washington’s embarrassment after the heavy criticism of the NSA when it emerged that it had been tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear that the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another important American ally – the “Israeli prime minister”. Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.

Three further Israeli targets appeared on GCHQ documents, including another email address understood to have been used to send messages between the then Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, and his chief of staff, Yoni Koren.

Prominent names that appear in the GCHQ documents include Joaquín Almunia, a Spaniard who is vice-president of the European commission with responsibility for competition policy.

Britain’s targeting of Germany may also prove awkward for the prime minister, David Cameron: in October, he endorsed an EU statement condemning NSA spying on world leaders, including Merkel.

They have both been in Brussels, attending an EU summit that concludes on Friday.

The names and details are the latest revelations to come from documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. They provoked a furious reaction from the European commission, Almunia and others on the target lists.

• The commission said the disclosures “are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation. This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states.” Almunia said he was “very upset” to discover his name was on GCHQ documents.

• Leigh Daynes, UK executive director of Médecins du Monde, said he was “bewildered by these extraordinary allegations of secret surveillance. Our doctors, nurses and midwives are not a threat to national security. There is absolutely no reason for our operations to be secretly monitored.”

• Another target, Nicolas Imboden, the head of an NGO that provides help to African countries, said the spying on him was “clearly economic espionage and politically motivated”.

• Human Rights Watch, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch condemned the targeting.

• Labour said the committee that oversees GCHQ should be given extra powers.

The disclosures reflect the breadth of targets sought by the agencies, which goes far beyond the desire to intercept the communications of potential terrorists and criminals, or diplomats and officials from hostile countries. [Continue reading...]

Pro forma denials from GCHQ and the NSA that they are engaged in economic espionage are to be expected. But agencies that don’t provide clear explanations about what they are doing, can hardly be expected to have such denials accepted without question.

The targeting of NGOs will probably heighten suspicions that these organizations are being used to provide cover for intelligence agencies and that in turn will undermine relief and development work in countries where populations are in need but their governments feel easily threatened.

The New York Times reports: The reports show that spies monitored the email traffic of several Israeli officials, including one target identified as “Israeli prime minister,” followed by an email address. The prime minister at the time of the interception, in January 2009, was Ehud Olmert. The following month, spies intercepted the email traffic of the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, according to another report. Two Israeli embassies also appear on the target lists.

Mr. Olmert said in a telephone interview Friday that the email address was used for correspondence with his office, which he said staff members often handled. He added that it was unlikely that any secrets could have been compromised.

“This was an unimpressive target,” Mr. Olmert said. He noted, for example, that his most sensitive discussions with President George W. Bush took place in private. “I would be surprised if there was any attempt by American intelligence in Israel to listen to the prime minister’s lines,” he said.

Mr. Barak, who declined to comment, has said publicly that he used to take it for granted that he was under surveillance.

Despite the close ties between the United States and Israel, the record of mutual spying is long: Israeli spies, including Jonathan Jay Pollard, who was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for passing intelligence information to Israel, have often operated in the United States, and the United States has often turned the capabilities of the N.S.A. against Israel.

The interception of Mr. Olmert’s office email occurred while he was dealing with fallout from Israel’s military response to rocket attacks from Gaza, but also at a particularly tense time in relations with the United States. The two countries were simultaneously at odds on Israeli preparations to attack Iran’s nuclear program and cooperating on a wave of cyberattacks on Iran’s major nuclear enrichment facility.

A year before the interception of Mr. Olmert’s office email, the documents listed another target, the Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an internationally recognized center for research in atomic and nuclear physics. [Continue reading...]

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In Germany, legacy of Stasi puts different perspective on NSA spying

The Washington Post reports: The secret police, or Stasi, roped in an estimated 190,000 part-time, secret informants and employed an additional 90,000 officers full time – in total, more than one in every 50 adult East Germans as of 1990. East Germans who dared to criticize their government — even to a spouse, a best friend or a pastor — could wind up disappearing into its penal system for years.

In east Berlin sits the former Hohenschoenhausen prison, which was reserved for East Germany’s most politically sensitive cases.

Hubertus Knabe — a West German who smuggled banned books into the East, and later discovered that he had been betrayed by a priest who had encouraged him to do so — now has a plate-glass view of the most perilous destination for victims of Stasi surveillance. He is the director of the prison museum, which is hidden away in a Berlin neighborhood whose rows of imposing apartment blocks still house many former Stasi officers.

Knabe said the consequences of the Stasi’s excesses were far more devastating than anything ever associated with the NSA. “They forget what it’s like to live in a dictatorship versus a democracy,” he said of people who say that the NSA has behaved like the Stasi.

Former inmates now lead tours of the dank, tiny cells in which they were incarcerated, and they say they sometimes run into their old tormenters on the street or at the grocery store.

Many Germans — from both sides of the German border, since East German spying reached deep into its sibling country — have thick Stasi files that they can now request to see. More painfully, they can also learn which of their friends or associates did the collecting of information in those files.

Thousands of people who were collaborators have been chased from public life. Even now, new accusations of Stasi associations can dog politicians and celebrities around Germany.

“We hear that the Stasi was some kind of dilettante agency compared to the NSA,” since the NSA is probably collecting more data overall than the East Germans did, Knabe said. “But East Germans know that the Stasi was a lot worse.”

Knabe said the East German system created a level of fear that few of his fellow citizens truly have about the American spy efforts. Nevertheless, he said, there were other similarities. He has filed a criminal complaint about the NSA spying in a German court.

“The western system punished someone when they had committed a crime. The eastern system punished people when they were only thinking about committing a crime,” he said. If the NSA’s material starts being used not just for counterterrorism efforts but for other kinds of preemptive crime-fighting, he said, “that would be a completely different type of state.”

According to an ARD-Infratest dimap poll released Friday, just 35 percent of Germans find the U.S. government trustworthy, second only to Russia as a target of mistrust. [Continue reading...]

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Give Snowden asylum in Germany

Malte Spitz and Hans-Christian Ströbele write: Almost every day, new information is released about how American and British intelligence agencies have monitored governments, embassies and the communications of whole societies. These revelations have provided us with a deep and terrifying insight into the uncontrolled power of intelligence agencies.

They show that data collection is no longer about targeted acquisition of information to avert threats, and it’s certainly not about the dangers of “international Islamist terrorism.” After all, which terrorist is going to call or text Chancellor Angela Merkel?

All of our current knowledge about this surveillance is thanks to one man, Edward J. Snowden. Without him, Ms. Merkel would still be a target for monitoring, and surveillance of German diplomats, businessmen and ordinary citizens would be continuing, undetected.

Without Mr. Snowden, there wouldn’t have been months of discussions in the German Bundestag, the European Parliament and the American Congress about better protection of citizens’ private and commercial communications. Mr. Snowden is paying a high price for having opened the eyes of the world. He can no longer lead a normal life.

He acted in an emergency situation to stop and prevent terrible things. According to both German and American law, the government can grant immunity when criminal laws are violated in order to defend the paramount right to freedom. Publicly announcing a crime should not be a crime. The United States has long had laws to protect whistle-blowers from punishment — and we Germans aspire to have such laws.

According to recent surveys by ARD, a German TV station, 60 percent of Germans see Mr. Snowden as a hero and only 14 percent as a criminal. They know his courageous revelations were intended to protect freedom and the values that we share with America. [Continue reading...]

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Britain’s ‘secret listening post in the heart of Berlin’

The Independent reports: Concerns were raised tonight that Britain operates a top-secret listening post from its Berlin embassy to eavesdrop on the seat of German power.

Documents leaked by the US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden show that GCHQ is, together with the US and other key partners, operating a network of electronic spy posts from diplomatic buildings around the world, which intercept data in host nations.

An American intercept “nest” on top of its embassy in Berlin – less than 150 metres from Britain’s own diplomatic mission – is believed to have been shut down last week as the US scrambled to limit the damage from revelations that it listened to mobile phone calls made by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But the NSA documents, in conjunction with aerial photographs and information about past spying activities in Germany, suggest that Britain is operating its own covert listening station within a stone’s throw of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, and Ms Merkel’s offices in the Chancellery, using hi-tech equipment housed on the embassy roof.

The potentially toxic allegation that Britain has a listening station in the capital of a close European Union ally will test relations between London and Berlin only days after the row between Germany and the US about its own clandestine activities. Jan Albrecht, an MEP for Germany’s Green Party and a leading campaigner on privacy and data protection, told The Independent: “If GCHQ runs a listening post on the top of the UK’s Berlin embassy, it is clearly targeting politicians and journalists. Do these people pose a threat?

“The EU has asked David Cameron’s Government to explain the activities of GCHQ in Europe but it has declined to do so, saying it does not comment on activities in the interest of national security. This is hardly in the spirit of European co-operation. We are not enemies.” [Continue reading...]

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No to asylum, but Germans want to hear what Snowden has to say

Deutsche Welle reports: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has again ruled out granting asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. This comes amid growing calls for a way to be found for Snowden to meet with German parliamentarians.

The chancellor’s spokesman on Monday took great pains to stress the need to avoid a break with Washington over allegations of the mass surveillance of German citizens by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and possibly even the tapping of Merkel’s mobile phone.

“The trans-Atlantic alliance remains for us Germans of exceptional importance,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin. He added that Germany had benefitted more than virtually any other nation from its friendly relations with the United States and that this was a major factor to be weighed up in any and all decisions the government made.

Seibert also ruled out the idea of Berlin granting former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden asylum in Germany, so that he could testify before a parliamentary committee looking into the US spying allegations. Snowden’s situation, he said, did not meet the criteria for such a move.

Hermann Gröhe, the general secretary of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), made a similar statement, noting that the United States, which wants to put Snowden on trial on espionage charges, has a valid extradition agreement with Germany.

Meanwhile, a senior member of the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom the CDU aims to form the next government, has called for German officials to question Snowden in Moscow. Speaking on ARD public television on Sunday evening, Thomas Oppermann also didn’t rule out the possibility of talking to Snowden in Germany. Whatever happened, he said, there needed to be a humanitarian solution to Snowden’s status, while at the same time keeping German-US relations in tact.

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Growing calls for Germany to offer Snowden asylum

Der Spiegel reports: There are growing calls in Germany not only to question Edward Snowden in connection with the ongoing NSA scandal, but also to offer him safe passage and asylum. Yet the heads of the two major political camps fear the wrath of the United States.

Hans-Christian Ströbele, a lawyer and parliamentarian for Germany’s Green Party, turned 74 this year. He has devoted more than 50 of those years to the political struggle for justice and for what is good in the world – or at least that’s how he sees it. “Have you ever been on the wrong side of things?” Ströbele was asked in a recent television interview.

“Politically speaking?” he asked the interviewer, glancing at the ceiling. For two seconds, it seemed as if he had to consider the question, but he quickly regained his composure and emphatically replied: “No.”

Now Ströbele is waging another political battle, probably the most noteworthy one of his life. Last Thursday, he went to Moscow and spent three hours speaking with Edward Snowden, the man whose revelations about the spying activities of the United States have both captivated the world for months and deeply changed its perceptions.

Ströbele, a lawmaker from the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg election district in Berlin, was the first politician in the world to meet with Snowden in his Moscow exile. Snowden’s mission is now Ströbele’s mission. He wants to bring the American whistleblower to Germany to testify before an investigative committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, and in doing so provide him with a secured right of residence in Germany.

Ströbele knows that granting Snowden the right to stay in Germany would create problems for German-American relations. The Americans have already submitted an extradition request, just in case Snowden ever sets foot on German soil. But Ströbele doesn’t care. He sets his own priorities and, once again, he believes himself to be on the right side of history, notwithstanding Germany’s trans-Atlantic partnership with the United States. “If the political will exists, as well as the courage, including the courage to stand up to presidents, then it’s possible,” Ströbele said after returning from Moscow.

Germany now faces a test of courage, one that affects the German parliament, the heads of the two major parties, the conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who are currently hammering out the details of a grand coalition government in negotiations set to conclude by Christmas. Most of all, it affects Chancellor Angela Merkel.

So should the Bundestag hear Snowden’s testimony before an investigative committee? The answer seems straightforward. Why shouldn’t German lawmakers hear what he has to say, the man on whose revelations the entire NSA scandal is based and who has already told Ströbele that he is willing to come to Germany?

The second, more fundamental question is harder to answer: whether Snowden should be granted the right to live in Germany or a comparable country, and therefore protection from the Americans. This is precisely the condition Snowden has set for his willingness to testify. He knows that his asylum in Russia is limited to one year, which means that it expires in nine months. He is testing the waters to see where he could live safely in the future. Germany appears to be his top choice. [Continue reading...]

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Snowden asks U.S. to stop treating him like a traitor

The New York Times reports: Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American security contractor granted temporary asylum by Russia, has appealed to Washington to stop treating him like a traitor for revealing that the United States has been eavesdropping on its allies, a German politician who met with Mr. Snowden said on Friday.

Mr. Snowden made his appeal in a letter that was carried to Berlin by Hans-Christian Ströbele, a veteran member of the Green Party in the German Parliament. Mr. Ströbele said he and two journalists for German news outlets met with Mr. Snowden and a person described as his assistant — probably his British aide, Sarah Harrison — at an undisclosed location in or near Moscow on Thursday for almost three hours.

Mr. Ströbele had gone to Moscow to explore whether Mr. Snowden could or would testify before a planned parliamentary inquiry into the eavesdropping. Any arrangements for Mr. Snowden to testify would require significant legal maneuvering, as it seemed unlikely that he would travel to Germany for fear of extradition to the United States.

In his letter, Mr. Snowden, 30, also appealed for clemency. He said his disclosures about American intelligence activity at home and abroad, which he called “systematic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act,” have had positive effects.

Yet “my government continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “However, speaking the truth is not a crime. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.” [Continue reading...]

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Obama administration seems ‘almost helpless’ in face of NSA scandal

Der Spiegel reports: German diplomats have traveled to Washington to express anger over surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone — but they have yet to make headway. The Obama administration seems “almost helpless” in the face of continued leaks, says one diplomat.

Both groups sit together in a White House conference room for about 90 minutes. On one side are a half a dozen members of the European Parliament. Facing them is an equally-sized American delegation, including Karen Donfried, senior director for European affairs in the National Security Council (NSC) and a fluent German speaker.

The agenda is full of issues that have become day-to-day business in trans-Atlantic relations: the scandal surrounding US monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, NSA espionage and accusations of spying. They’re all uncomfortable topics that diplomats of allied nations usually prefer to keep quiet about. But shortly before the meeting’s end, the Americans appear to look inward. How should we proceed, they ask contemplatively.

“They seemed almost helpless, as if they’d become obsessed,” says Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party MEP and one of the participants in the meeting. “The US government representatives honestly looked like they didn’t know what to do. And they left no room for doubt that more spying revelations are to be expected.” The odd exchange is an accurate reflection of the mood in Washington. [Continue reading...]

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Intelligence officials confirm Obama misled Merkel

Obama pretending he can't see Merkel's text message.

Obama pretending he can't see Merkel texting.

The Los Angeles Times reports: The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping.

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.

The resistance emerged as the White House said it would curtail foreign intelligence collection in some cases and two senior U.S. senators called for investigations of the practice.

Precisely how the surveillance is conducted is unclear. But if a foreign leader is targeted for eavesdropping, the relevant U.S. ambassador and the National Security Council staffer at the White House who deals with the country are given regular reports, said two former senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing classified information.

Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. “But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

Any decision to spy on friendly foreign leaders is made with input from the State Department, which considers the political risk, the official said. Any useful intelligence is then given to the president’s counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, among other White House officials.

When Angela Merkel phoned Barack Obama to tell him she didn’t appreciate being spied on by the NSA, it’s not as though Obama got blind-sided by the call. “You have a call on line one Mr President. It’s a woman with a German accent. She sounds pissed off.

On the contrary, it’s reasonable to assume that Obama, in consultation with his staff, had time to craft a response, and if that response was not exactly crafted then it should at least have sounded halfway plausible.

Senior White House adviser: Just tell her you knew nothing about it but you promise it’ll never happen again.

Obama: But that’s going to sound like the lame excuse a 12-year-old would give in response to a reprimand from a school teacher.

Adviser: You got any better ideas?

The Most Powerful Man in the World: ….

What should he have said? How about:

I am aware of the reports you are referring to. I understand your concerns. I have ordered a comprehensive review of our surveillance policies and I am fully committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to restore trust between the United States and Germany. To that end, I’d like to invite you to send a team of your intelligence officials to meet their counterparts in Washington and in that context we will be able to address more specific issues and hopefully arrive at a common understanding.

You remain dear to my heart, Angela.

Well, maybe not the last bit.

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