There are currently 3,400 German soldiers stationed in Afghanistanacting as part of the NATO forces. Despite the weapons they carry, the
occupiers forces are there to provide security, help re-build a shattered nation, to train, educate and generally behave like good friends and neighbours.
The German state has an apparatus for spying on foreigners, both at home and abroad, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND)- which is headed by Ernst Uhrlau.
Within this naturally secretive outfit there are many rooms - one is BND's Division 2.
Div. 2 is responsible for what the Western spy agencies call "SIGINT" or signals intelligence obtained by technical means of eavesdropping on telecommunications.
In 2006, Division 2 consisted of 13 specialist departments and a management team (Department 20A), employing about 1,000 people. The departments are known by their German acronyms, like MOFA (mobile and operational telecommunications intelligence gathering), FAKT (cable telecommunications intelligence gathering) and OPUS (operational support and wiretapping technology).
We now know that In early June 2006, the OPUS team in department 26E launched an (authorised) intelligence assault against Afghanistan by an attack on their IT systems.
A chunk of "Trojan horse" spying software was inserted in the computer network of Afghanistan's Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Quite what it did and what information was obtained it is impossible to know because by accident lots and lots of files have been accidentally destroyed by accident. BND's Division 1 had also been caught doing this with their "peace keeping" troops in the Congo in spring last year.
What we do know is that they obtained the log-in details for the personal Yahoo e-mail account of 68-year-old Afghan Commerce Minister Amin Farhang.
Amin Farhang had studied in Cologne and spent several years in the notorious Pol-i-Charkhi prison near Kabul before he managed to flee his native soil in the early 1980s and travel to Germany, where he settled in the western city of Bochum - he has a German passport. Returning in 2001 -"for good" he wanted to help with the reconstruction of his native country after the fall of the Taliban regime.
As part of this bizarre exercise , they noted a Der Spiegel journalist Susanne Koelbl , who had been reporting on Afghanistan for 5 years was coresponding with Farhang using the spiegel.de domain.
They requested guidance on how to proceed. For 2 days, their request went unanswered. The result was that over a period of 6 months, the BND agents read more than 30 e-mails between Koelbl and the Afghan cabinet minister.
BND legal experts concluded that the OPUS group's activities did not qualify as surveillance of telecommunications, because the exchange of e-mails had already taken place. This absurd conclusion was that the BND was allowed to analyze, without official authorization, the ministry's hard drives and Farhang's e-mail.
On Nov. 27, 2006 OPUS opened e-mails between Koelbl and Farhang rgarding the kidnapping of a german doctor, and about which a relative had contacted Der Spiegel for help.
Apparently it was not until Dec. 21, 2007, the last working day before the Christmas holiday, that the BND lower ranks finally filled in Ernst Uhrlau on the case.
In February this year a BND whistelblower wrote to various people including 2 members of the German parliament's intelligence oversight committee, the Parliamentary Control Panel (PKG), about ,"an unusual, additional case of surveillance of a journalist."
MP Norbert Röttgen, of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union, paid the additional postage for the letter, which did not have a stamp. After reading it he forwarded it to the Chancellery on February 25th. The office of Thomas de Maizière, the head of the Chancellery, contacted BND President Uhrlau on Feb. 26.
Koelbl, had also received tip-offs -- vague at first, but then more specific -- that her e-mails had been read. She requested a meeting with Uhrlau. The BND president only admitted to the monitoring when directly asked about it by Koelbl during the meeting. SPIEGEL began investigating its legal options, including the possibility of criminal charges.
The BND is violating the freedom of the press, a fundamental element of democracy set forth in Article 5 of the German Constitution.
Journalists, are privilged in law and do not have to reveal their sources to the government, and with good reason. Sources that draw attention to abuses and grievances must be assured of their ability to remain anonymous. It is only by guaranteeing this anonymity that the intent of the framers of the German constitution to add another layer of control to parliamentary democracy by means of the freedom of the press can work. The BND's actions were a serious affront to this concept.
The BND also violated the general right of privacy laid down in Article 2 of the German constitution. If what the BND did was legal, says Max Stadler ( lawyer and member of the Bundestag for the business-friendly Free Democratic Party) , any secret computer surveillance of any German citizen abroad would be fundamentally legal, because "the protection of basic rights also applies outside our national borders."
Max Stadler, described the espionage case as evidence that the BND was turning into a state within a state and called for an increase in parliament's power over the BND's work. Speaking for the Greens, panel member Hans-Christian Ströbele concurred.
Uhrlau , evidently has no intention of resigning, nor does it seem that the Government want to sack him . The German parliament's intelligence oversight committee met on Thursday,and chairman, Thomas Oppermann of the center-left Social Democratic Party, said Uhrlau could keep his post.
"The SPD would be well advised not to part company with a man like Uhrlau in anger," says one senior member of the party.
Who knows which e-mails Herr Uhrlau has read.
PS : Sunday was Mujahedeen Day in Afghanistan and excuse for a major parade in central Kabul in front of the Eid Gah Mosque. President Karzai survived his 4th assassination attempt.