The Financial Times, April 25, 2008
German secret service rapped over Afghan spy claims
The BND placed a spying device in a computer used by Mr Farhang in Kabul, and observed his electronic correspondence, including emails, for six months from June 2006 onwards.
By Hugh Williamson in Berlin
Germany is taking disciplinary measures against several senior secret service agents following revelations that the BND foreign intelligence agency spied on an Afghan government minister and a German journalist.
A spokesman for chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that several BND officers faced unspecified disciplinary steps or were being transferred to other positions, but did not elaborate. The moves concern three officials, including a senior aide to Ernst Uhrlau, BND president, according to German media reports.
The actions follow revelations on Thursday that the BND in 2006 spied on Amin Farhang, Afghan trade minister, allegedly because he had sought contacts with the Taliban. The BND placed a spying device in a computer used by Mr Farhang in Kabul, and observed his electronic correspondence, including emails, for six months from June 2006 onwards.
The BND refused to comment. It is already in the public spotlight over its payment of over €4m to an alleged criminal in this year’s Liechtenstein tax evasion affair.
Mr Farhang, who holds a German passport, told a German newspaper on Friday that he was outraged at being spied on by Germany, with which he has close ties. “Because of this absurd lie that I am a double agent, my life and those of my family members are in danger”.
The Afghan ambassador to Germany expressed surprise at the BND’s actions, but said she expected Berlin to deal with the issue in an appropriate way. The German foreign ministry sought to play down the issue, arguing that relations with Kabul remained “close and based on respect”.
A German parliamentary committee that oversees the BND on Thursday strongly attacked the agency over its actions, saying it had broken operational guidelines and disrupted the “relationship of trust” between parliament and the leadership of the BND.
Opposition politicians on Friday said senior officials in Ms Merkel’s chancellery who are responsible for supervising the BND should also be held to account. They targeted Thomas de Maizière, chancellery minister and close ally of Ms Merkel.
The episode came to light this week because the BND apologised to Susanne Koelbl, a journalist with the Spiegel news magazine who specialises in Afghanistan, for spying on her email correspondence. It transpired later that the BND’s target was not her but Mr Farhang, officials said. The BND has in recent years been reprimanded on several occasions for spying on German journalists, which is against German law.
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