With Merkel campaigning to win a third term in September elections, the American surveillance and allegations of German complicity have rapidly emerged as a central campaign issue, and the German leader has gone on a media blitz in recent days to assure voters that she was fighting for their rights. On Tuesday, she hardened her rhetoric, raising the possibility of prosecuting anyone who has broken German privacy laws.
“I want to say to our American partners that on German soil, German law always applies, and we will enforce it,” Merkel said Tuesday in a speech at an industry convention in Cologne. Earlier, referring to the Ministry of State Security, the secret police agency — better known as the Stasi — under the former German Democratic Republic, she had said that “there is absolutely no comparison between the Stasi of the GDR and the work of intelligence agencies in democratic states.”
Merkel has denied having specific knowledge of U.S. activity, saying that responsibility for the day-to-day chore of monitoring intelligence reports belongs to a subordinate in the chancellor’s office.
But critics — especially those in the opposition Social Democratic and Green parties — say that Merkel knows more than she is saying or has been willfully ignorant of collusion between German intelligence agencies and their American counterparts.
“If they don't know what happened, they must not want to know what has happened,” said Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of the Green Party and the parliamentary committee that oversees Germany’s intelligence service. In reality, he said, the committee is able to do little oversight. “Our sovereignty ends at the door of the U.S. facilities in Germany,” he said.
On Wednesday, the question of German collaboration with U.S. surveillance was further complicated when the Bild newspaper published portions of a confidential September 2011 NATO document that discussed a PRISM program for online surveillance in Afghanistan to which German military commanders would have contributed nominations for people to be monitored by U.S. personnel.
Merkel’s spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday the existence of the NATO surveillance program in Afghanistan, but he said it was not identical to the one run directly by the United States.
French and British intelligence agencies are also alleged to have engaged in widespread surveillance activity.