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German and US Spy Agencies Share Vast Metadata Trove

Leaked documents reveal Germany's "daily" spy exchange with NSA

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Leaked internal NSA reports written by US employees of the intelligence agency who either visited or worked alongside members of Germany's foreign intelligence agency—the Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND—reveal a vast and "daily" exchange of surveillance data between the two 'partnered' spy states.

According to the documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and revealed Monday by German newspaper Der Spiegel, the BND rigged a comprehensive network of cables on abandoned NSA structures in the town of Bad Aibling, southeast of Munich, and "took over" the NSA's surveillance of radio and satellite communications from that site.

Despite this change, the BND reportedly shares their intercepts with the US spy agency "on a daily basis."

"Day after day and month after month, the BND passes on to the NSA massive amounts of connection data relating to the communications it had placed under surveillance. The so-called metadata—telephone numbers, email addresses, IP connections—then flow into the Americans' giant databases," Der Spiegel reports.

Detailing the German providers from whom information is gleaned, they continue: 

The document mentions 400,000 recordings of data from satellite telephone provider Thuraya, 14,000 recordings of data from commercial satellite operator Inmarsat and 6,000 recordings a day of mobile communications, as well as daily eavesdropping on 62,000 emails.  


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The data gathered in Bad Aibling reportedly relates to the BND's "legal" foreign surveillance targets, consisting primarily of data transmitted in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which has supposedly been "purged" of personal data on "German citizens living in Germany."

Previous documents released by Snowden mention two data collection sites known as "signals intelligence activity designators"—codenamed "US-987LA" and "US-987LB"—through which the NSA amassed about 500 million pieces of metadata in December 2012 alone.

In addition to benefiting greatly from Germany's vast metadata stockpile, a 2006 report reveals that the NSA was reportedly impressed by the BND's own analysis tools, including two software systems called Mira4 and VERAS. "In some ways, these tools have features that surpass US SIGINT capabilities," the report reads.

In exchange for a copy of the two programs, the German agency apparently requested "support" from the NSA.

Ahead of Monday's disclosure, Der Spiegel revealed in an earlier report that Germany was one of the NSA's "most prolific partners" in global surveillance, despite fierce pronouncements by Prime Minister Angela Merkel that “Germany is not a nation of surveillance."

The report also follows the recent news that the NSA pays the UK spy agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to do their "dirty work" including potentially spying on Americans living in the US. 


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