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German intelligence helped the NSA spy on European politicians and defense contractors

German intelligence helped the NSA spy on European politicians and defense contractors

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For years, Germany's foremost intelligence service has been feeding sensitive data to the NSA, including communications concerning European politicians and defense contractors. The data comes from the German BND, the country's foremost electronic surveillance agency, which shares data with the NSA as part of an ongoing intelligence sharing agreement between the two nations. That data is determined by a list of selectors, similar to the terms the NSA uses to search its own bulk databases. But a review of the selectors revealed a number of potentially troubling terms, including politicians and aerospace firms.

The revelations come not from Snowden but from the German parliament, which has been reexamining the country's information sharing agreement with US surveillance agencies. That review was inspired by the unsettling news that has come out in the wake of the Snowden leaks, including the news that the US had been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. In response to the news, the parliament is now looking to narrow the selector terms allowed by the NSA, a meager but tangible pushback that would mean information sharing is no longer the blank check it once was.

The selector terms also show real overreach on the NSA's part. Defense contractors like Skybus and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company were on the list, suggesting that the NSA may have been using BND data to listen for trade secrets. (Both companies compete directly with US defense contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.) A number of German and French politicians were also on the list, although it's not clear what justification the NSA might have for surveilling them.