Thanks but no thanks: Julian Assange has offered the German government to testify before its NSA-Inquiry

I thought I’d quickly update English-speaking readers on the subject of my most recent blog post.

DER SPIEGEL reports that Julian Assange has offered the German parliament’s NSA Inquiry Committee unredacted versions of the lists Wikileaks published a couple weeks ago which seem to prove that the NSA spied on key figures in various German governments (i.e. Merkel’s and several others before that) for years. Apparently, some of the phone numbers on the lists are still active targets and they reach as far as Chancellor Merkel’s inner circle.

Assange has also offered to meet with representatives of the committee in London (where he has been unable to leave the Ecuadorian embassy for three years now) so he can testify on what he knows. Now, you would think that both the Inquiry Committee and the chancellery would be delighted by the offer, given that the government has tasked the committee with shedding some light on the true extent of NSA spying in Germany. Well, think again. Considering how obstructive the German government has been in its dealings with the NSA Committee since its inception last year, just how probable is it that Merkel et. al. will happily allow committee members to meet with Assange – one of the US government’s least favourite people – let alone have access to unredacted lists obtained from Wikileaks?

There was much talk a couple of weeks ago about lists of selectors that the NSA gave to Germany’s BND so that the BND could search its databases for those selectors (I commented on this here). Problem: the selectors didn’t exclusively target suspected terrorists. Looks like there was, amongst other things, some industrial espionage going on as well. In any case, it seems that some of those selectors ran counter to German interests. Obviously, the German NSA Committee is very interested in those lists. Unfortunately, the German government refuses to hand them over. They wanted to obtain the US government’s consent first. Which, obviously, the US government didn’t provide. Recently, the BND itself has come up with a rather ludicrous explanation for why it cannot release the lists or provide any information contained in them. German journalist Richard Gutjahr requested information from the BND on whether his name appeared on any of the lists. The BND refused, arguing that the lists belonged to the NSA and that therefore the BND wasn’t permitted to dispose of them as it pleased. It’s that kind of absurdity, which has been around pretty much since day one, which makes it very doubtful that the German government will kindly allow the NSA Committee to accept Julian Assange’s offer.

What makes this case all the more precarious is that the lists obtained by Wikileaks might contain proof that the NSA really did spy on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. It was only a few weeks ago that the German Attorney General closed his investigation into the tapping of Merkel’s phone, claiming that he had been unable to unearth any proof that would stand up in court. Therefore, if the chancellery, the government or the attorney general’s office were interested in getting to the bottom of the extent of NSA spying not only on the German government but also the German people, they would probably be very interested in what Wikileaks and Julian Assange have to offer. However, given that the hesitant unassertiveness of the German government in the face of past revelations of NSA mass spying even surprises the USA (true story), I guess we can safely guess just where this is going to go. I, for one, expect that Assange’s offer will be met with a (for once very assertive): “Thanks but no thanks.”

UPDATE: I was made aware on Twitter that it’s probably not clear enough from this post that the decision whether or not to act upon Assange’s invitation lies with the committee, not the government. Whether the committee will go against the government’s explicit wishes – should it make them known which it probably will – remains to be seen. Past evidence suggests that attempts to view the unredacted lists or speak to Assange may meet with some resistance.

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