Did a German Prosecutor Really Claim That Der Spiegel’s NSA Document Was a Fake?
There have been reports concerning a statement by a German prosecutor that he didn’t find any evidence for the NSA’s wiretapping of Merkel’s phone:
Some have even taken the quotes to mean that the document published by Der Spiegel is fake. It would seem, however, that such an interpretation is a result of incomplete understanding/reading of what Harald Range really claimed.
1. No, Harald Range neither called the document a fake, nor implied that it is. When asked during the press-conference whether he meant that the document was a fake, Range “explicitly denied” it:
Ranges Sprecher Marcus Köhler ergänzte auf Nachfrage des SPIEGEL, wie Range zu solch einer Darstellung komme: “Diese Aussage entspricht den bisherigen Beweisergebnissen und war mit keinerlei Wertungen verbunden. Im Gegenteil, die Nachfrage eines Journalisten während der Pressekonferenz, ob es sich bei dem Dokument um eine Fälschung handele, hat Generalbundesanwalt Range ausdrücklich verneint.”
2, By saying what he did Range merely stated that the text provided by Der Spiegel is not the document itself, coming from the NSA database. It’s just a text claimed to have been produced by a Der Spiegel editor on the basis of a purported NSA document. (Which, by itself, is not evidence as far as the German law is concerned.) He also pointed out that both Der Spiegel and the NSA refused further requests:
Das Dokument, das in der Öffentlichkeit als Beleg für ein tatsächliches Abhören des Mobiltelefons angesehen worden ist, ist kein authentischer Fernmeldeaufklärungsauftrag der NSA. Es stammt nicht aus einer Datenbank der NSA. Vielmehr hat es ein SPIEGEL-Redakteur selbst hergestellt laut seinen Angaben auf der Grundlage eines in Augenschein genommenen Dokuments der NSA. Ich habe die Redakteure des SPIEGEL deshalb gebeten, Fragen zu dem Papier zu beantworten oder es uns zur Verfügung zu stellen. Dem ist das Nachrichtenmagazin unter Hinweis auf das Zeugnisverweigerungsrecht von Journalisten nicht nachgekommen. Auch die NSA selbst hat auf Anfrage des BND eine Stellungnahme zu dem Vorgang abgelehnt. Eine seriöse Bewertung der Echtheit und des Inhalts des Dokuments ist unter diesen Umständen nicht möglich.
The last sentence says: “A serious evaluation of the authenticity and content of the document is impossible in these circumstances”. I.e. he blames both Der Spiegel and the NSA for alleged stalling without calling the document a fake, but also saying that (for legal purposes) it’s impossible to establish its authenticity.
(I’m not sure why Der Spiegel allegedly did not respond to requests, but in their response the Spiegel authors speculate that Range was frustrated with them because they didn’t reveal their sources to his office, so apparently that’s what they’d been asked about.)
3. As for there being no evidence, more specifically he claimed that there was “no evidence leading to an indictment”:
keinen zu einer Anklage führenden Beweis dafür, dass Verbindungsdaten erfasst oder ein Telefonat der Bundeskanzlerin abgehört wurden
I think we should all understand from recent events that the claims of there not being enough evidence for an indictment aren’t necessarily a good indicator of whether or not something happened. But he may be fully correct, because a leaked NSA file is hardly hard evidence in a German court, and the NSA was probably skilled enough not to leave any “technical” traces of the monitoring.
4. The top WH officials acknowledged that there were such programs, including one against Merkel, and claimed that they were stopped.
WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of other world leaders after an internal Obama administration review started this summer revealed to the White House the existence of the operation, U.S. officials said.
Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.
The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.
Officials said the U.S. already has stopped collection efforts against Ms. Merkel and a number of other world leaders.
As far as I’m concerned, this also supports (if not outright establishes) the document’s authenticity.
Update 13.12.2014: Der Spiegel has now published an official response in English, a day late after a similar response in German had been published.
Also, this is the text copy of the document in question as published by Bild. Some conspiracy theorists began to argue that Der Spiegel tried to make it look old, but Der Spiegel never published it in the first place, they sent it to the German government, from where it was leaked to the press, apparently through a fax (or, alternatively, as a xeroxed copy), hence the “old” look.
Update 15.12.2014: in fact, just a few days ago NSA’s inspector general George Ellard defended the wiretapping of Merkel’s phone:
George Ellard, inspector general of the National Security Agency, defended the agency’s work in a talk at Princeton University Tuesday, including the NSA’s controversial eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private cellphone.
“If you’re the chancellor of Germany, you don’t have a private cellphone,” Ellard said. “If you’re the president of the United States, you don’t have a private cellphone.”