Did the Snowden release fool people into thinking that the NSA had tapped German chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone when it hadn’t? German prosecutors aren’t calling it a hoax — at least, not yet — but they are now convinced that the document that came from the Snowden cache at the center of the allegation is “not an authentic surveillance order“:
Germany’s top public prosecutor … Harald Range launched an official investigation in June, believing there was enough preliminary evidence to show unknown U.S. intelligence officers had tapped the phone, although there was not enough clarity on the issue to bring charges.
On Wednesday he said however, “the document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database.
“There is no proof at the moment which could lead to charges that Chancellor Merkel’s phone connection data was collected or her calls tapped.”
Range also notes that the original sources of the document have declined to elaborate further. Edward Snowden, German magazine Der Spiegel (where the document was first published), and Germany’s foreign intelligence service have not provided any further information to Range. He’s still hedging his bets — rather than declare the entire allegation false, Range is simply stating that the discrediting of the document leaves no evidence of any such surveillance by the NSA.
That announcement may come as a shock to both the media, which hyped the document as proof that the NSA was out of control, and the German Left. The latter got bad news on another Snowden front, too. They wanted to get Snowden special protected passage to travel to Germany to give testimony about the NSA’s activities, but the country’s top court refused to allow it in a ruling earlier today:
Attempts by opposition parties in Germany to bring Edward Snowden to Berlin to give evidence about the NSA’s operations have been thwarted by the country’s highest court.
The Green and Left parties wanted the whistleblower to give evidence in person to a parliamentary committee investigating espionage by the US agency, but Germany’s constitutional court ruled against them on Friday.
The government has argued that Snowden’s presence in Germany could impair relations with the US and put it under pressure to extradite him.
It has suggested sending the committee – which consists of eight MPs – to interview him in Moscow, where Snowden is living in exile. Snowden has said through a lawyer that he is prepared to speak to the panel only if permitted to do so in Germany.
Range’s findings on the Snowden document raises a number of questions, most of which will probably never be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Let’s assume for a moment that the Snowden document was legitimate, as Snowden claimed, retrieved with a lot of other data that the US has grudgingly if passively verified as legit after Snowden absconded with it. How did Range come to the conclusion that it wasn’t a legitimate order? Did the NSA and/or the US pressure him into discrediting the document? Did the Merkel government do so in order to quell its opposition on the Left? The latter seems unlikely, as Merkel’s opposition isn’t that big of a threat, or at least not because of the Snowden story. The US certainly would have plenty of motive to bury this, but Germany doesn’t have a lot of incentive to play along, especially since their demand for a “no-spy” agreement got rebuffed since the allegation arose.
Now let’s hypothesize that Range is correct and that this isn’t an authentic order (which still raises the question of how exactly Range made that determination). If this allegation turned out to be a hoax, what about the allegation made at the same time about NSA surveillance of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff? What other documents released from the Snowden cache via The Guardian and other media outlets may not be legitimate? Some of it certainly was, given the reaction to the revelations by the NSA, Congress, and the Obama administration, but how much? And if it’s not legitimate, how did Snowden get it in the first place? Was it something he made up, or was it something the NSA hid as part of an elaborate mole hunt?
Fascinating questions all, but don’t expect to find any answers any time soon, if at all.