NSA German Intercepts

On Friday, WikiLeaks published three summaries of NSA intercepts of German government communications. To me, the most interesting thing is not the intercept analyses, but this spreadsheet of intelligence targets. Here we learn the specific telephone numbers being targeted, who owns those phone numbers, the office within the NSA that processes the raw communications received, why the target is being spied on (in this case, all are designated as “Germany: Political Affairs”), and when we started spying using this particular justification. It’s one of the few glimpses we have into the bureaucracy of surveillance.

Presumably this is from the same leaker who gave WikiLeaks the French intercepts they published a week ago. (And you can read the intelligence target spreadsheet for France, too. And another for Brazil that WikiLeaks published on Saturday; Intercept commentary here.) Now that we’ve seen a few top secret summaries of eavesdropping on German, French, and Brazilian communications, and given what I know of Julian Assange’s tactics, my guess is that there is a lot more where this came from.

Der Spiegel is all over this story.

Posted on July 6, 2015 at 5:13 AM32 Comments


Rolf Weber July 6, 2015 5:43 AM

Im Germany, nobody seems to care anymore about these crap. Wasn’t it Snowden’s goal to reveal mass surveillance?

Yes, I say Snowden. No document younger than 2012. The leaker most likely was Ed Snowden.

Clive Robinson July 6, 2015 7:24 AM

@ Bruce,

… eavesdropping on both German, French, and Brazilian communications…

You might want to get rid of the word “both”, you are after all talking of three countries not two.

Clive Robinson July 6, 2015 7:45 AM

@ Rolf,

Im Germany, nobody seems to care anymore about these crap.

I guess the number of Germans you know is extreamly limited, or you are just making one of your usual messages about Snowden…

I guess it’s time we asked if you work for the BND or are associated with them via work or socially?

NotYouAgain July 6, 2015 8:33 AM

@ Bruce

Thanks for that great summary. It makes me curious what more this leaker (or leakers) passed on to WikiLeaks. It is fascinating what technology can do, and at the same time weird how few people are aware of how much harm can/could be done.

Bruce Schneier July 6, 2015 8:50 AM

“Yes, I say Snowden. No document younger than 2012. The leaker most likely was Ed Snowden.”

It’s not Snowden. He never gave anything to Wikileaks back in June 2013, and he hasn’t had access to anything since. And this sort of thing isn’t in the pile of documents he took.

It’s someone else.

Bruce Schneier July 6, 2015 8:51 AM

“You might want to get rid of the word ‘both’, you are after all talking of three countries not two.”

Fixed. Thank you. (I wrote the post before the Brazil document was published.)

Mailman July 6, 2015 9:08 AM

If the spreadsheets are representative of the targets of the NSA among the German and French governments, then it’s interesting to note that the targets are very different.

I’m actually not sure that those lists show a complete picture, because I don’t see any references to the departments of defense anywhere in either list. I figure the NSA would be at least as interested in a European department of defense as its agriculture counterpart.

Rolf Weber July 6, 2015 9:28 AM

@Clive Robinson

I’m a German living in Germany. And I never was in touch with any intelligence ageny, at least not that I’m aware. 🙂

@Bruce Schneier

Maybe Snowden didn’t hand over the documents to Wikileaks, but I’m 99% sure it’s from the trove Snowden took.
Greenwald received at best a few 10.000 documents, maybe other journalists like Gellman too. The revelations so far were from this documents.
But Snowden took much, much more. I think the number of 1.7 million is fair to assume. And I’ll never ever believe that these documents are destroyed.

You for sure have much more sources and experiences than I. And these are not the only reasons why I take your opinion very seriously. But nevertheless I have another view. I don’t believe in coincidences.

Czerno July 6, 2015 10:23 AM

@Rolf Weber :
«Snowden took much, much more. I think the number of 1.7 million is fair to assume. »

Fair on what basis ? IIRC, numbers similar to what you have cited have been claimed, or made out, by the IC of the USA. The same sources who also have asserted that they have no idea, in fact, of the actual number of documents “stolen” (rather, copied) by Ed S.

« And I’ll never ever believe that these documents are destroyed.»

But you can’t prove or disprove it, can you ? Faith or credence without evidence. I honestly don’t think whether you believe the docs were destroyed, or not, makes any difference to anybody beyound your honorable self…

Alfred July 6, 2015 11:09 AM

@Rolf Weber:

“And I’ll never ever believe that these documents are destroyed.”

You are saying it like the lack of destruction is some kind of problem. It would only be a problem to those who are somehow hurt by the documents.

Most people would be glad if they are not destroyed.

Rolf Weber July 6, 2015 1:48 PM


I cannot prove the number 1.7 million. I just think the related press reports are trustworthy and plausible.


I’m a bit ambivalent about this. On the one side, I’m interested in the topic and find the published documents give a great insight into the fascinating world of intelligence.
But on the other side, Snowden could still not reveal a single wrongdoing, so there is just no justification for stealing and publishing them. And I’m sure the “revelations” created a lot of harm. It is and always was a crime which should be stopped, if possible.

albert July 6, 2015 2:55 PM


France and Germany are squirming under the thumb US-run NATO. The US IC probably knows what it needs to know about their defense plans. Economic espionage IS important. Intelligent folks in the French and German gov’ts already realize that they don’t need NATO, that they are sick of the US-run fiat bankster system, and sick of the Russia-baiting, the destabilizing of Eastern Europe, etc. Greece is leading the way. The US must do everything it can to stop the dissolution of the EU, including the use of IC assets. NATO wastes billions every year for nothing.
No harm in piercing the veil of secrecy, because it builds character.

rgaff July 6, 2015 5:49 PM

LOL at some guy who’s never seen snowden docs, explaining in no uncertain terms exactly what is and isn’t in the snowden docs to a guy who HAS seen the snowden docs! Classic!

Bruce Schneier July 6, 2015 6:15 PM

“You for sure have much more sources and experiences than I. And these are not the only reasons why I take your opinion very seriously. But nevertheless I have another view. I don’t believe in coincidences.”

What’s the coincidence you don’t believe? That’s there is more than one leaker amongst the 50,000 or so NSA employees? I think it would be much stranger if there were only one. I don’t even think that Snowden is the only person leaking to the public. I have trouble counting them all.

Dirk Praet July 6, 2015 7:21 PM

@ Clive Robinson

I guess it’s time we asked if you work for the BND or are associated with them via work or socially?

Given his zeal and the fact that he is not listening to a word of what’s being said in Snowden-related threads, repeating the same unsubstantiated beliefs over and over again without ever making a compelling argument based on actual facts, I personally doubt he’s BND or BfV. This looks much more personal to me, reasons for which we can only speculate about.

Donnie July 6, 2015 8:02 PM

Germany’s top prosecutor dropped a probe into the alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by US spy services, citing a lack of evidence. … Prosecutors said they’re still looking into possible US mass spying on Germans and will restart the Merkel phone-tapping investigation if they find new leads.

Sydney Morning Herald, June 13 2015

mb July 6, 2015 8:28 PM

For everyone who wonders about the Department of Agriculture
being spied upon. Up until last year the DoA was also responsible
for consumer protection which went to the DoJ.

And there’s no dedicated counterpart to the FDA in Germany.So what
we’re talking about here is likely not farmers or agriculture at
all but stuff like labeling requirements for food.

If you put that in a TTIP context it makes perfect sense to spy
on them.

Clive Robinson July 6, 2015 9:40 PM

@ Dirk Praet,

This looks much more personal to me, reasons for which we can only speculate about.

Yes, I think you may be right.

Since posting this morning (lunch UK time) I noticed he has a link to a home page. Whilst my spoken German is fairly bad at the best of times, even a person who understands not a written word of German can not fail to notice how often the word “Snowden” occurs. For instance twice on his “about me” page which only has a half dozen lines at most.

We have a saying in the UK you might know “Best left, soonest mended” which is often said to children with scabed cuts, rashes and other malidies that cause incessant itching. I think I will follow the advice, and stop scratching….

Clive Robinson July 6, 2015 10:06 PM

@ Czerno,

IRC, numbers similar to what you have cited have been claimed, or made out, by the IC of the USA. The same sources who also have asserted that they have no idea, in fact, of the actual number of documents “stolen” (rather, copied) by Ed S.

Your memory is almost correct, the 1.7 million documents is a “high water mark” / “worst case scenario” guestimate, made by NSA analysts, based on the maximum number of documents he might have had access to.

If you think about it nobody is going to have read 1.7 million documents in two years, that’s 380 documents a day that might consist of 15-20 pages each. Even for a world class speed reader that would be an impossible feat. But it would also be more than a full time job, so where would he have found the time to do his payed job and have a social life, and not have people notice him flicking through page after page one every four seconds without break for seven hours a day? And that would be just to see them, not take the information on board sufficiently to catalogue them etc. Which others say he has not only done, but done well enough to make the cache easy to use….

As the old saying goes “It does not pass the sniff test”….

gordo July 6, 2015 10:53 PM

Re: Genesis of the 1.7 million number

Inside Washington’s Quest to Bring Down Edward Snowden
Jason Leopold | Vice News | June 4, 2015

The DIA documents also resolve the thorny question about the genesis of the claim that Snowden downloaded 1.7 million files. For more than a year, the allegation has been cited as fact in numerous news reports but never directly attributed to a named government official.

In a report published on the Intercept in May 2014, Greenwald excoriated journalists for “repeatedly affirming the inflammatory evidence-free claim that Snowden took 1.7 million documents,” a number which he said “always has been pure fabrication.”

Now, the DIA documents make clear that the accusation came from a list of unclassified Defense Department talking points sent to Congress on January 8, 2014, a day before Foreign Policy and Bloomberg published their reports that contained the same DIA talking points.


Rolf Weber July 7, 2015 5:12 AM

@Bruce Schneier

Did Snowden really deny that he is the source of the Merkel story?

From your list, you said it by your own, leakers #3, #6 and #7 could be the same person. And the documents leaked were all “typical” Snowden documents. So at least it could be Snowden.

Leaker #4 is certainly not Snowden because the document was dated after him. But the document was only secret (or even not classified at all?), and a much broader group of people had access to it.

Leaker #5 is most likely not Snowden, but again, a much broader group of people had access to this kind of documents.

There are a few coincidences I don’t believe in:

First, I think it’s quite unlikely that 2 people independant from each other, with similar access (top-secret and even “COMINT-GAMMA”), similar goals (political campaigns — usually the goal of whistleblowers is to reveal wrongdoing) leak similar documents. And none of the published documents so far is dated after June 2013.

Second, the people involved. Appelbaum was involved in the Merkel story, the ANT catalog and the XKEYSCORE source story. In the Merkel story, he was cited as a co-author while the story itsef had no technical background — which means the only explanation is that he had something to do with the source. Appelbaum was also involved in the Snowden reporting since an early stage. I can only say: If I were this “new” leaker, with even access to GAMMA documents, Appelbaum would be the last people on earth I wished to be in touch with, because I had to assume that he is under 7/24 surveillance.
There are a lot more related “coincidences” with involved people.

And last but not least I think it’s unlikely that a guy like Snowden was able to carry out such an operation alone. I read his posts on Ars Technica, and I listen to what he says now, both makes me sure this guy has no clue of crypto, networking, programming and systems. At least not enough to be able to steal mass top-secret documents from NSA undetected. So maybe we are both right, there is a second leaker, but this one is his partner.

Rolf Weber July 7, 2015 5:13 AM

@Clive Robinson, Dirk Praet

My motivation is no secret at all. Until June 2013, I was very interested in this kind of topics, but didn’t join public discussions (I was quite active in the 90s in USENET and mailing lists, but this was long ago). Then Snowden came with his big PRISM “direct access” story. It was at prime time in all mainstream media. When I saw it first I only thought: “What a bullshit. That makes no sense. I will only believe in this when there is solid proof”.
And of course there was no solid proof. The story was crap, based on wild interpretations and speculations. But what happened? Nobody questioned this absurd story (at least nobody in Germany, in US and UK there were more skeptical voices). Even none of the usual American-friendly mainstream media questioned it. Some criticized Snowden for his behavior, but nobody questioned if he is really telling the truth. This was my motivation: If nobody did it, than I had to do it. I started to participate in discussions and write articles about the many flaws in the Snowden reporting.

And there are really a lot of flaws. My list of wrong and misleading Snowden revelations has 23 entries so far:


Skeptical July 7, 2015 7:08 AM

Re Snowden as the source

First Argument Against:

  • This is not the type of document Snowden has previously leaked, nor is it a type that some journalists have seen. Therefore it seems more likely that the document(s) derive from a different source.


    • Snowden did reveal signals intelligence collection on Medvedev, and although I do not believe that document has been published, the type sounds very similar to the document(s) reported.
    • Snowden claimed that it was unethical, and indeed unconstitutional, for the US to conduct espionage on foreign diplomats of nations with which the US is not at war (this was his justification for leaking such information). Therefore it seems unlikely that Snowden would collect a couple of instances of such collection – on the G20 summit, on Medvedev – and not collect instances involving friendlier nations. In fact, it is highly likely that this would be material Snowden would have sought.
    • Snowden would appear to have gained access, authorized or not, to this type of material given the nature of other documents that he has leaked.

Second Argument Against:

  • Snowden is not identified as the source, whereas Snowden is identified as the source for other stories. The best explanation for this difference is that Snowden is not in fact the source here.


    • Nothing requires journalists to always name their sources. There are equally, if not more, plausible reasons for Snowden not to be named as the source for some of these stories:
      • (1) Snowden’s legal interests: not naming him fits with a strategy of creating plausible deniability in order to limit Snowden’s legal liability, since every document published and attributed to Snowden is evidence of a serious felony. By raising the question of multiple leakers, a defense team might even be able to cast reasonable doubt upon the attribution of (some) documents that actually have been sourced to Snowden.
      • (2) Political interests of reporting organizations: fostering a sense that leakers are legion and no one can be trusted is a line of effort long pursued by Wikileaks and fits with the expressed objectives of many involved in these leaks, including Snowden himself.
      • (3) Economic interests of reporting organizations: a document sourced from someone other than Snowden may garner more interest than yet another leak from Snowden. The possibility prevents possible “Snowden fatigue” on the part of the public, adds a bit of suspense, and even permits the reporting organizations to rationalize all of this by telling themselves that they’re merely enabling the focus to be on the story rather than on Snowden.

Here’s the the collection of facts that ultimately persuades me that Snowden is the likely source:

Snowden would have wanted to collect this material; Snowden could have collected this material; and Snowden has leaked materially similar material. Another source is likely to disclose documents that post-date Snowden, which better achieves the ideological and economic goals of certain organizations and better satisfies the likely ideological and/or economic goals of another hypothetical leaker (as, indeed, seems to have been the case with respect to one of the other leaks, though not this one); yet these documents all fall solidly within a range compatible with Snowden taking them.

Now, Schneier may have very good reasons for thinking otherwise that he cannot describe in detail, which I understand. But the reasons given so far for thinking Snowden to not be the source don’t seem persuasive to me, while the argument that Snowden is the source is persuasive (though very tentatively and just barely).

Clive Robinson July 7, 2015 8:51 AM

@ Skeptical,

… Another source is likely to disclose documents that post-date Snowden…

Not if they are sensible about self preservation, with US politico’s and others saying Ed Snowden should be killed with much malice aforethought, and poor old Manning given a sentance that is the equivalent of “die in jail”, they would in effect be suicidal to release post Snowden dated docs.

Further, unless they want to kick of an internal witch hunt, which would almost certainly result in “career death” for many –a point Snowden has made which is supported by previous US IC behaviour– the documents they release need to fall into the same area and type Snowden took that have been so far publicaly released.

Thus nearly all of your arguments it was Snowden and not another hold no water either way.

And this is the problem in a nutshell “Sensible leakers will be not another ‘Snowden’, but aim to ‘look like Snowden in every respect they can'”.

Now people will argue “what’s the point?”, well apart from their oen and others safety via very good “plausable deniability”, it also gives them the oportunity to slowly shift the agender of reporting in a given direction.

I’m sure it’s not lost on some that the reporting on Germany and more recently France may be quite strongly related to the Euro Crisis as the two countries that are usually fairly unified on EU policy and direction are currently quite divergent over Greece. Driving a wedge hard into any cracks between them would be to certain peoples advantages, likewise giving them common cause would suit other peoples agenders. Thus I would not rule out the possibility that some of this “psudo-Snowden” leaked documentation has been done officialy.

Esspecialy when we have good reason to believe the US or similar have been spying on Greece in various ways, some of which, which occured over the Olympics was found due to the failure to keep up payment on cut out technology. A failing we know the US IC has –apparently– made a number of times with other cut out technology…

The problem as always is there is insufficient evidence to say who or how these newer documents have come to light, thus peoples thoughts are based in part on their world view and assumptions effecting which threads they prioritize for pulling.

The only certain thing is that those thread choices say more about the person selecting them, than on the actuality of what is happening.

Alfred July 7, 2015 9:21 AM

@Rolf Weber

But on the other side, Snowden could still not reveal a single wrongdoing, so there is just no justification for stealing and publishing them. And I’m sure the “revelations” created a lot of harm. It is and always was a crime which should be stopped, if possible.

Actually, that last paragraph not sound all that ambivalent. For someone supposedly living in Germany its funny that you even care of a crime committed mainly against the US-based NSA.

Anyone would want to stop this sort of thing only if it risks damaging their own interests.

klandnewseditor July 7, 2015 10:54 AM


Mr. Weber does live in Germany 🙂
His Twitter profile and various Google+ docs provide insight into his rationale and into how he processes complex, incomplete and confusing information.

On this one, I’m going with “Be kind” instead of my usual “Life is not a command line”.

Rolf Weber July 7, 2015 1:19 PM


The USA is a close ally of Germany, Germany benefits a lot from the NSA’s work, so of course I mind when they are hurt.

P/K July 7, 2015 9:34 PM

Regarding the source:

I read all the arguments pro and contra, but still: if these new docs are from the Snowden-trove, why would “they” have waited so long before publishing them? Clearly these documents provide much harder proof of some accusations that Greenwald earlier on tried to proof with rather forced interpretations of NSA slides (economic espionage, Brazil).

Also for the spying on German targets, it would probably had been better to reveal it much earlier too, so the investigation committee would have been in a stronger position for their inquiry.

Given all these confusing questions, I think we should also consider the option that a hostile intelligence agency is behind it: they could be capable of such access, and would benefit from as much confusion and as much damage between the US and its allies as possible.

Rolf Weber July 8, 2015 4:46 AM


I absolutely agree with you that Greenwald didn’t have the now released documents. This is really obviously.
But I’m nevertheless convinced that they are from the bunch that Snowden stole.

I also think that it’s unlikely that Snowden himself now handed the documents over to Wikileaks. This was another one, and you are right, it could of course be a hostile intelligence agency.

Grauhut July 8, 2015 10:12 PM

Spiegel, funny as always, subtitles like “Making a Farce of Rule of Law” make a farce of the rule of mind. 🙂

There ain’t no rule of law, the only rule is the reality made by powers that be. The Rule of Law is a nice kindergarden fairytail, it only exists in a grave besides Santa Claus on the boneyard of childhood idols and dreams.

Maybe they just do their job, producing some theatrical thunder, trying to keep us believe in it.

“Democrats, fight for the Rule of Law! Girl schools in afpak! Breeding box thiefes! Raytheons shareholder value!”

Rolf Weber July 9, 2015 2:24 AM


Of course there is a rule of law. But the intelligence agencies are only bound to the laws of their own country. Abroad, they act like criminals.
Everybody does this. This was, is, and always will be.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via https://michelf.ca/projects/php-markdown/extra/

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.