Punk-bands, Eastern German magazines and journalists caught in surveillance grid

Extreme cases of surveillance carried out against punk-bands, members of the "Eastern German magazine" 'telegraph' and other press representatives is raising the degree of uneasiness felt throughout the country.

More and more details emerge in relation to the investigations into the authorities' conduct concerning the "militante gruppe" (mg) [militant group] and the suspects associated with it. It transpired that investigators to the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office not only intercepted letters originating from within the leftist spectrum addressed to Berlin-based daily news papers, but also engaged in the eavesdropping, protocolling and non-anonymous filing of phone conversations between journalists of the NDR [North German Broadcasting], taz [left-wing daily paper] and Spiegel Online, to name a few. The former GDR-opposition magazine further reports that the investigations against the 'mg' even resorted to the inclusion of materials derived from personal files on victims of the Eastern German state security police 'Stasi' for the purpose of drawing up-to-date personal profiles, formerly maintained on GDR system-critics.

The materials reportedly date back to 1988, at a time when parts of the GDR-opposition also rallied against the West-Berlin summit of the International Monetary Fund as well as the World Bank Group in East Germany. According to the telegraph, prior to the reunification known by the name "Umweltblätter" [environmental leaflets], the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) already attempted to produce evidence for interaction with "terrorist circles" with the aid of their GDR state security police "colleagues" back then. In the example at hand the Ministry for State Security is said to have had a stab at environmental organisation Greenpeace in its records amongst others.

The consultation of the state security (Stasi) files in the course of investigations into the membership in a terrorist organisation against four authors working for the telegraph magazine according to §129a StGB [Criminal Code] was triggered by nine key-words such as "implode" or "draconian", which are said to have also been employed in letters claiming responsibility for assaults issued by the 'mg'. Amongst the contributing writers was the Berlin-based sociologist Andrej H., an issued warrant of arrest against whom has since been quashed by the Federal Supreme Court (BGH) end of October. Already back then the questionable reasons for the arrest have drawn sharp criticism from scientists from around the world. This also concerned the utilisation of technical terms and similarities which were allegedly established between these terms and the contents of letters claiming responsibility by way of performing search requests with Google.

According to the statement issued by the editorial department, all-encompassing observations in relation to the sociologist had taken place in the shape of house searches, GPS-enabled vehicle bugging, the hourly sending of "silent" mobile text messages, video surveillance, surveillance of internet habits and email-usage as well as background checks on friends and other persons. "We can only take a guess at how far our journalistic work is affected by these developments", explained telegraph-editor Andreas Schreier commenting the case. "Observational photographs of the telegraph's office are said to have appeared within the file and the main suspect Andrej H.'s emails have resided on the editors' email server." Reviewing the latest occurrences of surveillance incidents affecting journalists and lawyers, one would have to beg the question: "Are we headed towards a new German secret police?"

Meanwhile, the band "Mono für Alle!" (MfA) [Mono for All!] also feels to have fallen victim to wrongful surveillance measures. The punk formation from Gießen [Giessen], Germany, had already attracted the attention of Bavaria's State Security in the past for their critical lyrics "Hallo Verfassungsschutz" [Hello Office for the Protection of the Constitution], deletion of which of from the band's web page has been demanded by the agency. Now MfA announced that the public prosecutor's offices of Stuttgart and Gießen would be carrying out investigations in relation to the song "Amoklauf" [killing spree]. Accordingly, the State Security is said to have surveilled the band members' personal environment, scrutinised their school records and contacted concert promoters. Furthermore, an investigator is said to have registered with MfA's fan-club with an email-account specifically set up for this purpose. All this has happened without the band's awareness whose attention has only recently been drawn to these ongoings in the course of questionings carried out in their personal environment.

The inspection of files which has been carried out in the meantime suggests that suspicious facts regarding the band were first identified December 2006, when the Waiblingen police headquarters came across the song "Amoklauf", reportedly having described it in an email to the Stuttgart public prosecutor's office as "very aggressive and agitative". With reference to an interview conducted by a computer gaming magazine with the band, mention was made that the song shall not be broadcasted before 10 pm. However, the passage making mention of the fact that MfA attributed a therapeutic effect to the song with deterring potential regarding killing sprees has not been pointed out. Likewise, no mention has been made that the media industry's self-regulatory body has firmly attested the song to enjoy the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of artistic expression enshrined in Article 5 GG [German Constitution]. It follows from the file that the public prosecutor's office sensed a possible "Instruction for Crimes" according to §130a Criminal Code (StGB) and concluded that the song should be viewed in connection with killing sprees at schools.

The case was then handed over to the Gießen public prosecutor's office, which instructed the State Security to carry out further investigations. The State Security made out a "high degree of conspiratory conduct" since there "were no pointers whatsoever as to the band members' identities". The subsequent investigations then focused on scouring the internet, on-line ordering of audio content as well as the analysis of photographs and interviews. The investigators are also said to have targeted concert venues where the band's concerts have been scheduled. It was only after eight months into the investigations that the State Security got the idea to carry out a Whois-search against the band's web domain, informs the file. The personal data retrieved this way were subsequently used to sniff around in their circles of families and friends, relates MfA. Mono für Alle! has now instructed a lawyer.

The reports on unusual governmental observations drew criticism amongst the affected groups and opposition parties. For example, NDR-director Jobst Plog warned of a "massive assault on the constitutionally protected broadcasting freedom and the freedom of press". Journalists' working conditions would be severely interfered with. Journalist associations assessed the protection of informants to have suffered from a major blow. Parliamentary party leader for the Green Party Renate Künast particularly branded the resorting of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) to files of the former Eastern German state security police (Stasi) as "scandalous". At least the conduct of the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office in eavesdropping on terror suspects and representatives of the press has already been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. Member of the Bundestag for the Green Party Hans-Christian Ströbele demands a statement from the Federal Government as to the intended future handling of the wire-tapping records. In his view, it is apparent that the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office acted in ignorance of all save-guards for the protection of the broadcasting freedom and the freedom of press when ordering the surveillance; and the same would be true for the subsequent carrying out of the surveillance by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and the State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA), Kiel. (Stefan Krempl) / (Translation of the original German article by Matthias Toth) / (jk/c't)