Berlin’s digital exiles: where tech activists go to escape the NSA

With its strict privacy laws, Germany is the refuge of choice for those hounded by the security services. Carole Cadwalladr visits Berlin to meet Laura Poitras, the director of Edward Snowden film Citizenfour, and a growing community of surveillance refuseniks

It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest thing, Laura Poitras tells me. “Not knowing whether I’m in a private place or not.” Not knowing if someone’s watching or not. Though she’s under surveillance, she knows that. It makes working as a journalist “hard but not impossible”. It’s on a personal level that it’s harder to process. “I try not to let it get inside my head, but… I still am not sure that my home is private. And if I really want to make sure I’m having a private conversation or something, I’ll go outside.”

Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden, Citizenfour, has just been released in cinemas. She was, for a time, the only person in the world who was in contact with Snowden, the only one who knew of his existence. Before she got Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian on board, it was just her – talking, electronically, to the man she knew only as “Citizenfour”. Even months on, when I ask her if the memory of that time lives with her still, she hesitates and takes a deep breath: “It was really very scary for a number of months. I was very aware that the risks were really high and that something bad could happen. I had this kind of responsibility to not fuck up, in terms of source protection, communication, security and all those things, I really had to be super careful in all sorts of ways.”

Bad, not just for Snowden, I say? “Not just for him,” she agrees. We’re having this conversation in Berlin, her adopted city, where she’d moved to make a film about surveillance before she’d ever even made contact with Snowden. Because, in 2006, after making two films about the US war on terror, she found herself on a “watch list”. Every time she entered the US – “and I travel a lot” – she would be questioned. “It got to the point where my plane would land and they would do what’s called a hard stand, where they dispatch agents to the plane and make everyone show their passport and then I would be escorted to a room where they would question me and oftentimes take all my electronics, my notes, my credit cards, my computer, my camera, all that stuff.” She needed somewhere else to go, somewhere she hoped would be a safe haven. And that somewhere was Berlin. Continue reading

German spies want $400M to play catch-up with the NSA

Your new post-America superpower:

Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR have turned up secret documents belonging to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s counterpart to the NSA. It seems the BND is jealous of the digital espionage capabilities of the NSA and the U.K.’s GCHQ, and wants to up its game.

The documents warn that, if the BND doesn’t get the €300 million ($409 million) it needs to run expanded surveillance activities until 2020, Germany will fall behind even Italy and Spain in the spook stakes. They also suggest the spies hope to get their funding in the coming weeks. Continue reading

Germany, Spain ‘carry out mass spying’

SPY agencies in Germany, France, Spain and Sweden are carrying out mass surveillance of online and phone traffic in collaboration with Britain, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The Guardian newspaper reports Britain’s GCHQ electronic eavesdropping centre – which has a close relationship with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) – has taken a leading role in helping the other countries work around laws intended to limit spying.

The report is likely to prove embarrassing for governments including those of Germany and Spain, which had denounced earlier reports that the NSA was electronically spying on their citizens. Continue reading

GCHQ’s Cyprus base to play key intelligence role ahead of any US-led Syria intervention

GCHQ facilities in Cyprus are expected to play a key role in collecting intelligence which will inform any military strike against Syria despite Parliament last week voting against the UK joining in with any potential attack.

The Cheltenham-based listening post has a presence on the island which is used to intercept messages from across the Middle East. Continue reading

Australian spies in global deal to tap undersea cables

The nation’s electronic espionage agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, is in a partnership with British, American and Singaporean intelligence agencies to tap undersea fibre optic telecommunications cables that link Asia, the Middle East and Europe and carry much of Australia’s international phone and internet traffic.

Secret information disclosed by United States intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that the British Government Communications Headquarters is collecting all data transmitted to and from the United Kingdom and Northern Europe via the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable that runs from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to Northern Germany. Continue reading

Britain ‘under attack’ in cyberspace

Britain is seeing about 70 sophisticated cyber espionage operations a month against government or industry networks, British intelligence has told the BBC.

GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban said business secrets were being stolen on an “industrial scale”. Continue reading