Monday, May 15, 2006

Newsmagazine Der Spiegel Admits Staff Spied

Newsmagazine Der Spiegel, famed throughout decades for rooting out corruption and the vagaries of errant politicians, admitted Saturday some staff had been working for the government intelligence service.

In an article in the next edition on Monday, released in advance, the celebrated weekly -- considered a watchdog of press and democratic freedoms in postwar Germany -- said one staff member in a regional bureau had been working for the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) as recently as last autumn.

Another filing from war zones around the world had likewise been providing information to the BND on a colleague working for Focus, a rival weekly news magazine.

The BND, Germany's foreign intelligence-gathering agency, has in effect admitted to committing "mistakes," thereby appearing to confirm indirectly that it had been spying on German journalists.

The revelations appeared Friday in the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Quoting from Der Spiegel's own article, it said the BND had kept several journalists under surveillance for some years in order to find out the source of leaks from the BND to the press.

Journalists as informers

Former BND chief Volker Foertsch has also admitted that journalists had sometimes been used as informers.

"The aim of the contacts was to prevent publication of prejudicial articles and find out where the journalists were getting their information from inside the BND," he was quoted by another newspaper, the Berliner Zeitung, as saying.

Der Spiegel, founded in 1947, became widely read as West Germany developed postwar democratic institutions.

It achieved its greatest moment of fame in 1962 when its publisher Rudolf Augstein and top editorial staff were temporarily taken into police custody on suspicion of treason after the magazine published damaging details of results of a NATO military exercise. All were later released without charge and Der Spiegel's reputation was secured as a pillar of press freedom in a postwar society ultra-sensitive about the probity of political institutions.

Deutsche Welle 05/2006