Germany and the NSA

July, 3rd 2013 - There has been a bit of a debate recently in the US and outside about how many terror attacks have actually been prevented by the NSA - or rather: with the help of information and analysis provided by the NSA (not the same thing, obviously). NSA chief Keith Alexander on June 21st in front of the US Congress put the number at 54 cases, 25 of which he said had concerned Europe. 

In at least two cases I can confirm that based on interviews I had with parties who have knowledge of those cases. One case won't be a surprise to many of you: The detection and subsequent arrest of the "Sauerland Cell" in 2007, who had planned attacks in Germany on behalf of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). 

The second case is maybe not exactly a surprise either, but was at least not publicly known until now: It is the arrest of the suspected Al-Qaida cell around Abdeladiem El-K., currently standing trial in Düsseldorf for alleged membership in AQ. (I am mentioning this second case in an NSA story in tomorrow's edition of DIE ZEIT.) 

However, there is more. Because from what I learnt it seems that in both cases the key was that the NSA was able to tap into communications of terror organizations in AfPak at senior levels. 

Let's take a look at how the Sauerland Cell investigation started: According to court documents, in November 2006 police in the German state of Baden-Württemberg passed on the following piece of information to the federal police, which it said it had received from the US Airforce Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) in Stuttgart: 

„GERMANY/ PAKISTAN: In late Oct 06, according to sensitive reporting, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) established direct links to an ethnic Turkish associate in Germany, possibly in the vicinity of Stuttgart. The associate may be either Muaz or Zafer, two ethnic Turks from accordingGermany who attended IJU-sponsored training in Pakistan, beginning in late Jun or early Jul 06. Muaz was known to have completed his training by late Aug 06, at which time he traveled to eastern Iran. Materials describing the manufacture and use of poisons, the assembly of explosives and detonators, as well as other extremlst training Information, may have already been made available to the ethnic Turk in Germany.“

Now I don't know the exact role of AFOSI. But according to my sources, the original information definitely came by way of the NSA. Perhaps that fact for some reason needed to be obscured and information fed into alternative channels. I wouldn't know. But the actual origin of the information seems to have been email communications inside the IJU that the NSA was able to exploit. 

It was suggested to me that this was similar in the case of Abdeladim El-K. Which is especially interesting since he is alleged to have been in touch with Al-Qaida's high ranking operative Younis al-Mauretani, who must be considered as having been responsible for a lot of the Euro Plot Planning in and around 2009. 

To me that seems to make stronger the case of those who argue that targeted tapping is much more effective than trying to find terrorist networks within the haystack of intercepted big data. But in all honesty: I am not a SIGINT expert; I just thought you might find this interesting. 

Cheers, Y. 

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