July 22, 2013
It was a busy two days for the surveillance specialists of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency. At the end of April, a team of 12 senior BND officials flew to the United States, where they visited the heart of the global American surveillance empire: the National Security Agency (NSA). The purpose of their mission can be read in a “top secret” NSA document which SPIEGEL has seen — one of the trove of files in the possession of whistleblower Edward Snowden.
According to the document, BND President Gerhard Schindler repeatedly expressed an “eagerness” to cooperate more closely with the NSA. The Germans, the document reads, were looking for “guidance and advice.”
Their wish was fulfilled. Senior employees with the NSA’s Foreign Affairs Directorate were assigned to look after the German delegation. The Americans organized a “strategic planning conference” to bring their German partners up to speed. In the afternoon, following several presentations on current methods of data acquisition, senior members of a division known as Special Source Operations, or SSO, spoke to their German guests. The SSO, one of the most secretive groups within the intelligence community, is the division that forms alliances with US companies, especially in the IT sector, for data mining purposes. Snowden describes this elite unit as the NSA’s “crown jewels”.