April 6, 2014
DW: You were one of the first people with access to the Snowden documents, some of which were classified as strictly confidential. What shocked you the most when reading them?
Holger Stark: I was particularly fascinated by how early the NSA categorized the Internet as a medium for full-scale monitoring. There was a passage in the documents of former NSA chief Kenneth Minihan from the summer of 1996 where he confidentially tells his colleagues that the Internet is the key medium of the future, comparable to the invention of the atom bomb in the 20th century. Minihan says that whoever controls the Internet has the power in the 21st century. And he adds that all efforts need to serve the goal of asserting America’s intelligence dominance.
You have already published six feature pieces on the NSA scandal. Now you have written the book “The NSA Complex” with your colleague Marcel Rosenbach. Are we slowly starting to get the full picture of organized mass surveillance?
The NSA systematically taps fiber optic cables – the main arteries of Internet traffic conveying the largest streams of data. It engages some American companies as collaborators and cooperates with partner intelligence agencies abroad, including Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service [also known by its German acronym, BND]. This system enables control of nearly the whole stream of relevant data and then processing it with sophisticated intelligence analysis programs to see what is important.
I think we have grasped this principle, but the material is so extensive that we will still be seeing interesting and partly surprising and shocking reports about it over many months.
As a partner in this systematic surveillance, does Germany have a small advantage?
Germany is a victim on the one hand and a co-perpetrator on the other. In various areas, the German government is one of the NSA’s targets. The most spectacular of these was definitely the bugging of the German chancellor’s cell phone, but the files also contain records of other Germans being monitored. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) – the special US court for these matters – issued a verdict that monitoring Germany is legitimate.