Secrecy slows probe of US embassy surveillance

An investigation into the legality of a surveillance programme run by the US embassy in Stockholm has been hampered by a refusal of people involved to answer questions about the operation, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Secrecy slows probe of US embassy surveillance

“I must say it wasn’t unexpected,” prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand told The Local.

Since November, Lindstrand has been looking into whether the embassy’s Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) may have engaged in illegal intelligence gathering.

According to the embassy, the SDU is focused on uncovering surveillance directed against the embassy.

Lindstrand has been in touch with around ten people who have been active in the embassy’s programme, but all of them have refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions, citing professional secrecy.

“They have however declared that they don’t want to discuss the matter,” Lindstrand said.

“It’s a shame because it’s really slowing down the investigation.”

While not entirely surprised by the embassy workers’ unwillingness to testify, Lindstrand suggested that there was more than one way to interpret workplace confidentiality.

“The people working at the US embassy read the rule book in a way that you can’t really argue with, although it could have been interpreted differently,” he said.

Speaking with Sveriges Radio (SR), Lindstrand said the US State Department in Washington is looking into the possibility of lifting the gag clause for those involved in the SDU programme, which is in place at a number of US embassies around the world

US embassy spokesperson Chris Dunnett told SR he had not been informed about any problems with Lindstrand’s investigation.

“I can’t see any difficulties, we are fully co-operating with the Swedish authorities”, he told SR.

Justice minister Beatrice Ask, said in November that she was not aware of the US surveillance programme, which has been in place since 2000.

The embassy has acknowledged the programme, explaining that it had informed the Swedish authorities about its existence.

Attempts by The Local to reach the US embassy for comment were unsuccessful.

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Germany’s far-right AfD ‘placed under surveillance’

Germany has placed the far-right AfD under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy, local media reported Wednesday, dealing a blow to the anti-immigration party in a big election year.

Germany's far-right AfD 'placed under surveillance'
Alexander Gauland, leader of the AfD parliamentary group in the Bundestag on March 2nd. Photo: DPA

Germany has placed the far-right AfD under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy, local media reported Wednesday, dealing a blow to the anti-immigration party in a big election year.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has classified the Alternative for Germany as a “suspected case” of having ties to right-wing extremism, Der Spiegel magazine said.

The decision, reportedly made late last week, will allow intelligence agents to shadow the party, tap its communications and possibly use undercover informants.

It follows a two-year investigation and a report containing over 1,000 pages of evidence, including several hundred speeches and statements by AfD members at all party levels, Der Spiegel said.

READ ALSO: Germany’s AfD investigated over extremist ties

The anti-Islam, hard-right AfD has often courted controversy by calling for Germany to stop atoning for its World War II crimes. Senior figure Alexander Gauland once described the Nazi era as just “a speck of bird poo” on German history.

While it is the largest opposition party in parliament, it has seen its popularity fall as the pandemic has kept the spotlight firmly on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition parties.

It faces six regional elections this year and a general election on September 26th, the first in over 15 years that will not feature Merkel, who is retiring from politics.

The BfV had already placed a radical fringe of the party known as The Wing under surveillance last year over associations with known neo-Nazis and suspicions of violating the constitution.

The faction, led by firebrand Bjoern Hoecke, dissolved itself last March but many of its 7,000 members remain active in the AfD.

The Wing’s continued influence in the party was one of the reasons for the BfV decision, according to Der Spiegel, along with links to various other right-wing extremist organisations.

The AfD’s regional branches in Thuringia, Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have also been designated as “suspected cases” of right-wing extremism.

The BfV has not yet begun tracking the party and is unable to announce the decision officially because of an ongoing legal dispute, Der Spiegel reported.