"The largest espionage scandal in the 21st century is shaking Germany," wrote Peer Steinbrueck, the man who is desperately trying to unseat one of the most popular German politicians, Chancellor Angelo Merkel, as massive anti-NSA protests spread across the country. Well, not quite: 1,000 demonstrators straggled through Frankfurt. It's going to be tough for him. Edward Snowden's revelation of widespread US and British spying on German internet and telecommunications and Germany's own role in it, damaged confidence in the democratic rule of law, and suspicions were growing that constitutional rights had been "systematically violated millions of times," he asserted in a guest commentary in the Frankfurter Rundschau 56 days before the election. The SPD's candidate for chancellor, and erstwhile Finance Minister under Merkel's grand coalition government of 2005-2009, was running out of time. Back in June, 100 days before the election, only 14% of German voters believed that he could become chancellor, while 78% believed that he was electoral road kill. Even among SPD supporters, moroseness had taken over: only 22% believed that he was electoral road kill. Even among SPD supporters, moroseness had taken over: only 22% believed he'd make it. The spy scandal might be his last chance. Only a big debacle could unseat Merkel. But Germany was on vacation, and the government would simply not allow any big debacles to transpire before the elections. So Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was sent to the forefront to defend the NSA's surveillance programs. July 12, he went to the US ostensibly to be briefed by the NSA and came back
a strong supporter. At the time, he said they'd prevented five terror attacks in Germany. Later, he was forced to cut that down to two. On Monday, at a conference in Riesa, Saxony, not far from Dresden, he twisted himself into a linguistic knot defending the programs again. Communications were just being "filtered," he said. It was hardly any spying at all. "The point is that we have worldwide networks of organized crime and terrorism, and intelligence must be gathered on these networks." That would be necessary for the survival of Europe, he said. People shouldn't get all rattled by this. How the government has responded to these near daily revelations "is a scandal within a scandal," Steinbruck counterattacked. The minister of the interior acted "like a spokesman for the NSA." And with this "abstruce formulation of security as a 'super-constitutional law', he exhibited "a deviant understanding of the constitution." Then Steinbrueck swung his guns in direction of the Chancellery, the federal agency serving as the executive office of the Chancellor. Its head, Ronald Pofalla, responsible for the coordination of the intelligence services, still hasn't given any answers about "the details and extent of the spying, and in particular about the question if this spying is continuing, let alone what he wants to do about it."