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United States Politics

German Federal Police Helicopter Circles US Consulate 239

New submitter mwissel writes "The German Federal Police ('Bundespolizei') had sent out an helicopter in late August to fly over the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt and take photos from only 60 meters height — reportedly to search for spy antennae and other espionage related equipment on the building rooftops. A government spokesmen more or less confirmed the purpose of the flight, and it is said that Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, gave the order. This is remarkable, because Pofalla so far stood out with a very U.S.-friendly attitude in the debate around NSA surveillance programs. There was, of course, no word about any findings. It also remains unclear whether this was just plain provocation or a PR-stunt for the upcoming federal elections in Germany on September 22nd."
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German Federal Police Helicopter Circles US Consulate

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  • But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday September 09, 2013 @11:09PM (#44805013)

    This is remarkable, because Pofalla so far stood out with a very U.S.-friendly attitude in the debate around NSA surveillance programs.

    I.e. no problem, so long as we aren't spying on him.

    • by rea1l1 ( 903073 )

      Most countries don't try to police the world.

      • by gmhowell ( 26755 )

        Most countries don't try to police the world.

        Certainly not the Germans...

        • Re:But of course (Score:4, Insightful)

          by 1s44c ( 552956 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @05:20AM (#44806189)

          Most countries don't try to police the world.

          Certainly not the Germans...

          That's a good point actually. The Germans, The British empire, the Ottoman empire, The Roman Empire, and many others, either learned from their mistakes or fell apart. The lesson is you can beat down all comers for a while but you can't do it forever. This is the lesson the US Empire is going to learn.

  • by mechtech256 ( 2617089 ) on Monday September 09, 2013 @11:09PM (#44805015)
    Germany has a very advanced military, it could certainly get photos of the roof of a building more covertly than sending out a helicopter and making a public statement.
    • by DasBub ( 139460 ) <dasbub@das b u b.com> on Monday September 09, 2013 @11:29PM (#44805077) Homepage

      Not even military. Germany has foreign and domestic intelligence agencies - the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) and the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), respectively. They don't need the po-po's helicopter to check for antennae. They already know or can reasonably guess what intercept equipment is on-site at the consulate (and other sites).

      If this stunt's goals were any more transparent, birds would be smashing into them with the frequency of that Hot Butter song.

      • by Torvac ( 691504 )
        "operation roflcopter". fake news, nobody can be that clueless. and the Pofalla dude said weeks ago: "there is no spying, nsa said so. no need to investigate anything."
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Yep and also the Consulate is legally US territory anyway so they can put what the hell they like on the roof.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:31AM (#44805865)

          Wrong. Read the Vienna Convention if you are seriously interested in it. Espionage from the embassy building is explicitly forbidden. And the belief that the embassy is US territory is very much wrong. All that the Vienna Convention says is that the embassy and all the property belonging to it are immune to search or seizure, and that agents of the host country may not enter without consent of the embassy staff, that's it.

        • by paulatz ( 744216 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:54AM (#44805949)
          the right for the USA to have a consulate in Berlin comes fro ma bi-later agreement that can be retracted at any time. It is not a God-given right.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gnasher719 ( 869701 )

          Yep and also the Consulate is legally US territory anyway so they can put what the hell they like on the roof.

          They can't. According to German law, any act happens in the country where it takes effect. Putting up an antenna that illegally monitors radio traffic on German territory takes effect on German territory and therefore is a crime that would be prosecuted in Germany. In other words, the people responsible better not leave their consulate without diplomatic immunity.

          • Don't think you can apply that to radio waves. For starters technically the point that the electromagnetic photons (Radio Waves) are being intercepted is on consulate ground and therefore US territory. Some may argue that the same photon is also on German territory due to that nature of photons, however, taking this argument it could also be argued that the same photon is on Swiss, Polish & French territory at the same time.
        • by 1s44c ( 552956 )

          Yep and also the Consulate is legally US territory anyway so they can put what the hell they like on the roof.

          But is the air space? I mean if a private jet happened to fly over a city would it need permission from every embassy it flew over? I don't think that's even clear in anyone's law.

          Obviously flying 60 meters over a US building is a political stunt anyway. If they want high resolution photos they can take them from the ground and from higher up.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Every gov knows what Russia, the UK and US do with their "Consulate" floors or just put a T2FD outside.
      http://cryptome.org/eyeball/rubig/rubig-eyeball.htm [cryptome.org]
      60 metres to photograph the site sounds a strange cover story? What could a normal sized helicopter carry in Germany at this point in time wrt quality sigint collecting?
      ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_Support_Activity [wikipedia.org] made in Germany? Why the low distance?
    • by gmanterry ( 1141623 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @02:19AM (#44805599) Journal

      Germany has a very advanced military, it could certainly get photos of the roof of a building more covertly than sending out a helicopter and making a public statement.

      It is time someone made a public statement. No one seems to understand what this NSA spying means. I have yet to see anyone address the most troubling aspect of the NSA spying. The present, in power President has now got 100% access to all information about the opposition party. He can read their mail, listen in on all calls he has access to all confidential data from reporters, judges, congressmen and senators. How can his party lose? The only information the party in power does not have is mouth to ear communication and snail mail. This is equivelant to high tech WaterGate times 1000. At the close of the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin said "You have a Republic, if you can keep it". I'm sorry to say this but "We had a Republic, but it appears that we have indeed lost it". The U. S. government can not function when one political party has all the phones tapped and reads everyone's email. That is why we used to have a fourth amendment.

    • It's unlikely that this is a PR stunt of the government to soothe the public. To give you some background information: the election campaigns here in Germany are in full blast now. The opposition used the recent revelations by Snowden to accuse the Merkel administration of breaking the constitution and betraying civil rights and values. The strategy of the coalition was to downplay everything, ensure everyone that the NSA was not pulling a dragnet through everyone's private data, and that there really way n

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        > Instead, it reveals that officials have little clue about what foreign intelligence is really doing on German soil.

        You really think the german government doesn't have drones? You think they couldn't buy a freaking off the shelf hexacopter with a camera and get the same intel? Do you really think they don't already have detailed photographs of that building?

        This was a stunt to make a point.

  • They broke some China.

    Spying indeed. They were just trying to help.

  • ... just a PR stunt or an investigation of espionage, might I suggest dropping 60" frankfurters on Frankfurt? Either way it's a win!

    Ich bin hungrig. :(

  • The Art of Diplomacy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Monday September 09, 2013 @11:20PM (#44805057) Journal

    The Art of Diplomacy, it is said,
    is saying "nice doggy" whilst you look about
    for a large enough stick.

  • Gamesmanship [wikipedia.org] is the use of dubious (although not technically illegal) methods to win or gain a serious advantage in a game or sport. It has been described as "Pushing the rules to the limit without getting caught, using whatever dubious methods possible to achieve the desired end" (Lumpkin, Stoll and Beller, 1994:92). It may be inferred that the term derives from the idea of playing for the game (i.e., to win at any cost) as opposed to sportsmanship, which derives from the idea of playing for sport. The term originates from Stephen Potter's humorous 1947 book, The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or the Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating).

    This smacks of cold war gamesmanship. I've known a few spooks and what they had in common was a deep seated sense of gamesmanship.

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Monday September 09, 2013 @11:51PM (#44805169)

    How is one meant for spying different from any other type of antenna?

    I realize there are different antennas for different frequency...

    Unless of course there are ones that are only made for those frequencies used for espionage and not anything else... "Is this optimally made for listening to encrypted transmissions and not broadcast radio or TV signals?"

    Hopefully, Fry's has them on sale in the espionage section.

  • reportedly to search for spy antennae and other espionage related equipment on the building rooftops

    That's what they *say* but the helicopter was really trying to draw fire.

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Monday September 09, 2013 @11:58PM (#44805191)

    We trust the American people... it's just your damn government we have a problem with.

  • by TCM ( 130219 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @12:08AM (#44805209)

    In the name of all Germans I want to apologize for this. It was a huge mistake...

    ...because the helicopter was missing the "YES WE CAN" banner!


  • The staff of the Consulate should construct giant satellite dishes out of tin foil and hang them out of every window in the place.
  • They weren't sure if they found anything, so they released the one photo they thought looked the the most suspicious the public to see if they could help [wikimedia.org] find anything.
  • I always thought it was standard practice for everyone's embassies to include an entire electronics communications suite usable for both 'secure' communications and 'accidentally' listening in on host nation broadcasts.

    Heck, if the Germans didn't know about any visible gear by now, their spy boss is an incompetent buffoon and needs to be shipped back to whatever cave he crawled out of.
  • Parlament election (Score:5, Informative)

    by alendit ( 1454311 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @01:45AM (#44805495)

    Just to give some background: Germany will have parlament elections on Sep 22nd, i.e. in 2 weeks.

    • by Tom ( 822 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:20AM (#44805817) Homepage Journal


      It also remains unclear

      Uh, no it doesn't. The current ruling coalition is not guaranteed to continue having the majority after the election. We will most likely keep our mother-troll, mostly because she spent the last 10 years wiping out everyone who could challenge her within her own party, but it's unclear if they can rule with their favorite coalition partner or someone else.

      Of course this was a publicity stunt. Ponfalla is not in the business of stuff like this unless it is of personal important to the government.

  • "an helicopter"!? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by johnw ( 3725 )

    "an helicopter"? How far can this idiocy of putting "an" in front of any word beginning with h go?

    It's "a helicopter".

    • by asifyoucare ( 302582 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @02:34AM (#44805643)
      Don't get into an huff about it.
    • by DMiax ( 915735 )
      seems like an honest mistake
    • by Guru80 ( 1579277 )
      Here I am fresh out of mod points. For those that don't know when to use "a .." or "an ..." I'll keep it as simple as I can. It isn't how you spell the word that determines which is used it is how it is pronounced. If it is a vowel sound you use an, if it is a constant sound you use a. For instance "an union" even though it starts with a vowel and "an hour" is correct even though it doesn't. Not nearly has many words that begin with the letter h should be proceeded by "an" as people seem to give it cre
    • by Arker ( 91948 )
      It's a helicopter if the writer pronounces the haitch. If he says 'an 'elicopter, mate' then he wrote it correctly.
  • When a Stinger missile would come in handy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRTngtsOY8Q [youtube.com]

    • Great move, when you're a guest in another country. Remarks like this remove all doubt about why Americans have to wear Canadian flags when they're traveling.

      Of course, they don't act any different, so now they're giving Canadians a bad name, too.

  • No suprise here ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:17AM (#44805801)

    Ronald Pofalla is know for his - how shall I put it? - errrm, ... lack of subtleness. How the _chancelors_ chief of staff can order a _police_ helicopter to do what's basically a military/state _intel_ job is totally beyond me though.
    We have these nutcase scenarios where people seem to break every rule in the book just for the heck of it. At the G8 convention in Heiligendam we had high-tech tactical bombers helping out the police gathering intel on demonstrators. ... It raised a lot less of a stink than I would have hoped for.

    My 2 cents.

  • As already pointed out, The west German government was upto their necks in supporting this during the cold war, they know how it worked and were willing partners. Not to mention, under the UKUSA Securty Agreement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKUSA_Agreement [wikipedia.org], Europe and European Russia are under the UK's responsibility to spy on, the least they could have done is fly over the right consulate.

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky