* Snowden talks of close cooperation between spy agencies
* Berlin had said was taken by surprise by NSA, GCHQ tactics
* Ex-NSA employee says politicians protected from "backlash"
By Stephen Brown
BERLIN, July 7 America's National Security
Agency works closely with Germany and other Western states on a
'no questions asked'-basis, former NSA employee Edward Snowden
said in comments that undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel's
indignant talk of "Cold War" tactics.
"They are in bed with the Germans, just like with most other
Western states," German magazine Der Spiegel quotes him as
saying in an interview published on Sunday that was carried out
before he fled to Hong Kong in May and divulged details of
extensive secret U.S. surveillance.
"Other agencies don't ask us where we got the information
from and we don't ask them. That way they can protect their top
politicians from the backlash in case it emerges how massively
people's privacy is abused worldwide," he said.
His comments about cooperation with governments overseas,
which he said were led by the NSA's Foreign Affairs Directorate,
appear to contradict the German government's show of surprise at
the scale of the U.S. electronic snooping.
Germany has demanded explanations for Snowden's allegations
of large-scale spying by the NSA, and by Britain via a programme
codenamed 'Tempora', on their allies including Germany and other
European Union states, as well as EU institutions and embassies.
Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out during President Barack
Obama's recent visit that Germany had avoided terrorist attacks
thanks to information from allies. But she says there must be
limits to the intrusion on privacy and wants this discussed next
week in parallel with the start of EU-U.S. free trade talks.
Berlin has alluded repeatedly to "Cold War" tactics - Merkel
used the term again on Saturday at a political rally - and has
said spying on friends is unacceptable. Her spokesman has said a
transatlantic trade deal requires a level of "mutual trust".
The domestic intelligence chief has said he knew nothing of
such widespread surveillance by the NSA. But German opposition
parties - with an eye on September's federal election - insist
that somebody in Merkel's office, where the German intelligence
agencies are coordinated, must have known what was going on.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for
comment on the Der Spiegel report, which follows a report last
week in French daily Le Monde saying France also had an
extensive surveillance programme.
Der Spiegel has reported that on an average day, the NSA
monitored about 20 million German phone connections and 10
million internet data sets, rising to 60 million phone
connections on busy days.
Germans are particularly sensitive about eavesdropping
because of the intrusive surveillance in the communist German
Democratic Republic (GDR) and during the Nazi era.
Snowden, a U.S. citizen, fled in May a few weeks before the
details he provided about the NSA were published and is believed
to have been holed up in Moscow airport since June 23.
Bolivia offered asylum on Saturday to Snowden, joining
leftist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in defiance of
Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details
of the secret U.S. spy programs.
Der Spiegel said the interview was conducted while Snowden
was living in Hawaii, via encrypted emails with U.S. documentary
maker Laura Poitras and hacker Jacob Appelbaum.
Snowden told them that America's closest allies sometimes
went even further than the NSA in their zeal for gathering data.
The Tempora programme of Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency
is known in the intelligence world as a "full take".
"It sucks up all information, no matter where it comes from
and which laws are broken," Snowden said. "If you send a data
packet and goes through Britain, we'll get it. If you download
anything, and the server is in Britain, we'll get it."
If the NSA is ordered to target an individual, it virtually
take over that person's data "so the target's computer no longer
belongs to him, it more or less belongs to the U.S. government".