Germany's hearings on NSA spying underway

Analysts don't think Merkel will try to bring in Snowden to testify

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BERLIN — A chapter in transatlantic relations that Washington would sooner forget got a new lease on life Thursday as German lawmakers opened their first parliamentary hearings into the Edward Snowden scandal.

Revelations of large-scale U.S. spying on Germans, up to and including Chancellor Angela Merkel, prompted an initial wave of outrage here last year. But now, the lengthy committee investigations could keep the spotlight on leaks by the former NSA contractor for a year or two to come.

The hearings also have the potential to provoke further antipathy. Indeed, a number of lawmakers here are demanding safe passage to Berlin for Snowden — who is living in self-imposed exile in Moscow — to testify before the eight-member committee. Any such move would likely outrage the United States, which is seeking to take Snowden into custody.

Given the potential for angering Washington, analysts think Merkel’s government will find a way to sidestep such a move. Nevertheless, the push to give Snowden his day here serves as another reminder that, even as the scandal appears to be dissipating in other parts of Europe, it remains at the top of the agenda in Germany.

“Mass surveillance of citizens will not be accepted,” Clemens Binninger, committee chairman with Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, said at the start of the hearings Thursday.

The committee plans to call dozens of witnesses and review documents. But even its members appear to concede the limits of their effort, which is likely to be hampered by an anticipated lack of full cooperation by the U.S. It suggests the hearings are being called at least in part for national catharsis and as an outlet for German rage.

Parliament’s airing of the evidence began Thursday, even as fresh revelations continue to stoke public anger. In recent days, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine published further details from the Snowden leaks, including evidence of an NSA dossier on Merkel that allegedly included more than 300 intelligence reports. Although U.S. snooping on Merkel is not new, the reports served as a continuing reminder for an already-bitter German public.

In addition, the magazine documented the infiltration of German Internet firms by the British secret service, fueling an ever-expanding plotline here that the Americans were not the only friends eavesdropping on German targets. Indeed, outrage from the Snowden scandal has been far more muted in some parts of Europe, in part because of assumptions by the British, French and other Europeans that their own secret services are not wholly innocent either.