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Secret U.S. drone bases in Germany revealed

An investigation by ICIJ's members in Germany reveals that the U.S. secretly staged drone warfare from bases in Germany, with the help of German intelligence services.

The details of how the United States has secretly conducted the “War on Terror” from Germany, including drone warfare in Africa, were revealed in November in the investigation “Secret Wars”.

The project began on Nov. 14 and was a collaboration between Germany's leading daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the German public television broadcaster NDR.  

German agencies and politicians have long been accustomed to American intelligence and military right here in their own backyard: tapping, code cracking, recruiting informants, observing suspects, kidnapping and abducting foreign enemies. Germans have known all that for years. But what they didn’t know is that the U.S. has been launching deadly drone strikes in Africa from German bases, often with the collaboration of German intelligence agencies.

Some 43,000 American soldiers are stationed in Germany, operating a total of about 40 military bases, and reportedly storing nuclear weapons on the German airbase in Büchel, southwest Germany. The U.S. spent $3 billion in Germany in 2012. Only in Afghanistan—where there is still an ongoing conflict—does the U.S. spend more money annually. There’s no war in Germany. But where the U.S. army and intelligence agencies once protected the West during the Cold War, they now lead a worldwide secret war.

We uncovered how the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency–as well as a large shadow army of private spies–have acted without accountability on German soil. Some of the contractors don’t even work for the NSA or CIA, but rather for German federal ministries. These private companies—some of whom have been involved in human rights violations—are allowed access to data from the highest levels of German authorities. We also showed which projects of German scientists are supported by the Pentagon, and demonstrated how the city of Frankfurt has turned into a U.S. military-intel metropolis.

But first and foremost, we revealed how the U.S. drone war in Africa is controlled from U.S. bases in Germany. American soldiers—on bases in Ramstein and Stuttgart—are conducting a bloody drone war in Africa from within Germany. When they receive intelligence on potential targets and suspected terrorists, they deliver that information to U.S. intelligence officers, also based in Germany. The U.S. soldiers are regularly supported by German intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst. The service questions African asylum seekers, whose knowledge is unwittingly used to drop bombs in their home countries.

Our investigation is based on dozens of interviews with sources in the USA, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Among others, our colleague John Goetz–who also wrote a book and made a film about the “Secret Wars” investigations–travelled to Moscow to meet whistleblower Edward Snowden. Besides these interviews the most important source have been public databases, among others the Federal Procurement Data System. Experts scraped the databases for us and set up an easily searchable database, which is available on a special homepage of the project. 

Besides the database, which allows readers  to search for Pentagon contracts in their city, the homepage offers the highlights of the series in German and in English with multimedia.  

The revelations of “Secret Wars” shed light on Germany’s hidden activities.  It caused a rapid reaction: only days after the publication, the German government declared that the Bundesnachrichtendienst office where asylum seekers have regularly been questioned, will be closed. The parliament is also considering setting up a commission of inquiry on U.S. activities on German soil. 

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