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Germans who remember Stasi praise Snowden

1 in 2 citizens see leaker as a hero

Willi Kuhlmann remembers the day the Berlin Wall was erected Aug. 13, 1961, and how the system of spying on East German citizens by secret police known as the Stasi intensified.

His experience as a border guard along the Wall that divided Germany’s capital city for 28 years makes him mistrustful of the data-gathering carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency, revealed in a series of disclosures to publications including Germany’s Der Spiegel by fugitive Edward Snowden in recent weeks.

Kuhlmann, 77, a retired forester, is among ordinary Germans who draw parallels between the NSA’s activities and the surveillance carried out by the Stasi. One in 2 of the country’s citizens regard Snowden as a hero, according to a June 29 survey of 504 people by Emnid for Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“You don’t spy like that on your friends,” said Kuhlmann in a telephone interview.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has rejected the leaker’s application for asylum to Germany, spoke with President Obama over the phone last week after Der Spiegel reported that the NSA spied on German citizens and European diplomats. Germany was the top destination among European countries for the intelligence gathering, with about 500 million phone calls, emails and SMS being monitored and recorded by the NSA every month, the magazine said.

Snowden, who has been offered legal and logistical support by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks as he faced U.S. requests for extradition in Hong Kong and Russia, also said NSA officials were “in bed together with the Germans.” According to Der Spiegel, the NSA has a partnership with Germany’s foreign intelligence service, or BND, with the Americans providing “analysis tools” for the BND to use as it monitors streams of data passing through Germany.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was to join high-level talks yesterday in the United States about Snowden’s revelations as European Union and U.S. officials seek to clarify the allegations. Friedrich is scheduled to meet today with Attorney General Eric Holder and presidential adviser Lisa Monaco in Washington.

“There’s nothing wrong about telling the truth,” said Janina Cieply, 22, an anthropology student at Berlin’s Free University. “It looks like the NSA picked up where the Stasi left off. Of course this is a delicate topic in Germany, and rightfully so. It’s the government’s duty to protect the people from such attacks.”

While some Germans voice their support for Snowden, people around the world are less willing to offer financial backing to WikiLeaks and causes such as Snowden’s. Donations to the Wau Holland Foundation, the Hamburg-based main financing channel for WikiLeaks, remained well below levels seen in 2010, when the group published diplomatic and military documents obtained by U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Mindful of state surveillance by the Stasi under communism and the Gestapo under the Nazis, Germans are more sensitive than people in other nations to the powers of surveillance by government agencies.

Communist East Germany’s Staatssicherheit, or Stasi secret police, was the regime’s enforcer whose motto was “Shield and Sword of the Party.” The Stasi had 93,000 full-time agents and at least 189,000 part-time informers in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell before the 1990 German reunification, Joerg Drieselmann, director of Berlin’s Stasi Museum, said in a phone interview.

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