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Spy-spotting stroll sparks security alert in Germany

Daniel Bangert poses in his
Daniel Bangert poses in hisCourtesy Daniel Bangert

MAINZ, Germany -- An engineer who used Facebook to organize a hike around the edge of a U.S. Army intelligence facility in Germany so he could "see real spies up close and personal" triggered a security alert.

Police visited 28-year-old Daniel Bangert's home after he posted the event online.

"I woke up when my phone rang shortly after 7 a.m. on Wednesday and a police officer immediately started questioning me about my plans and my political motives," Bangert said. "I then saw that a police vehicle was also parked on the street outside my door," Bangert, a technical engineer, said.

He put on his "Team Edward" T-shirt, which he has been wearing to show support for U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, before meeting the uniformed officers.

"I told the police that I simply wanted to observe spies in their natural habitat, which even put a grin on their face," Bangert said. "Suddenly, I was confronted with the whole state machinery, including a second meeting with a secret service agent, who wanted to know if I am politically active or have any connections to left-wing extremists."

The U.S. Army's "Dagger Complex," located near Frankfurt, is home to the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade.

Security officials were put on alert because the work conducted behind the barbed wire fence of the U.S. installation in Bangert's hometown of Griesheim is of a "sensitive nature."

Police officials said that their visit to Bangert's home was part of a routine procedure.

"We were alerted by U.S. military police about the posting on Facebook," said a spokesperson for local police in Darmstadt, Germany. "When it comes to public gatherings, we seek a so-called cooperation dialogue with the organizers of events, especially when they have a politically motivated background."

For weeks, the NSA spying scandal has made headlines in Germany, triggering high level talks between U.S. and German officials in Washington, as well as a fierce political debate two months ahead of the country's federal elections.

In Germany, the protection of privacy remains a primary concern, as dark memories linger of surveillance under Hitler's totalitarian regime and spying on citizens by former communist East Germany's secret police, the Stasi.

Details of U.S. surveillance activities, revealed by Snowden, and local media reports claiming that the NSA has been monitoring communications in Germany and even bugged official buildings of the European Union, have hit a raw nerve in Germany.

"What the Americans are doing there is in comparison to that what former Eastern Germany has done with their citizens and the United States do it globally. And that is unacceptable for a country which stands for freedom," said Markus Ferber from Merkel's Bavarian sister party and a member of the EU parliament.

Bangert, who also supports the anti-establishment Occupy movement and recently took part in the so-called Blockupy protests in Frankfurt, dismissed the Facebook posting as something done in "a silly moment."

"This was not even intended to be an official public gathering and it was not supposed to be a demonstration of any kind, in fact only 35 people showed interest," he said.  "After I saw that my not-so-serious campaign was being monitored so closely by security officials, I ... officially registered the event."

On Saturday, a group of approximately 80 "spy searchers," many wearing T-shirts with Snowden pictures and holding cardboard cameras that read "Spy TV"and "NSA TV," staged their public walk outside the Dagger Complex installation.

"Unfortunately, we did not get to see any spies," Bangert joked.

It was a peaceful protest that was accompanied by only two police cars, but had others worried.

"My grandmother was very upset with me and still fears that I could be put into jail," Bangert said. "But as we all feel somewhat helpless when it comes to U.S. surveillance methods, I will continue to raise public awareness."

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