May 4, 2015 · 1 minute

Germany's top prosecutor is investigating reports that the country's leading intelligence agency knowingly helped the National Security Agency surveil European governments and companies from at least 2008 through 2013.

Reuters reports that the investigation started after "opposition politicians demanded more information about the unfolding scandal from Chancellor Angela Merkel's government." The investigation will seek to determine if the intelligence agency in question, the BND, violated any of Germany's laws.

The scandal erupted after Der Spiegel and Die Zeit reported that the BND helped the NSA spy on various targets from both Germany and France. The BND knew this information was sensitive, yet it offered the data anyway, out of fear that its data-sharing relationship with the NSA would suffer if it didn't.

This decision has proven quite troublesome for the BND. Germany's parliament has limited the information the agency is allowed to share with the NSA, and now the agency is being investigated to see if its compliance with the NSA's requests led it to violate German laws. But those aren't the worst problems.

No, the worst fallout from this revelation is that it makes one of the NSA's biggest critics seem like it's trying to play both ends against the middle. As I wrote after Der Spiegel and Die Zeit first revealed the BND's data-sharing:

That wouldn’t be the last time Germany compromised its ideals to receive information from the NSA. The Washington Post reported in December 2014 that the country provided the NSA with the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of suspected extremists it feared would cause trouble in Europe.

These revelations make Germany’s objections to the NSA surveillance programs ring hollow. German chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly spied on (some have said there’s no concrete evidence of this allegation) yet the German BND helped the NSA spy on other politicians across Europe. The country has condemned digital surveillance, but it reaches out to the NSA when it needs to. The prosecutor's investigation might change that. Perhaps Germany will censure its intelligence agency with as much enthusiasm as it criticized the NSA. But until that happens, all this makes Germany's complaints about the NSA's surveillance programs seem like little more than political theater.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]