To come here as an American on the eve of Germany’s next national political campaign is to go back in time to our own recent past, before the hacks and the (Wiki)leaks led to the paralyzing debate over whether Russia intervened in our presidential election. I arrived in this idyllic, rational and not completely batty world capital (a strange sight to these American eyes) the week before last to find the country’s political world on tenterhooks, waiting for disruptive leaks but not knowing when or whether they might come. A group of hackers — “not us,” say the Russians; “yeah, you,” say the Germans — was sitting on a huge trove of political secrets gathered over the past couple of years. Its first big attack, on the Bundestag, the German Parliament, came in 2015. It vacuumed up some 16 gigabytes of emails and digital files from at least 16 members’ offices, including, officials here believe, that of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Cyberthieves have since struck think tanks related to her party, the Christian Democratic Union, and to its junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats.
None of the data has seen the light of day — yet. But as the German newspaper Die Zeit reported, “unknown persons” have registered a new site called btleaks.com.
That, the newspaper theorized, might be a vehicle through which the hackers release their digital booty ahead of the Sept. 24 election, which will be a referendum on Ms. Merkel, the de facto European Union leader (and, it happens, one of the strongest Continental voices for continued Russian sanctions).
Whatever the case, if the data does leak, Germany will face a test like the one America faced last fall. More specifically, the German media will face a test like the one the American media did. I had to wonder: Will it do better than we did? And should we have done better in the first place?