The idea was a political prank. The German marketing expert turned political protester, Oliver Bienkowski, parked a mini-van about 100 yards away from the U.S. embassy in Berlin and projected a satirical image of a grinning President Barack Obama with a reversed baseball cap and the caption “NSA in da House” onto the distant embassy wall. Wires emerging from a computer mouse form a satirical peace sign. The political light-show only lasted a few minutes before German police stopped the projection. The entire episode was captured on film and posted to YouTube on July 19.
Part grafitti artist, part political protester, Bienkowski has made a career out of such “guerilla” light-show projections. This was his second such political prank on the US embassy in Berlin. Last week, on July 12, the artist projected an image of self-styled Internet guru Kim Dotcom together with the caption “United Stasi of America” onto the same spot on the US embassy wall. The caption was a reference to the notorious East German secret police, the Stasi, which had a long history of spying on East German citizens during the Cold War.
Bienkowski’s July 12 protest on the US embassy wall drew attention from Berlin officials who were considering charging him with violating a law against insulting foreign countries. However, the US embassy in Berlin informed German police they would not pursue a legal complaint against the artist. Bienkowski’s lawyer defended his client’s light-show protest, saying it was a legitimate expression of artistic free speech. The artist was satirically protesting the degradation of German civil rights by the US government’s spying activities, he said. No charges were made against Bienkowski for his July 12 projection, and none are expected to be made for his most recent one.
Bienkowski’s light-show protest highlights the increasing distrust of German citizens toward the US in the wake of NSA spying revelations. In July of 2013, it was discovered that the NSA had bugged the phones and Internet connections in the offices of European Union delegates in Washington D.C. Earlier this year, it was alleged that the British intelligence service, and the NSA eavesdropped on a German Internet Service Provider, Stellar, and the cellphone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While German protests against NSA spying in Germany have been sporadic and small, the recent arrest of a German citizen and the questioning of another in connection to US espionage in Germany has put the issue of NSA surveillance back into the headlines.
Members of opposition parties in the German government are beginning to openly question Merkel’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of German citizens. In early July, Edward Snowdon told Der Spiegel that the NSA and German intelligence officials have been cooperating in broad terrorist surveillance for years. Members of German opposition parties are now asking just how much the German Chancellor knew about NSA spying in Germany prior to the July spy scandal. So far, Merkel’s coalition government has not experienced a significant loss of public support, but political pressure is mounting to address the critical privacy issue in Germany’s parliament. Bienkowski’s light-show protest against NSA spying on the US embassy wall in Berlin may be small, but his timing is perfect.
By Steve Killings