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Massive data breach targets German politicians 'at all levels'

Personal information of hundreds of MPs, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been published online.

Personal data and documents from hundreds of German politicians and public figures have been published online, the country's government said on Friday, adding that no sensitive material from Chancellor Angela Merkel's office was released.

An Interior Ministry spokesman declined to confirm that the data breach, which triggered an emergency meeting of Germany's national cyber-defence body, was the result of a hack but, according to Bild newspaper, German authorities have asked the US National Security Agency (NSA) for help with investigations.

German media reported earlier that hackers had posted data, including credit card details and mobile phone numbers, with politicians from all major parties affected apart from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

A number of celebrities outside the political sphere have also been affected, as well as journalists and musicians.

"Personal data and documents belonging to hundreds of politicians and public figures have been published online," government spokeswoman Martina Fietz told a news conference, adding that politicians at the federal, state and European level had been affected.

Judging by an initial review, no sensitive information from the chancellery had been published, "and this includes [from] the chancellor," she said.

However, Merkel's fax number, email address and several letters to and from her were among the leaked data.

German public broadcaster ARD, which broke the story, said its journalists had so far not detected any incriminating content.

A defence ministry spokesman said the armed forces had not been affected by the breach.

"Whoever is behind this wants to damage faith in our democracy and its institutions," Justice Minister Katarina Barley said in a statement.
Series of hacks

The country's cyber defence body BSI met early on Friday to coordinate the response of federal government agencies including the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, a spokesman said.

Bild newspaper said the secure internal network of Germany's government was not hit by the hackers, citing sources inside the BSI.

If the data release does stem from a hack, it would be the latest in a number of hi-tech assaults on Germany's political institutions and key individuals.

In February, legislators said a powerful cyberattack breached the foreign ministry's computer network.

Security officials have blamed most previous attacks on a Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear or APT28, that experts say has close ties to a Russian spy agency.

Security experts have held the same group responsible for an attack before the 2016 US presidential election.

The Kremlin, responding to previous allegations of cyberattacks on foreign computer infrastructure, has denied any involvement and said the accusations are part of a Russophobic witch-hunt.
'Not surprising'

"This data breach of hundreds of German politicians is alarming, but at the same time it's not surprising," said Mike Hart at commercial cybersecurity firm FireEye told the Reuters news agency, citing previous hacks.

"It highlights the need for the government to take cybersecurity very seriously."

ARD reported earlier that the data, which was published on a now-blocked Twitter account, included addresses, personal letter and copies of identity cards.

Links to the data appeared daily on the Twitter account in December in an advent calendar-style, but it was only noticed more recently.

The identity of the hackers and their motive were not known, the report said.

"Whoever is responsible wants to intimidate politicians. That will not succeed," Lars Klingbeil, secretary-general of the centre-left Social Democrats, Merkel's coalition partner, said.

As Democrats take control of House, standoff with Republican president over border wall funding shows no sign of ending.

The new US House of Representatives, which is now controlled by Democrats, has approved legislation to end a two-week partial government shutdown without funding President Donald Trump's proposed wall along the border with Mexico.

The lower chamber on Thursday - the 13th day of the shutdown - passed six bills to fund the government for 2019 and an additional bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through February 8.

However, the impasse is likely to remain as the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to block the legislation amid veto threats by the White House.

Following a meeting between Trump and top congressional leaders on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the body would not take up the Democratic legislation because Trump wouldn't sign it.

But the new House speaker, veteran Democrat Nancy Pelosi, stood firm shortly before Thursday's vote, saying no funding for a border wall would be made available.

"We're not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we're not doing a wall?" Pelosi told reporters at a news conference on Thursday night.

Pelosi also took a shot a Trump, calling his proposal "a wall between reality and his constituents".

Thursday marked the first day of divided government in Washington since Trump took office in January 2017.

The president strode into the White House briefing room on Thursday and declared that "without a wall, you cannot have border security". He then left without taking any questions.

The previous day, he had told reporters that the shutdown could last a "long time or could be [done] quickly", adding that the wall is "too important of a subject to walk away from". He said he would wait "as long as it takes" to get the $5.6bn he has demanded.
'I would look foolish'

During Wednesday's meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats pressed Trump on why he wouldn't end the shutdown.

"I said, 'Mr President, give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown'," Schumer told reporters. "He could not give a good answer."

According to US media, citing officials familiar with the talks, Trump at one point told Democrats that he would "look foolish" if he backed down from his demand. Talks are expected to resume on Friday.

Trump says the wall is crucial to curbing irregular immigration. Democrats disagree, with Pelosi calling the wall immoral, ineffective and expensive. Trump repeatedly said during his presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused and US taxpayers likely will be left footing the bill.

The Democratic package to end the shutdown included one bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels - with $1.3bn for border security, far less than Trump has said he wants for the wall - through February 8 as talks continue.

It also included a separate measure to fund the departments of agriculture, interior, housing and urban development and others closed by the partial shutdown. The measure would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to September 30.

The Democratic package puts Trump and his Republican allies in a tough position. If they reject funding bills for departments unconnected to border security, Republicans could be seen as holding those agencies and their roughly 800,000 affected workers hostage to Trump's desire to build a wall.

More than half are working without pay, while the rest are furloughed.

In the past, Congress has approved back pay for federal workers, but the American Federation of Government Employees, which announced the lawsuit on Monday, called the requirement to work without pay "inhumane". Last week, federal employees sued the US government over the requirement that workers deemed "essential" must work without pay during the shutdown.

On Wednesday, the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo in Washington, DC, closed due to the shutdown.

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