friday, 11 july of 2014

Germany Demands Top U.S. Intelligence Officer Be Expelled

Germany Demands Top U.S. Intelligence Officer Be Expelled

The German government on Thursday demanded the removal of the top American spy in the country, the strongest evidence yet that mounting revelations about widespread American intelligence operations in Germany have gravely damaged relations between once close allies.

The decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel to publicly announce the expulsion of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Berlin station chief was seen as a highly symbolic expression of the deep anger and hurt that German officials have felt since the exposure of the American espionage operations.

It is likely to force another reassessment inside the C.I.A. and other spy agencies about whether provocative espionage operations in friendly nations are worth the risk to broader foreign policy goals. One such assessment was conducted last summer, when President Obama ordered a halt to the tapping of Ms. Merkel’s phone after it came to light because of the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.

Current and former American officials said that the Berlin station chief, who works undercover, has been in the position for about a year. It was his predecessor in the job, the officials said, who oversaw the recruitment of the German intelligence officer arrested last week who has reportedly told his interrogators he was spying for the C.I.A., touching off a storm of criticism of the United States. German investigators are also looking at a second case of an official inside the Defense Ministry who may have been working for the Americans.

The expulsion of a C.I.A. station chief — the ranking American intelligence officer in a foreign country — was a staple of the Cold War, but it is a move almost never made by allies. “It’s one thing to kick lower-level officers out, it’s another thing to kick the chief of station out,” said one former C.I.A. officer with extensive experience working on European operations.

The closest precedent may be an episode in 1995, when the C.I.A. station chief in Paris, his deputy and two other agency officers were expelled for trying to pay French officials for intelligence on France’s negotiating position in trade talks. But Thursday’s move is potentially more significant, since the intelligence cooperation between the United States and Germany has historically been far closer than that with the French.

The former official said the move could be just the first sign that the Germans intend to escalate the monitoring of C.I.A. operatives in the country — possibly increasing surveillance activities like phone tapping and tailing American spies in cars. It is extremely unlikely that Germany would ever become as hostile a location for American spies as Russia — where the term “Moscow Rules” was coined to indicate the strict procedures used by undercover officers to meet sources and elude surveillance. Still, it could fall into a middle category of countries — Turkey, India and France among them — that are allies but are considered difficult operating environments for American spies.

Despite the apparent effort to keep relations on an even keel, the development marked a low point in relations with a critical ally just as Mr. Obama needs stronger cooperation on issues including Iran’s nuclear program, the stability of Ukraine and forging a broad trans-Atlantic trade agreement.

As Ms. Merkel put it on Thursday, the two countries have better things to do than “waste energy spying” on each other.

Ms. Merkel’s comments seemed similar to what Mr. Obama said early last summer, after the first of the Snowden revelations. “I’m the end user of this kind of intelligence,” Obama said. “If I want to know what Chancellor Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel,” he said, suggesting it was not necessary to spy on close friends.

But in the year since, the evidence of American spying operations in Germany has grown so steadily that it called into question whether the intelligence agencies listened to the president that day, or whether the White House had failed to do a complete review of the spying operations against those allies.

German officials have made it clear that their anger extends beyond the recent evidence of American spying. There is great frustration in Berlin that the Obama administration has not provided more information about a range of surveillance activities in Germany — including the tapping of Ms. Merkel’s cellphone.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Thursday that the decision to expel the C.I.A. station chief “was made against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations” into American spying activities “as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the U.S. intelligence services in Germany.”

“The federal government,” he said, “takes these incidents very seriously.”

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, in recent days has made calls to Berlin to try to reassure German officials, and a statement Thursday by the American Embassy in Berlin said it was essential to maintain close cooperation with Germany “in all areas.”

The embassy statement did not specifically mention the request for the station chief’s departure, but said “our security relationship with Germany remains very important.”

Historically, nations have tried to penetrate the spy services of their allies in order to vet the information they receive through routine intelligence sharing. But Dennis Blair, the former director of national intelligence who tried to negotiate a non-spying agreement with French officials before leaving the job in 2010, said it makes enormous sense to sit down with allies to broadly discuss which aspects of spying operations are the biggest irritants to bilateral relations.

“If you are not having those conversations,” he said, “you’re making decisions based on guesses.”

When the Snowden revelations emerged last year, German officials suggested that they wanted a “no spy” agreement similar to the one the United States has with the English-speaking victors of World War II: Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But the negotiations only frayed relations even more.

The way German officials tell the story, they were promised those negotiations by Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, and other American intelligence officials. But the American officials say there was never such a promise, and that German officials blanched when they heard what kind of responsibilities they would have for intelligence collection and cyberoperations around the world if they ever joined that elite club.

The discussions went nowhere, and the public collapse of the talks left Ms. Merkel’s top aides embittered. Politicians, including Ms. Merkel, began talking about creating a “Germany only” segment of the Internet, to keep German emails and web searches from going across American-owned wires and networks.

For some German leaders, last week’s arrest settled any questions about whether the Obama administration had really changed its view about spying in Germany.

Clemens Binninger, a member of Ms. Merkel’s party, said the decision to expel the station chief was “a political reaction of the government to the lack of willingness of American authorities to help clear up any questions” over American surveillance of Germany and its leaders.

Both Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister, and Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister and a close ally of Ms. Merkel, suggested that the material handed to the Americans from the German intelligence employee arrested last week was nothing important. The Americans, Mr. Schäuble said, had simply proved to be stupid.

“With so much stupidity, you can only weep,” he said. “And that is why the chancellor is ‘not amused.’ ”

(Published by The New York Times - July 10, 2014)


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