Germany kicks out CIA station chief
Dramatic display of anger from Berlin after officials unearthed two suspected US spies
BERLIN — Germany yesterday demanded Washington’s top spy in Berlin leave the country as a new round of allegations of US espionage worsened the friction between the two allies.
The immediate trigger was the emergence of two new cases of alleged US spying. They hightened tensions that erupted last year when it was revealed that the US was intercepting Internet traffic in Germany and eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone calls.
More broadly, the move to kick out the CIA station chief appears to reflect a Germany out of patience with what it sees as a pattern of US disrespect and interference.
“The representative of the US intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.
“The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of US intelligence agencies in Germany,” he added. “The government takes the matter very seriously.”
US officials described Germany’s action as extraordinary.
While agents have been expelled from time to time, usually by unfriendly powers, a former US official said he couldn’t remember an instance since the end of the Cold War in which the ranking intelligence official was asked to leave a country.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss intelligence issues publicly.
Germany refused to identify the CIA station chief by name. In the United States, it is illegal to disclose the name of an undercover operative.
Shortly before yesterday’s announcement, Merkel told reporters that Germany and the United States had “very different approaches” to the role of intelligence agencies, and she insisted that any spying on allies is “a waste of energy.”
“In the Cold War maybe there was general mistrust. Today we are living in the 21st century. Today there are completely new threats,” she addded.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t comment on Germany’s decision but said the US takes intelligence matters “very seriously.”
“I don’t want you to come away from this exchange thinking we take this matter lightly,” he said, adding that the US and Germany continue to have a strong partnership.
The reports last year that the National Security Agency had targeted Merkel and Internet traffic have triggered a German criminal investigation and a parliamentary probe.
On Wednesday, German police raided properties in the Berlin area in what Seibert said was a case involving “a very serious suspicion” of espionage.
German media reported that the man being investigated worked at Germany’s Defence Ministry in a department dealing with international security policy, and he had aroused suspicion because of his close contacts to alleged US spies.
Last week, a 31-year-old German intelligence employee was arrested on suspicion of spying for foreign powers since 2012. German media have reported that he spied for the CIA.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he could not comprehend why the US would spy on his country.
“We speak to each other all the time, and nobody keeps their views secret,” he said in an interview published Wednesday by the Saarbruecker Zeitung.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the political fallout appeared to outweigh any harm done to Germany by the alleged spying.
Under the elaborate rules of international diplomacy, Germany’s move to kick out the spy chief was a request two steps short of a formal expulsion.
In related news, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the Obama administration was not directly responsible for US spying on Brazil and has taken steps toward smoothing over the diplomatic tensions set off by espionage disclosures last year.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour broadcast yesterday, Rousseff said she understood that the Obama administration needed time resolve what was happening and could not immediately provide explanations demanded by Brazil.
Herald with AP, Reuters