Germany expels top U.S. spy

binninger germany expell us envoy for spying image

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government ordered the expulsion Thursday of the top U.S. intelligence official from the country, German and U.S. officials said, in an escalating spy scandal that has strained relations between the traditional allies.

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement. The American official was not named.

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin said it would not comment directly on intelligence matters but confirmed it had seen reports Germany had asked a U.S. “intelligence chief to leave the country.” The White House also confirmed the ejection.

“We do continue to be in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic and even intelligence channels,” recognizing the value of the U.S.-German alliance,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The move by Berlin follows two alleged incidents of U.S. spying on Germany that arose in the wake of leaks last year from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Those two investigations are ongoing and have so far led to one arrest — said by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily to be a German intelligence employee at the defense ministry.

“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 U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany,” Seibert said. “The government takes the matter very seriously.”

Wolfgang Schaeuble, formerly Germany’s finance minister as well as the nation’s top security official, told Germany television that if the situation wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.

“Germany depends on U.S. assistance in our joint fight against terrorism,” he said in the televised interview. “But that doesn’t mean that the Americans should be recruiting third-rate people here (to spy on us). Should the reports be confirmed, it’s so stupid that one can only weep at the foolishness of it all.”

The development comes as already strained U.S.-German relations were recovering from revelations made in the NSA documents leaked by Snowden showing the U.S. spy agency monitored Merkel’s cellphone and carried out mass surveillance of both politicians and voters.

Snowden, who is currently in Russia, reapplied for asylum there Wednesday, his lawyer told Russia Today. Some German officials have pushed for Germany to grant him asylum, but the government has not made any official move to do so.

Data protection laws in Germany are among the strictest in the world because of the legacy of state control both by the Nazis and later the Stasi, the East German secret police. And the NSA’s activities, coupled with the latest claims of spying, have caused a deep mistrust of the U.S., German officials say.

“It has destroyed our trust (in the U.S.),” German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele said. “We need to push now for clear answers in this supposedly close relationship.”

Still, analysts say that what is unusual about this latest spying affair is that the documents passed on were unlikely to be sensitive.

“Their task is to find out everything they can until they are stopped by politicians or the administration,” said Marcel Dickow, who specializes in security matters at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, referring to U.S. intelligence officials. “There is nothing they can’t find out with a phone call to a ministry or over dinner — they would be told everything.”

Other says that not much will change in the transatlantic relationship despite public statements, the arrests and the expulsion.

“This is the normal procedure, this is what happens, there is almost a protocol to the things that one has to do when thing (like this) are found out,” said Silvia Petig, who specializes on transatlantic relations at the German Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“I think that the German government is upset now, (but) there is a public reaction and that is to be upset about the whole thing, but I think politically (Merkel) knows that the two countries need each other,” she added. “And in the long run, America needs Germany…it is a partnership at so many levels.”

Still, some locals say it’s naive to think it doesn’t happen every day.

“That friendly governments spy on each other is old news and doesn’t trouble me — the outrage is part naive and part knee-jerk nationalistic,” said Nino Kipp, 30, of Berlin. “What deeply worries me is the unchecked violation of citizens privacy on an industrial scale.”

Henry Sapiecha

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