Germany on Thursday expelled the CIA station chief in Berlin in an escalating row over alleged spying by the US.
The expulsion comes after two suspected US spy cases were uncovered in less than a week in Germany, where anger still simmers over the NSA surveillance scandal sparked by revelations from Edward Snowden.
“The representative of the US intelligence services at the embassy of the US has been told to leave Germany,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
The official request to leave was based on two probes by German prosecutors of suspected US spying. “The government takes these developments very seriously,” he added.
News site Spiegel Online called the move a ‘diplomatic earthquake’. It pointed out that such measures were usually reserved for ‘pariah states’ such as North Korea. The White House refused to comment, but the US embassy in Berlin and the US National Security Council both stressed that it was ‘essential’ that security cooperation continue as ‘it keeps Germans and Americans safe’.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel – whose mobile phone was in the past targeted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) – pointedly reminded the US that security ‘depends on trust’ between allies. Her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, was far more outspoken, fuming that “so much stupidity [by the US] just makes you want to cry”.
In the latest case, German police on Wednesday searched the Berlin-area home and office of a man who, local media reported, is a German defence ministry employee accused of passing secrets to the US.
The case followed news last Friday that a 31-year-old German BND foreign intelligence service operative had been arrested on suspicion of having sold over 200 documents to the CIA. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, known as a champion of close US ties, said it was right Berlin had “today sent a very clear signal that it will no longer tolerate this kind of breach of trust and that we need a fresh start with each other.”
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the benefits of the alleged US spying were questionable. “Based on what we know now, the information gained through this alleged espionage is ridiculous,” he said.
Schaeuble, a former interior minister, acknowledged that intelligence cooperation had foiled terrorist threats in the past. But he said this did not mean “the Americans may recruit third-rate people” in Germany as their secret sources, according to public broadcaster Phoenix.
“That’s why the chancellor is ‘not amused’,” he added.
Merkel later said that “common sense tells us that spying on one’s allies... is a waste of energy. We have so many problems that we should, in my view, focus on the essentials.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2014.
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