Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government ordered the most-senior American intelligence official in Berlin to leave the country today, in a direct response to a deepening transatlantic espionage scandal in which two German state employees are suspected of having spied for the US.
The unprecedented move against a Nato ally was announced by Clemens Binninger, the chairman of the Berlin parliamentary committee overseeing the intelligence services, less than 24 hours after prosecutors revealed the existence of the second suspected US spy in Germany.
Der Spiegel magazine described the official request as an “earthquake” and said Germany usually reserved such draconian diplomatic measures “for pariah states like Iran or North Korea”. But it noted that asking to leave was not the same as an “expulsion”.
Mr Binninger told reporters Berlin “had asked the representative of the US intelligence services in Germany to leave the country”. He said the decision was a reaction to the “ongoing failure to help resolve the various allegations” that started last year with disclosures about widespread US espionage in Germany and culminated in two new spying cases over the past week. Ms Merkel let it be known that she was “not amused” by the continuing allegations of US spying in Germany.
The charges first emerged last October when the American whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the US National Security Agency had bugged her mobile phone. Since then, German government officials have been exasperated by Washington’s failure to clarify the spying issue or provide any explanation.
There was no immediate response from the US embassy in Berlin to the expulsion order, which almost certainly concerns the CIA’s top representative or “chief of station” in Germany. Earlier, Ms Merkel’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, gave vent to his government’s frustration with the affair. A former Interior Minister responsible for the intelligence services, Mr Schäuble said that while Germany relied on US intelligence to fight terrorism, “it doesn’t mean that the Americans are allowed to recruit third-rate people here”. He said if the allegations against the US spy suspects proved true, “it is so stupid that one can only cry at the foolishness of it”. But Mr Schäuble dismissed claims that the information the two alleged spies had passed on to the US was significant. “If the situation remains what we know now, the information reaped by this suspected espionage is laughable,” he said.
On Wednesday, Germany was rocked by fresh revelations that state prosecutors had searched the home and offices of an unnamed defence ministry staffer on suspicion of spying for the US – the second such case in a week.
The search followed the arrest of a German intelligence service employee who is alleged to have worked as a US double agent for more than two years. He is reported to have received €30,000 (£24,000) in cash in exchange for 218 secret German documents he downloaded on to computer memory sticks. He was said to have met his US spymasters at secret locations in Austria.
Der Spiegel described the second US suspect as a potentially “ideal informant” because, as a defence ministry employee, he had access to Berlin’s Nato strategy and secret plans for military co-operation with other countries.
He was said to have worked as a foreign country specialist in the ministry’s political department. Der Spiegel said he was an “ideal informant” for any intelligence service and would have had “extensive access to the ministry’s political planning” and documents containing the details of political negotiations with other countries. Prosecutors are still investigating the suspect and no arrest has been made.Reuse content