German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on her seventh trip to China when she was informed that a double agent had been seized in Munich. The spy, who was an employee of the German foreign intelligence agency the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), was detained last Wednesday after attempting to sell services to Russia. But the real revelation came when, interrogating him, Germany’s counterintelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), discovered that the turncoat had conducted espionage operations for the CIA over the past two years. He has earned approximately $34,000. His most recent assignment: passing along to his handlers any information he could find on the German investigation of the NSA’s surveillance of Merkel.
The news has further strained German-American relations. At a Beijing press conference Merkel briefly addressed the situation, calling it “a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners.”
This comes after American signal intelligence and data mining on German soil revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden prompted Merkel to say in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the “transatlantic partnership itself is put to the test” and “we are responsible for protecting our citizens both from terrorist attacks and from attacks on their privacy.” While Merkel focused her outrage in public on the NSA’s encroachment on Germans’ privacy, she also called on President Obama to condemn the monitoring of her mobile phone.
That earlier diplomatic disaster prompted Obama to assure Merkel that the NSA would no longer wiretap her phones, a promise, as Der Spiegel highlighted in a conversation with Snowden allies, that did not extend to the wider German public. When Spiegel pressed special advisor to Obama John Podesta on that, he said, “Every country has a history of going over the line, and ours is no exception. But our democracy is self-correcting.”
That first statement has proven prophetic in German minds, and they are perhaps growing skeptical of the second. Thursday, German officials emphatically requested that the highest-ranking CIA officer in Germany leave the country just a day after a second spy case was opened, this time investigating an employee of the Berlin office of the Defense Ministry also accused of selling state secrets to America. While it’s true that America never promised Germany it wouldn’t spy on her, getting caught is just bad form.
Now Merkel must navigate these diplomatic waters towing a country of growing anti-American political sentiment where, according to a Körber Foundation study commissioned prior to the latest espionage allegations, 57 percent of Germans feel the nation needs to exercise greater independence from America in foreign policy.
The State Department’s online profile of American-German relations says:
U.S. policy toward Germany is to preserve and consolidate a close and vital relationship with Germany, not only as friends and trading partners, but also as allies sharing common institutions. The United States recognizes that the security and prosperity of the United States and Germany significantly depend on each other. The bilateral political, economic, and security relationships are based on close consultation and coordination at the most senior levels, and the United States and Germany cooperate actively in international forums.
If President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry want that to remain true, they’ll need to have some honest, and probably uncomfortable, conversations with Merkel, who will have every reason not to trust them.