BERLIN — The German government has charged one of its own foreign-intelligence spies with treason for allegedly sharing secret files with both the CIA and Russian intelligence agents.
The spy, identified only as Markus R. due to German privacy law, is accused of passing secrets to the CIA from 2008 until his arrest in July of last year while employed at the German spy agency known as the BND. Investigators also believe Markus R. sent emails containing secret information to the Russian consulate in Munich, according to Der Spiegel.
In addition to treason, federal German prosecutors have also charged the man with taking bribes and disclosing official state secrets. He is believed to have received more than $100,000 in compensation from the CIA for his services.
The charges represent just the latest flare up of difficulties between the United States and Germany over foreign-intelligence policy in recent years. The relationship between the two allies became strained following the 2013 leaks of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who resides in Moscow under asylum. The secret files purported to show that the NSA had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.
Tensions peaked last summer, when Merkel told the CIA’s spy chief in Berlin to leave the country amid continued agitation about U.S. espionage. Her outrage was due to the United States apparently recruiting another spy shortly after Markus R. had been arrested.
“That is just so stupid, and so much stupidity just makes you want to cry,” Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister and a close ally to Merkel, said at the time.
Though President Obama and Merkel have appeared to repair their relationship in recent months, surveillance remains a sensitive topic in Germany, due in part to the memory of the Nazi regime and the Stasi, the oppressive secret police that operated in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Recently, Merkel has faced public scrutiny due to documents showing that the BND may have been cooperating with the NSA to spy on German citizens. And earlier this summer, Germany’s top prosecutor brought treason charges against two journalists for publishing secret documents detailing Germany’s plans to enhance its monitoring of social media. That move sparked an uproar, prompting the country’s justice minister earlier this month to fire the prosecutor and abandon the inquiry.
Markus R. is believed to have shared documents with the CIA related to a German parliamentary inquiry set up after the Snowden revelations to investigate NSA surveillance on German citizens, according to a 2014 Reuters report. Though the United States has refused to comment publicly on the case, American officials privately told the wire service that the spy’s work was valuable — even while conceding that it is risky to trust a so-called “walk-in agent.”
The CIA did not not immediately respond to a request for comment. A German government spokesperson also not would comment because the case is an ongoing investigation.