Spying Has Seriously Hurt U.S. Relations With Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel just asked the top U.S. spy in her country to leave, marking the latest chapter in an ongoing diplomatic nightmare that started with the Snowden leaks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the 67th sitting of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament in Berlin, October 27, 2010. Merkel rode to the defence of a controversial Franco-German plan to toughen Europe's fiscal rules, ahead of a summit set to be dominated by a row over the proposals. AFP PHOTO/ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
July 10, 2014, 6:20 a.m.

In a re­mark­able show of agit­a­tion, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has told the U.S. spy chief sta­tioned in her coun­try to go back home, ac­cord­ing to mul­tiple re­ports.

“The gov­ern­ment has asked the rep­res­ent­at­ive of the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in Ger­many to leave the coun­try as a re­ac­tion to the on­go­ing fail­ure to help re­solve the vari­ous al­leg­a­tions, start­ing with the NSA and up to the latest in­cid­ents,” a Ger­man law­maker told re­port­ers Thursday.

Merkel’s de­cision to ask the top U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial to leave is the cul­min­a­tion of nearly a year’s worth of spy­ing scan­dals that have angered the power­ful ally — and re­peatedly left U.S. of­fi­cials scram­bling to do dam­age con­trol.

Ten­sions boiled to the sur­face when leaks from Ed­ward Snowden re­vealed that U.S. spies had tapped Merkel’s phone, but a cas­cade of re­cent con­tro­ver­sies since then have brought the dip­lo­mat­ic mess to a new level.

Last week, Ger­many de­tec­ted and ar­res­ted an ac­cused spy be­lieved to be un­der con­tract with the CIA and passing secrets to the U.S. When Merkel and Pres­id­ent Obama spoke by phone to dis­cuss pla­cing fur­ther sanc­tions on Rus­sia, Merkel didn’t bring up the com­prom­ised spy, which at the time Obama was re­portedly un­aware of.

But now there are new al­leg­a­tions from Ber­lin that the U.S. has re­cruited an­oth­er spy. Taken as a stub­born re­fus­al by the U.S. to change or even dis­cuss its spy­ing pro­tocol, Ger­many is now tak­ing a more force­ful ap­proach to lim­it U.S. in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions.

“That is just so stu­pid, and so much stu­pid­ity just makes you want to cry,” said Wolfgang Schauble, Ger­many’s fin­ance min­is­ter and an ally to Merkel.

Ger­many’s out­rage at the U.S. for its spy­ing has even had an eco­nom­ic im­pact. Last month, Ger­many an­nounced it would can­cel a con­tract with Ve­r­i­zon be­cause of con­cerns over data pri­vacy sparked by the Snowden files. And U.S. tech firms have routinely warned the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that fears sur­round­ing its sweep­ing do­mest­ic and in­ter­na­tion­al sur­veil­lance pro­grams could lead to bil­lions of dol­lars in lost rev­en­ue for their in­dustry.

In her first pub­lic re­marks since ac­cus­a­tions of the second CIA spy sur­faced on Wed­nes­day, Merkel con­demned Amer­ica’s es­pi­on­age on al­lies as a “waste of en­ergy.”

When Merkel vis­ited the White House in May — her first since the Snowden rev­el­a­tions came to light — she said she was con­fid­ent Pres­id­ent Obama would be can­did about dis­cuss­ing spy­ing prac­tices. Obama said the two coun­tries were “not per­fectly aligned” on how they viewed gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance of al­lies, and ad­ded that he wanted to “make sure there are no mis­un­der­stand­ings” with Ber­lin.

But giv­en Merkel’s re­cent ac­tions, those “mis­un­der­stand­ings” may have trans­lated in­to mis­trust.

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