U.S.-German Double Agent Scandal 'Worst in Decades'


An unnamed 31-year-old man within Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) was arrested last week on suspicion of handing over secrets to the U.S. government.

The German publication Deutsche Welle reports that the nation's "federal prosecutor confirmed [on Thursday] that he had been arrested on the 'strong suspicion' of spying activities."

What was this alleged double agent spying on? "The suspect reportedly told investigators that he had gathered information on an investigative committee from Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag," according to Welle. "The panel is conducting an inquiry into NSA surveillance on German officials and citizens."

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere claims that the spy sold 218 secret documents for 25,000 euros.

CIA involvement

Citing two unnamed "U.S. officials familiar with the matter," Reuters reports that the CIA "was involved in a spying operation against Germany that led to the alleged recruitment of [the] German intelligence official." It goes on:

CIA Director John Brennan has asked to brief key members of the U.S. Congress on the matter, which threatens a new rupture between Washington and a close European ally, one of the officials said.

It was unclear if and when Brennan's briefing to U.S. lawmakers would take place. The CIA declined any comment on the matter.

Germany's response

Unsurprisingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not pleased. "If the allegations are true, it would be for me a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners," she said while at a meeting in China today.

De Maiziere suggested that Germany should spy on the U.S. in return.

A BBC analyst explains that frustration with America is multipartisan in German politics:

"Outrage" runs across the political spectrum—it's not just a "chattering class" issue. Wolfgang Bosbach, for example, who is the Christian Democrat [centre-right] head of the Bundestag committee which oversees interior affairs, questioned whether the US and Germany could be considered as "partners" any more.

A top opposition parliamentarian called it "one of the worst intelligence scandals in Germany in recent decades." 

U.S.-German relations have already been notably strained by American espionage in the last year. Merkel's own cellphone was tapped by National Security Agency (NSA) last year. Additional NSA leaks from this weekend indicate that the NSA is closely monitoring computer servers in Germany.

Obama administration mum so far

Germany summoned the U.S. ambassador on Friday for "swift clarification" of what's going on. So far, though, no one in the Obama administration is talking.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted that the president is "committed to making sure that we resolve this issue with the Germans appropriately," but Earnest wouldn't acknowledge if the allegations are true. 

Obama and Merkel spoke over the phone on Thursday, but the Associated Press reports that "Obama was not aware of the spying allegations at the time, according to [an unnamed] official," so the topic wasn't discussed.

U.S. and Germany work (and spy) together

Although the revelation is a shock, one has to wonder how much German officials are posturing. After all, German and American media alike have long highlighted that the two governments collude on matters of espionage.

The Washington Post explains that "in recent months, Merkel has sought to lower tensions and German officials have acknowledged that their hopes to win a non-spying agreement with the United States is dead in the water — largely because Washington fears such a deal would set an unwelcome precedent among allies and rivals alike."

Given current geopolitical circumstances, Germany cannot help but continue to work with U.S., though.

"When you have a dramatic crisis in Ukraine and the Middle East is going nuts, having no U.S.-German relationship is not an option," Ulrike Guerot, a Berlin-based political analyst and commentator told the Post. "But depending on what happens next, and the details of [this case], the governments need to recast the relationship."