The German expulsion of the CIA spy leads to consideration of the legal framework with which sophisticated countries operate their spies. As Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said: “Countries with sophisticated intelligence agencies like both the United States and Germany understand what intelligence activities and relationships entail. When concerns arise, there are benefits to resolving those differences in private secure channels”.
Although diplomats are playing down the significance of a second arrest of a German government worker on Wednesday this week, who may or may not have been spying for the US, they remain adamant that the arrest of an intelligence officer last week for allegedly selling documents to the CIA reveals a complete breakdown of trust between the two countries.
But what has happened in the case of the CIA station chief’s expulsion from Germany is more like a spy movie, as the New York Times report:
The Cold War is long since over, the capital is no longer Bonn — the “small town in Germany” of John le Carré fame — and few nations have exhibited a stronger reaction against the modern surveillance state.
Yet recent weeks have brought new reminders that the Spy vs. Spy game goes on in Germany, which remains caught geographically and historically between Russia and the West.
As Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview on Germany’s ZDF television on Saturday, “We no longer live in the Cold War era where everyone is suspicious of everyone.” In the 21st century, she added, secret services should concentrate on important issues.
That man, identified only as Markus R., first came on the radar of German counterintelligence on May 28, when he sent an email to the Russian consulate in Munich offering information, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Saturday.
Since the Russian invasion of Crimea, senior German intelligence officials say, the Russians had stepped up their activity in Germany, seeking information on Berlin’s next steps, so counterintelligence was on alert for such contacts.
Markus R. was reportedly eager to impress the Russians, and attached at least one intelligence document to his email: an anonymous denunciation of a Defense Ministry official as a Russian spy that had crossed his desk at the federal intelligence headquarters near Munich, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“There was no reply” from the Americans, as the newsmagazine Der Spiegel put it. Instead, Markus R. shut down the email address.
His arrest and subsequent admission that he had actually been working for the United States infuriated the Germans and embarrassed the United States, especially given previous disclosures that the Americans had been eavesdropping on the communications of millions of Germans and had tapped the mobile phone of Ms. Merkel.
Markus R., according to German news media accounts citing unidentified government and intelligence officials, had been working already two years for the Americans, reportedly receiving 25,000 euros (about $34,000) for those 218 documents, and meeting his handlers three times in Austria, apparently to avoid detection.
But there was yet another twist in store. The anonymous denunciation of the German defense official that Markus had included in his email to the Russians turned out to be at the heart of a separate case that German counterintelligence officials had been monitoring since August 2010, said Andre Hahn, a member of the parliamentary commission that oversees Germany’s intelligence services.
The defense official, who has not been publicly named, had come under scrutiny after investigators received the anonymous tip saying the official was working for the Russians. The investigators, according to some news reports, also found evidence that the man had taken trips paid for by an American friend.
But the evidence was apparently thin, and it was not until this week, in the wake of Markus R.’s arrest and the diplomatic strains it caused with the United States, that the federal prosecutor sent the police to raid the man’s home and office. A day later, Germany demanded that the top United States intelligence official in Berlin leave the country, a step rarely taken by one ally against another.
But a senior German official said Friday that there might not be enough evidence to prosecute the second official for spying for either Russia or the United States.
The two sides are now beginning to turn to the task of repairing the German-American relationship.