German Government Demands U.S. Withdraw Top Intelligence Official

The U.S.-German diplomatic brawl over NSA and related affairs exploded today as the German government demanded that the U.S. withdraw its top intelligence official from Germany.

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany,” a government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.

“The request was made in light of the ongoing investigation by the chief federal prosecutor and questions that might have been raised for months about the activities of U.S. intelligence services in Germany.”

Headlines in Germany and around the world are trumpeting the dramatic action. The U.S. government has so far had no official comment. The action occurred after a new espionage case was added to the current frictions between the United States and Germany. Police raided the office and private residence of a German in Berlin yesterday, on “initial suspicion of activity for an intelligence agency,” as the Federal prosecutors said.

They did not elaborate or specify what intelligence agency was involved, and said they had not (yet) made an arrest, but German media spoke of U.S. agencies. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert spoke of “serious suspicion” in this and the other arrest last week.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung news daily reported, without naming sources, that the man being investigated worked at the Defense Ministry, and had worked at the Foreign Ministry before. Die Welt newspaper claimed, also without naming sources, that the suspect was a German soldier who aroused the suspicion of the military counter-intelligence agency because of his close contacts to alleged U.S. spies.

Der Spiegel mocked the German government’s hesitation to move and tell the Obama Administration to respect German sovereignty, as a “poodle-like” submissiveness with respect to the Allies. The new affair also reached a delegation of Bundestag members who are presently touring the United States and talked to their hosts on the cases: One member, Stefan Liebich (Linke), voiced his shock at the American Administration’s nonchallance about the damage such affairs can have on U.S.-German relations.

U.S. Ambassador John Emerson was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry late yesterday afternoon, for the second time in one week, receiving a formal complaint and the request to clarify. That same day the Bundestag select committee on the supervision of intelligence services met in Berlin and told the media afterwards that they had called on the government to tell the U.S. to pull back its chief intelligence liaison (name not given) from the embassy staff—this is close to a call for outright expulsion, something that has no precedence in recent decades in German relations with the United States. Committee spokesman Clemens Binninger said the American official in question had been “totally uncooperative” during the entire, year-long debate on the NSA’s doings in Germany.

– “A Pariah State” –

In its coverage today, spiegel-online described the process by which the decision by the German government was made as follows:

“On a diplomatic level, it is no less than an earthquake and represents a measure that until Thursday would have only been implemented against pariah states like North Korea or Iran. It also underscores just how deep tensions have grown between Berlin and Washington over the spying affair.

“The decision to take the step was made during telephone talks on Thursday morning between Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellery boss Peter Altmeier, who is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff.”

The three ministers had expressed disappointment over American reactions and were unanimous in agreeing that Germany could not simply let the matter rest.

“They discussed the communication received from Washington in reaction to the revelations. CIA chief John Brennan and US Ambassador John Emerson had both been in contact with officials in Berlin, but they in turn felt they weren’t given any concrete offers to quickly clarify the allegations. And there was absolutely no talk of any apology from Washington.”

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