Why We Need to Spy on the Germans - We’re right to spy on a country with close ties to Russia and Iran

Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Given Germany's intense business and political ties to Russia and Iran, and Moscow’s decades-long cultivation of intelligence assets and collaborators from the first Cold War up through the current one, American intelligence agencies would be crazy not to conduct intensive espionage operations in Germany.

I’ve lived and loved in Germany, count Berlin as one of my favorite cities, and—pending reactions to this article—may even move back there someday. But given its intense business and political ties to Russia and Iran, and Moscow’s decades-long cultivation of intelligence assets and collaborators from the first Cold War up through the current one, American intelligence agencies would be crazy not to conduct intensive espionage operations in Germany.

Ever since its postwar rebirth as the divided city at the geographic and intellectual heart of the Cold War, Berlin has been a nest of spies. The Glienecke bridge, connecting what was then Soviet-controlled territory to the American Sector in West Berlin, served as an exchange point for captured intelligence officers, earning it the nickname “Bridge of Spies.” Berlin is something of a default setting for Cold War spy novels, and for good reason: split between the Soviets and the Western powers, the city was ground zero for espionage.

When the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter, Germans hoped that the city could transform its reputation from that of a tense, Cold War crossroads to cosmopolitan oasis. To a magnificent extent, they succeeded, and Berlin is without question the most exciting city in Western Europe. But Germany, and Berlin in particular, never lost its attraction as a point of penetration for Russian agents—or, for that matter, American ones trying to keep an eye on them.

Over the past year, leaks from fugitive National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed that the agency had been snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, combined with rising tensions between Russia and the West over the fate of Ukraine, have once again thrust Berlin back onto the frontlines of global spy craft.

The latest news to rock German-American relations are allegations that the CIA paid a low-level employee of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, to hand over files relating to the German parliament’s investigation into the material released by Snowden last year. As The Daily Beast’s Chris Dickey and Nadette de Visser report, the official was “More Austin Powers and Less James Bond,” perhaps even a “charity case,” and the information he handed over was not of particularly high value.

But that has done little to quell German anger, already inflamed by last fall’s revelations of NSA phone tapping.

“If the allegations are true, it would be a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners,” said Merkel, who has continuously sought to downplay fallout from the Snowden mess. As he had been ordered to do last fall when the news about Merkel’s phone hit the press, American Ambassador John Emerson was once again summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down.

German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical.

The country’s Justice Minister has raised the possibility of launching “criminal proceedings” against the United States, and a poll, conducted before the latest revelations, found 69 percent of Germans saying that their trust in the United States had deteriorated over the past year.

Last month, the German government canceled a contract with Verizon over allegations that it had provided call records to the NSA.

Given the righteous indignation, one would suspect that Germans were fuming about Russia, a country that had perpetrated the first annexation of territory on European soil since World War II. But their muted reaction to Russia’s outrageous behavior, combined with the hysterical response to American spying, neatly illustrates why the United States has felt a need to conduct espionage in Germany: Berlin has been a less than trustworthy ally.

Merkel, who grew up in the former communist East Germany and speaks Russian fluently, understands that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dangerous thug and rightly spoke out against the Crimean annexation as a return to the “law of the jungle.” But in her clear-eyed understanding of the Russian threat, the Chancellor is an exception among the German political class. And despite her wariness of Putin, she is a conservative leader by temperament who governs by consensus and rarely does anything that is not already supported by most of her constituents. In a country where a majority of citizens sympathize with Putin and believe the West should “accept” his annexation of Crimea, this is a prescription for dithering.

German firms do a great deal of business in Russia and have been strong voices against sanctioning Moscow. Germany imports a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and Russia is its 11th-largest export market.

On the political side, Russia can count upon sympathizers spanning from the center-right business community to the post-communist left. Last year, in a highly publicized trip, Green Party politician (and former lawyer for members of the terrorist Red Army Faction) Hans Christian Stroebele visited Snowden in Moscow, something that could not have taken place without the express permission of Putin. Failing to convince the German government to grant Snowden asylum, Stroebele got the next best thing: a parliamentary investigation into American espionage. Russian espionage, judging by the attention devoted to it by the press and politicians, apparently does not exist in Germany.

In March, several parliamentarians from the German Left Party traveled at the behest of Moscow to Crimea alongside a batch of European right-wing extremists. There they observed Russia’s phony “referendum” authorizing the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Weeks after leaving office in 2005, former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined the board of a Russian government-owned energy venture to the tune of a quarter-million Euros a year. In April, as Russian-backed terrorists rampaged their way through eastern Ukraine, he celebrated his 70th birthday in St. Petersburg alongside a bevy of German businessmen and political leaders and received a bear hug from Putin himself.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/09/why-we-need-to-spy-on-the-germans.html

Print this post

Do you like this post?

Add your reaction to this article