Wednesday, July 9, 2014

US-German Relations: Indecision Seems to Typify the Obama White House

According to The Boston Herald, German authorities are reportedly investigating a second spy scandal reportedly involving the US, a week after the arrest of a German intelligence employee cast a darkening shadow over bi-lateral relations between the two countries.

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday (July 9) that police raided properties in the Berlin area on "initial suspicion of activity for an intelligence agency." They did not elaborate or specify what intelligence agency was involved, but said they had not made an arrest.

"We have investigations in two cases of suspected espionage," government spokesman Steffen Seibert later told reporters in Berlin. He declined to provide further details, citing the ongoing investigations.

The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that a man being investigated who worked at Germany's Defense Ministry is suspected of spying for the US.  

Spiegel Online reported that the man worked in a department dealing with international security policy and had aroused the suspicion of Germany's military counter-intelligence agency because of his close contacts to alleged US intelligence.

Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Uwe Roth declined to confirm the reports, but said the case fell "into the ministry's area of responsibility" and that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had been informed of the matter.

State Department officials traveling with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Beijing had no immediate comment.

COMMENT: Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly been very measured and restrained in her public statements in recent months as US-German relations have continued to deteriorate, the continuing debaucles concerning Washington's missteps seemingly jeopardize vital interests for both nations.

In fairness to President Obama, if he is privy to information that justifies his strange and bizarre behavior as it relates to bi-lateral relations between the US and Germany, he has an obligation to be completely transparent with the American people as to why relations between two dominant players on the world stage have plummeted so, particularly when trust amongst allies is so vital to global stability.

Unfortunately, in remaining silent, President Obama reinforces media speculation that the rumors and innuendos are valid at a time when Germany appears to be the apparent victim of an infinitely greater intelligence capability possessed by Washington in contrast to the capability of Germany. 

The downside is that Germany and the US vitally need each other given how perilous our world has become in recent weeks.

Rather than risk a further estrangement that the world hardly needs, it is vital for President Obama to call Chancellor Merkel up and reconcile differences now before mutual alienation becomes impossible.
 
Last week, a 31-year-old German intelligence employee was arrested on suspicion of spying for foreign powers since 2012. German media have reported that he spied for the United States and came to authorities' attention when he recently offered his services to Russian officials in Germany by email. How amateurish.

The case has frayed relations between Berlin and Washington, which were already strained by reports last year that the National Security Agency had targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone and conducted mass surveillance of Internet traffic in Germany. 

Those allegations have resulted in a criminal investigation and the creation of a parliamentary panel tasked with probing the NSA's activities in Germany. US ambassador to Berlin John Emerson was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Friday (July 4) after news of the first case broke.

Ambassador Emerson was at the foreign Ministry again on Wednesday (July 9) for a meeting with a senior official, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said. 

US Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen said the meeting had been arranged on Tuesday (July 8) at the embassy's request.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was at a loss to understand why the US would spy on his country."We speak to each other all the time, and nobody keeps their views secret," he said in an interview published Wednesday by SAARBRUECKER ZEITUNG. 

"The attempt to use conspiratorial methods to find out about Germany's position isn't just unseemly, it's unnecessary."Lora Anne Viola, an assistant professor in American foreign policy at Berlin's John F. Kennedy Institute, said the spy cases appeared to mark a low in US-German relations."I think it's going to be difficult to repair this with words alone," she said, adding that it was in Washington's interest to reach out to Germany.

"Without partners...without Germany, it's very difficult for the US to act on the foreign stage," Viola said. She cited the case of Ukraine, where Germany has played a key role reaching out to Russia while also rallying European countries around the idea of sanctions.

Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, an expert on Germany's intelligence agencies, said the reaction in Berlin would likely have been muted at any other time. "They would have resolved this the way they've done since the 1950s, which is switch off the German spy and send his American handler home."

"But the NSA scandal is forcing the German government's hand," Schmidt-Eenboom said. "It's been trying for months to play down the scandal so this new case has blindsided them. "Schmidt-Eenboom said cooperation between the US and German intelligence agencies--particularly the CIA and its German counterpart the BND--was traditionally good."