US spying on Germany

July 13, 2014 - 6:08:26 am

Washington has to rethink whether spying operations against its allies are worth the damage they cause.

German-US relations have been going through a rough patch over spying by US on German soil.  Two cases have emerged which made Berlin furious, embarrassing the Obama administration. And unfortunately, Washington doesn’t seem to be learning from its mistakes and seems bent on repeating more of the same.

The first case was disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance of German communications and the subsequent refusal of the Obama administration to accept Chancellor Angela Merkel’s demand for a no-spying agreement. When it was revealed that Merkel’s mobile phone had been monitored, President Obama rightly stopped the operation; he had previously ordered a review of foreign spying. But even before the dust has settled, Germany unearthed another spying operation by the US in Berlin using an employee of Germany’s intelligence agency who handed over sensitive documents in exchange for financial benefits. Angry again, Merkel’s government ordered that the CIA station chief in Berlin leave the country.

Germany is a close ally of the US with which the latter wouldn’t want any diplomatic stand-off. But Washington’s spying operations are so extensive and well-entrenched that it’s unlikely to change its ways after Merkel’s protests. What surprises most of the world is what makes Washington to spy on its close allies, who pose no threats to its security, who would do everything to protect US from terrorist or other threats. Washington also fails to realize that such operations against allies are almost certainly not worth the damage caused when they are revealed. More than the fissures in diplomatic relations, it damages US reputation in the world, especially among the people of its allies who would otherwise consider the superpower favourably. A country like Germany and its people are more sensitive about questions of spying and surveillance and it’s this sensitivity which is reflected in the virulent reaction of German politicians to the latest revelations. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaüble, said, “So much stupidity just makes you want to cry.” Some other US allies would have reacted less seriously and wouldn’t have resorted to the expulsion of US officials. 

According to a Washington Post report, in spite of the review ordered by Barack Obama, the CIA has failed to shut down low-value spying operations whose exposure was bound to cause embarrassment. The president will have to try harder to make sure that his orders are implemented and save the country from more embarrassment.

Berlin has a pro-US government whose cooperation is vital in many areas. The current strain in relations should prompt US to rethink its spying operations. It will be interesting to watch how the Merkel government would react to another discovery of US spying operation on German soil•