By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Germany demanded the departure from the country of the top spy at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on Thursday, dramatizing its deepening unhappiness with reports of U.S. intelligence operations targeting its officials.
Following accusations of two cases of U.S. spying, government spokesman Steffen Seibert announced that “the representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the U.S. Embassy has been asked to leave Germany.”
He said in a statement that the request came against the backdrop of German prosecutors’ investigation of the two recent cases, and the questions that were raised earlier about National Security Agency intelligence-gathering.
“The government takes the matter very seriously,” he said.
One German has been arrested and an investigation has been launched into another in the past two weeks on suspicions of espionage. Both are suspected of passing secrets to the United States, German news organizations have reported.
The expulsion of what some news reports termed the CIA station chief in Berlin reflected German officials’ unhappiness that the Obama administration has been, in their view, too casual about disclosures of the spy operations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier Thursday that the two countries had “very different approaches” toward intelligence-gathering and needed to increase mutual trust.
Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s interior minister, said that while the information turned over by one of the suspects appears so far to be “laughable … the political damage is
already disproportionate and serious.”
In Washington, the CIA declined comment on the German order.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused to comment on intelligence matters, saying that “any sort of comment on any reported intelligence acts would put at risk U.S. assets, U.S. personnel and the United States national security.”
He said he knew of no contact this week between Obama and Merkel.
The conflict between the two governments began last year when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed U.S. spying operations in Germany, including the monitoring of Merkel’s cellphone. In October, Der Spiegel published an article about NSA operations at the U.S. Embassy with the headline, “The NSA’s Secret Spy Hub in Berlin.”
The rising tensions between the allies comes at a time when they are trying to work together on a range of sensitive issues, including Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, and a transatlantic trade agreement.
Concerns about U.S. spying are broadly shared by the German public. The revelations have further soured public attitudes toward the United States and President Barack Obama, once strongly supported in Germany.
Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, declined comment on the “purported intelligence matter.”
But she said: “Our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is an important one, and it keeps Germans and Americans safe. It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas, and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels.”
Staff writer Brian Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.
AFP Photo / Odd Andersen
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