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Criminal proceedings on the table as Germany weighs how to hit back in US spying row

The row has damaged US-German ties, with no resolution in sight just yet.

Anglea really isn't happy about this.
Anglea really isn't happy about this.
Image: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

GERMANY HAS DEBATED retaliation measures against the United States after the discovery of an alleged double agent stoked still smouldering public anger over the NSA scandal.

The case of a German intelligence operative suspected of spying for Washington drew a fierce response from Berlin, where indignation against one of its closest allies has run high since reports last year that the US National Security Agency (NSA) tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

Merkel fumed over the latest allegations on a visit to China, saying on Monday that if they proved to be true it “would be for me a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners.”

Members of her cabinet went further, with Justice Minister Heiko Maas saying that German authorities should consider “criminal proceedings” against US spies.


“The American intelligence services are obsessed with surveillance,” he said.

And Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, reportedly sent an internal memorandum calling for a new “360-degree approach” to intelligence gathering — seen as a call to counter-espionage efforts against allies.

NATO partners including Washington are currently exempt from targeted German espionage operations under orders from Merkel’s office, the daily Bild reported.

The deputy head of Merkel’s Christian Democrats parliamentary group, Andreas Schockenhoff, demanded a formal expansion of the BND foreign intelligence service’s remit to include the United States.

“We must not be blind in one eye,” he told the daily Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

bnd-gebaeude-berlin The HQ of German's foreign intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Katrin Goering-Eckardt of the opposition Greens renewed a call to bring fugitive US leaker Edward Snowden, whose revelations touched off the NSA affair one year ago, to Germany to be questioned.

“You don’t get respect by shutting your mouth in shame but rather when you bring Edward Snowden to Germany as a witness, give him a safe haven and get information that cannot be obtained otherwise,” she told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

Berlin has declined to invite Snowden to testify, citing the potential damage to US relations.

Some called for cooler heads to prevail, saying the country’s spies had little chance of beating the Americans at their own game and calling for Germany to respect the lessons of its history of mass state snooping under the Nazi and communist regimes.

“Massive collection of data”

“You cannot criticise the massive collection of data by US agencies and then do the same,” Rolf Muetzenich, deputy head of the parliamentary group of the Social Democrats, partners in Merkel’s left-right government, told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

After a long weekend of silence on the alleged German mole, the White House Monday declined to comment on the case but pledged to work with Berlin “to resolve this situation appropriately”.

“The relationship that the US has with Germany is incredibly important,” spokesman Josh Ernest said.

On Tuesday, Ernest said that “there have been some communications in both law enforcement and diplomatic channels to begin to resolve the issue,” but did not provide any details.

A German government spokeswoman, Christiane Wirtz, said only that Berlin would “have to wait and see what consequences there will be” for transatlantic ties.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: A suspected US double-agent has been ‘arrested for spying’ in Germany >

More: Friction after US double-agent arrested for ‘spying’ in Germany >

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