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Tags: merkel | visits | obama | spy | spat | snowden

US-German Spy Spat Unresolved as Merkel Visits White House

Monday, 09 February 2015 06:23 AM EST

The unresolved fallout between the U.S. and Germany over espionage and mass surveillance has slid to the background ahead of a visit today by Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington, according to her top aide.

Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, said last month’s attacks in France had cast a new light on the threat of terrorism. Six months after President Barack Obama dispatched his top aide to assuage Merkel’s government in response to Germany’s expulsion of the top U.S. spy, the “structured dialog” meant to address concerns hasn’t begun, he said.

The escalating conflict in Ukraine, as Merkel scrambles to reach an agreement with the Kremlin, will also overshadow the two governments’ clash over cloak-and-dagger methods.

“There’s no rush in the preparations, caution takes priority over haste,” Altmaier, who also oversees German intelligence, said in an interview last week in the Federal Chancellery. “Considering the Paris attacks, the threat of Islamic State terror and Boko Haram, the solidarity of the democratic community has moved once again to the foreground.”

Germany’s exasperation with National Security Agency surveillance and revelations of tapping Merkel’s mobile phone boiled over last July with probes into suspected double agents spying for American intelligence. Merkel’s government responded by kicking out the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Berlin, an unprecedented diplomatic retaliation.

High-Level Talks

Within two weeks, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was sent to hold talks with Altmaier and open the dialog, which would address German concerns over espionage activity in Germany, surveillance and intelligence cooperation.

High-level talks with German counterparts have been ongoing since last July, Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said last week. Altmaier said those discussions have been preparatory work for the structured dialog, which he said will begin “at the appropriate time.”

“We look forward to deepening the strategic dialog in the weeks and months ahead,” Price said.

German hostility to American tactics, already stoked by the 2013 disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, culminated with the new allegations last year. In one case, a 31-year-old support technician for Germany’s BND intelligence agency is accused of handing over intelligence to the CIA after being approached by U.S. spies in exchange for cash.

The U.S. tried to hold off the removal of its top spy in Berlin by offering an intelligence-sharing agreement. Merkel’s government rejected it and went ahead with the expulsion.

“We don’t live in the Cold War anymore, where everybody probably mistrusted everybody else,” Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, said two days later.

German Measures

Even as the differences over balancing security with privacy haven’t been addressed, the German debate over surveillance has also been tempered by the emergence of the Islamic State in the Middle East and the potential for fighters to return to Europe from Syria’s civil war.

Merkel’s cabinet last week approved legislation that seeks to limit travel to war regions and tighten financing for terrorist organizations.

“International terrorism has posed a threat for some time to national and international security,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, said on Feb. 4 after the draft was approved. “Recently the IS has offered new examples of its murderous inclinations.”

The Obama administration last week said that U.S. intelligence agencies will limit the use of information they collect on foreigners, including purging material deemed not relevant to national security after five years.

The measures were part of the administration’s response to the backlash over NSA surveillance and the expansion of such programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

“It’s clear that our American partners have a great interest in clearing up differences,” Altmaier said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Arne Delfs in Berlin at [email protected]; Patrick Donahue in Berlin at [email protected]; Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at [email protected] Chad Thomas, Heather Harris

© Copyright 2023 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

The unresolved fallout between the U.S. and Germany over espionage and mass surveillance has slid to the background ahead of a visit today by Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington, according to her top aide.Peter Altmaier, Merkel's chief of staff, said last month's attacks...
merkel, visits, obama, spy, spat, snowden
Monday, 09 February 2015 06:23 AM
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