Germany defends CIA chief’s expulsion as ‘necessary’

Search ordered for other potential cases of US espionage amid ‘breach of trust’

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier with chancellor Angela Merkel: Mr Steinmeier struck a more conciliatory tone and described Berlin’s partnership with Washington as “without alternative”. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty Images

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier with chancellor Angela Merkel: Mr Steinmeier struck a more conciliatory tone and described Berlin’s partnership with Washington as “without alternative”. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty Images

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Berlin has ordered its intelligence services to conduct a full sweep for double agents but denied reports they should reduce co-operation with US agencies to a minimum.

Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the de facto expulsion of the CIA’s intelligence chief at the US embassy, announced on Thursday, as a “necessary step and a measured reaction to the breach of trust” following the alleged discovery of two double-agents.

In advance of a meeting in Vienna today with his US colleague John Kerry, on the fringes of a conference, Mr Steinmeier struck a more conciliatory tone and described Berlin’s partnership with Washington as “without alternative”.

Classified information

German investigators are still examining evidence that two government employees – one at the defence ministry, another at the BND foreign intelligence service – passed on classified information to the US.

“It would be an illusion to think it would be possible to succeed in defusing conflicts and finding political solutions . . . without close co-operation with the US,” said Mr Steinmeier. “This partnership should not just be based on trust but also mutual respect.”

His Social Democrat (SPD) colleague Heiko Maas, the federal justice minister, struck a more strident note and called on the US to assist Berlin in investigations into double agents inside the government. “We need clarity about possible further espionage cases, of of which we are not yet aware,” said he said.

Nato partners

Germany says it does not spy on its Nato partners and says it expected the same from the US.

Thursday’s move against the CIA operative in the US embassy – seen as political frustration with Washington stonewalling on its spying activities in Germany – was given almost universal support in the media yesterday.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung called it an “unprecedented step against American arrogance” while the Bild tabloid urged US president Barack Obama to “repair relations with his closest western partner while it’s still possible”.

A government spokesman said they had “little doubt” the CIA station chief would soon leave the city but denied media reports that German agents were on orders to avoid working with US intelligence staff.

Opposition politicians in Germany called on the government to draw consequences from the scandal and suspend transatlantic trade talks.

Suspicions about the defence ministry employee first emerged in 2010, according to reports, after Germany’s domestic intelligence service learned the employee took trips at short-notice to Turkey, where he allegedly met Russian agents.

Federal prosecutor

A spokesman for Germany’s federal prosecutor said yesterday that, after interviewing the man and searching his apartment, they found no serious evidence of double-agent activity.

The other case, involving a 31-year-old BND employee, is apparently more serious. Over two years, he brought home files from work, scanned them and saved them on a USB stick. He reportedly emailed the US embassy in Berlin and handed over the information in Vienna in exchange for €25,000.