25th Oct 2016

German-US relations strained by new spy scandal

  • Obama and Merkel in Berlin: The scandal is a new irritant in German-American relations (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

Relations between Germany and the US are being strained by a new scandal after the arrest of a German spy who was allegedly also working for the American intelligence services.

The US ambassador was invited to give explanations at the German foreign ministry, after a 31-year-old employee of the German intelligence service (BND) was arrested last week for feeding information to a US agency for two years.

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The German prosecutor-general confirmed last week that a man had been arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of acting for a foreign intelligence service.

According to unnamed BND officials quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, "all signs indicate that he was acting for the Americans."

The FAS and the weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper said the man had worked for the CIA and had handed over more than 200 documents in return for €25,000. Among the documents is information on a parliamentary committee set up to investigate previous spying scandals.

The scandal is a new irritant in German-American relations.

"If the reports are correct, it would be a serious case. It would be for me a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday (7 July) during a press conference in Beijing.

Merkel's relations with the US have been on a rocky ride since last year when revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden put the National Security Agency (NSA) and US President Barack Obama on the spot for having tapped her phone and spied on millions of German citizens.

President Joachim Gauck and interior minister Thomas de Maiziere have also expressed their outrage and said the new allegations have to be clarified immediately.

But it is unlikely for Germany to take any retaliatory steps against the US, such as expelling some of its diplomats from Berlin.

Public opinion however is turning against the US, with 57 percent of Germans saying their country should be more independent from the US in its foreign policy decisions.

The White House has so far not commented on the scandal.

Presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton, during a book launch in Berlin over the weekend said the transatlantic relations should not be "jeopardised". But when asked if she would agree to a no-spy deal with Germany, Clinton said no, "irrespective of how closely befriended we are."

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