“The expulsion of America’s top spy would have been rare in East Germany during the Cold War, much less in an ally the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend. Thursday’s order by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government reflects America’s diminished standing in the world under President Obama, and perhaps some dubious CIA spycraft.
“The ostensible reason for the expulsion is German anger over media reports about two cases of American spying. A German intelligence official has reportedly told investigators he sold secret documents to the U.S., and press reports Wednesday said police have searched the home and office of a defense ministry employee suspected of espionage, possibly for the U.S.
“These stories are unconfirmed, but the Germans aren’t taking silence for an answer, especially after last year’s disclosures by Edward Snowden that the U.S. had tapped Mrs. Merkel’s phone. The Chancellor at first made light of the revelations, but she hasn’t won three terms by ignoring public opinion and soon joined the outrage.
“Much of this is faux outrage because the Germans surely know that even friendly nations spy on one another. During the Cold War the top aide to Chancellor Willy Brandt was discovered to have been a spy for East Germany. And these days Russian spies are all over Europe, especially Germany. As a KGB colonel, Vladimir Putin operated out of Dresden in the 1980s and he’s now providing asylum to Mr. Snowden, who has done so much to harm U.S. interests.
“Germany enjoys closer commercial and political ties with both Russia and Iran than do most other Western countries. The U.S. needs to understand these relationships, and that requires intelligence. The U.S. would be irresponsible if it didn’t eavesdrop on German officials.
“The espionage flap also offers cover for an all-too familiar strain of German anti-Americanism. Steffen Seibert, the government’s apparently tone-deaf spokesman, on Wednesday declared “a deep-seated difference of opinion between Germany and the United States on the question of how to balance security and interference in civil liberties.” Sorry, Mr. Seibert, the U.S. isn’t Germany’s security threat. A former Merkel justice minister has even demanded that Berlin freeze negotiations on the trans-Atlantic free-trade deal.
“The real U.S. offense isn’t the spying so much as doing it so poorly. Following the Snowden revelations, the CIA should have been especially careful in its tradecraft. Assuming these latest stories are true, they put Mrs. Merkel in a bad political spot. This follows a troubling trend by the CIA’s operations directorate, which somehow missed Mr. Putin’s invasion of Crimea, the 2012 threat to the consulate in Benghazi, and the egregious handling of an Islamist detainee that ended up in prosecutions of U.S. agents in Italy.
“Congress’s intelligence committees should do a deeper dive into the German cases and Langley’s larger failings. But Americans should also ask why even our friends now think they can expel a U.S. official and pay no price for it.”
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