In the latest turn in the yearlong tensions with Germany over US spying, a German man was arrested this week on suspicion of passing secret documents to a foreign power, believed to be the United States. The US ambassador, John B. Emerson, was summoned to the Foreign Office here and urged to help with what German officials called a swift clarification of the case.
The arrest came as Washington and Berlin were trying to put to rest a year of strains over the National Security Agency’s monitoring of Germans’ electronic data, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, and just months after the collapse of an effort by Germany to strike a “no spy” accord with the White House.
While the White House and US intelligence officials refused to comment on the arrest, one senior US official said that reports in the German media that the 31-year-old man under arrest had been working for the United States for at least two years “threaten to undo all the repair work” the two sides have been trying to achieve.
The details of the latest case were murky. The media reports suggested that the man, a mid-level employee of the Federal Intelligence Service, was originally arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia. The Kremlin has markedly stepped up recruitment of German informants since the uprisings in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions aimed at Russia’s economy.
But according to the news reports and the account of the US official, the man told his interrogators he had been working for the United States for some time.
German news reports said that his work included reporting on the investigations into the NSA’s activities in Germany, which are the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, but the US official said he had no knowledge of whether that was the case. He spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid complicating a diplomatically fragile intelligence issue.
The CIA and NSA both declined to comment on the allegations.
Merkel was informed of the case Thursday, her spokesman said, just before she spoke to President Barack Obama by telephone. But the White House described that conversation as one that was primarily about Ukraine and the continuing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Neither German nor US officials would say on the record whether the subject of the arrest came up during the call. But another senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the president’s conversations were intended to be private, said the issue did not come up on the call, which was previously scheduled to discuss other matters, and that Obama was not aware of the case at the time of the call.
If the man had been spying for the United States for two years, as the German news reports say, his recruitment would have predated the disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, the NSA contractor, of the long-running tapping of Merkel’s cellphone.
SOURCE: ALISON SMALE
The New York Times