Top U.S. Spy Expelled from Germany

The U.S. flag flies on top of the U.S. embassy in front of the Reichstag building that houses the German Parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government ordered the expulsion Thursday of the top U.S. intelligence official from the country, German and U.S. officials said, in an escalating spy scandal that has strained relations between the traditional allies.

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement. The expelled American official was not named.

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin would not comment directly on intelligence matters but confirmed it had seen reports Germany had asked a U.S. “intelligence chief to leave the country.” The White House also confirmed the ejection.

“We do continue to be in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic and even intelligence channels, recognizing the value of the U.S.-German alliance,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

John Rizzo, a former chief legal officer at the CIA and a 34-year veteran of the agency, said he does not recall a U.S. ally ejecting a CIA station chief, “especially so publicly.”

Chiefs of station have clashed with their counterparts, and botched operations in friendly countries have “made a continuing relationship untenable” in the past, he said. ” CIA would then quietly remove the COS from the country, and life would go on.”

The “in-your-face” nature of the German expulsion makes this case “so striking,” said Rizzo, whose memoir Company Man came out in January.

The move by Berlin follows two alleged incidents of U.S. spying on Germany that arose in the wake of leaks last year from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Those two investigations are ongoing and have led to one arrest — a German intelligence employee at the Defense Ministry, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

“The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany,” Seibert said. “The government takes the matter very seriously.”

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, told German television that if the situation wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.

“Germany depends on U.S. assistance in our joint fight against terrorism,” he said in the televised interview. “But that doesn’t mean that the Americans should be recruiting third-rate people here (to spy on us). Should the reports be confirmed, it’s so stupid that one can only weep at the foolishness of it all.”

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Jabeen Bhatti, Luigi Serenelli, Oren Dorell