MUNICH — You have to wonder how much more the German public will take of the country’s ongoing humiliation by the United States and its extensive program of secretly spying on what nominally is one of America’s most reliable allies.
The latest scandal involves the discovery of a CIA mole working in the highest reaches of Germany’s Defense Ministry. This exposé follows, by less than a week, the arrest of another US spy in Germany’s own intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtsdienst (BND).
Yesterday, the German government ordered the expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin because of the discovery of the two active spies. It was the first such expulsion of a CIA station chief by a US ally in memory, but even so, the action appears to be largely symbolic, and designed to appease public anger domestically, not to actually impact spying within Germany by the US. The German government, after all, didn’t even blow the station chief’s identity — an act of professional courtesy that in this case was totally inappropriate to the offense.
The German people then — and we Americans watching this farce — must be left wondering why the German government, almost like an abused child who is old enough to strike back, puts up with this kind of embarrassment at the hands of the US government.
Germany, after all, has a powerful economy — one that, driven as it is by a strong manufacturing sector and a solid trade surplus, including with the US, in many ways is much stronger than the US economy. Germany has no need to worry about any risk of US trade sanctions, the way most countries do that consider trying to stand up to the US. Nor does Germany need to rely on the US military for protection. The country faces no threat from any direction. (As anti-war activist David Swanson puts it in his column US out of Germany, “Protection from Russia? If the Russian government weren’t demonstrating a level of restraint that dwarfs even that of the Brazilian soccer team’s defense there would be full-scale war in Ukraine right now. Russia is no more threatening Germany than Iran is preparing to nuke Washington or the U.N. is confiscating guns in Montana.”)
Why, one has to ask, would such a powerful country put up with the crap that the US is doing here, which even includes the tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone (as disclosed in documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden), or paying spies to rat out the inner workings of a Bundestag intelligence committee?
I suppose one logical explanation would be that there is enough corruption and political wheeling and dealing behind the scenes here that, knowing how deeply compromised they have been during a decade of NSA monitoring of their communications, the political leadership of Germany — both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — must be afraid (like their spineless counterparts in the US Congress) to take a stand against further US spying abuses.
Still, there is bound to be a limit to what the German public will tolerate, particularly in a country that has such raw memories of what it was like to live in a police state. After all, there is the history of the Nazi regime, and much more recently, of the Stasi state in East Germany, which only ended in 1990, and whose massive and all-pervasive spy apparatus and its predations have been luridly exposed over the course of the intervening years.
On July 4, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published an interview with Edward Snowden’s attorney Jesselyn Radack and fellow NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, in which Drake, who had intimate knowledge about the cooperation between the NSA and Germany’s BND, explained that German intelligence had basically for years operated as an extension, and junior partner, of the NSA in the latter agency’s effort to monitor virtually all communications inside of Germany.
Radack accused the Christian Democratic and Social Democratic politicians in the German Bundestag of being cowards, both in their hearings into the US spying operation in Germany and the cooperation the NSA had received from the BND, and in their unwillingness to grant asylum to Snowden, given all the information he had provided about the NSA’s spying on Germany and the German people.
Drake warns Germans in that Spiegel article that national security in the US has at this point become a kind of “state religion.” That’s a statement which should send a shudder down the spine of any German familiar with the country’s recent history.
This is a sordid story that is not going to go away, even if the current US station chief does.