Germany may have to tolerate NSA spying, says key Merkel aide

12 July 2014

Playing a placatory note over the outrage in Germany over US spying, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country may have to tolerate such spying even among allies.

Roderich Kiesewetter, a legislator for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union who sits on a parliamentary committee investigating US National Security Agency surveillance, said efforts to lock in a ''no-spy'' agreement with the US contradict the need to follow threatening developments in friendly states.

''We need to take a departure from the perceived goal of a no-spy treaty,'' Kiesewetter said in an interview this week in Berlin. ''That won't happen.''

The espionage dispute, which culminated on Thursday in the German government's expulsion of the top US intelligence official in Berlin, has exasperated officials in Merkel's administration. German agencies have worked closely with the US since the discovery that the 11 September 2001 attackers spent time in Hamburg.

The affair has ''seriously damaged'' the US in Germany, Kiesewetter admitted. He welcomed the departure of the US diplomat as the right response in the dispute.

At the same time, he warned that national security should play a greater role in the debate on espionage, which has been dominated by charges that the NSA has violated privacy with mass surveillance and that American intelligence has betrayed Germany's trust.

While the spectre of the US recruiting double agents in the ranks of the German government has done more harm than any intended benefit, the legislator said he didn't think it would cause lasting damage to US-German relations.

The German federal prosecutor has opened two investigations into suspected spying, the first involving a 31-year-old employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service, or BND, accused of passing along 218 classified files to the US. Bild newspaper said he was paid 25,000 which sounds like peanuts for such a service.

''The impression is that this was about money,'' said Kiesewetter, who was among members of the NSA investigative committee briefed last week on the probe. He did not elaborate.

Kiesewetter called for a more measured debate over the presence of foreign espionage activity on German soil, citing a proliferation of Islamist radicals of interest to Turkey -- in addition to the presence of the 9/11 attackers.

''What we expect of ourselves in observing critical developments in countries where things originate, we can expect from other partners that have far more resources,'' he said.

Chancellor Merkel dispatched political and intelligence officials to Washington after reports of tapping her mobile phone surfaced last October to try to wrest an agreement overhauling US-German intelligence cooperation. American officials have balked at such an arrangement, with President Barack Obama saying the US doesn't have a no-spy accord with any nation.

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