• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Germans Restrict Cooperation With The U.S. On Intelligence

Obama Merkel

Germany has decided to cut back on its cooperation with the United States in intelligence matters:

BERLIN — The German government has moved to restrict its cooperation with the United States on intelligence gathering after revelations of spying on German businesses and other Europeans.

The decision was made at a meeting of government officials Wednesday night amid political pressure to pull back from what many Germans see as an intrusion by the American intelligence apparatus that is overly tolerated by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It was not immediately clear what the restrictions mean in practice, but given the close cooperation between the two countries, which became formal after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it suggests that tensions over security versus civil liberties have stoked a rift between the United States and one of its closest allies.

The restriction in intelligence gathering, which was first reported in German media, suggests that the Merkel government is feeling pressure to act, as the scope of Germany’s cooperation with American intelligence efforts, as well as the government’s oversight of the practices, have come under intense scrutiny in the last two weeks.

Germany has had an agreement with the United States since 2002 to share both the collection of intelligence information and the results, with restrictions placed on the scope of the collection efforts and Germany’s involvement.

Ms. Merkel has insisted that reliance on the United States intelligence apparatus is vital to protecting Germany’s 80 million citizens against terrorist threats.

But the German public, which is wary of government intrusion given its recent past, has been uncomfortable with the relationship. The chancellor was able to ride past an eruption of German anger over spying in the summer of 2013, when Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for theNational Security Agency, revealed the extent to which American intelligence had amassed data on Europeans, including the chancellor’s cellphone number.

The issue was revived last month with a report that the German foreign intelligence service, known as the B.N.D., spied on firms and individuals in Germany and Europe at the behest of the N.S.A. Government officials have denied that they participated in spying on Airbus or other Europeans.

Members of Ms. Merkel’s chancellery have been testifying before parliamentary committees to explain what the government knew about the spying, and how it acted upon its knowledge.

Critics have demanded that Ms. Merkel produce the list of search terms that the N.S.A. had asked Germany to monitor. Over the last few days, she has said she is in consultations with Washington over what she can release.

The roots of this dispute with the Germans is long-standing, and goes back to the summer of 2013 when it was revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on American allies in Europe, a report that soured American relations with several European nations. One of those reports revealed that the agency had been listening in on the phone conversations of Angela Merkel before she became Chancellor, something that the White House essentially admitted with one of the most carefully worded “denials” that we’ve ever seen from any Administration. On some level, of course, the fact that the United States conducts surveillance in foreign nations that are allies is neither news, nor is it necessarily a big deal. The problem comes when those programs are made public, especially in a nation such as Germany where the public tends to have a very sensitive view of surveillance given its history over the past century. Additionally, the revelations about Merkel’s phone conversations being monitored were an especially personal side note to a story that otherwise was talking about monitoring of communication on a mass scale without actually naming any one. When these reports became public, many Germans demanded that the government respond to the reports and, as a result, Berlin has generally taken a harder line in its reaction to these reports than other American allies. One could say that this is purely for domestic consumption, and perhaps that is true to some extent. However, given Merkel’s own personal history as someone who grew up in East Germany and spent a good portion of her life in a state under the surveillance of the Stasi, one could imagine that she has taken it a but personally at well. This, perhaps is why we’ve seen the German Government take action such as this even two years after the program was first made public.

As the article notes, it is unclear precisely what the practical impact of this decision by Berlin will be, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see much formal comment from the Administration abot it either. Perhaps, at some point, the Washington and Berlin will be able to put this matter behind them and resume their previous level of cooperation. Given the twin threats of Islamist terrorism and and a resurgent Russia, it would seem that such cooperation is ultimately in the interests of both nations. For the time being, though, things are on hold, largely because, in  the wake of the September 11th attacks, the United States refused to recognize any limits on its reach or, apparently, even consider the sensibilities of long-standing allies.

Related Posts:

  • None Found

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Meanwhile the French have put the force of law behind widespread searches and intercepts.

    I strongly suspect this is all for show and I doubt seriously it will change much if anything. Privacy is dead – killed not by government but by big businesses with which we willingly interact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Mikey says:

    This is likely just puttering around the edges. Neither government will consent to limiting sharing of what they feel is actually important. Or they will agree on other ways of getting it.

    I guarantee “a resurgent Russia” is of great concern to Germany. The Germans will not want to put at risk the kind of intel flows we can get for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Jeremy R says:

    Additionally, the revelations about Merkel’s phone conversations being monitored were an especially personal side note to a story

    Ever since the reports of German intelligence intercepting, recording and storing the phone calls of both Secretary of State Clinton and Kerry, German media seems to raise the Merkel phone “outrage” narrative far less frequently.

    However, given Merkel’s own personal history as someone who grew up in East Germany and spent a good portion of her life in a state under the surveillance of the Stasi, one could imagine that she has taken it a but personally at well

    A long term goal of Merkel’s has actually been even greater access to the Anglosphere spying alliance. She tried to leverage the Snowden embarrassment into an upgrade into the ranks of the Five Eyes, but was rebuffed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    This seems like a good point to remind folks that Germany’s privacy laws are much stricter than ours. Companies there are forbidden to do things that companies here take for granted. The treatment of PII is much more restricted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Kabuki.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Andre Kenji says:

    @Mikey:

    I guarantee “a resurgent Russia” is of great concern to Germany.

    There is no resurgent Russia. Russia is a country in a desperate search for relevance, that they don´t have.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Agreed.

    It’s best to think of allies and friends as co-members of the popular girl clique in middle school.

    Friendly governments can and do share vast amounts of information, but obviously want to keep internal discussions about how to deal with other friendly governments close to the vest. We don’t share our diaries or deepest thoughts about our friends to our friends without careful consideration. Our friends are as circumspect as we are. Our friends are, nevertheless, as curious as we are about the others are really thinking.

    As a State, within boundaries, spying on friends is a distasteful but appropriate action. No one wants it come out, but it as likely to happen as a clique of 14 year-old girls talking smack about each other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Mikey says:

    @Andre Kenji: I suppose you’re right. Still, I’m not sure a Russia desperately seeking resurgence is of any less concern to the Germans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. de stijl says:

    @Mikey:

    Crimea ain’t Berlin. Germany is not Ukraine. Having a Black Sea port doesn’t mean much if NATO controls the Med. Russia has a First World Air Force, a Second World Army, and a Third World Navy. (Hyperbole, yes, but not that much.)

    Russia’s major weapon systems today are oil and gas pipelines.

    The Baltic States, on the other hand, may be sleeping uneasily.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Mikey says:

    @de stijl: I don’t mean to assert the Russians are planning another push toward the Rhine (Poland might have something to say about that) but rather a Russia desperately seeking resurgence will inevitably raise concerns in the German government.

    Russia’s major weapon systems today are oil and gas pipelines.

    This is of particular concern to a Germany that gets 36% of its natural gas and 39% of its oil from Russia, especially considering half of Russia’s natural gas exports pass through Ukraine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. de stijl says:

    @Mikey:

    No worries. I knew where you where you coming from and was riffing on your comment and not criticizing you. No one expects thousands of Russian T-x tanks crossing Poland anytime soon.

    Germany that gets 36% of its natural gas and 39% of its oil from Russia, especially considering half of Russia’s natural gas exports pass through Ukraine.

    This, really, is Russia’s only weapon that will actually impact Germany and Western Europe. The problem for Russia is the economic blowback if they decide to deploy that weapon. Obama and Merkel finessed this fairly well last year. Public opinion that rallies around Putin and the currently approved oligarchs in this situation is not inexhaustible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0