US Spying Disturbs Europe

Once again, an atmosphere of trans-Atlantic scandal, generated by the disclosure of America’s unchecked spying, is heating up. In Europe, on the eve of a much anticipated speech on Friday, by President Barack Obama on the reform of U.S. intelligence services, fears have grown that hopes for a real change to this intolerable situation will not be realized. Any remaining glimmer of optimism was quashed by yesterday’s New York Times article, which says that, knowing the details, it will be “a speech that leaves in place many current programs.” In particular, the National Security Agency will not be banned from collecting and storing telephone data.

No offense intended, but the impression remains that, on this issue, European allies view their American patron like a rabbit views a boa constrictor. Yes, they are outraged. Yes, they are disappointed. Yes, the press is angry that requests for an explanation of the motives of the NSA for spying on Europe’s own, and also consideration of European ideas about bringing some order to the realm of NATO intelligence, have been met with a flat refusal. But at the same time, they throw up their hands, not knowing how to react.

A crude preliminary report by a parliamentary group charged with investigating American wire-tapping of diplomatic missions and other European Union institutions, all the way up to the Brussels Commission, was recently presented to the European Parliament. There are plans to discuss possible conclusions in Strasbourg, only in March. In the meantime, Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok has warned Washington that, under such circumstances as now exist, a trans-Atlantic agreement on a free-trade zone will have no chance of being ratified.

It is clear that such a political and economic heavyweight as Germany feels the problems of American spying most keenly. It humiliates Germany and the Germans; it reduces Berlin’s rank in NATO. Millions of German citizens are outraged by the tracking of their telephones and Internet connections and demand countermeasures. The wire-tapping of the chancellor’s personal cellphone is intolerably insulting. Any real opportunities to put an end to this, in a country where U.S. military divisions, nuclear weapons, airbases, intelligence and operational centers, and hospitals are still located are, however, limited. Obviously, it was with this in mind, in the summer, that the Germans had already seized on the idea of a “no-spy” anti-spying agreement, so as to define “rules of conduct” for the NSA and other American spy units in Germany.

On Wednesday this week, the Bundestag urgently returned to the subject. In recent days, there have been growing signs that the “mutual non-aggression pact” project between American and German intelligence services is in jeopardy. Months of negotiations have so far yielded nothing, and there is little doubt that the American side is reluctant to seriously change or limit its spying practices. German parliamentarians reviewed the “Position of the Federal Government Regarding Negotiation of a No-Spy Agreement Between the US and Germany” in the context of an hour’s worth of pertinent questions.

A faction of the opposition Left Party has shown initiative. However, statements by representatives of other factions have indicated that the U.S. is in the midst of a spying scandal. Interior Ministry Parliamentary State Secretary Günter Krings called American information on the matter highly unsatisfactory. Social Democratic Party Deputy Michael Hartmann stressed that it is inexcusable that the U.S. pried all it could out of Germany under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

The media also cite the viewpoint of Germany’s new trans-Atlantic coordinator Philipp Missfelder, who thinks that the “no-spy” agreement “would have to be something worth more than the paper it is written on,” and, if U.S. intelligence agencies will not adhere to political agreements, he would prefer to get tough with them. Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, citing a senior official, has written about the BND*’s disappointment over the negotiations with the Americans. The newspaper learned that the head of the foreign intelligence agency Gerhard Schindler has privately expressed the opinion that, given the current state of affairs, it would be best to opt out of an agreement altogether.

The nervousness is evident. Angela Merkel, Der Spiegel points out, wants “no-spy” agreements to put an end to the debate about the double-dealing of the NSA. On Tuesday, she said at a meeting of the CDU/CSU** that the talks will continue. The chancellor did not try to hide that differences still exist, but Berlin will invariably demand that the U.S. obey German law on German soil. In a few weeks Merkel will visit the White House at Obama’s invitation. The “no-spy” project will be the main topic. German commentators presume that the chancellor will do everything she can to return home with something definite.

As a precaution, an alternate “European” version is being prepared to establish certain standards in inter-allied espionage. A representative of the federal government called attention to a proposal Angela Merkel made last year for joint standards for intelligence services within the EU. According to the German media, the federal government is already in talks regarding a mutual renunciation of spying among EU states. The British entanglements with the U.S. in this sphere will hardly permit anything more than a statement of intent. However, the problem of the NSA is not going anywhere: It remains a delay-action mine on the trans-Atlantic field. It gives reason to believe that the problem of U.S. intelligence agencies’ interception of allies’ channels of communication will continue to cause huge scandals between them.

*Editor’s note: The Bundesnachrichtendienst is Germany’s intelligence agency.

**Editor’s note: The Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, Germany’s two main conservative parties, that often cooperate on a number of issues.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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