Affront from America

In this arena, the new revelations about the National Security Agency are no surprise. Every intelligence agency seeks a comprehensive picture, so it would have been naive to assume that the Americans restrained themselves from targeting the chancellor in espionage against Germany. Ministers and senior officials were already preferred targets of reconnaissance in pre-digital times. The documents that WikiLeaks has published once again show, as unoriginal as the intelligence tends to be, what the NSA overheard at presumably great cost. Most was in newspapers and in federal government press releases. The American taxpayer could probably save a lot of money if Washington would simply hold a regular press conference.

Politically, the whole ordeal is another affront among allies. Asking the U.S. ambassador for talks at the Chancellery is still the lowest level of possible diplomatic relations. However, whether German protest leads to a behavioral change in America is questionable. The Obama administration has remained tight-lipped in recent years on the various expansions of NSA affairs and has made hardly any concessions to affected allies. Only in Germany have the powers of the intelligence agency recently been limited; foreign espionage, however, has not been curtailed. That being the case, it must be accepted that only a businesslike partnership is possible with the United States. Trust as the basis of friendship, as Merkel once called for, cannot thrive on such terms.

The German debate has long focused on the area least geared toward parliamentary inquiry. Since no American witnesses may be heard, one has to rely on revelations by third parties, of which no one knows what interests they pursue. Much more important now is that Germany expands its counterintelligence capabilities. The dangers of global networking have been underestimated in Berlin ever since the information technology debacle surfaced in the Bundestag. By no means must security measures only keep this land free from foreign allied agencies.

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