Germany’s government took the eye-opening step of formally requesting that the CIA’s station chief in Berlin leave the nation Thursday amid friction between U.S. and German authorities over alleged American spying.
In Washington, the CIA’s office of public affairs refused to comment on the development. It comes after Obama administration attempts to patch up relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was incensed last year by revelations that the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on her cellphone.
German authorities more recently have been frustrated by an alleged attempt by U.S. spies in Berlin to penetrate Germany’s BND intelligence services, according to reports this week in German media.
On Wednesday, German police raided the office and apartment of a person suspected of working for U.S. intelligence. The raid followed the arrest of an employee of Germany’s intelligence services who was accused of selling secrets to the CIA.
With the raid and arrest as a backdrop, authorities issued a statement Thursday asserting that “the representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany.”
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said authorities are engaged in an investigation into “questions that were posed months ago about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany.”
The comment was an apparent reference to Mrs. Merkel’s frustration over revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who shared documents with journalists exposing how the NSA had listened in on her cellphone calls.
Mr. Seibert said the official request for the CIA station chief to leave was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the U.S. intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”
A former U.S. official who spoke Thursday with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity described Germany’s move as extraordinary. CIA agents have been expelled from time to time, usually by unfriendly powers, but the former official said he couldn’t remember an instance since the end of the Cold War in which the ranking intelligence official was asked to leave a country.
Germany authorities have not identified the CIA station chief by name — apparently yielding to legal protocol adhered to in the United States, where it is a crime to disclose the name of an undercover intelligence operative.
The Obama administration embraced a cautious posture Thursday.
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told The Washington Times in an email that she and other White House officials had “seen these reports and have no comment on a purported intelligence matter.”
“However, our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one and it keeps Germans and Americans safe,” Ms. Hayden added. “It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, traveling Thursday with President Obama in Texas, would not confirm the report, saying it could jeopardize U.S. intelligence assets and personnel.
“We do continue to be in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic and even intelligence channels,” Mr. Earnest said. “The strength of our national security relationship with Germany is important to American national security; it’s also important to the national security of the Germans.”
Shortly before Thursday’s announcement, Mrs. Merkel told reporters that Germany and the U.S. had “very different approaches” in intelligence gathering.
The AP reported that Mrs. Merkel stressed the need for greater trust between allies, a position she repeatedly has voiced.
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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