Spies Like US?

Germans are shocked, shocked by the news of a second investigation of a German who has allegedly been spying on his own country for the U.S. (another was arrested last week). Indignation at the alleged traitors’ possible betrayal of their own homeland is understandable enough, and from an American point of view it would indeed be unfortunate if two of its agents have really been caught: embarrassing and all that. Doubtless this will be used to whip up anti-Americanism in a country where there is always a noisy and influential constituency for that sort of thing.

If the diplomatic calculus goes that way, the U.S. should make the necessary apologies with the necessary insincerity and carry on, I assume, as before. The only real scandal would be if the U.S. was not spying on Germany. Countries spy on each other and, in particular, major powers spy on each other. To believe that this should not apply between two “allies” is to be very, very naïve: The interests of Germany are not always those of the U.S., and the interests of the U.S. are not always those of Germany. If the Germans don’t have spies here, I would be amazed.

Over at the Daily Beast, James Kirchick wades in, correctly arguing that “American intelligence agencies would be crazy not to conduct intensive espionage operations in Germany,” and citing more specific reasons:

Given the righteous indignation [over the alleged spying], one would suspect that Germans were fuming about Russia, a country that had perpetrated the first annexation of territory on European soil since World War II. But their muted reaction to Russia’s outrageous behavior, combined with the hysterical response to American spying, neatly illustrates why the United States has felt a need to conduct espionage in Germany: Berlin has been a less than trustworthy ally…

‘’’German firms do a great deal of business in Russia and have been strong voices against sanctioning Moscow. Germany imports a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and Russia is its 11th-largest export market.

On the political side, Russia can count upon sympathizers spanning from the center-right business community to the post-communist left. Last year, in a highly publicized trip, Green Party politician (and former lawyer for members of the terrorist Red Army Faction) Hans Christian Stroebele visited Snowden in Moscow, something that could not have taken place without the express permission of Putin. Failing to convince the German government to grant Snowden asylum, Stroebele got the next best thing: a parliamentary investigation into American espionage. Russian espionage, judging by the attention devoted to it by the press and politicians, apparently does not exist in Germany.

In March, several parliamentarians from the German Left Party traveled at the behest of Moscow to Crimea alongside a batch of European right-wing extremists. There they observed Russia’s phony “referendum” authorizing the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Weeks after leaving office in 2005, former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined the board of a Russian government-owned energy venture to the tune of a quarter-million Euros a year. In April, as Russian-backed terrorists rampaged their way through eastern Ukraine, he celebrated his 70th birthday in St. Petersburg alongside a bevy of German businessmen and political leaders and received a bear hug from Putin himself.

German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical. According to former NSA intelligence and computer systems analyst Ira Winkler, the BND has penetrated the SWIFT financial messaging network, passing on the information to German businesses.

I’d add that, when it comes to hypocrisy, there’s also this (from Reuters) or does Swiss law not count?

(Reuters) – In the digital age, pen and paper are useful tools for intrigue. In 2007, Sina Lapour, an assistant to a private banker at Credit Suisse, hand-copied the names of potential tax evaders listed on two of the firm’s internal computer systems. By not downloading information, Lapour avoided leaving electronic fingerprints. His employer did not detect his actions.

He put the notes in his briefcase and took them home, where he created an Excel spreadsheet which he called “Mappe1-test1.xls.” The spreadsheet held names, addresses, and amounts held by clients.

Despite trying to cover his tracks, Lapour was eventually convicted of economic espionage, among other crimes. According to a statement he made in a plea bargain, the data he stole gave details of as many as 2,500 clients with combined assets up to 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.2 billion). He sold it to a middleman, who then sold it to German tax inspectors. The information led to police raids in 2010 on Credit Suisse’s main offices in Germany.

Lapour’s spreadsheet was one of a half-dozen sets of stolen data for which Germany has paid millions of euros over the past five years. Those purchases pushed the boundaries of German law; Reuters’ inquiries have found Germany’s 16 federal states all cooperated in making them.

Back to Kirchick:

In [Winkler’s]  book Spies Among Us, he writes of “the apparent willingness of German businesses to funnel sensitive information and technology to nations that are hostile to the United States,” including Iran.

Germany remains one of the Islamic Republic’s largest trading partners. American espionage in Germany—home of the Hamburg Cell, the circle of 9/11 hijackers who hung out in the port city, unmolested, for years—is aimed at protecting the national security of both America and its allies, Germany foremost among them. And while the BND cooperates extensively with America’s intelligence services, it also has worked toward giving a leg-up to German businesses, an unwritten no-no in the intelligence world.

Kirchick is, however, critical of all the apologizing that has been going on:

Regrettably, rather than keep mum on the disclosures of NSA and CIA spying in Germany, American officials have been apologizing left and right while simultaneously declaiming all responsibility. Obama apparently told Merkel he was unaware of what his own spy services were doing, but had he known, he would have stopped them from monitoring her phone. Senior Obama adviser John Podesta told the magazine that “some of the disclosures as to who had been targeted were probably beyond the knowledge of anybody at a political level in government.”

Keeping mum, Mission Impossible–style is, of course, always best, but if that option is not realistically available, apologies are fine.

So long as they are insincere, of course. 

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