Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
U.S. spying on Germany is causing a crisis with a major ally.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered the expulsion of the CIA chief there. She made the move after revelations that two German officials were actually U.S. spies. The episode is casting a cloud over U.S.-German relations.
“Everything is overshadowed by this,” a German official told The Guardian.
There are a number of reasons the German government is so upset.
“Germany thought it had a relationship with the United States based on trust and transparency,” says Paul Hockenos, a longtime observer of Germany who is based in Berlin. “It feels it’s being pushed around by the United States rather than respected. Also, against the background of the Nazi dictatorship and the communist regime, Germans are sensitive about surveillance.”
The German government is also responding to intense indignation among the German public.
“People are really pissed,” Hockenos tells The Progressive. “It’s really a bit shocking to hear even conservatives speak with such venom about the United States.”
This is why the German government resisted the pleadings of the Obama Administration to work things out behind closed doors.
“Dialogue in private is fine, but there must be something in public; people are so outraged,” the German official interviewed by The Guardian said.
Professor Immanuel Wallerstein, a veteran analyst of international issues, asserts that the motivations for U.S. spying run deep.
“The basic problem is that the United States is, and has been for some time, in geopolitical decline,” he writes in a syndicated column. “It doesn't like this. It doesn't really accept this. So it keeps trying to restore what is unrestorable—U.S. ‘leadership’ (read: hegemony) in the world-system.”
The defense of the United States is that it wasn’t targeting Germany, but was rather attempting to thwart Russian snooping inside Germany, the Daily Beast reports. But such reasoning doesn’t seem to have convinced even top officials in a U.S.-leaning conservative government.
“So much idiocy and stupidity can only make you cry,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble has said.
U.S. snooping activity in Germany is quite extensive.
“The National Security Agency apparently has at least 150 listening sites in Germany,” writes Jacob Heilbrunn in the National Interest. “U.S. intelligence services have also been trying to suborn German officials to turn over secret documents, including, apparently, the results of an investigation into NSA spying itself in Germany.”
In a piece for Al Jazeera online, Hockenos advises the German government to go further to let its displeasure be known.
Even though the CIA chief explusion is “unprecedented in postwar transatlantic relations, this dramatic step is merely symbolic,” he writes. “The substantive option Germany should—and indeed still can—take is to offer National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden political asylum, as opposition politicians have been demanding for some time now.”
“Providing political asylum to Snowden would mean so much more than this harmless diplomatic swipe,” he adds. “It would spark a reassessment of U.S. foreign policy since the war on terror began.”
Short of that, Hockenos tells The Progressive, the recent contretemps will not have a long-lasting impact on U.S.-German relations.
“I think Germany would back down pretty quickly if the United States were to act more modestly, say I’m sorry, sign a ‘no spy’ agreement,” he says. “This expulsion of one guy won’t really damage long-term relations. Asylum for Snowden, on the other hand, would.”