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In Germany, A Case Against Another Alleged American Spy


Here's a headline we've heard more than once in the last year. U.S.-German relations hit a new low. And they have again today. Germany's top prosecutor is investigating a German Defense Ministry employee who's accused of spying for the United States. And to complicate matters, this is the second espionage case in Germany in the last week. The first resulted in the arrest of an alleged German double agent. Relations between Berlin and Washington were already tense before all of this because of last year's revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The German government was especially incensed to discover that the U.S. was tapping the cell phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel. We go now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. And Soraya, what can you tell us about this new case that we're hearing about today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, just like the previous one, this one is playing out in the media more than it is on the government stage. The media, which has not been citing sources, has been revealing a lot of the details that the government doesn't. For example Suddeutsche Zeitung, which is a large newspaper in southern Germany, is saying that the suspect was - who was under investigation worked at the Defense Ministry. And then you have Spiegel magazine's online division reporting that he works in a section that deals with international security policy. What the government has said is that they haven't arrested anyone yet, and that they executed a search warrant in Berlin today in office and residential areas in connection with suspected spy activity.

SIEGEL: Now, is this investigation related to the earlier case of the alleged spy last week?

NELSON: It does not appear so, although Spiegel online is reporting that the latest suspect had aroused the suspicion of German authorities because he had close ties to alleged U.S. spies, and therefore had been under observation for a while.

SIEGEL: OK, now remind us again of what the first case was all about.

NELSON: Well, that suspect who was arrested is reported to be a German foreign intelligence agent who is accused of selling 218 documents to the CIA - some of them related to an investigation by the parliamentary committee that's looking into American spying in Germany. He was apparently caught when he made an offer to the Russians via e-mail to sell them information.

SIEGEL: Well, putting all this together, what has the German government's reaction been?

NELSON: Well, certainly a day after the great soccer game against Brazil, people were not very happy here. The government has been relatively cautious about saying anything while these cases are being investigated. Chancellor Angela Merkel would only say that there are talks being held, and her spokesman said that this - these sorts of allegations strike at the trust between the two countries. But the German Foreign Ministry made a pretty loud statement when they summoned the American ambassador on Friday in relation to the first case. And Ambassador John B. Emerson was at the Foreign Ministry again today, although the U.S. embassy says that they had requested the meeting yesterday.

SIEGEL: And American reaction?

NELSON: That's also been pretty muted. The state department officials who are traveling with John Kerry in Beijing had no comment. But former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an interview with Spiegel magazine that was posted on Monday, says America will never sign a no-spy agreement with Germany or any other country. But she said that doesn't mean the two countries and their spying agencies shouldn't clarify what's appropriate and what isn't.

SIEGEL: And is the idea of a no-spy agreement - that is, we're friends. Let's not spy on each other. Is that what the Germans are asking for?

NELSON: Certainly that is what they've said time and again. Chancellor Merkel raised it during her visit to Washington and that's something that the Americans have just refused to do. And so it's something that remains something that the Germans would like to see, but they're apparently never going to get it.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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