Germany kicks out top US spy as espionage charges strain relations

Washington: Germany demanded the departure from the country of the top spy at the US Embassy in Berlin on Thursday, dramatising its deepening unhappiness with reports of US intelligence operations targeting its officials.

Following accusations of two cases of US spying, government spokesman Steffen Seibert announced that "the representative of the US intelligence services at the US Embassy has been asked to leave Germany".

He said in a statement that the request came against the backdrop of German prosecutors' investigation of the two recent cases, and the questions that were raised earlier about National Security Agency intelligence-gathering.

"The government takes the matter very seriously," he said.

One German has been arrested and an investigation has been launched into another in the past two weeks on suspicions of espionage. Both are suspected of passing secrets to the United States, German news organisations have reported.


The expulsion of what some news reports termed the CIA station chief in Berlin reflected German officials' unhappiness that the Obama administration has been, in their view, too casual about disclosures of the spy operations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier on Thursday that the two countries had "very different approaches" towards intelligence-gathering and needed to increase mutual trust.

Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that while the information turned over by one of the suspects appears so far to be "laughable ... the political damage is already disproportionate and serious".

In Washington, the CIA declined to comment on the German order.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused to comment on intelligence matters, saying that "any sort of comment on any reported intelligence acts would put at risk US assets, US personnel and the United States national security."

He said he knew of no contact this week between US President Barack Obama and Ms Merkel.

The conflict between the two governments began last year when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed US spying operations in Germany, including the monitoring of Ms Merkel's mobile phone. In October, Der Spiegel published an article about NSA operations at the US Embassy with the headline, "The NSA's Secret Spy Hub in Berlin."

The rising tensions between the allies comes at a time when they are trying to work together on a range of sensitive issues, including Russia's intervention in Ukraine, international talks on Iran's nuclear program and a trans-Atlantic trade agreement.

Concerns about US spying are broadly shared by the German public. The revelations have further soured public attitudes toward the US and Mr Obama, once strongly supported in Germany.

Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, declined to comment on the "purported intelligence matter".

But she said: "Our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is an important one, and it keeps Germans and Americans safe. It is essential that co-operation continue in all areas, and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels."