The deterioration in relations with Germany due to U.S. espionage in that country reached a new low when the Germans requested Thursday that the senior CIA official there leave.
The U.S. approach to spying in that country was different during the Cold War, when it was split between West Germany, allied with the United States in NATO, and East Germany, part of the Communist Warsaw Pact headed by the Soviet Union. Back then it was a target-rich environment for spies from all sides.
Then Germany was reunified in 1990 and the U.S. spying agenda there should have changed, but it hasn’t. Now Germany is the world’s fourth-largest economy and easily the strongest country in the 28-nation European Union. Its chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a world political figure.
But the United States has been slow to adapt. It still has more than 40,000 troops and 62 bases in Germany. Information released by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden indicates the NSA vacuumed up official and private communications in Germany, some of it from Ms. Merkel’s cell phone. The latest news is that two German officials, one of them employed by the country’s intelligence agency, had been signed up by the CIA and at least one of them was selling secrets to the CIA. That apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing Germany to request that the CIA station chief leave.
This strain on relations must be fixed. The United States needs German cooperation on a broad range of political and economic enterprises, including resolution of the Ukraine, Iran and Israel-Palestine imbroglios. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing with Germany’s foreign minister, emphasized the strategic importance of the relationship between the two countries.
The United States has so far refused to add Germany to the list of five nations which have pledged not to spy on each other — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. If Germany cannot be added to it, a separate nonaggression agreement should be extended by President Barack Obama before things get worse.
Mr. Obama reportedly was not made aware of the sensitive spying situation with Germany. If true, that is ridiculous and a reflection on his leadership as well as on the CIA, the spy agency that in principle works for him.