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Amid Eroding Trust, Germany Expels America's Top Spy In Berlin


Germany has told the chief U.S. intelligence officer in Berlin to leave the country. A dramatic turn of events comes after reports that two German government employees are suspected of spying for the U.S. NPR's Jackie Northam has been following this story and she joins me in the studio. Jackie, the announcement about the expulsion of the top American spy in Germany was made by the Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman. Did he explain it?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, Steffen Siebert said the request to leave the country was made in light of an ongoing investigation by Germany's chief federal prosecutor and he's been looking into activities by U.S. intelligence agencies there. You know, this first came to light last year when Edward Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, leaked documents revealing that the national security agency had conducted mass surveillance of many Germans and that included monitoring Chancellor Merkel's cell phone. As you can imagine, this created an uproar in Germany and those allegations led to the investigation. You know, but then just in the past couple of weeks there were two more cases of suspected American espionage. One involves a German intelligence employee who was arrested for handing over documents to the U.S. The second one reportedly involves a German defense worker but that's not been confirmed as of yet. So you have these growing number of cases which has led to anger in Germany and increasing demands there to do something about it.

SIEGEL: Well, what has the Obama administration said about what the Germans are doing about it - which is demanding that the top intelligence officer leave the country?

NORTHAM: Well, the White House said, it takes these matters very seriously but wouldn't say much more in large part because it's an intelligence matter. The State Department said, that after the revelations last year the administration went under extensive review and that new procedures were being put into place. The National Security Agency was a bit more forthcoming, saying that it was essential that the two sides continue to cooperate in all areas and that the U.S. will maintain a dialogue with Germany through, what they call, the appropriate channels. But, Robert, relations are at a real low right now and it's going to take some time to work through this.

SIEGEL: This is very unusual between two allies. I mean, what are the dangers of it escalating and what might be jeopardized?

NORTHAM: Well, you're right it is an extraordinary move. And this is more along the lines of what would have happened between the East and West during the Cold War - now between two very strong allies. Chancellor Merkel told reporters today, just before the announcement, that spying against allies is a waste of energy and she said, the U.S. and Germany have so many other problems that they should focus on the main ones - things such as Syria, Iraq, the European debt crisis. And there's this huge trade deal between the U.S. and the E.U. worth hundreds of billions of dollars and that's being negotiated right now. So it's not in either sides interest to jeopardize something so big as that. You know, it's hard to believe this breach would permanently impair the relationship, but again right now relations between Germany and the U.S. are at a real low.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jackie Northam on Germany's move today to kick out the CIA station chief in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.