Last Thursday, angered German officials ordered the top American CIA operative in Berlin to leave the country after uncovering a suspected American spy working in the German Intelligence Service (BND). Since the uncovering last week, German officials suspect that the alleged spy has given over 200 documents to the Americans in exchange for 25,000 Euros over a two-year period. Investigators have also been looking into a possible second informant working in the Defense Ministry in Berlin.
Former CIA Officer Joseph Wippl says that relations between the United States and Germany have been strained since the events of 9/11 and the airplane pilot’s connection to the Hamburg Cell. Wippl held a thirty-year long career in the National Clandestine Service and has worked overseas in many countries including Germany, Spain, and Austria. During his assignments at CIA headquarters, Wippl operated as the CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs, Deputy Chief of Human Resources, and as Chief of the Europa Division. Wippl is currently a professor of International Relations at Boston University where he teaches courses on topics such as intelligence and national and homeland security.
Some say that Germany and the US have been on strained terms since the debate over the NSA as well as allegations that the Americans tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone. Do you think the countries have been leading up to this “falling out” or did Merkel’s decision come as a surprise?
There have been strains in the intelligence relationship since 9/11 when three of the World Trade Center pilots were part of the Hamburg cell. There was the Al-Masri case in 2004. The Monitoring of Merkel's phone is sensitive due to German history given the Gestapo and the East German Stasi. In any case, Merkel should encrypt her phone. When it was publicized that CIA allegedly recruited a member of the German intelligence Service, the German government had no other choice than to seek a PNG - persona non grata. Traditionally something like this would have been kept quiet and the officer involved would have been asked to leave.
What do you think is the main interest of the Americans while working overseas? Ultimately, what are they trying to learn?
Intelligence wants to obtain secrets either unilaterally or together with a Liaison Service. The closer the political relationship, the more dependent an intelligence Service is on the relationship with Liaison. Every morning of every day, intelligence Services are Meeting one another. It will happen again in Prague on Monday morning.
Do you believe this decision by Merkel will change the relationship between Germany and the United States in a permanent way that will impact further relations?
That depends on the U.S. and Germany. This issue is a political one. The U.S. is a super power; Germany is as strong as a mid-sized power can get and the dominant country in the EU. The U.S. Needs to acknowledge this and Germany has to insist on it. It means respect from the U.S. and responsibility on the part of Germany, harder than it sounds.
Is it possible that Merkel made this decision to simply prove a point to Washington that she was fed up with their behavior or is it far more serious?
No, she did it because she had no other choice except to do nothing, which is politically impossible.
If contact is eliminated or decreased as a result of this decision, isn’t the public put in danger if information, such as possible terrorist attacks, is not being transmitted between the two countries?
That's why it won't happen. The U.S. has one advantage in all of this; it has overwhelming power and spends 70 Billion Dollars a year on intelligence. We still work with Russia on terrorism even with all the tension with them.
How does the relationship between Merkel and President Obama compare to the relationship had by George Bush and Gerhard Schroder years ago?
Much better, Bush and Schroeder did not get along at all, especially after Bush lied to Schroeder about plans on Iraq and Schroeder lied to Bush about how much he would criticize our Iraq policy. On a personal Level, they were very different.
Because you are currently in Germany, have you noticed any Germans voicing feelings of distrust towards America?
No, the irony is with all the issues separating the U.S. from Germany; it does not get down to an individual level.
Considering your experience, how many American agents would you estimate are in Europe today? Germany specifically?
I don't know but if the stories are true, there are now two less.