The Magazine

Angst over Spying

Germany, Russia, and Snowden

Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By JAMES KIRCHICK
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In its misinformed hysteria, European anger over U.S. spying echoes the reaction to disclosures in the mid-’90s about the -ECHELON program, a signals intelligence network operated by members of the UKUSA Agreement (also known as the “Five Eyes” and comprising the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). European media and governments raised a hue and cry, accusing Washington of conducting economic espionage on behalf of private companies, much as Snowden has claimed—without evidence—today. Yet the only two instances of businesses targeted by ECHELON involved employees of those companies—Airbus and Thomson-CSF—offering bribes to Saudi and Brazilian officials, respectively. Far from stealing industry secrets to assist American businesses, ECHELON unmasked European parastatals engaging in blatantly illegal behavior aimed at undermining competition.

Schröder’s remark that he would have been surprised to learn he was being spied on in the early 2000s is also somewhat difficult to believe. The press accounts and popular reaction to the NSA revelations registered a disbelieving tone, “as if this had happened for the first time, as if it was something terribly bad and unique,” German historian Josef Foschepoth, author of the book, Monitored Germany: Postal and Telephone Monitoring in the Old Federal Republic, told the German broadcaster DeutscheWelle last summer. “But that is not the case. From my own research, I know that this happened countless times in the 1960s in Germany.” After all, the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, was created by the CIA after World War II, and the Allies had a duty to ensure that Germany would not repeat the mistakes of its past.


Germans are too righteous in their indignation against America to realize it, but in their selective outrage, they are falling prey to the same divide-and-rule tactics that the Soviet Union employed when the Iron Curtain bisected Germany. “Active measures” was the Cold War term used to describe the Russian art of political warfare, including everything from propaganda to penetration of religious organizations to assassination. In this sense, whether Edward Snowden had assistance from the Russian intelligence services before he started work as an NSA contractor, as House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers has intimated, is beside the point: Since relocating to Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum last summer, every one of his revelations has served the foreign policy interests of Vladimir Putin. And it is in Germany where Snowden’s disclosures have had the most profoundly harmful impact on America’s reputation and the transatlantic alliance.

It’s no secret that a crucial component of Putin’s agenda is to divide the West. One way to do that is plant in the collective mind of the German public the notion the United States is a “false friend.” The goal is not to reorient Germany entirely towards Russia; Putin, who served the KGB in Dresden from 1985 until 1990 and speaks fluent German, knows the country too well to believe such an audacious project could succeed. A newfangled version of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, edging Germany ever so slowly away from its traditional NATO allies, will suffice. Anything that breeds suspicion about America and its motives and weakens Berlin’s relationship with Washington furthers Putin’s goals. Already, the NSA revelations have threatened to derail progress on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a massive potential trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

Some Germans, either knowingly or naïvely, are going along for the ride. In October, Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele traveled to Moscow to meet with Snowden. He returned demanding that Germany grant asylum to the fugitive leaker so that he can testify before the Bundestag about American intelligence practices. Given the tight security around Snowden and the mystery surrounding his whereabouts in Russia, such a rendezvous would not have been possible without Putin’s approval. Gysi, the Left party leader, nominated Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is not a question of whether the Russians had to actively enlist these men in support of Snowden and his aims, for they have always had a soft spot for Mother Russia. In the 1970s, Ströbele was a lawyer for the Baader Meinhof gang, the murderous revolutionaries who sowed terror and destruction across West Germany, all the while in receipt of financial and logistical support from the Stasi, the gruesome East German intelligence service. Gysi, for his part, leads the rump of the East German Socialist Unity party, and has never been able to definitively repudiate accusations that he was a Stasi asset in the 1980s.

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