A suspected double agent has been arrested in Germany accused of spying for the United States, raising fears of a serious rift between the two allies. The arrested man, who is a German citizen, is a member of the country’s own BND intelligence service, and German media warned that if the case against him is proved, “it will be the biggest scandal involving a German-American double agent since the war”.
Officially, authorities have only confirmed that an unnamed 31-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of spying on Wednesday. But it appears from details leaked to the German media that the man has been passing highly classified intelligence documents to the Americans for the last two years, in exchange for tens of thousands of euros.
It was he who first initiated contact, in an email to the US embassy offering classified information in return for cash, according to reports in both Spiegel magazine and Bild newspaper. Since then he has handed over between 200 and 300 documents. He had access to the classified material because of his work for the BND, and would travel to Austria to hand it to an American intelligence contact by USB stick. There were at least three such meetings in Austria, and another meeting was planned for next week, this time in the Czech capital Prague. He was paid €25,000 for the documents, according to Bild, which reported that he received his instructions directly from the US embassy in Berlin.
The man was found out after another email he wrote was intercepted, this time offering to sell classified information to the Russians. Investigators convinced they had caught a Russian mole were astonished when he confessed that he had already been selling information for two years – to the Americans. A search of his home reportedly found classified material on his computer, and on a USB stick.
Reports say German investigators have not discounted the possibility that the man may be feeding them false information, either in order to damage US-German relations, because he works for a rival foreign intelligence service, or because he is a fantasist. But it is clear the German authorities are taking the matter seriously. An emergency meeting of a parliamentary oversight committee was convened at short notice, and briefed by the head of the BND, Gerhard Schindler.
German authorities are now investigating a second case in which a member of the Verteidigunsministerium (Ministry of Defence) is being suspected of having spied for the US as well. The Militärischer Abschirmdienst (MAD) had noticed a soldier with suspicious contacts to persons related to a US intelligence service.
The German government is very concerned. D/CIA John Brennan reportedly called Chancellor Merkel’s office to minimise the damage to US-German relations.
German authorities are investigating a second spy case reportedly involving the US, a week after the arrest of a German intelligence employee cast a new shadow over relations between the two countries. If confirmed, the latest case would further strain transatlantic relations, which have taken a bruising since last year with the National Security Agency surveillance scandal sparked by revelations of fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
“Federal police officers have since this morning searched the residential and office premises of an accused in the Berlin area due to preliminary suspicion of intelligence activities. No arrest has been made,” the federal prosecutors office said.
The case was considered “more serious” than that of the German intelligence operative and alleged double agent who was arrested last week on charges of spying for the CIA, said reports by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and two public broadcasters.
After other German politicians and media also voiced anger, the CIA chief, John Brennan, phoned the chancellor’s office on Tuesday and discussed the case with her intelligence services coordinator, Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, news Spiegel reported. The US ambassador to Berlin, John B Emerson, visited the German foreign ministry for the second time since last Friday, possibly at his own request, the national news agency DPA reported.
Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, earlier told a newspaper that “it would be most disturbing if the spying merrily continued while we’re looking at the NSA wiretapping activities and have set up a committee in parliament”.
#US-Botschafter Emerson heute erneut zu Gespräch im AuswärtigenAmt. Er wurde erneut um Mitwirkung an Aufklärung zu Spionagevorwürfen gebeten
— Auswärtiges Amt (@AuswaertigesAmt) July 9, 2014