BERLIN — Germany’s relations with the United States plunged to a low point Thursday, with the government demanding the expulsion of the chief US intelligence official stationed here because, it said, Washington has refused to cooperate with German inquiries into US intelligence activities.
“The representative of the US intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany,” a government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.
German officials have been frustrated in their efforts to receive clarification from Washington since last summer, when it was reported that the National Security Agency had been monitoring the digital communications of millions of Germans. The government tamped down that uproar, but fury flared anew when it was revealed last fall that the NSA had been monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
Although President Obama has offered assurances that the United States will no longer spy on Germany, two cases of suspected US espionage that have come to light in the past eight days have sparked a fresh round of outrage.
“The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of US intelligence agencies in Germany,” Seibert said. “The government takes the matter very seriously.”
Seibert said Germany continued to seek “close and trusting” cooperation with its Western partners, “especially the United States.”
As is usual with intelligence matters, the US Embassy had no comment on the expulsion request. But in a statement, the embassy also said it was essential to maintain close cooperation with the German government “in all areas.”
“Our security relationship with Germany remains very important,” the statement said. “It keeps Germans and Americans safe.”
Merkel, speaking two hours before the expulsion request was announced, said in response to reporters’ questions that spying on allies was “a waste of energy.”
“We have so many problems,” she said. “We should focus on important matters.”
Despite the apparent effort to keep relations on an even keel, the expulsion development marked a low point between two allies just as they need strong cooperation not just to combat terrorism and strengthen security measures in the digital age, but also to reach a broad trans-Atlantic trade agreement that is seen by both sides as a chance to create a single market of almost 800 million people.
Clemens Binninger, a member of Merkel’s center-right party, said the move was “a political reaction of the government to the lack of willingness of US authorities to help clear up any questions” arising over the past year in connection with the surveillance of Germany and its leaders.