Outed double agent roils US-German relations … again

posted at 8:01 am on July 7, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Just as tensions had begun to recede between Germany and the US over NSA activities, including the penetration of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone conversations, another spy row threatens the decades-long partnership in Europe. The Germans discovered a mole in their intelligence unit that sold information to American intelligence — and tried to make a few rubles off of the Russians, too:

A German intelligence ‘double agent’ who allegedly sold hundreds of top secret documents to the US was only caught after trying to broker an additional deal with Russia.

Details of the deal, to the Russian secret service, emerged yesterday after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government summonsed the US ambassador to Berlin.

It is the second case of suspected US intelligence spying against Germany within a year.

The new case relates directly to the original case. Apparently, the US intelligence community wanted an up-close-and-personal look into Germany’s investigation of the NSA:

On Friday, Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service admitted that one of its agents had been arrested for supplying American intelligence with at least 300 top secret documents over a period lasting several years, The Independent reported.

Three of the documents are believed to have related to German investigations into US surveillance and phone bugging.

Needless to say, the Germans didn’t take this very kindly. The government in Berlin had already expressed considerable outrage over bugging Merkel, and now they’re hopping mad about US spying on their internal probe. The foreign office called the US ambassador on the carpet over the discovery this weekend, and ministers in Merkel’s government are warning that this might cause a very significant breach in the alliance:

The revelations strained ties between Washington and Germany, a key European ally, which both countries’ leaders have been at pains to repair.

But President Joachim Gauck said in an interview with ZDF to be aired later Sunday that if the latest suspicions are confirmed, “then it probably really has to be said, now it’s enough”, warning that a friendship and close bond were at stake. …

“I expect now for everyone to assist in the speedy clarification of the accusations, and quick and clear statements, also by the US,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told Bild newspaper in comments released ahead of Monday’s edition. …

The US ambassador was asked to attend a meeting late on Friday at the foreign ministry, following initial media reports that a 31-year-old man arrested last week had been feeding information to a US agency for two years.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a tweet on Sunday during a visit to Mongolia that the expectation had been expressed to the US envoy that his country help “in clarification as quickly as possible”.

“If reports are correct, we are not talking here about small potatoes,” Steinmeier added.

How unusual is this, though? In the initial leaks from the Edward Snowden cache, John Kerry noted that lots of countries spy on other countries, even their allies. “I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that,” Kerry said at the time. “All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations.” A couple of years earlier, CBS News parsed through the Wikileaks cache and discovered massive industrial espionage by France on just about everyone else, especially Germany.

The key is not getting caught. Getting caught not only blows cover, it also forces your allies to react publicly in outrage over the espionage, even though they are likely doing much the same thing. Sometimes, though, that outrage is no pretense, and that was probably true of the revelation of snooping on Merkel’s phone calls, because even in normal tradecraft between allies, that’s pretty … bold. And that probably means that the outrage over snooping on the investigation into that snooping is probably not a pretense, either. Just wait until we get discovered snooping on the molehunt that follows this incident.

How did the US find this source? That’s unclear, but the method of his exposure raises questions about the source and US risk management in this sensitive effort. The spy wanted to expand his income stream by selling data to the Russians, so her, er, emailed their embassy proposing the sale:

The agent has confessed to providing the US with about 200 secret documents over two years. He was paid for the documents.

Spiegel reported that the agent was caught after an email was found by the Verfassungsschutz, the German domestic security agency, in which he offered his services to the Russian secret service. The email led to an investigation which uncovered his work for the US. According to Spiegel, a manipulated weather app was found on his computer, through which it is suspected information was passed to the US authorities. The man remains under arrest.

Sounds like a real charmer. I wonder if the weather app picked up on the shifting winds in this source’s commerce.


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Needless to say, the Germans didn’t take this very kindly.

Obama to Merkel: So sue me!

Seriously, this isn’t about the spying per se, it’s about exposing stuff that nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge.

Happy Nomad on July 7, 2014 at 8:05 AM

One wonders what secrets Germany has that Obama wants?
Photos of Merkel doing selfies so Obama can blackmail her?

albill on July 7, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Lesson learned? You don’t need to be a weather app to know which patriot is blowing sunshine where.

apostic on July 7, 2014 at 8:09 AM

One wonders what secrets Germany has that Obama wants?
Photos of Merkel doing selfies so Obama can blackmail her?

albill on July 7, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Germany is pretty much 50% of the glue keeping the EU from imploding. It would be helpful to have some sense of Germany’s real positions, concerns, vulnerabilities, etc.

Happy Nomad on July 7, 2014 at 8:11 AM

Or you could have hilarys comment: What difference does it make.
Methinks the Happy Nomad nails it.

crosshugger on July 7, 2014 at 8:12 AM

Honestly Germany needs to simmer down. Between the two of our nations, only one is back to back world war Champs. We get to set the rules.

Defenestratus on July 7, 2014 at 8:17 AM

Len Deighton once observed that the real pros in the trade aren’t motivated by ideology. They just do it for the money.

That said, proposing a sale link by email is something I’d expect from a domestics salesman trying to get the contract for hand cleaner in the embassy lavs, not a “double agent” looking to sell secrets. In the old days, that would be an automatic Darwin Award, aka Excedrin Headache Number Nine from, probably, BND.

It’s interesting to note that the U.S. intel service involved (probably NSA) mainly wanted to know about Germany’s awareness of their own existing eavesdropping. In effect, they wanted internal intel on Germany’s COINTEL vs. their own surveillance.

This sounds more like a security operation. That is, the agency wanting a check on whether or not there was a chance of their own op being blown. It probably seemed safe enough, until the traitor in question decided to put his wares on the open market.

Which is one of the dangers of employing double agents. They can triple on you, which often leads to their getting caught, as per Franklin’s First Rule Of Intelligence; Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

Most of all, this is a bad time for us to be pissing off the Germans. Someone should remind the enlightened ones in DC that they’re on our side.

clear ether

eon

eon on July 7, 2014 at 8:17 AM

The Germans are lucky, usually the emails are lost!

Lonetown on July 7, 2014 at 8:18 AM

It’s not that important, but this guy was NOT a double agent. He was a spy, but not a double agent.

(He would haven a double agent if the Germans had recruited him to spy against the US while pretending to spy for us.)

JamesJr on July 7, 2014 at 8:21 AM

Ruh roh

cmsinaz on July 7, 2014 at 8:21 AM

It just shows the White House gang has as much disdain for the rest of the world as it does for us. And it would be to their advantage to break up the EU.

crankyoldlady on July 7, 2014 at 8:22 AM

If the Germans want to help us they could throw out our embassy.

crankyoldlady on July 7, 2014 at 8:27 AM

We’re spying on the Germans, yet Obama and his regime was caught completely by surprise by ISIS.

Sounds like the GOP establishment – love your enemies and pimp your allies.

bw222 on July 7, 2014 at 8:32 AM

Honestly Germany needs to simmer down. Between the two of our nations, only one is back to back world war Champs. We get to set the rules.

Defenestratus on July 7, 2014 at 8:17 AM

That was then. This is now. During the WWI era we were able to control our southern border. Besides, Merkel could kick Zippy’s scrawny @$$ in a fair fight.

bw222 on July 7, 2014 at 8:35 AM

One wonders what secrets Germany has that Obama wants?
Photos of Merkel doing selfies so Obama can blackmail her?

albill on July 7, 2014 at 8:09 AM

I’d pay top dollar for killer bratwurst.

Steve Eggleston on July 7, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Needless to say, the Germans didn’t take this very kindly….

“So sue me…” – Obama to Merkel

workingclass artist on July 7, 2014 at 8:37 AM

O/T I am at a service center getting my car fixed and Today is on the TV. First time I have seen Today in more than 10 years. Why anyone watches that crap is beyond me.

bw222 on July 7, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Happy Nomad beat me to it…

Oof!

workingclass artist on July 7, 2014 at 8:39 AM

The Germans are lucky, usually the emails are lost!

Lonetown on July 7, 2014 at 8:18 AM

The difference- this time is that there actually is a rogue agent.

Happy Nomad on July 7, 2014 at 8:41 AM

Happy Nomad beat me to it…

Oof!

workingclass artist on July 7, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Hey! My comment was hidden in the “Bishop” spot so I can understand why you missed it. ;0

Happy Nomad on July 7, 2014 at 8:42 AM

“a manipulated weather app was found on his computer”

OMG, climate change is a true USA security risk after all…..

mechkiller_k on July 7, 2014 at 8:43 AM

and ministers in Merkel’s government are warning that this might cause a very significant breach in the alliance:

If you wanted to weaken not just America but the entire Western world, which is lead by America, this is good. Dear Liar is making much deeper mischief than expected.

Let’s see, German intelligence has this spy’s email, but no one has Lois Lehrner’s?

rbj on July 7, 2014 at 8:43 AM

Lerner’s emails are somewhere. Issa should announce a huge reward for revealing them. We’ve had Germans spying on us since WW2, probably before that even. Dear leader had to know Isis was coming and bringing the guns he gave them. This is a distraction.

Kissmygrits on July 7, 2014 at 8:50 AM

I’d pay top dollar for killer bratwurst.

Steve Eggleston on July 7, 2014 at 8:36 AM

And bier.

crankyoldlady on July 7, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Beer summit!

workingclass artist on July 7, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Germany wants its gold returned too, BTW.

I wonder why that’s taking so long.

Akzed on July 7, 2014 at 9:01 AM

summonsed the US ambassador

.
Really? How archaic, arcane and, well, just full of it. Anyhoo…
.
So where is all the good mojo the Øbama Administration of Superior Moral Conduct was going to bring with them to counteract the evil, mean, stupid, lying, George W. Bush administration? ‘Cause it’s getting to the point where if it doesn’t show up soon, it won’t happen. I’m personally betting that “it won’t happen.”

ExpressoBold on July 7, 2014 at 9:03 AM

They’ve pretty much antagonized every other country in the world.

crankyoldlady on July 7, 2014 at 9:04 AM

I’m calling BS. Someone as unsophisticated as sending an email to the Russian embassy is an alleged double agent for the United States?

Not buying it.

ButterflyDragon on July 7, 2014 at 9:14 AM

Wait until Obama reads about this, it’s going to shock him…

right2bright on July 7, 2014 at 9:31 AM

ButterflyDragon on July 7, 2014 at 9:14 AM

COINTEL blows hot and cold, because it requires effort. Generally in what passes for peacetime complacency sets in to the point that the twinks can pull the most amazing boners and get away with it, for a while at least.

Historical example;

In 1587, when Mary, Queen of Scots was plotting with Philip of Spain to assassinate Elisabeth I and replace her on the throne of England, Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, had their communications so thoroughly penetrated that he could add a ciphered addendum to one of her letters, in her (forged) handwriting, requesting the “names and qualities” of the five men selected to kill Elisabeth. That letter signed Mary’s death warrant-literally.

In 1605, similar machinations by Walsingham’s successor (his nephew) exposed the Gunpowder Plot and kept Thomas Catesby and his hired man, Guy Fawkes, from blowing up the King and Parliament on 5 November.

In the 1770s, by comparison, the leaders of the rebellious American colonies were receiving supplies of invisible ink (or “white ink” as it was known then) from sources in England right through the Revolution. Those sources included George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s relations,who were never kept track of by the supposed “intelligence” establishment, which was apparently two busy scouring the Wash for victuals being smuggled in from the Continent to avoid taxes.

One can only wonder how many RPMs Sir Francis Walsingham was doing in his crypt about that time.

There are other examples, even more recent.

Counter-intelligence is like its natural foe, intelligence. Whether it’s good or bad depends largely on how complacent the people signing the paychecks get, not to mention how moralistic they get about the whole idea.

cheers

eon

eon on July 7, 2014 at 9:47 AM

The Krauts have never been that good at intel, so this is impressive.

formwiz on July 7, 2014 at 10:27 AM

The key is not getting caught. Getting caught not only blows cover, it also forces your allies to react publicly in outrage over the espionage, even though they are likely doing much the same thing

…how come… no one else is getting caught?

JugEarsButtHurt on July 7, 2014 at 10:32 AM

You know it happens all the time, and you know it rarely makes the news. So the interesting question is, why is this in the news?

I think it’s most likely one of two reasons:
1) It was leaked outside of the control of the German government, so now they have to put on a show of outrage
2) The German government is outraged at the US for other reasons, and has decided to allow this information to leak to embarrass the US.

I’m thinking option 2.

There Goes the Neighborhood on July 7, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Spy Thriller plot-line (CR)
The agent in question has been working for Russia (or someone else?) all along. The Germans started suspecting someone was leaking data and getting close. The agent was instructed to set-up some peaks at the NSA probe, blow his own cover, and then claim he sent everything to the US.
Multi-payoff for Putin or whoever (hard on the agent, but the Germans won’t do much to him in these enlightened times).

Most of all, this is a bad time for us to be pissing off the Germans. Someone should remind the enlightened ones in DC that they’re on our side.

eon on July 7, 2014 at 8:17 AM

“…France got the bomb, but don’t you grieve, ’cause they’re on our side, I believe…”
PS Enjoyed the history lesson.

AesopFan on July 7, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Scheisse

Schadenfreude on July 7, 2014 at 1:38 PM

I simply don’t understand why clandestine operators in clandestine organizations use email and social media to conduct business. One would think there would be a chapter in the Tradecraft Manual telling them that using email to transmit in-the-clear treasonous messages is a very, very bad idea.

My late Stepfather was a county judge. He told me once that our best protection against crime is the criminals themselves. The vast majority of crooks, according to him, are incredibly stupid people. I guess the same rule applies to spies.

troyriser_gopftw on July 7, 2014 at 2:06 PM

One wonders what secrets Germany has that Obama wants?
Photos of Merkel doing selfies so Obama can blackmail her?

albill on July 7, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Let’s see, maybe a clue on how to lead…

Big John on July 7, 2014 at 3:18 PM