11 May 2015
Germany limits joint intelligence operations with United States
Germany has decided to limit its cooperation in joint intelligence efforts with the United States. The decision comes in the wake of revelations of US spying on European partners and signals a breach in the long-standing information sharing partnership between the two nations. For the United States, the restriction follows a series of ‘blows’ to its intelligence apparatus which have included reconsideration of its drone programme, a renewal of the Patriot Act, and a recent ruling by the Appeals Court that its practice of surveillance data collection was illegal.
For many European states Germany’s decision to restrict cooperation bucks the trend of broadening surveillance powers arising from fears of ‘homegrown terrorism’. In France for example, a ‘sweeping set of proposals’ is in the process of approval. But for Germans, where the memories of spying by oppressive regimes remains fresh, the 2002 security partnership with the US has been viewed with skepticism. It has left Chancellor Merkel in a position of explaining whether, and to what extent, her government has ensured that surveillance by Germans and Americans on the general public is monitored, reported the New York Times. German outrage at joint intelligence efforts have increased since the 2013 Snowden documents revealed the extent of collection in Germany and throughout Europe by the United States, and critics have demanded the list of search terms monitored by Germany and used by the NSA be released. But while Chancellor Merkel has discussed he matter with Washington, the government has maintained that such cooperation is necessary for the protection of its citizens.
As the decision has not been publicly confirmed, the extent to which the limitation will affect the relationship between the two states remains to be seen. Some sources suggest restrictions on Germany’s internet searches but not phone calls, while others in Washington doubt that the impact will be significant at all. The United States has thus far not commented on the ‘rift’ but intelligence officials have noted that the suspension of information sharing is more difficult in practice than in political rhetoric. Operations are often ‘sprawling and complex [and] lives can depend on cooperation’, reported the New York Times. Konstantin von Notz, a member of the opposition Green Party sitting on the committee investigating the NSA affair, has stated that the German response is ‘a very drastic step’.