US hints at displeasure with Germany over spying row

The United States on Friday hinted at clear displeasure with Germany over its handling of a spying row, which saw the CIA chief in Berlin thrown out of the country.

The White House also rejected suggestions the showdown over apparent US recruiting of double agents could damage broader ties with the Berlin government and cooperation on issues like Ukraine.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who has all week declined to go into detail about the row because it touches on intelligence matters, did offer a window into US thinking.

“Allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies like the United States and Germany understand with some degree of detail exactly what those intelligence relationships and activities entail,” Earnest said.

“Any differences that we have are most effectively resolved through established private channels, not through the media.”

Asked whether it would be fair to interpret his statement as a criticism of Germany’s response to the row, Earnest said it was up to journalists to parse his meaning.

But privately, some administration officials have expressed frustration with Germany’s angry reaction to the reported discovery that two government intelligence officials were working for the CIA and to its decision to respond in a highly public manner.

The expulsion of the agency’s top agent in Berlin marked an unusual and highly public show of fury by Germany toward its ally, and came with German Chancellor Angela Merkel under political pressure to respond to the latest in a string of disagreements over intelligence with the United States.

Earnest would not confirm that the CIA station chief had been sent home.

But he said Washington did understand the importance of the matter.

Washington also, “as a matter of course, respects the German government’s wishes regarding the accreditation and presence of US diplomats in Germany,” Earnest said.

The scandal, which follows German complaints that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped Merkel’s cellphone and over mass US Internet and telephone data sweeps, has whipped up considerable criticism of the United States in German politics.

But Earnest argued that the row should not make it more politically difficult for Merkel to act on issues important to the United States — for instance toughening sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, which has been a tough sell in Germany.

“The reason that there is a strong ongoing national security and intelligence-sharing relationship between the United States and Germany is not because Chancellor Merkel is doing a favor for anybody in this country.

“She is doing that, and she is committed to that relationship as strongly as President Obama is, because it’s in the best interests of the country that she was elected to lead.”

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