U.S. and German officials failed to resolve differences over spying in a meeting prompted by allegations that American intelligence bugged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Merkel sent the delegation to Washington to seek an agreement with the U.S. that would restrain the allies from spying on each other. U.S. officials have said only that America it isn’t spying on Merkel now and won’t in the future and that a review of policies includes how it affects heads of state. They’ve declined to address questions about past spying.
Merkel’s top foreign-policy adviser, Christoph Heusgen, and her intelligence coordinator, Guenter Heiss, met today with officials including U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.
The goal was to try to “rebuild trust,” the chancellery said. The meeting didn’t break any new ground, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said.
“Today’s discussions were an opportunity to hear from one another and jointly determine how the dialogue can best proceed in order to provide the necessary assurance and strengthen our cooperation,” the spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, said in an e-mailed statement. She said the discussions would continue “in the coming days and weeks,” without naming any dates.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters today in Berlin that German officials will work on a basis of a “no-spy treaty” to limit intelligence gathering between the two allies. “This process will take time,” he said.
The spat between Germany and the U.S. over suspicions that the National Security Agency had hacked into Merkel’s mobile phone as well as anger in Europe over NSA data collection has taken a toll on trans-Atlantic relations.
The dispute among the allies threatens to deepen after U.S. intelligence leaders, without specifying whom they targeted, defended the practice of espionage on foreign leaders yesterday in Congress as a standard of spy-craft used by every nation.
NSA Director Keith Alexander told U.S. lawmakers yesterday that European media reports on data collection on millions of citizens were “completely false.” Spy chief Clapper said espionage on U.S. allies is fair game.
“It’s invaluable for us to know where countries are coming from, what their policies are and how that would impact us across a whole range of issues,” Clapper told the House intelligence committee during a hearing yesterday in Washington. Asked whether U.S. allies have spied on American leaders, Clapper said, “absolutely.”
The hearing and the disclosure of a White House intelligence review shed little light on whether the NSA spied on leaders including Merkel or how much Congress and Obama knew. The espionage fallout flared up this week as German lawmakers called for an investigation of American spy activity and Spain condemned phone taps.
“We are undertaking a review of our activities around the world with a special emphasis on examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday.
German authorities are still determining whether Merkel’s phone came under surveillance. Seibert said this week that, if confirmed, “this would represent a grave breach of trust.”
U.S. diplomats in Germany may be expelled if alleged eavesdropping on Merkel’s mobile phone is proven, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in a Rheinische Post newspaper interview. “If it’s proven that the NSA listened in on the chancellor then we may as an emergency measure expel diplomats,” he said, as cited by the paper.
Today’s meeting was to be followed by visits by the president of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, Gerhard Schindler, and the chief of German counterintelligence, Hans-Georg Maassen, the chancellery has said.’
Alexander said today that placing new restrictions on the NSA could create gaps that lead to a terrorist attack. “If we take away the tools we increase the risk and we ought to go into that with our eyes wide open,” he said today at a Bloomberg Government conference on cybersecurity.