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U.S. Pressed by Merkel Ally to Explain Itself in Spy Case

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere
Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's interior minister. Photographer: Tim Brakemeier/AFP/Getty Images

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere pressed the U.S. to respond to allegations that a member of Germany’s foreign-intelligence agency sold secret documents to American agents.

De Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party and her government’s top security official, said the case is “very grave” because the espionage is alleged to have continued even after mass surveillance by the National Security Agency came to light last year.

“These incidents must be cleared up quickly,” he said in an interview on ARD television today. “Only then can we gauge the scope of the alleged espionage. I now expect a quick, unambiguous statement by the United States of America.”

The case, first reported by two German newspapers on July 4, risks adding to a U.S.-German rift over the NSA after documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden suggested the agency hacked Merkel’s mobile phone and spied on Germans. Merkel, who is on a trip to China until July 8, hasn’t commented publicly on the matter.

While Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that the 31-year-old suspect stole documents from a German parliamentary committee investigating NSA surveillance, the panel’s chairman said that wasn’t the case as far as he knows.

“At this time, I can say I have no evidence that documents of the investigating committee were snooped on,” Patrick Sensburg, a lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said on Deutschlandfunk radio. “Rather, these were documents that were supposed to be transmitted to the committee by the government and agencies.”

The office of Germany’s federal prosecutor said on July 3 that a 31-year-old German was arrested the day before on suspicion of spying for a foreign power that prosecutors declined to identify.

The man, a support technician for Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency, met U.S. agents at least three times in Austria from 2012 to 2014 and gave them hundreds of secret documents for which he was paid 25,000 euros ($34,000), Bild reported. The documents were seized on a thumb drive and a laptop at the suspect’s home, the newspaper said July 4.

U.S. intelligence made several approaches to the man, who was first suspected of contacting Russian spies and then told investigators he had worked with the U.S., Sueddeutsche said.

German President Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and anti-communist activist in East Germany, said the U.S. would be “playing” with its ties to Germany if the allegations turned out to be true.

In that case, “it would seem to be time to say: That’s enough now,” Gauck, whose post is mostly ceremonial, said in an interview with ZDF television.

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