You can’t have your cake and eat it too

A guest post by our good friend in Washington D.C., Nathalie Vogel:
Wasch’ mich, aber mach’ mich nicht nass! *

(German saying for ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’)

A few years ago, three German intelligence officers were caught breaking into the EULEX office in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Why would, of all Europeans, Germans have any interest in breaking into EU offices? At that time, no one did wonder, and certainly not the ones who are currently spilling their anti-American hatred against our most reliable ally, or their evil twin brothers, the whining pseudo-Atlanticists, who feel sorry for themselves. This shows the level of ignorance prevailing in the debate these days. It turns out that these German operatives had one interest: They were investigating terrorist/illegal activities. Did they break the laws of the Republic of Kosovo? You bet. Was their mission legitimate? You judge.

In the middle of this collective hysteria, it is die Welt’s Ansgar Graw who wrote the most sobering account of the amnesic hypocrisy surrounding the Snowden scandal in Germany. In fact, the entire issue of NSA programs monitoring communications in Europe is a non-issue, he writes, because everyone who wanted to know knew to a certain extent and this only by using open sources. Even more simple: It is only logical that one of the largest IXPs (Internet exchange point) in the world being in Frankfurt, no monitoring could be done elsewhere than in Germany.

When it comes to the monitoring of communications, the US is Germany’s most important security provider. Information collected and more importantly retained — a controversial issue for Germany — by the US ally saved thousands of lives and helped avert major terrorist attacks among which the one prepared by the Sauerland terrorist cell and the model plane attack. That Germany also hosted for over 20 years Russian deep cover agents known as the Anschlags was not detected by German counterintelligence. Germany owes that info to a thorough US investigation, too.

It is of common knowledge to anyone in the security community that the US entertains a very close and very efficient relation with its Western allies and especially Germany. Even though Germany is not among the five eyes nations, which Spiegel either conveniently or deliberately mistranslated into being a “third class ally” instead of a “third party state,” it is still a preferred partner when it comes to discussing issues such as homegrown terrorism, Muslim radicalism and cyber security. Experts regard the transatlantic partnership at this level as flawless and 100% reliable. According to the same experts on both sides on the Atlantic, discord in this area in fact rarely occurs because problems are immediately addressed and solved at an early stage.

Understanding the psychology of each other is key to this flawless cooperation. Both the US and Germany understand this. In this regard, the fact that Hamburg was the home base of the terrorists of the 9/11 attack is an important aspect of the equation of course, but communicating and understanding the specificity of German Angst should be a main task of US public diplomacy, too.

In this context (and it is actually the biggest surprise), everyone unanimously underlines that even after the end of the cold war, Germany remains on the top priority list of US security (and not as Spiegel deliberately mistranslated it again: with “Angriffsziel”). Together with their German ally, the US is defending security not only along the Hindukush but also in Germany. For this, the American ally deploys enormous resources and Germany is the number one beneficiary. Like it or not.

Spying? Europeans don’t do that!

But this inconvenient truth has been the source of sometimes subtle, sometimes clumsy manipulation in the last weeks in Berlin. The amount of false information in the mass media skyrocketed overnight. Eager to score points against German chancellor Angela Merkel, the opposition has violently criticized the US ally, with the sole aim of destabilizing the Merkel administration. Damage control ensued at the chancellor’s office. This scandal could not have come more appropriately for the Greens and especially the SPD, a party that some say is always more inclined to question US intelligence activities rather than those of the Russians. Hostile activities of the Russian Federation on EU soil have meanwhile exceeded cold war level, as mentioned by the MI5’s Director General, Jonathan Evans, during a public speech already in 2010 for Great Britain, and later confirmed by the head of the German military intelligence, Lithuania’s intelligence agency, the Czech intelligence Agency, and you can extend the list to almost every EU country, from Poland to Estonia. So, one comes to wonder if concerted counterintelligence efforts with the US ally should not be encouraged rather than condemned. This dimension seems to elude Merkel’s contender, the SPD. The party of ex-Chancellor Schroeder has been having since the Ostpolitik a long history of cultivating its anti-Americanism. Lately SPD MPs seem to be having certain difficulties discerning allied from non-allied countries and one of them even wondered why Snowden is being “persecuted.”

Part of the narrative surrounding the intelligence activities among partners, be they cooperative or not, is the odd idea that there is a divide between them (the US) and us (the Europeans). This fairy tale has been propagated by no less than the French Foreign Minister himself who proudly claimed that France did not conduct intelligence operations against the US. Perhaps when it comes to the US embassy in Paris, Mr Fabius was telling the truth. Alas, when it comes to other locations, and this is an open secret (no pun intended), facts do not agree with Mr. Fabius. Not only does France have intelligence activities of all kinds against its partners but it has always been doing so. In their fight against terrorism, France’s special services have even committed targeted killings on German soil according to former head of the foreign intelligence service (SDECE), the legendary Constantin Melnik. European states are proportionally no more and no less involved in intelligence than their US counterparts when it comes to defending their interests. It is as simple as that. Where they differ is in the means they have at disposal. What they have in common however and what makes their activities different from non-allied countries such as dictatorships like China, the Russian Federation or Cuba is that they are submitted to parliamentary control of a democratically elected body, which is a mighty corrective.

To sum up, the general hysteria provoked by the revelation of Edward Snowden appears less and less rational and more and more steered by circles in whose interest it is, against all facts, to portray the US as a threat to Europe and not as an ally. These sources convey the narrative of a powerless EU victim exploited by the US. This type of subversion has a name.

The only response is: Keep calm and carry on!


Nathalie Vogel is a Washington based political analyst and a graduate of the Institute of Political Sciences of the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Until 2005, she taught international relations at the University of Bonn, Germany. She served as a project officer and consultant for youth and civil society at the NATO Office in Moscow (2005/06).