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  • Konrad Werner: The trouble with being an appendix


Konrad Werner: The trouble with being an appendix

Germans are pretending to be outraged about the CIA spying on their secret service. In fact, they're just a bit annoyed because they broke one of their many politeness rules.

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The best quote in this week’s CIA/BND double-agent circle-jerk came right at the end of this article in Die Welt: “What did the Americans want with these papers?” one member of Germany’s intel agency the BND wondered. “They probably would’ve got them anyway if they’d asked.” Given that the NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake told the German parliament last week that the BND has “turned into a vermiform appendix” of the NSA, and that Edward Snowden’s recent Spiegel revelations showed that the NSA and the BND hold joint training weekends in the Black Forest, it’s weird that the CIA bothered to buy documents from Markus the German Mole. But I suppose if he’s hawking them for €114.70 a page, why not? It was probably literally less hassle than filling in the official request forms. Plus someone got a day out of the office. Meanwhile, the wretched Markus is facing a 10-year jail sentence for the measly €25,000 he collected for committing treason.

But the German government is really annoyed. We’ve not been treated to the same soul-sapping spectacle we got after last year’s Snowden revelations – when we had to watch German politicians straining to give a shit. This time, President Joachim Gauck thundered, “Enough is enough!” while Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that the BND would consider “countermeasures” against the CIA, and then the German government actually expelled America’s top spy chief. Fine to spy on our people, Mr. Ami, but spy on our spies? Das geht ja gar nicht.

The thing about being a useless organ is that the body you belong to forgets you are even there. Hans-Georg Maaßen, president of the Verfassungschutz – Germany’s domestic intel agency – was asked by the Handelsblatt newspaper in January how active American spies in Germany were. He said he didn’t really know, but he was working on the assumption that they were obeying German law. If that wasn’t a lie, then it was a very stupid thing to say. Obviously spies don’t obey the law – not their own law, and least of all the law of the country they’re spying on. You can’t really do spying without breaking the law. German spies probably don’t care much about the laws of Afghanistan when they’re tapping phone calls in search of insurgents, so Maaßen can work on the assumption that the CIA does whatever the hell it likes when it’s here. This isn’t about the law, it’s a question of etiquette. The BND just think it would’ve been more polite to ask.