The Cable

Hey, Germany, Stop Your Kvetching. Everybody Spies.

Revelations that a 31-year-old German intelligence service employee has allegedly been passing hundreds of classified government files to the United States for the past several years has prompted cries of shock and outrage from some of the Obama administration's closest allies in Berlin. But the Germans shouldn’t have been surprised. Washington has been spying on Germany for decades, and that work will almost certainly continue well into the future.

When top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone, President Obama insisted that he hadn't known about the surveillance -- a claim many intelligence community veterans found laughable -- and promised to bring it to a stop. But the White House said nothing about ending other spying operations inside Germany or even against top officials in the Merkel government. There was a good reason for that: Those extensive intelligence-gathering efforts are continuing for both counterterrorism purposes and diplomatic reasons, and include monitoring German relationships with other governments, former officials said.

"The idea that we wouldn't conduct espionage of any sort on German soil is unspeakably silly," said a former U.S. intelligence official who asked not to be identified while discussing current operations.

When the diplomatic spat that German reporters have taken to calling the "double-agent scandal" erupted last week, some politicians called on Merkel to declare all CIA officers at the American Embassy in Berlin persona non grata, which would lead to their expulsion from the country. The German interior minister said the country should step up its own spying on Washington, and German politicians and commentators have been calling on the Obama administration to confirm whether the mole in the heart of German intelligence is, in fact, a spy for the Americans.

A high-ranking German official told Foreign Policy that it was too soon to say whether the spying allegations, which are now the subject of a law enforcement investigation, can be fully substantiated. But he pointed to foreboding comments by Merkel during a news conference on Monday in Beijing, where she has been holding meetings with top Chinese leaders. "If the allegations are true," Merkel said, "it would be for me a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners."

After a long holiday weekend, the Obama administration was forced to address the growing diplomatic rift, which saw the U.S. ambassador summoned to the German Foreign Ministry on the Fourth of July just hours before he was supposed to be welcoming guests to a party at the American Embassy in Berlin. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest wouldn't confirm the allegations about U.S. spying efforts in Germany during his regular press conference on Monday, citing the ongoing German investigation and a practice of not commenting on alleged U.S. intelligence operations. However, Earnest stressed that "the relationship that the United States has with Germany is incredibly important," and he promised, "We're going to work with the Germans to resolve this situation appropriately."

The exposure of the double agent, who hasn't been publicly identified, comes at a particularly inopportune moment, when the political wounds were still raw over revelations of NSA spying that sparked large public protests in Germany. Merkel and her coalition partners were just getting back to the business of normal political relations with the Obama administration and repairing a decades-long relationship with one of their country's largest trading partners and most stalwart political and military allies. Now, that's all up in the air.

"This threatens to derail the efforts of Merkel and other senior coalition partners to get back on track with the trans-Atlantic relationship," said Thorsten Benner, the co-founder and director of the Global Public Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Berlin. While the calls to kick out CIA officials and the publicized haranguing of the American ambassador are largely symbolic gestures, public outrage over the spying could force the German government to reshape its relationship with Washington. During a visit to Mongolia, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that if the allegations turned out to be true, "that's also a political matter, where one can't just go back to the daily routine."

Political elites and other outspoken supporters of a strong U.S-German alliance are now "publicly being proven wrong," said Olaf Boehnke, who runs the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. For those who've been particularly supportive of freer trade and investment between the two countries, "It's getting harder and harder to argue now that we should have the United States as a partner," he added. "It's a reality check that this isn't about friendship any longer; it's a very neutral, cost-benefit related partnership."

And Germans are more likely to ask what they're getting out of it. "There was always some kind of anti-American sentiment in the German public, but this is skyrocketing," Boehnke said. "It's really worrying."

Benner questioned the Obama administration's decision to keep up its spying on the German government at such a sensitive time, particularly given the damage done by the high-profile Snowden revelations. "The political consequences for the U.S. are much, much higher than any potential enlightenment that could have come from these leaked documents," Benner said.

Still, German officials are kidding themselves if they think the United States won't keep spying on them. The exposure of the double agent follows Berlin's failed attempt to forge a so-called "no-spying" agreement with the United States, similar to the one it has with the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Under the pact, all five nations generally agree not to monitor each other's officials and conduct spying operations on each other's soil. (The United States and other close allies, including Israel, routinely gather intelligence on one another.)

"They were pretty humiliatingly rebuffed," Benner said. The United States has for years kept Germany out of the club, which grew out of the ashes of World War II and took root during the Cold War. Berlin was turned away once again, and that stung.

The U.S. relationship with Germany is "built on a lot of shared trust," said Earnest, the White House spokesman. "It's built on friendship. And it's built on shared values." But apparently it's not strong enough to bring Germany into the exclusive no-spying club, or to halt operations against its officials.

Indeed, the case of the double agent may end up revealing more about German impressions of American spying than about the inner workings of the German government.

"Germans are more romantic about relationships than the Americans are. They think that if you're in a relationship, you shouldn't need to spy on each other," Benner said. Added Boehnke, "You could blame Germans for being naive.... We have two very different perceptions of how the intelligence business is operated."

John Hudson contributed reporting.

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The Cable

America Finally Grounds Anti-Castro Propaganda Plane for Good

The United States officially ended one of the most ineffective and widely criticized programs of the last decade aimed at undermining the Cuban government, the State Department revealed Monday.

Foggy Bottom's inspector general released a report showing that AeroMarti, a multimillion-dollar boondoggle that involved flying an airplane around Cuba and beaming American-sponsored content to the island's inhabitants, quietly ended in April. Since launching in 2006, the program was plagued by a simple problem: Every day the plane flew, Havana jammed its broadcast signal, meaning fewer than 1 percent of Cubans could listen to its TV and radio shows.

The federal agency that runs the program, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, repeatedly asked Congress to ground the plane because of its exorbitant expense and dubious effectiveness. But for years, hard-line members of Congress opposed to Fidel Castro rejected the agency's recommendations and renewed funding for the "public diplomacy" effort.

According to the inspector general's report, the troubled program was finally spiked when money for it was quietly left out of fiscal year 2014 appropriations. Unfortunately for taxpayers, AeroMarti's final cost exceeded previous estimates, racking up a $35.6 million tab over its seven-year life.

"AeroMarti has proven to be an ineffective program and an awful waste of U.S. tax dollars," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) stated on Monday. "It would certainly be good news if taxpayers were able to wash their hands of it."

The program initially was backed by prominent anti-Castro lawmakers, such as Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and then-Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans.

However, support for AeroMarti declined as even the BBG acknowledged the inefficacy of the program. "The signal is heavily jammed by the Cuban government, significantly limiting this platform's reach and impact on the island," read the administration's 2014 budget request.

"The BBG board voted for several years in a row to include grounding the plane in its budget," BBG spokeswoman Lynne Weil said on Monday. "I don't know how much harder one would have to push. It was in the budget request."

One of the longest holdouts was Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee whose district includes Miami-Dade County. Ros-Lehtinen consistently declines to comment about her support for AeroMarti, which she did again today.

As sequestration hit departments across the board in fiscal 2014, funding for the plane's fuel and pilots dried up. The plane was grounded in a hangar in Georgia. However, taxpayers paid $6,600 a month to house the twin-engine turboprop until April, when the program was finally killed for good.

For critics, the program's failure calls into question America's decades-long information war against the Castro regime. BBG, the independent federal agency that produces Voice of America and similar programs, continues programming for Radio Marti -- started in 1985 -- and TV Marti, launched in 1990. They broadcast everything from baseball games to local news to weather reports to interviews with anti-Castro dissidents. Collectively, the government has spent well more than $500 million on the "Martis."

The BBG is enthusiastic about other methods of bringing Marti programming to Cuban viewers and listeners: disseminating DVDs, doling out flash drives, broadcasting via satellite, and even a new smartphone application.

"We have evolved to what our market demands," Carlos Garcia-Perez, director of the BBG's Office of Cuba Broadcasting, told Foreign Policy last year. "We're no longer just a TV and radio and internet operation; we're a multimedia operation."

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