The Cable

Merkel to U.S. Spy: 'auf Wiedersehen!'

This story has been updated.

The German government has taken the extraordinary step of ordering the top U.S. intelligence official in the embassy in Berlin to leave the country, a German government spokesman announced Thursday. It was a strong and rare official rebuke, and the clearest signal that tensions over U.S. spying on the German government are threatening the historically strong ties between the two allies.

The expulsion of the official, who wasn't named, follows the revelation last week that a 31-year-old German intelligence service employee has allegedly been giving classified government files to the United States, including documents about Germany's own investigation into U.S. spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was exposed by Edward Snowden. The expulsion of the most senior American intelligence official in Germany, known as the chief of station, seems unprecedented.

"It remains essential for Germany to work closely and trustingly with Western partners, especially with the United States, for the safety of its citizens and forces abroad," Steffen Seibert, a German government spokesman, said in a statement. "But trust and openness is necessary for this from both sides."

The White House had no comment on what spokesperson Caitlin Hayden described as a "purported intelligence matter."

"However," Hayden added, "our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one, and it keeps Germans and Americans safe. It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas, and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels."

Earlier this week, Merkel said that if the allegations of American spying on German soil turned out to be true, "it would be for me a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners."

Expelling a station chief signals that trust is broken. "When they throw out the chief of station, that's a very strong indication that the Germans are ticked," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official, adding that he couldn't recall the Germans ever taking such an action. "It sends that message to the U.S. But it also lets Merkel send a message to the people on her left, who are outraged about the spying Snowden exposed, and to keep them under control, too."

In response to American spying, the German interior minister said the country should step up its own spying on Washington, and German politicians and commentators are calling on the Obama administration to confirm whether the mole in the heart of German intelligence is, in fact, a spy for the Americans.

CBS News reported that an Obama administration official acknowledged that the German man, who also hasn't been identified, was recruited by the CIA. An agency official declined to comment. The Obama administration was reportedly expected to acknowledge publicly that the German was an American agent in an effort to smooth over the tensions between Washington and Berlin. But Thursday's announcement by the Germans seems to indicate that the relationship has reached a new low point.

"This is an effort by the German government to signal to their U.S. counterparts, 'Enough is enough,'" said Thorsten Benner, the co-founder and director of the Global Public Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Berlin. "Spying on allies comes with real costs for the relationship, in terms of an erosion of trust and a growing anti-Americanism among the German public."

Benner said that the Germans expelled the station chief -- a "mini nuclear diplomatic option" -- because German officials weren't getting a satisfactory response from the Americans about their U.S. spying complaints. "They were hearing nothing but platitudes and stonewalling from Brennan & Co., and no acknowledgement that this needs to stop," he said, referring to CIA Director John Brennan. The message that German government officials are hearing, Benner said, is that "the U.S. government refuses to take this seriously."

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The Cable

Has the White House Bungled a Historic Africa Summit?

More than 50 African leaders will descend on Washington in less than a month for the White House's first-ever Africa Summit, which the administration has billed as a historic opportunity to promote its own Africa initiatives, identify trade partners, and foster much-needed counterterrorism cooperation across the continent.

But as the administration scrambles to put the finishing touches on the event, individuals in and out of government worry that the summit, held when little of official Washington is even in town, may end up doing more harm than good. African leaders won't be getting any one-on-one meetings with President Barack Obama, which could leave them feeling snubbed by a leader they've long seen as unusually invested in the continent's future. More importantly, critics say the three-day summit, which begins Aug. 4, may represent a missed opportunity to narrow the growing gap between America's economic ties with African countries and those of China, which has spent years building new commercial relationships across the continent.

J. Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center for the Atlantic Council in Washington, says the White House still sees Africa through a decades-old framework in which it is viewed as an impoverished continent with country leaders traveling to Washington hat in hand rather than as nations with robust and growing economies. He said the administration's focus on democracy and human rights also risks pushing African leaders into the waiting arms of China, which doesn't let those issues impact its dealings on the continent.

"The bigger picture of course is that Africa has seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the world, and numerous other countries are engaging with them on a bilateral basis," Pham said. "China has surpassed us as Africa's biggest trading partner."

According to the State Department, the summit's agenda includes a "U.S.-Africa Business Forum" that will bring together U.S. and African business executives and African leaders "to discuss African trade and investment opportunities and showcase positive new economic realities on the African continent."

But that forum, according to Pham, is being hosted separately and has not been organized to bring American chief executive officers together with specific African leaders to cut deals. Instead, he said, it's more of a loosely organized event taking place on the sidelines of the broader summit. He and other experts say they're not expecting any major deals to be announced during the event.

"Having this big cheerleading session isn't going to drive deals," Pham said. "No one makes a deal based on a meeting that one has for a day."

The administration also plans to focus on the importance of education and human rights -- exactly the sorts of issues China doesn't raise when it comes to business opportunities. On Aug. 6, African leaders will meet with Obama at the State Department, where the president will moderate a panel on "Investing in Africa's Future," another on "Peace and Regional Stability" and a third on "Governing for the Next Generation."

"The discussion will allow us to highlight areas where African governments are registering progress while also providing an opportunity for a candid exchange about how we might deepen our relationship to tackle obstacles to development and the full achievement of fundamental rights," according to a State Department description of the third planned panel.

That could be exactly the wrong approach to take. Jennifer Cooke, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said African leaders will inevitably compare their treatment at the American summit with the way they are received by China's leadership.

"When the Chinese do this, it's red carpet, big money, investments and loans, and many bilateral conversations," Cooke said. "They sort of pull out all the stops, and they invite everybody, and there's no talk about human rights and democracy."

For example, the United States has not invited Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, or Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, all of whom are seen as having deplorable human rights records that make the White House cringe. China, on the other hand, has shown no compunctions about meeting with -- and doing business with -- countries despite their human rights records.

At a summit China hosted for African leaders in 2012, for instance, the Chinese premier essentially "speed-dated" with dozens of African leaders in back-to-back, 15-minute one-on-one sessions with translators. The Obama administration's summit, in contrast, won't have any such meetings.

"I would guess that some U.S. ambassador has had some pretty difficult conversations with heads of state to say, 'sorry, you will not have a private meeting with the president,'" said one former government official who is paying close attention to the planning effort. "In some countries, those were probably some pretty difficult conversations."

The idea for a summit was first generated inside the White House and then announced by Obama shortly thereafter after the president visited Africa last year. Experts said that visit underscored the importance of the relationship between the United States and Africa. But critics of administration policy also said that it served as a reminder of how countries like China were making economic inroads into those nations and the degree to which the United States needed to play catch-up.

The former government official, who asked to speak on background due to the sensitive political nature of the White House-hosted event, said that there could still be a lot of good to come out of the summit and that African leaders would likely "swallow hard" and attend anyway since the alternative -- not attending -- would pose political challenges at home.

But the former official and others interviewed were surprised that the White House doesn't want to put Obama or other top administration officials in the same room for private discussions with at least some leaders. Such meetings could go a long way to putting those bilateral relationships on much more solid ground, they said, and the United States could benefit greatly by talking directly with the leaders of countries as diverse as South Africa and Nigeria. Personal ties to those leaders will be particularly important going forward as the United States expands its counterterrorism operations against Islamist militants across the continent.

But Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that focusing on the lack of bilateral meetings misses the point of a historic event in which Obama is participating heavily.


"The fact that we are organizing a summit of this scale underscores President Obama and the broader administration's focus on deepening our partnerships with African countries," he said.

And on Wednesday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, defended the administration's approach, saying that "logistical challenges" prevent the bilateral discussions.

"We've made the decision that there will not be one-on-one bilats between the president and the heads of state," she said at a briefing with reporters Wednesday. "There are 54 of them, and what the president plans to do is spend a tremendous amount of quality time during the three days of the summit."

Todd Moss, chief operating officer of the Center for Global Development in Washington, said he thinks the summit is a good idea that could improve key bilateral relationships across the continent even if the event could have had a broader focus to appeal to African leaders.

"If the messaging is right and the process goes well, we can feel good about our bilateral relationships; that is hugely beneficial," Moss said. "But if they walk away thinking they feel as if they got the short end of the stick, if they come away with the message that Americans aren't interested, that is very, very bad."

Pham, meanwhile, said the summit isn't designed to have any formal declaration at its conclusion or action plan for future engagement. A lack of formal outcomes, he said, could leave U.S. and African leaders with a "nice memory of a signature event, but we won't have something concrete and we won't really have moved the needle that much."

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