CIA Hits 'Pause' on Espionage Against Friendly Western Governments

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CIA Hits 'Pause' on Espionage Against Friendly Western Governments

Current and former U.S. officials say they want to evaluate risk and effectiveness of foreign spying missions, AP investigation finds

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was furious to discover the NSA had tapped her phone. (Photo: World Economic Forum)

The CIA has stopped spying on allied governments in Western Europe in response to anger over a German caught selling intelligence documents to the United States and the Edward Snowden revelations of spying by the National Security Agency, according to an Associated Press exclusive.

In early July, following the arrest of a German intelligence officer who admitted to passing information to CIA agents about a parliamentary investigation into the NSA's surveillance program, the German government ordered the expulsion of a CIA station chief operating in Berlin. In 2013, Snowden's leaked NSA documents revealed German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among foreign officials being monitored by the agency. Both events increased tensions between the U.S. and Germany. 

According to the AP, the "stand-down" was put in effect about two months ago, in order to "give CIA officers time to examine whether they were being careful enough and to evaluate whether spying on allies is worth running the risk of discovery, said a U.S. official who has been briefed on the situation."

As part of the "pause," case officers in Europe may not meet with sources within allied governments, a practice the AP describes as "the bedrock of spying." 

"The spying stand-down comes at an inopportune time," AP notes, "with the U.S. worried about Europeans extremists going to fight in Syria, Europe's response to Russian aggression and European hostility to American technology companies following revelations the companies turned over data to the NSA. While the U.S. cooperates closely with Europe against terrorism, spying can help American officials understand what their allies are planning and thinking, whether about counterterrorism or trade talks."

The AP continues:

The "EUR" division, as it is known within the CIA, covers Canada, Western Europe, and Turkey. While spying on Western European allies is not a top priority, Turkey is considered a high priority target—an Islamic country that talks to U.S. adversaries such as Iran, while sharing a border with Syria and Iraq. It was not known to what extent the stand-down affected operations in Turkey.

But focusing on the potential intelligence disadvantage is just a distraction, Kevin Gosztola writes at FireDogLake:

The way the AP frames it focuses attention on the possibility that the CIA will miss something critical in the fight against extremists flocking to join ISIS and fight in Iraq and Syria. But a more significant point is that the CIA is conducting this review to ensure that it can continue to do the same kind of espionage it did pre-Snowden.

If it thought it needed the information before this latest scandal in Germany, it will still feel compelled to go after the same type of information again. It just has to figure out how to navigate this new normal, where all friendly governments are more openly on edge about being spied upon by US intelligence. That reality will be treated as a challenge, not a deterrent.

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