A secret conversation between the CIA station chief in Berlin and one of the most powerful intelligence officials in Germany in 2011 just became public. Der Spiegel detailed the contents of this conversation in early July 2015 following a German intelligence inquiry inspired by Snowden’s leak of top-secret NSA documents.
The station chief had informed Günter Heiss, the man responsible for coordinating Germany’s intelligence services, that his deputy Hans Josef Vorbeck had been in contact with Der Speigel. Following this meeting, Vorbeck was transferred from managing German counterterrorism efforts to overseeing historical archives for Germany’s foreign intelligence service. Sources in Washington told Der Spiegel that they considered the leaks to be a serious threat to national security concerns.
US officials had long been concerned with Der Spiegel after it published several scoops between 2004 and 2009 that exposed controversial US counterterrorism operations. These included detailing the rendition of the German Islamic extremist Mohammed Haydar Zammar to Syria where he was subsequently tortured. These reports created a firestorm in Germany.
To make things worse, Der Spiegel published thousands of WikiLeaks classified cables about potential US war crimes in Iraq. This revelation was met with a formal US Department of Justice Investigation.
Vorbeck maintains that media relations were an integral part of his job responsibilities and that it was a known fact that he received journalists in his office. It is unclear how the US obtained the information about Vorbeck’s activities. The release of this information to the Germans revealed that the US was monitoring German intelligence efforts. German authorities suspected an informant inside the magazine or the chancellery or that the US had used electronic surveillance. They decided that the latter was most likely.
Germany is a key US allay and has played a crucial role in supporting the US global war on terror. For instance, Ramstein Air Base is one of the largest US military installations outside of the United States.
Tensions with Germany have been running high in recent years with the revelation from leaked NSA documents that the CIA had eavesdropped on Angela Merkel’s phone conversations. State Department spokesman John Kirby stressed that the US continues to “enjoy a long and very productive friendship with Germany” and that “Nothing’s going to change about that.”