Edward Snowden

Germany wants Snowden to testify about US intelligence activities

Government hopes former NSA contractor will shed light on US intelligence activities that have included eavesdropping on Merkel's cellphone

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 8:29pm

The German government will examine how former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden could testify to a parliamentary inquiry into US intelligence activities in Germany, the interior minister said.

The effort comes amid rising demands not only to thank Snowden for his disclosures but also to grant him full political asylum.

At the same time, a senior German intelligence official raised concerns on Wednesday, which he said were shared by European colleagues, that the White House and Congress had failed to understand the depth of the rift over US intelligence activities.

It is a fury that built with the disclosure two weeks ago of eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone and subsequent reports that the monitoring and other espionage activities were carried out from the US Embassy in Berlin.

The statements come as Germany is seeking leverage for a binding agreement with Washington to end mutual spying and put intelligence sharing on a new basis.

The situation in both capitals is fluid, and the pressures evident: Germans see a vulnerable President Barack Obama in trouble on several fronts in Washington, while in Berlin, Merkel is negotiating a new coalition government with Social Democrats who Americans fear may pull her further into the camp of Washington's critics.

The interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of Merkel's conservative bloc, ruled out asylum but said that "we must now discuss under what circumstances and how it is possible that Mr Snowden is heard from, and by whom, in Moscow".

Snowden, 30, is in or near Moscow on a one-year asylum granted by Russia and was visited last Thursday by Hans-Christian Stroebele, a veteran leftist who has repeatedly called for him to be granted asylum.

We must now discuss … how it is possible that Mr Snowden is heard

He said in an interview that Snowden wanted to testify in Germany, not in Moscow. Stroebele, a lawyer, is one of several on the left who have insisted that Germany could grant Snowden asylum if it mustered the courage to contradict the US, which has said it would seek his arrest and extradition if he landed in Germany or another allied country.

Increasingly, Snowden's actions are tearing at the elite in Germany, even tempting some to recall the cold war tussle between Washington and Moscow for the sympathies of the citizens of Europe's biggest country.

The temperature of the debate is alarming Berlin, where senior officials are not sure - despite two visits by senior German officials in the past week, and another by high-ranking European lawmakers - that the White House or Congress understand what a rift the "NSA affair" as it is known here, has brought about.

Stemming virulent anti-American criticism is becoming more difficult, the senior intelligence official said, noting that Parliament would discuss the affair on November 18 - even before a new coalition government is formed - and could then move to convene a full inquiry.

A split with the United States is not an option, the official said, echoing a statement from Merkel on Monday that "the trans-Atlantic alliance is of overwhelming value to Germany".