German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called U.S. cooperation with German intelligence “insufficient” in the aftermath of disclosures of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency.
De Maiziere, a confidant of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said German officials had to rely on leaks of NSA documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden to discover the scale of the surveillance. He leveled his criticism on a panel at the Munich Security Conference, where he sat next to U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, who defended the NSA as protecting Europe against greater threats.
“We have no proof; there is no finger print, but according to everything that we’ve heard, the burden that’s been placed on German citizens is immeasurable,” de Maiziere said today in the Bavarian capital. “The political damage is greater than the security-policy benefit.”
The remarks underscore the rift between Germany and the U.S. following reports of mass surveillance and the alleged hacking of Merkel’s mobile phone. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had talks with Merkel today in Berlin before making his way to Munich and discussed the issue as German intelligence officials seek a “no-spy” treaty with its trans-Atlantic ally.
Rogers defended the U.S. signals-intelligence agency, saying it was unreasonable to expect the U.S. to stop collecting foreign data. He said the NSA helped defend Europe as well as the U.S. and that other threats were greater.
“If we think that is the problem as we move forward, we are all fooling ourselves,” Rogers said. “The Chinese are on your networks; the Russians are on your networks. The Iranians are getting better by the day to get on your networks.”
Rogers also dismissed the accusation that U.S. agencies conduct industrial espionage, disputing a claim made by Snowden this week in a German television interview.
“It is against the law in the United States to use our intelligence service for economic espionage,” Rogers said. “If they do it, they’re going to jail.”
As German and U.S. officials negotiate a renewed foundation for intelligence cooperation, Merkel’s government said this month that President Barack Obama’s pledge of new restrictions on mass surveillance so far offer “no answer.” German officials have said failure to reach an accord would be unacceptable following reports that German spy chiefs had received no solid commitments from American counterparts.
To avoid “the situation that we are dependent on Snowden, Washington Post, Spiegel” and other sources, the two countries should share information, de Maiziere said.