The German government said Thursday it is expelling a person it describes as the representative of U.S. foreign intelligence services based at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
The move comes after two allegations emerged of Germans spying for the United States over the last week, claims prompting an investigation by German prosecutors of a suspect accused of passing secrets.
The call comes against the background of the current investigation by the federal prosecutor and questions that have remained unresolved for months about the activity of U.S. intelligence in Germany.
“The German government views these events as very serious,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
In a statement, Seibert stressed the importance of “mutual trust and openness.”
“It remains essential for Germany, in the interest of the security of its citizens and its armed forces abroad, to cooperate closely on the basis of trust with its western partners, in particular with the USA.” Seibert said the government “is ready to offer that, and expects its closest partners to do the same.”
German prosecutors said Wednesday they are investigating a suspect accused of passing secrets.
“Officers of the federal criminal office have since this morning searched the living and office rooms of an accused in the Berlin area because of initial suspicion of secret service agency activity. They said “an arrest did not take place.”
As a matter of policy, White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment on the reported intelligence activity.
“The reason for that is there’s an important principle at stake, which is declining to comment on them publicly allows for the sufficient protection of our national interests, in some cases the intelligence assets, and more generally, American national security,” he said.
Only last week, German prosecutors ordered the arrest of a German citizen on suspicion of spying for foreign intelligence agencies.
On Friday, the German foreign office called in the U.S. ambassador to discuss it.
Both the German prosecutor and the foreign office released scarce information then, but officials have spoken in detail with German journalists, who published many reports on the allegations of U.S. spying on the country.
“If the reports are correct, it would be a serious case. If the allegations are true, it would be for me a clear contradiction to what I consider to be a trustful cooperation between agencies and partners,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Her warning came as U.S.-German relations are already shaky in the aftermath of disclosures by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden that showed the United States was listening in on Merkel’s phone calls.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview Tuesday with the German news site Spiegel Online, said both countries need to talk about what intelligence collection should be allowed and what might thwart intelligence and security cooperation.
“Clearly, the surveillance on Chancellor Merkel’s phone was absolutely wrong,” she said.
Germany and other friendly countries complained when Snowden’s leaks last year revealed U.S. surveillance of foreign leaders as well as screening of foreign phone calls and Internet contacts in investigating terrorist ties.
The Obama administration responded that all countries conduct surveillance on each other, but the President also has ordered changes in U.S. programs.