Commenting on the execution of a French nobleman by Napoleon, the French diplomat Talleyrand supposedly observed: "It was worse than a crime — it was a blunder." That consummate expression of realpolitik certainly applies to the alleged U.S. espionage operation in Germany that has strained relations between the two countries.
Following the arrest of a German intelligence officer who told his superiors that he had been recruited to spy for the
The expulsion of the CIA's station chief in Berlin is an embarrassing reproach to the United States, which considers itself one of Germany's closest allies, and reflects long-standing resentment of hyperactive intelligence collection by the U.S. The move comes eight months after Merkel complained to President
The recruiting of the German official apparently took place before the uproar over electronic eavesdropping on Merkel and other European leaders revealed by former
Most governments, including the United States, engage in espionage against even friendly nations. But, even if it can be justified in the abstract, spying on a close ally is as likely to undermine as to enhance the security of the U.S.
The case against spying on Germany is especially compelling. Though Merkel is reliably pro-American, other members of her coalition government are more critical of U.S. policy, as is much of German public opinion. The CIA particularly is held in ill repute because of its role in the rendition and torture of suspected terrorists during the
Merkel said last week that Germany and the U.S. shouldn't "waste energy" spying on each other. Obama should make sure that the CIA and other intelligence agencies understand and act on that message.