William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Germany's Uncomfortable Realpolitik
It's hard to overstate the breadth and depth of Germany's military cooperation with the United States.
Germany hosts the United States European Command in Stuttgart and additional headquarters for American ground and air forces for all of Europe. It hosts (and shares) U.S. nuclear warheads on its own soil. Besides being a member of NATO, Germany is a member of the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, the Zangger Committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Wassenaar Arrangement -- all nonproliferation control bodies aimed primarily at rogues in the Middle East.
Germany and the United States have had severe political differences over the war in Iraq, but the U.S.-German relationship is solid in ways that transcends the day-to-day. For the past few weeks though, Germany has been rocked by press stories about the country's intelligence cooperation with the United States during the 2003 Iraq war. The stories reveal not just the contradictions associated with political differences amongst alliance partners, but deep unease on the part of Germany over the goals and tactics of the U.S.-driven "long war" against terrorism.
I have been working with the German television channel ARD for some time researching what actually transpired between U.S. and German intelligence during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It is a fabulous story, exposing the virtual impossibility of any close ally of the United States maintaining an "independent" national security policy. This wouldn't be an issue if Germany -- and much of Europe -- could agree with Washington on the conduct of the war against terrorism today, but in that long war, the divide between the U.S. and Germany is ever widening.
So, Germans are being treated to the uncomfortable lesson that despite vociferous political opposition to the Iraq war, the alliance machinery soldiered on. The German national security establishment, in fact, specifically sought to set up intensified intelligence cooperation with the United States to soften the blow of Germany's political opposition to the war, to keep the information flowing from U.S. intelligence, and to stay in the game.
Every since ARD revealed that two German officers stayed behind in Baghdad during the 2003 Iraq war, providing intelligence to the United States, the Berlin government has been categorically, then not so categorically, then mostly denying, that anything militarily important transpired between German intelligence and its American counterparts.
Here's what no one denies: Two officers of the German intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (or BND) were sent to Baghdad in February 2003, shortly before the U.S.-led attack. Once bombing started, the officers worked out of the French embassy, which remained open and had a security contingent. Germany set up special communications with the officers and Germany, using a liaison officer at U.S. headquarters in Qatar to pass information..
The special communications were coordinated with the U.S. to ensure that NSA didn't mistake the electronic"footprint" for Iraqis. German buildings and safe houses were registered on the U.S. "no target" list again as a protective measure and part of the cooperation. Germany worked out evacuation plans with U.S. special operations forces. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency subsequently levied intelligence "requirements" upon the two Germans. The Germans went out into the city or used their own agents and employees to spy, making drive bys and observations, taking digital photographs, and collecting GPS coordinates. They sent back some two dozen reports which were passed on to the Americans. The Germans received Meritorious Service Medals from the United States in recognition of the "critical information to United States Central Command to support combat operations in Iraq."
Berlin's reaction to press revelations was to initially insist that nothing of military importance was provided to Washington that everything passed on to the Americans was non-military, such as the location of hospitals to prevent them from being bombed. When it had to subsequently concede that military information was passed, Berlin then fell back on the argument that information passed was of only tactical significance and not useful to the Americans in "targeting" and specifically was not used in any subsequent strikes.
This comic and tragic argument begs the question: Why would Germany risk the lives of two officers in a wartime capital except for the very purpose of collecting military intelligence of importance to the United?
The answer is self-evident: They wouldn't.
Were it not for press revelations, the intelligence operation would have made a nice chapter in the secret history of U.S.-German relations, demonstrating that despite Socialist Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's political opposition to the war -- despite overwhelming German public opposition to the war -- the two were still partners and friends.
Some might misinterpret this story to mean that the BND was somehow freelancing behind the back of the Schroeder government: it wasn't. The German media has also been filled with conspiracy theories that Rumsfeld and official Washington is intentional embarrassing Berlin to punish them for opposition to the war and if not that, get this, because Germany produced the Iraqi agent and fabricator "Curveball" who ended up being a Bush administration darling in the WMD debate that Saddam Hussein had mobile biological weapons labs and was later discredited.
So many conspiracies and plots: Were it only the case that Washington could be so diabolical and ten steps ahead of everyone else in Iraq or Afghanistan where it mattered.
No, the bottom line is that Germany chose, in its own interests, to collaborate with the United States as best they could both before and during the Iraq war. Chancellor Schroeder did what he could to stop a war, but when it became clear that there would be a war despite Germany's opposition, he chose to tend to Germany's long-term interests. Here that is defined as maintaining good relations with the United States; it is realpolitik from the inventors, no big deal except…
Except that the BND, a secretive organization that is not normally the subject of weeks of front-page coverage, is feeling that it might be facing its defining post-war moment of exposure.
The BND's counter-attack is to argue that it is having to recall assets from overseas and shut down operations.
Ernst Uhrlau, the head of the BND, told reporters yesterday that the revelations are damaging Germany's image in the Arab world and compromising its security.
"In Arab countries it could make us look as if we're the handmaidens of the United States and Israel," Uhrlau said.
Uhrlau's hope, I imagine, is to shock the German system into renewed faith in secrecy, to put the veil back on the BND, and to continue to go about the professional business of intelligence without pesky parliamentary oversight. It is always the hope of the professionals.
Political scavengers meanwhile argue that the disclosures show the Socialist government engaged in a Bush-like deception of the German public. Officially, they defied the administration while behind the scenes, they supported American policy. The current Merkel government would be collateral damage if this argument were to gain traction. The Social Democrats are coalition partners with the Merkel, and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was Schroeder's chief of staff during the Iraq war, a person who had knowledge of the BND operation.
Heads might still roll in Germany, but despite the political fall-out, my guess is that in the long run, the U.S. and Germany will work out its differences and the BND and DIA will have a few beers, continuing on with their next joint operation. That's what the spy business is all about.
Long after the scandal has passed, some will continue to write about sinister forces and the label will be attached to the BND by some and to Washington and the DIA by others.
This brings us to the most difficult question, especially in a week when U.S. politicians have so emotionally and irrationally insulted an Arab state -- the United Arab Emirates -- a state that one would think exemplifies the Western image of an economic and political ally in the war against terrorism.
The answer for both Berlin and Washington seems pretty clear: We are warring with this part of the world, and who the true coalition partners are, who the allies are, who the survivors will be, is still uncertain. If Germany really worries about its image in the Arab world separate from the United States, if it thinks we shouldn't be in this bigger war, if it believes that the undeclared clash of civilizations is wrong, then they should speak up. And then, given that this is a long war, Germany should withdraw its intelligence support, that is, unless it basically agrees but just doesn't have the courage to admit it does.
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