The top US spy in Germany has departed the country. Authorities in Berlin had requested he leave amid a mounting controversy over American spying operations inside Germany.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Thursday left Germany reportedly from Frankfurt airport.
“We are confirming that the individual who was asked to leave the country last week is no longer in Germany,” said a US embassy spokesman. The news was also confirmed by a German foreign ministry spokesman.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and DPA news agency reported the Berlin station chief had boarded a US-bound flight at Frankfurt airport.
German authorities had last week ordered the agent to leave the country in the midst of a high-profile spying scandal. Federal prosecutors are currently investigating two German nationals – one working for the BND intelligence agency, the other a defense ministry employee – who are suspected of passing on secrets to the US.
It is the most high-profile diplomatic row between the two close NATO allies since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which Germany opposed.
Relations between Berlin and Washington have been especially tense over the past year amid the NSA spying scandal, which revealed the far-reaching extent to which the US has been monitoring communications inside of Germany, including tapping Merkel’s mobile phone.
Increasing transatlantic tensions
Merkel and US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Tuesday for the first time since Germany issued the CIA agent’s expulsion order.
A White House account of the conversation said only that the two leaders had “exchanged views on US-German intelligence cooperation, and the President said he’d remain in close communication on ways to improve cooperation going forward.”
Merkel’s spokesman Steffan Seibert declined to comment on what he called a “confidential” conversation, but emphasized that Germany saw “deep differences of opinion on the issue of the activities of the US intelligence services.”
Kerry: still ‘great friends’
In an interview over the weekend, Merkel said the breakdown in US-Germany trust had returned the two to the thinking of the “Cold War era where everyone is suspicious of everyone.”
However, US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted after a meeting with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier last Sunday in Vienna that the two countries remain “great friends.”
It is unclear what, if any, contact the CIA station chief had had with the two German nationals currently under investigation. Had he not obeyed Germany’s order to leave the country, he would have had his diplomatic accreditation stripped, forcing him to leave.