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Unjustified spying

From an editorial in Saturday’s Washington Post:

The latest blow-up between the United States and Germany over spying suggests that the Obama administration has not been observing the president’s pithiest foreign policy maxim, “Don’t do stupid (stuff).” For a year relations with Berlin have been strained by disclosures of NSA surveillance of German communications. When it was revealed last fall that Ms. Merkel’s cellphone had been monitored, President Obama rightly stopped the operation.

Yet now German investigators appear to have uncovered at least one and possibly two U.S. espionage operations in Berlin using human sources. Dissatisfied with Washington’s laconic response, Ms. Merkel’s government demanded Thursday that the CIA station chief in Berlin leave the country.

If there was one clear lesson from the dust-up over Ms. Merkel’s cellphone, it was that such operations against allies are almost certainly not worth the damage caused when they are revealed, as they too often are. This is particularly true of Germany, where there is currently a generally pro-U.S. government whose cooperation is critical to managing the crisis in Ukraine, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and a prospective trans-Atlantic free-trade deal, among other matters.

Intelligence-gathering of the kind apparently revealed last week may compromise the more important counterterrorism work with which German intelligence agencies have quietly cooperated.

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