BERLIN — The German magazine der Spiegel today had a bit of fun with the spy scandal that has Europe and much of the rest of the world in an uproar.
They ran a piece about an imaginary text-ersation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband. The Chancellor confides that she’s more than a bit concerned the U.S. President Barack Obama “never thanked us for that nice Streuselkuchen. I must raise that with him.”
Before her husband has the time to respond, a text arrives from the American president, in which he writes: “Just occurred to me that I never thanked you for the nice Streuselkuchen. It’s wonderful. I keep it on my desk and Michelle waters it every day.”
A Streuselkuchen is a cake with a butter-sugar topping. And so therein is the European perception of the U.S. spy scandal. The Americans are not only nosey, they’re incompetent. The National Security Agency may gather everything, no matter how mundane, but the Americans don’t really understand what to do with the information.
Of course, the NSA scandal is no laughing matter in Europe. The Guardian’s recent revelation that records from former NSA worker Edward Snowden indicate that the United States spied on the communications of 35 world leaders, including tapping Merkel’s precious cell phone, are taken as serious allegations. Nations worldwide are wondering if there is legal recourse, if criminal charges are possible.
Merkel, expressing her disdain for the notion that there is any need to bugging her cell phone, told reporters early Friday, “Everyone who talks to me on the phone essentially hears the same thing.”
But she added, “Trans-Atlantic friendship is no one way street. Even the Americans need friends.”
German news media are reporting that Snowden documents reveal the U.S. Embassy in central Berlin (just a block from the Reichstag and two blocks from the Chancellery) may have been the base of U.S. spy operations. The allegation is that the secretive U.S. organization, the Special Collection Service, a joint NSA and CIA operation, operated out of the embassy, as it operates out of embassies in many other places around the world.
The reaction to this scandal has been blunt.
A regularly scheduled meeting of the European Council, a gathering of 28 heads of state from the European Union, to discuss digital world issues was consumed by the spy issue. In the end, those present asked France and Germany, as the strongest affronted partners, to get to the bottom of the matter.
Germany, with a horrific 20th century history of spy organizations between Hitler’s Gestapo and the East German Stasi, is particularly troubled. Merkel’s government now expects a “No Spy Agreement” by the end of the year.
Hans-Christian Stroebele, a German member of parliament, on Thursday wondered what terror-related information the NSA expected to find on the Chancellor’s phone. By Friday, he was wondering whether Germany should offer asylum or even witness protection to Snowden.
Stroebele is from the left Green Party, and has been backing Snowden for months. But perhaps as a sign of just how angry Germans are over this scandal, his notion – sure to enrage the Obama administration – now has more and more mainstream supporters. Thomas Oppermann, a Social Democratic member of Parliament and the head of the parliamentary committee on intelligence, noted, “Snowden is an evidently valuable witness.”