A suspected double agent has been arrested in Germany accused of spying for the United States, raising fears of a serious rift between the two allies.
The arrested man, who is a German citizen, is a member of the country’s own BND intelligence service, and German media warned that if the case against him is proved, “it will be the biggest scandal involving a German-American double agent since the war”.
“The matter is serious, that is very clear,” a government spokesman told journalists. It is evident that the German authorities are taking the matter seriously. An emergency meeting of a parliamentary oversight committee was convened at short notice, and briefed by the head of the BND, Gerhard Schindler.
The German government has not denied reports by Der Spiegel and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the suspected spy was a double agent and worked for Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND.
The newspapers said the man allegedly passed the US information about a German parliamentary committee’s investigation into the NSA’s activities.
He claimed to have worked with US intelligence since 2012, they reported. A spokesman for the German government, Steffen Seibert, told reporters that the Chancellor and members of the parliamentary panel had been informed of the arrest.
It appears from details leaked to the German media that the man has been passing highly classified intelligence documents to the Americans for the last two years, in exchange for tens of thousands of euros.
It was he who first initiated contact, in an email to the US embassy offering classified information in return for cash, according to reports in both Spiegel magazine and Bild newspaper.
Since then he has handed over between 200 and 300 documents. He had access to the classified material because of his work for the BND, and would travel to Austria to hand it to an American intelligence contact by USB stick.
There were at least three such meetings in Austria, and another meeting was planned for next week, this time in the Czech capital Prague.
He was paid €25,000 for the documents, according to Bild, which reported that he received his instructions directly from the US embassy in Berlin. Germany summoned the US ambassador in Berlin on Friday.
A statement from the foreign ministry said John B. Emerson was called in “in connection with an investigation by the federal prosecutor” and “was asked to help in the swift clarification” of the case.
The latest allegations of spying by the US, Germany’s supposed ally, have provoked outrage across the country, where memories of espionage by the Stasi secret police are still fresh for some residents.
A member of the opposition on the NSA inquiry panel, said the case indicated that anyone who examined Snowden’s revelations in detail was subject to scrutiny by US intelligence agencies. “If the media reports are confirmed then there can’t just be a legal response, there also has to be a political response,” she said.
Thomas Opperman, secretary of the Social Democratic Party group, said: “If the espionage allegations are proved, it is an outrageous attack on our parliamentary freedom.
“There is no justification for any power or country to enlist intelligence agents to spy on parliament.”
Another opposition parliamentarian told Spiegel Online: “All co-operation between German security services and allied agencies need to be reviewed.
“Should the suspected intelligence service spying on the parliamentary investigative committee be proved, it will be a huge fiasco for the BND and the government.”
The US National Security Council declined to comment.