Albion Monitor /Commentary
Foreign Correspondent

New Rules for the Spy Game

by Eric Margolis

Growing differences and tensions between Europe and the US over the Mideast and Africa
PARIS -- Germany has astounded the international intelligence community by expelling a CIA officer. The agent, who was under full diplomatic cover, was the first American intelligence operative publicly ordered out of Germany since World War II.

This unprecedented move is particularly noteworthy because Germany has been the CIA's main base for operations on the continent since the war's end, and America's closest European ally after Britain. Two years ago, France expelled five US agents -- four CIA officers and a 'femme fatale' -- who were caught in a ham-handed attempt to acquire economic intelligence by seducing a key French trade official.

According to German security sources, the US agent was expelled for spying against Iran. In recent years, CIA has mounted major operations against Iran and Libya from bases in Frankfurt and Hamburg. This incident is the latest example of growing differences and tensions between Europe and the US over the Mideast and Africa.

Behind this flap is the sharp divergence of views over Iran and Libya
Germany's action was clearly designed to warn the US to curtail the European decade-old campaign to overthrow the governments of Iran and Libya. US intelligence has long been accustomed to operate in Germany without even bothering to inform the German government. Germany is now demanding the US obtain approval from its security services for all covert activities within the federal republic. In other words, Germany is telling the US: stop treating us like a banana republic. Respect for the blundering, scandal-ridden CIA is at rock bottom.

Behind this flap is the sharp divergence of views over Iran and Libya -- and Europe's desire to resume its role as a major player in the Mideast, a region the US considers its exclusive preserve. Washington brands Iran and Libya as 'terrorist states.' The US has imposed a punishing economic, military and political blockade on these nations and rebuffed their attempts to improve relations.

Europe, except for Britain, refuses to go along with this policy, which is widely seen here as driven more by US domestic politics than strategic rational. Europe, led by France and Germany, has adopted a policy of engagement with Iran designed to access its oil resources, open its markets to European exports, and moderate the militant anti-western rhetoric of the Teheran regime.

In January, the Clinton Administration seemed on the verge of adopting the European strategy. Robert Pelletreau, the senior State Department official in charge of Mideast policy announced 'constructive engagement' with Iran and an end to confrontation. This demarche abruptly ended when the strongly pro-Israel Madeleine Albright was named Secretary of State, an appointment seen as a political reward to women's groups and supporters of Israel. Albright fired Pelletreau, and put her own people in charge of Mideast policy. Iran, Libya and Iraq were to remain under siege.

Paris and Bonn grumble that Israel is using its political clout with the Clinton Administration to maintain America's confrontation with the three anti-Israel Arab states. Israel has long pressed the US to attack both Iran's budding nuclear installations, and alleged Libyan chemical warfare plants, crushing them like Iraq. 'America's policy may make sense for Israel,' a French security official says, 'but not for Europe.' The Europeans have no love for Iran or Libya, they are not deemed major threats.

Germany has just delivered a stiff warning to the US. Europe refuses to respect the US blockade of Iran, and intends to resume trade with Iraq and Libya. Access to their oil, and lucrative markets for manufactured goods and arms, has become an urgent domestic political issue and a strategic imperative for Europe, where chronic unemployment is over 11 percent.

Equally important, the good old days when CIA's famed 'cowboys' mounted all sorts of daring-do operations out of Berlin station are history. Europe's spies demand to be treated as equals.

© Eric Margolis 1996
Margolis is a syndicated columnist for The Toronto Sun. Back Issues of Foreign Correspondent are avilable at the FTP site

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Albion Monitor March 21, 1997 (

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