How Much did Germany Know, and When did Germany Know It?

Via Washington Monthly, here’s a little excerpt of Washington Post national security blogger William M. Arkin’s recent post:

This week, while in Amsterdam, I’ve gotten an earful of Euro-weenies whining about U.S. law-breaking and American hegemony….

Poor Europeans! Behind closed doors, I suspect this is what is really happening: Elected officials from Berlin to Kiev are being informed by Ms. Rice of an incredibly uncomfortable truth. Little if nothing occurs on their soil — no CIA flights, no secret bases, no interrogations, no renditions — without some secret affiliate in their government being informed of the U.S. (or joint U.S.-local government) action.

Kevin Drum thinks this is a bit unfair (especially "euro-weenies"), but Arkin is an experienced correspondent with pretty good sources.  And there are increasing signs of German participation in the case.  Al-Masri himself recalls being interrogated by someone named "Sam" who spoke perfect German with "a North German accent," and that he was asked questions about the Islamist scene in New Ulm that seem to have come from German intelligence sources.

For the record, I agree that the kidnapping of al-Masri was, if current news accounts are to be believed, a serious problem.  But Germany’s grand coalition government, although they’ve promised a full report, displays less interest in the issue with every passing day.  This does not necessarily indicate a cover-up — the affair has already embarrassed a lot of prominent politicians, even without proof that German secutiry services knew in advance about the al-Masri case.  But still, it’s interesting to see that the federal government’s press agents are saying nothing more (German) about the case, and the two major parties in Germany, who now form a Grand Coalition government, are officially telling prominent members to shut up (German) about it.

The message is loud and clear: "Move along here, nothing to see.  No investigative commission will be necessary.  It was an unfortunate occurrence, we will be sure to perform and adequate, reasonable investigation, to the extent that proves desirable or necessary.  And now I’d like to make a statement about the Ferrero Company’s outrageous decision to change the face of the smiling young boy on its children’s chocolate bars, which will only add to the fear and insecurity of our nation’s vulnerable consumers, just when we need them to start spending…"

UPDATE:  And in yesterday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine am Sonntag, we have Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warning that terrorists are "world-wide active murderers" and that combatting them requires "those responsible to make the most difficult decisions," therefore people should avoid making hasty judgments.  Germans should not react to the United States in a "morally patronizing" way.  American, said Steinmeier, might be overreacting to the threat of terrorism, but Germans may be underestimating it themselves. 

It seems as if Condi Rice’s trip indeed changed the tone of German reaction to recent United States missteps, as well as the tone of other European leaders.  Her performance at press conferences wasn’t particulary revelatory.  Perhaps, as Arkin muses, she had something to say in private that gave the European leaders she met with some food for thought…

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