In a joint interview, Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and United States Ambassador Philip D. Murphy talk about the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency and the German‑American relationship. Published in Bild am Sonntag on 7 July 2013
Mr Murphy, four successful years as US Ambassador in Germany come to an end for you this week. Now your very last days in Berlin are being shaped by discussion of the NSA’s surveillance activities. How do you feel about that?
Murphy: I have had four fantastic years in Berlin. It’s been a once‑in‑a‑lifetime experience for my family and me. These last few days are complicated, but I am sure we will get through them. Right up to the highest echelons we all understand that this is a question of trust, which we have to rebuild and will rebuild. After all, we are talking about one of our best allies, Germany.
The United States intelligence services allegedly tracked and stored up to 500 million phone calls, emails and text messages from Germany each month, and bugged EU offices in Washington and New York. Is that how you treat your friends?
Murphy: I was very surprised to read these reports. Now it is up to us to take concrete steps to rebuild trust. Things have to go back to the status quo. I am convinced we can get there.
Mr Westerwelle, can we still trust the Americans in every respect, and how do you treat friends who have spied on you?
Westerwelle: The United States of America were, are and remain our closest allies and friends outside Europe. And together we will manage to dispel the dark clouds of the surveillance affair.
Do you expect an apology from Washington?
Westerwelle: Firstly, I expect a thorough investigation. Spying on friends would be a serious matter which we will not tolerate. Soon a joint commission comprising representatives from the EU and the United States Government will discuss and examine the facts.
Was the Federal Government aware of the extent to which the Americans had tracked data in Germany before the revelations in Der Spiegel?
Westerwelle: I will only comment on the incidents when they have been validated by hard facts. What is clear, though, is that if I had known about surveillance measures of this nature before, I would have turned up in the United States a long time ago.
Interior Minister Friedrich is advising all colleagues against using providers with servers in the United States for confidential communications. How are you dealing with this, Mr Westerwelle?
Westerwelle: As Foreign Minister I am well aware that I have to comply with special security regulations.
Ambassador, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that spying on friends is not acceptable. Will the United States apologize for the actions of its intelligence services?
Murphy: We are taking one step at a time. We will start by investigating this series of allegations together with our European partners. First we need to know the facts. Once we know them, we can discuss what to do next.
Can you guarantee that members of the German Government, the Foreign Minister and the Chancellor have not been bugged by the United States?
Murphy: I will leave it to my President to speak for our country. Let’s get all the facts straight first, please.
Are you personally able to write emails without second thoughts?
Murphy: I have no concerns at all. Though I must confess that I never use a computer, just my two Blackberries. One issued by the Embassy for work, and my private one – also for emails.
Westerwelle: I don’t intend to start getting any inhibitions about it. Safeguarding privacy is a precious asset, not only in Europe. It is also an iron principle of American democracy. That is why the allegations are so disturbing.
Murphy: I’d like to underscore that. This debate is going on in America, just as it is in Germany. We take privacy very seriously. The right to privacy is anchored in our Bill of Rights.
Is Edward Snowden now America’s State Enemy Number One?
Murphy: We have the same attitude to Snowden as we would to anyone else in this kind of situation. My personal view is that we all sign contracts with rules and laws for our work. In an open democracy anyone can protest against anything. There are right and wrong ways to express your disagreement. I am disappointed by the way he chose through his actions.
What kind of future does Snowden deserve – lifelong imprisonment in an American jail or a quiet life in a safe haven?
Westerwelle: In states governed by the rule of law these questions are, quite rightly, a matter for the independent judiciary.
Murphy: That’s how I see it, too.
Mr Westerwelle, you assured people that you would look into whether Germany could offer asylum to the whistleblower Edward Snowden. This week his application for asylum was rejected. The right decision?
Westerwelle: An examination by the ministries responsible reveals that the conditions for giving Mr Snowden asylum in Germany are not in place. One point is that he is currently in Russia. According to the information we have, he has been granted the right to stay. Another point is that the United States are a country under the rule of law with an independent judiciary.
Thirty‑five percent of Germans would hide Snowden at home and 50 percent regard him as a hero. Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?
Westerwelle: These figures show that the German people are very sensitive as far as data protection and the safeguarding of privacy are concerned. This pleases me, as a liberal.
How deep is the gulf between Americans and Germans at the moment, and is there anti‑Americanism in Germany?
Westerwelle: If these reports prove to be accurate, it would cast a serious shadow on German‑American relations. But I think the way in which some people are using this affair to cook up their own party‑political and anti‑American agenda is totally inappropriate. We mustn’t forget that we have enjoyed outstanding cooperation for many decades. The United States gave us Germans the chance to rebuild in freedom following the horrors of war. We have so much to thank the United States for, right up to reunification.
Mr Murphy, Germans have experienced two dictatorships in their history, and traces of the Gestapo and Stasi pasts can still be discerned, particularly in Berlin. In view of this background, can you understand the Germans’ outrage?
Murphy: I absolutely understand that, given their history, the Germans are particularly sensitive about data protection. The historical experiences of America and of Germany are undoubtedly very different, and yet we too are passionate about civil rights. During my four years in Germany I have never witnessed any anti‑American feeling. Barack Obama is very popular here. He wishes he had as much support in America as he does in Germany.
Is the fight against terrorism being used as a pretext for sacrificing the protection of privacy?
Westerwelle: No. President Obama only recently called for a sensible balance between security interests and safeguarding privacy during his visit to Berlin. That is the right political compass. Whether everyone in his administration or in the American intelligence services followed this compass, I can’t yet say.
Will the United States administration inform Germany of the information they have gleaned from the surveillance activities?
Murphy: I can’t answer that, but I can say that early next week staff from German intelligence services will be in Washington and will talk to the United States Government to resolve the affair. Chancellor Merkel has talked with President Obama on the phone. The President understands the Germans’ concerns.
Westerwelle: The Federal Foreign Office Director for Security Policy has already gone to Washington at my request. Every citizen can be confident that we will not let up in our investigations.
Will the planned free‑trade agreement between the EU and the US be stopped or postponed due to the affair?
Westerwelle: The planned free‑trade agreement is an important instrument for generating more growth, employment and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. We must not let the affair jeopardize this goal. At the end of the day the aim is to combat the high unemployment in Europe and improve our competitiveness with the new centres of power such as China.
Murphy: We need this trade and investment partnership and really must begin the negotiations as planned.
The US intelligence services regard Germany only as a “third‑class partner”, according to certain documents.Is that true?
Murphy: That comment from the report in Der Spiegel angered me most. If it turns out to have been said, the members of our intelligence services will have to explain themselves. I can assure you that Germany is one of our best allies in the whole world, if not the best. I would certainly say our number one or number two. Just think of Germany’s support in Afghanistan even beyond 2014. Think of our major military bases here in Germany and your country’s hospitality. Looking at German‑American relations as a whole, and that is my job, I can only say that you are first‑class partners.
Westerwelle: This friendship is first‑rate.
The questions were posed by R. Eichinger, W. Mayer and B. Uhlenbroich. Reproduced by kind permission of Bild am Sonntag.