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Ex-CIA chief: 'Snowden is a traitor'

Former head of central intelligence James Woolsey tells DW the US would never sign a binding no-spy pact. He also doesn't recall, but can't exclude, that phones of Chancellor Kohl were monitored during his tenure.

DW: From your experience as Director of Central Intelligence, would the president be informed and know that the phones of close allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel are being monitored?

R. James Woolsey: I don't know. That issue didn't arise in the two years in the early 90s when I was director of central intelligence. But it would depend on how much the president would want to get into the intelligence issues. He would be free to ask a question of course and get a truthful answer from the intelligence community. But he might or might not ask. President Clinton read the intelligence assiduously and wrote notes to me on it and so forth, but he very, very rarely had one-on-one meetings with me or my successor and that would be the case in which something like that might come up. So it's possible that something like that would be happening and he wouldn't have gotten into it.

You have argued that Germany and France should be admitted to the so-called Five Eyes alliance,but many experts and officials have called such a step unrealistic at least currently. How likely is this move in your opinion?

I don't know why they would say it's unrealistic. Both France and Germany are close allies. We work on a lot of things with respect to intelligence together now, many of them extremely sensitive. Both Germany and France have had senior level spies inside their government as have we. We've had Ames and Hanson, Germany had Chancellor (Willy) Brandt's chief of staff. Those things happen and one has to cooperate with foreign intelligence services and with the senior people in the government in order to limit their effect and find out about them.

But that doesn't mean to me that we should forego a mutual pledge with France and Germany of the sort we have with British, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders to not spy on one another. Germany is a good ally, a democratic country and has an able intelligence service. And the same is true of France. I don't think adding Germany and France increases the likelihood that something is going to get out that should not.

In investigating US and British surveillance activities, Berlin has rejected granting asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as many here have demanded and instead is considering questioning him in Russia. What is your view on that?

I'll be blunt. I think Snowden is a traitor. I think he has gotten and will get a number of people killed by the disclosure that he is making either through the Russians, through the Chinese, through his journalistic companions or through any hearings by the German government in Russia. I think it's a big intelligence loss and trying to make it worse by disclosing more and more I would say is a very unfriendly act. And again, if I were still director of central intelligence and Germany held public hearings in Russia on this American traitor and spread even further the damage that he had done, I would under no circumstances recommend that we have a Seven Eyes type agreement including Germany.

R. James Woolsey served as Director of Central Intelligence and head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1993 to 1995. As Director of Central Intelligence he oversaw the work of the entire US intelligence community.

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Christoph Jumpelt

Christoph Jumpelt

Head of Corporate Communications and Spokesperson

T. +49.228.429-2041
christoph.jumpelt@dw.com