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US politicians run damage control in Berlin visit

Experts agree: The NSA affair has been a disaster for US-German relations. Two US lawmakers traveled to Berlin on Monday in an attempt to rein in the fallout from the spying scandal.

US-German relations have cooled considerably over the past months. As has been confirmed by Edward Snowden's revelations, the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on Germany more intensively than any other European country. Even the mobile telephone of the chancellor was surveyed - and that although President Barack Obama has routinely referred to Germany as one of his "closest allies."

'A disaster'

In an attempt to control the damage done by the espionage scandal, two US lawmakers arrived in Berlin on Monday (25.11.2013) . Senator Chris Murphy and Congressman Gregory Meeks met with their counterparts to lay out plans for better control and cooperation between US and German intelligence agencies. They were not scheduled to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Jason Healey

Healey: the US is on high ground in cyberspace

"It's a disaster," said Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council think tank, when asked about the NSA scandal and its effect on US-German ties. "I don't see enough willingness in the United States national security community to make anything like the kinds of reforms or restrictions that would be necessary to make European allies, in particular Germany, feel more comfortable."

The US remains a superpower in this domain, the former White House data security adviser told DW, one that is more than willing to continue spying. "[The United States] owns almost all of the high ground in cyberspace."

A file too far…

In stark contrast to its reception in Europe, the NSA scandal seems to have made few waves in the US public debate, according to Charles Kupchan, professor of international relations at Georgetown University.

"Since 9/11, the whole issue of the relationship between privacy and security has been on the back burner," the former director of European affairs at the NSA told DW. "The struggle against terrorism led to an intelligence community that probably went too far. It gathered intelligence on the question: 'What can we do?' rather than: 'What do we need to do?'"

It borders on paranoia, said Kupchan, how many civil rights have been relinquished in the name of the fight against terror. And taking Europe's historical experience with surveillance into account, it's quite understandable that the issue is given more weight here than in the US.

Avoid escalation

"I think there is a certain amount of political theater going on in Europe," said Kupchan with regard to the furious reactions of several heads of state here, adding that one must keep in mind that they, too, are profiting from the intelligence provided by the NSA leaks.

Charles Kupchan

Kupchan dismisses claims of long-term damage to ties

IT expert Healey said Europe now had to work to prevent any further escalation of the crisis; the worst-case scenario would be a "breakdown" in which the Americans would divulge the extent to which their European partners cooperated with the NSA. "That would shake European politics."

European expert Kupchan is confident that it won't reach that level: "When this crisis blows over, the long-term impact on the US-German relationship will be minor." Berlin's importance for Washington will only grow as Germany takes on an increasingly vital role within the EU.

"When it comes to dealing with pressing international affairs, the first party that the US calls when it tries to figure out how to move forward is Europe," he said. "And I don't see that changing anytime soon."

Six Eyes?

A host of US representatives have called for Germany to be included in the exclusive "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance. So far, the spooks' club has only consisted of the English-speaking countries Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. But despite all vows of friendship, Healey said it would be "a shock" for the group to add Germany as a sixth member - even after the damage caused by revelations of the NSA's spying.

The Five Eyes club is based on "70 years of the deepest trust," and Germany is not in a position to take on a leading role in global affairs. "If [Berlin] is not going to help in the policing of the world, then why should it be included in the club?" he said.

It's in this context that the two US representatives made their visit to Germany. It was a symbolic visit, a nice gesture from one "close ally" to another.

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