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The sixth eye?

Antje Passenheim / db November 22, 2013

The United States and four allies cooperate on surveillance issues and reportedly don't spy on each other. Some representatives in the US want to extend that deal to Germany, making it a sixth eye in the Five Eyes club.

ILLUSTRATION - US flag, iPhone, with German Bundesadler eagle Photo: Arno Burgi/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

For decades, the community of five allied states - the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom - has shared intelligence and at the same time pledged not to spy on each other. According to US congressmen Tim Ryan and Charles Dent, Germany should join the exclusive Five Eyes club as the sixth eye.

In a letter to President Barack Obama dated November 6, the Republicans requested that the president "essentially enters into negotiations to strike an agreement extending the Five Eyes Intelligence Pact and include Germany," Dent, who represents Pennsylvania's 15th district, told DW.

Should the president respond favorably and offer Germany membership in the pact, it would be a great show of friendship, the Pennsylvania politician added. "Things like surveilling or spying on leaders of each other's countries would not be allowed," Dent stated, adding there are probably other agreements that are not public. "But it would just further extend an already strong relationship."

Greater transparency

Some Democrats, too, favor the idea. "I think it's something that would be beneficial," William Keating said, adding he is convinced the White House is already hard at work on an accord that would dissolve the disgruntlement in Berlin concerning the NSA's spying activities. It is probably working on guidelines for more transparent intelligence policies that would also take into account American security interests, the US representative from Massachusetts said. "And I think it can succeed."

According to Keating, this discussion should not be limited to the United States. Just because a state has certain technologies doesn't mean it has to use them unless absolutely necessary. "I think it would be helpful to be joined with other countries in taking the same kind of approach so that we would know which countries would want to include themselves in the same type of policies," Keating said.

Fred Fleitz
Fred Fleitz looks back at a long intelligence careerImage: privat

An extended no-spy pact isn't as simple as it sounds, however, Fred Fleitz warned. "What concerns me is that we have to design this agreement to figure out how we can perhaps extend such an offer to Germany that we are not going to extend to certain other states in Europe," the former CIA analyst and ex-staffer on the House Intelligence Committee said.

The sixth eye?

Tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, if that indeed happened, was a big mistake, Fleitz told DW; after all, Germany is a close US ally. Fleitz said he couldn't imagine what the NSA was hoping to learn, as the times have changed since Germany stood by France and Russia in a boycott of the war on Iraq.

In some cases, Fleitz conceded, Germany and the United States must spy on members of a foreign government for reasons of national security. "What if the Golden Dawn in a coalition would take control of the Greek Parliament?" Fleitz said. "This is something that could destroy the EU, the euro, the national financial-situation. In that situation, Germany and the US would be spying on the new prime minister with a good reason."

Obama and Merkel, from behind Copyright: imago/Robert Michael
Welcome to the club?Image: imago/Robert Michael

Such possibilities, he concluded, should not be ruled out.

Should Germany become the sixth eye in the surveillance pact, it would be the first non-English speaking member. That fact could lead to tensions within the European Union - so far, Britain is the only EU member in the spy alliance. Some countries, including France, would certainly be just as suitable to join the pact, Fleitz said. Others would not: "How could we admit Bulgaria and Rumania? I like those countries, but their democratic system is still being developed."

Politicians and intelligence experts doubt any kind of spy accord with Germany will be ready by the end of the year. But the pressure is on. The proposal to extend the Five Eyes pact is on Obama's desk, and Ryan and Dent are waiting for an answer.