A back-stabbing “triple agent” spy has been charged with treason, breach of official secrecy and accepting bribes on Thursday, according to the German federal prosecutors’ office. The 32-year-old spy was only identified as Markus R. due to privacy rules in Germany. He is accused of providing sensitive documents to the U.S. CIA in early 2008 while an employee at Germany’s intelligence agency BND, and then giving Russia’s KGB other classified documents in early 2014.
According to legal filings from the soon-to-commence trial in Germany, Markus R. was reportedly paid six-figure sums by the CIA for his treasonous acts.
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More on accused “triple agent” German spy
Triple agent German spy Markus R. is accused of sharing documents with the CIA regarding a parliamentary inquiry launched in Germany after the Snowden revelations exposed NSA surveillance on German citizens. Despite the fact the U.S. government has not commented publicly on the case, American officials have told media sources that the documents were valuable, although they readily admitted it is risky to trust a “walk-in agent” who could well be intended to provide misleading information.
The CIA has not responded to a request for comment on the latest development in Germany. A German government spokesperson notedt she could comment because the case in question is an ongoing investigation.
According to the German periodical Der Spiegel, investigators in the case also have evidence Markus R. sent a series of emails with secret information to the Russian consulate in Munich in early 2014.
Prosecutors pointed out in their filings that Markus R. had access to a wide range of sensitive documents because he worked handling mail and classified documents for the BND’s foreign operations department.
Der Spiegel also noted that the 218 documents the German spy passed to the CIA included a list of all BND agents abroad, a synopsis of a tapped phone call between ex-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and ex-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and ironically, a draft document from German intelligence discussing the development of a counter-espionage strategy.
The German legal system in much more lenient than in the United States. Not only is his identity protected, Markus R. will only face between one and 15 years in prison on the charges. In the U.S., charges of treason would almost certainly result in a life sentence.
U.S. – German relations damaged over intelligence revelations
The filing of charges against the alleged triple agent spy is only the most recent flare up of problems between the U.S. and Germany relating to foreign intelligence. The diplomatic relationship between America and Germany started to founder after the 2013 leaks of ex NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently living in asylum in Russia. The classified files released by Snowden documented that the NSA had been actively tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s smart phone.
The unfortunate situation of the US. using a double agent to spy on a close ally has caused a lot of bitterness in the German government, especially given the already existing tension between the two countries about the NSA leaks confirming U.S. surveillance of Chancellor Merkel’s phone.
In the diplomatic back and forth following the arrest of Markus R. back in the spring of 2014, the Chancellor Merkel and German government publicly requested the removal of the CIA station chief in Berlin from his post.
Political analysts note that President Obama and Chancellor Merkel have apparently patched up their relationship in recent months. That said, intelligence related surveillance is a sensitive topic in Germany, both because of the memory of the intrusive Nazi regime and memories of the Stasi, the feared secret police that ruled East Germany with an iron hand.
Also of note, Merkel has recently had to deal with public criticism relating to new documents showing that the BND intelligence agency has been working with the American NSA to spy on German citizens.
In a related development, a few months ago, Germany’s highest federal prosecutor filed treason charges against two journalists for publishing documents relating to the government’s secret plans to beef up its social media monitoring activities. That decision created a huge public outcry in Germany, eventually leading to the German justice minister firing the prosecutor who filed the charges and ordering that the investigation be halted.