TIME Media

The Other Pentagon Papers Secret: Few People Actually Read Them

Anti war activist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the
Steve Hansen—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the media, at a press conference in July of 1971

June 30, 1971: The Supreme Court rules to allow the publication of articles about the Vietnam War’s origins, based on the Pentagon Papers

As classified documents went, the Pentagon Papers were such dry reading that almost no one made it all the way through them — including Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser and chief strategist on the Vietnam War.

When the 40-volume Pentagon report on America’s entanglement in the controversial war was delivered to reporters, however, it became the WikiLeaks of its day: “[t]he most massive leak of secret documents in U.S. history,” according to TIME’s 1971 account.

But even after the study’s revelations became front-page news in the New York Times, few lay readers could get excited about the story, which TIME described as “six pages of deliberately low-key prose and column after gray column of official cables, memorandums and position papers.” Most Americans only understood the scathing significance of the report when they saw how hard the Nixon administration fought to keep it under wraps.

What followed was a historic clash between the Executive Office and the Fourth Estate: For three weeks, the White House battled in court to keep the Times and the Washington Post from publishing stories based on the leaked documents, which revealed staggering incompetence and deception on the part of both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The White House argued that publishing the information jeopardized national security; the newspapers argued that the public had a right to understand the machinations that had led the nation into its most unpopular and unsuccessful war.

In the end — on this day, June 30, in 1971 — the Supreme Court sided with the press and ruled that the newspapers could immediately resume publishing the classified reports. The 6-3 vote marked deep divisions within the court, however, prompting the justices to “[vent] their opinions in nine separate opinions,” as the Post put it the day after the ruling. TIME summarized the differences between their takes on the case:

Three of the Justices—Hugo L. Black, William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall—contended that there can be no exceptions to the First Amendment’s press freedom; no matter what the potential impact on the nation, prior restraints on news cannot be imposed by Government. Another trio composed of Justices Potter Stewart, William J. Brennan Jr. and Byron R. White took a middle position, contending that the First Amendment is not absolute and a potential danger to national security may be so grave as to justify censorship. However, they agreed that this had not been demonstrated in the Times and Post cases.

And while Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press by sneaking them out of his office safe, one volume at a time, to be Xeroxed by a colleague’s girlfriend in all-night copying sessions) initially faced felony charges for his role in the leak, there were many who commended him for his courage as a whistleblower.

The charges against Ellsberg were dropped in 1973, but the Pentagon Papers themselves were only declassified four years ago, in 2011. Ellsberg told the Times he believed they still held valuable lessons for the American populace — although he found it even more unlikely that anyone would wade through the 7,000-page report 40 years after it was leaked.

“The rerelease of the Pentagon Papers is very timely, if anyone were to read it,” he said.

Read TIME’s 1971 cover story on the Pentagon Papers, here in the TIME archives: The Secret War

TIME Media

The Surprising Story of the Spy who Worked for TIME

Pham Xuan An
Charles Dharapak—AP Pham Xuan An holds up his press card from 1965 at his home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on April 26, 2000

Pham Xuan An was a respected reporter based in Saigon during the Vietnam War. But the information he brought this magazine's reporters was being given to the soldiers America was fighting

In early 1972, Stanley Cloud, who was then TIME’s bureau chief in Saigon, wrote a short piece for the company’s internal newsletter, F.Y.I. The piece—headlined “Right, An”—was a profile of a man named Pham Xuam An, who had been working for TIME in Vietnam since 1966 and had been officially hired to the magazine’s staff in 1969. He was the first Vietnamese person to become a full-fledged staff member for a major American news outlet covering the war.

“Perhaps it is letting the cat out of the bag, but I suppose that it is safe to say that Pham Xuan An has been no less than the secret weapon of a long line of correspondents who have traipsed in and out of Saigon—the incumbent crew conspicuously included,” Cloud wrote. “Although he rarely files himself, his dogged research and legwork, his remarkable knowledge and background, play an important part in virtually every file produced by a staff correspondent.”

An continued to work for TIME through the end of the war. When TIME’s staff was evacuated before the April 30, 1975, fall of Saigon, he was the one who stayed behind. An issue of F.Y.I. from that May noted that, a few hours after the evacuation was complete, the following message came over the Telex machine: “Here is Pham Xuan An now. All American correspondents evacuated because of emergency. The office of TIME is now manned by Pham Xuan An.” Years later, in 2006, when An died at 79, Cloud memorialized him as a first-class journalist with an easy laugh.

Cloud wasn’t the only one who was fond of An. “He was an intellectual, dog-lover, bird-lover, chain-smoker, super smart guy, and we thought a great reporter,” says Peter Ross Range, 73, who was TIME’s Saigon Bureau Chief in 1975. “But An was also a little strange. He would disappear for days at a time and nobody had any idea where he was. Now of course we know where he was at least part of that time.”

An, it turned out, had been more than a journalist.

Before, during and after working for TIME, he was an intelligence officer for the Communist North Vietnam. The dogged research he conducted for his magazine American employers also went to the group the United States was fighting against.

That’s not the whole surprise, either. What’s perhaps just as striking in the story of Pham Xuan An is the good will his former colleagues still feel toward him.

His story was a complicated one: An began his association with the Viet Minh in the 1940s. Though he did intelligence work for both the South Vietnamese Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, he continued his allegiance to that anti-occupation group the whole time. He studied journalism in the United States in the 1950s and was an intern at the Sacramento Bee before returning to Vietnam, where he began to work for American outlets almost immediately. “Journalism is a splendid cover for a spy,” notes Thomas Bass, author of 2009’s The Spy Who Loved Us, a book about An.

Though his four children and wife evacuated to the United States at the end of the war, he soon summoned them to come home; around that time, suspicions began to arise among his American friends. By the 1980s, those suspicions had been publicly confirmed. An was honored in his homeland as a national hero.

An never told a lie, Bass says, so he was able to keep his own story straight. He was also able to maintain the respect of his colleagues. Many of his TIME friends met with him on return trips to Vietnam, and several—including Stanley Cloud—later chipped in to help send An’s son to college in the U.S.

“He was a great man. A great man,” Cloud, 78, says, reflecting on that period. “[When I found out] I was surprised but I wasn’t astonished, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t think he ever purposely gave us misinformation. That’s how he survived. He’d have been killed if he did,” echoes Roy Rowan, now 95, a long-time TIME and LIFE staffer who worked in Saigon for the magazine at the end of the war. Rowan recalls a three-hour-long, highly emotional conversation during which he tried to convince An to save his own life by evacuating with the rest of the staff. An maintained he was staying behind to care for his ailing mother.

His biographers have also been unable to find evidence that he spread falsehoods. “I was hoping to find evidence that the stories had been slanted, but I couldn’t find it,” says Larry Berman, author of the biography Perfect Spy, who notes that An’s story is currently being turned into a 32-part Vietnamese television series.

In fact, it seems more likely that having a spy on the staff helped TIME cover the war more accurately. Cloud recalls a time during the Paris Peace Accord negotiations when Newsweek’s Saigon bureau chief bragged about having the details of the peace plan; TIME asked An to see what he could find so that the magazine wouldn’t get scooped. An brought back the outline of the plan. The story that TIME ran that week, Cloud recalls, was more accurate than Newsweek’s.

An was not without his detractors. Cloud recalls, for example, that Murray Gart, then TIME’s chief of correspondents, felt absolutely betrayed by An. (Gart died in 2004.) Berman says that his book has been criticized by those who feel he’s too sympathetic. At the heart of the matter is the fact that even though An appeared to have been careful not to endanger his colleagues—he intervened in at least one case to keep a TIME correspondent safe—the information he was able to provide to the North was not without military value. “Could his information have led directly to the deaths of American soliders? And if so, should we be rethinking our love for Pham Xuan An?” asks Range. “Personally, [he was] a great guy—but he’s out creating situations which could have killed young men from our side and of course that’s what he was supposed to do. And if that’s what he was doing, you need to think about that.”

Still Range stands by An. When he learned the truth about his former colleague, he felt “disbelief, shock, but not anger,” he says. “Everything was upside-down. So the fact that this turned out to be upside-down seemed like another one of the strange anomalies of the time.”

Berman says that it’s not surprising that, 40 years later, the story of Pham Xuan An is not seen by former friends as a tale of betrayal. An loved America, appreciated the free press, was respected by his colleagues—but he loved his own country more, and wanted it to be independent.

Today, Berman says, most Americans see the war the way that An did, agreeing with him that it would have been better for the Americans to go home.

“An thought, naively, that when the war was over it would be just like the end of the American Civil war, where Lincoln said ‘with malice toward none,’” Berman says. “People hold onto him as symbol of war, but really he’s a symbol of peace.”

TIME Cuba

Cuban President Raúl Castro Honors Spies Jailed in U.S. as National Heroes

Raul Castro, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino,  Antonio Guerrero
Ramon Espinosa—AP Cuba's President Raul Castro and Gerardo Hernandez salute, as fellow agents Ramon Labanino, background, second from right, and Antonio Guerrero applaud during a medal ceremony, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015

The awards come despite thawing relations between Washington and Havana

Cuban President Raúl Castro awarded medals to five men on Tuesday, calling them national heroes for their espionage work in the U.S.

“The Cuban Five,” as they were nicknamed, had attempted to infiltrate Cuban exile groups within the U.S. but were arrested and imprisoned in 1998, Reuters reports.

All were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but three were released from U.S. custody on Dec. 17 when President Barack Obama announced a shift in Washington’s relationship with Havana. (The remaining pair had already returned to their homeland.)

In exchange for the final three spies, the Cuban government released a Cuban prisoner convicted 20 years ago of spying on his home country for the U.S.

The prisoner exchange was one element of a dramatic recent shift in U.S.-Cuba relations. Both countries have announced that they will restore diplomatic relations after decades of hostility and sanctions.

The Cuban Five were presented to a group of Cuban government officials, military officers and dignitaries at the Cuban parliament. Castro led the ceremony, but his brother, former President Fidel Castro, was not seen. Fidel, 88, has not appeared publicly in over a year.

Gerardo Hernandez, 49, was the leader of the arrested spies. “The honor that we receive today also demands that we rise to the challenges facing the revolution,” he said.

[Reuters]

TIME espionage

U.S. Shadow Group ‘Has Embedded Spyware in Foreign Computer Networks’

Iran, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan are among the nations allegedly infected with the malicious "implants"

The U.S. has succeeded in embedding virtually untouchable “implants” that are capable of spying on and even damaging foreign computer networks, according to a new report from a Russian cybersecurity company.

Kaspersky Lab says the malicious spyware is the work of a shadow entity called the Equation Group, which has allegedly infiltrated networks in Iran, Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The report says India, China and Syria are some of the other nations with a “high infection rate.”

According to Kaspersky, the implants are different from other cyberattacks in that they directly infect a computer’s firmware — the software that links directly to the hard drive.

This means that it is beyond the reach of most antivirus and security products, and is immune to efforts to wipe clean or even replace hard drives since it can be recalled at will. It also has the ability to unravel a system’s encryption and permanently store data in a hidden area, says Kaspersky.

“It means that we are practically blind and cannot detect hard drives that have been infected by this malware,” said Costin Raiu, director of Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team.

“Your computer won’t boot up and you can’t use it,” Andrew Regenscheid of the National Institute of Standards and Technology told the New York Times in an interview, explaining the effect of a firmware infection. “You have to replace the computer to recover from that attack.”

TIME National Security

Feds Accuse Three of Being Russian Spies in New York City

The suspects allegedly discussed methods to recruit local New Yorkers by falsely promising rewards in exchange for private documents

Attorney General Eric Holder charged three Russian citizens with conducting economic espionage in New York City on Wednesday, according to a complaint that details secret meetings, coded dispatches and attempts to recruit local citizens into the spy ring.

The complaint alleges that three Russian operatives met on at least 48 occasions in clandestine locations in Manhattan and the Bronx from March 2012 to September 2014. The suspects allegedly discussed methods to recruit local New Yorkers by falsely promising rewards in exchange for private documents.

Evgeny Buryakov, 39, stands accused of gathering field intelligence on topics ranging from U.S. sanctions against Russia to developments in the alternative energy sector. He allegedly gathered the information while posing as a private employee of a Russian bank.

Igor Sporyshev, 40, a trade representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, is accused of relaying covert assignments from Moscow, while partnering with Victor Podobnyy, 27, a diplomatic attache, to analyze the “the fruits of Buryakov’s intelligence-gathering efforts,” according to a complaint filed by the Department of Justice.

Potential recruits included several employees of major companies and young women associated with a major university. “The attempt by foreign nations to illegally gather economic and other intelligence information in the United States through covert agents is a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin in a public statement.

An investigation was opened against the three suspects shortly after a 2010 bust of a 10-person Russian spy ring. Buryakov was arrested on Monday in New York, and was due to appear in federal court in Manhattan later the same day. Sporyshev and Podobnyy no longer reside in the United States and have not been arrested. Both were protected by diplomatic immunity while they held their diplomatic positions in the U.S.

TIME Hizballah

Hizballah’s Failures Go Well Beyond an Alleged Israeli Mole

Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags as they attend a rally to commemorate slain top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.
Hussein Malla—AP Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags as they attend a rally to commemorate slain top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.

The so-called "A-Team" of terror has had a run of failures since the 2008 assassination of its mastermind. And Iran hasn't done any better.

In the last months of 2011 and first half of 2012, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hizballah, put on perhaps the greatest show of rolling ineptitude in the history of modern covert warfare. Hopscotching the globe, their operatives tried and failed to strike Israeli or American targets perhaps two dozen times—in Azerbaijan, in Georgia, in Kenya, in Nigeria, in South Africa, in Turkey, in Greece, in Cyprus and, most spectacularly, in Thailand, where after blowing up an apartment while trying to make a bomb, an Iranian agent scrambled into the street and blew off his own legs.

What could account for such a formidable string of failures? According to Hizballah itself: an Israeli mole inside the militant group. A senior official with the Shiite militia this week acknowledged “some major infiltrations” in its ranks. Speaking to a Hizballah radio station on Sunday, Naim Qassem offered oblique but rare on-the-record confirmation of earlier reports that one of its most trusted operatives was on trial for treason, along with four others reported to be compromised by Israel’s Mossad.

“It appears to be the real deal,” says Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury official and author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. “And they clearly are freaking out about it.”

The alleged culprit, identified as Mohammad Shawraba by the Lebanese English-language Daily Star, was in a position to know. The newspaper and other reports say he headed the “external operations” unit of Hizballah, the very group responsible for carrying out the bombings, assassinations and other terror strikes that the Shi’ite militia has long been known for conducting—and almost always without leaving behind evidence that it was responsible. Hizballah may not have quite invented terror strikes as a tool of modern warfare. (The first car bomb, actually a horse-drawn carriage, was exploded on Wall Street in 1920.) But by 2002, when the West felt wobbly from the attacks of 911, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage was calling them “The A-Team” of terror.

And yet, since the man hailed as Hizballah’s terror mastermind, Imad Mughniyah, was killed by a booby-trapped car headrest in 2008, his successors have been unable to deliver the revenge they repeatedly promised. Mughniyah’s assassination was, of course, laid at the feet of Mossad, as almost everything that happens in the Middle East is. The Israeli spy agency glories in its reputation for bloodless omniscience (Google the list of animals that neighboring Mideast states have named as Israeli spies), a notoriety that acts as a force multiplier. But as TIME and others have reported, Mossad has also a long run of real marquee missions, including the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran in 2010 and 2011. Those attacks in turn ignited a response from Iran’s own elite covert operators, the section of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force known as Unit 400. Though, like Hizballah’s external operators, Unit 400 soon proved less formidable than its reputation.

The full extent of the collapse became evident on February 13, 2012. Hizballah and the Qods Force were brought together by the anniversary of Muniyah’s death, four years and one day earlier, and the latest scientist assassination in Tehran, just a month previous. In what was intended as a one-two punch at “hard” Israeli targets, operatives tried to detonate bombs attached to Israeli diplomats’ cars in Tbilisi, Georgia, and New Delhi, India. The Tbilisi bomb was discovered. In Delhi, a man on a motorcycle managed to attach a “magnet bomb” to the side of a car carrying the wife of an Israeli diplomat.

It’s the method of assassination that Israeli operatives had repeatedly used on the streets of Tehran, targeting Iranian nuclear scientists on their way to work. But there was a hitch. “I was in New Delhi when it happened,” says Ely Karmon, a senior scholar at International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “They put the bomb on the right side of the car, because it had to explode on the fuel tank. But in India they ride on the left side, and the tank is on the left side.” The mistake gave the chauffeur time to eject his passenger, a diplomat’s wife, who survived.

Shawraba, the alleged Israeli mole, would have been involved in both attacks, as well as the July 2012 bombing that killed a handful of Israeli tourists on an airport bus in Bulgaria, where Hizballah resorted to a soft target. Evidence of his presumed loyalty was offered in reports that he had earlier served as a bodyguard to Hizballah’s charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah, long assumed to be No. 1 on Israel’s hit list. The newspaper reports said he had betrayed five secret operations, and implied that his removal, along with four men working in his unit, had freed Hizballah from the shadow of suspicion.

“The idea is that they’ve stopped the sole source that was responsible for everything,” says Levitt, now a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he produced a 2013 report on the “Iran’s Shadow War with the West” that detailed operational incompetence in the string of failures under the heading, “Amateur Hour.” In an interview Monday, he noted that intercepted communications played a significant role in thwarting “many of these operations.”

“The Israelis are pretty good at what they do,” Levitt continues. “We’re pretty good at what we do. Nobody has one source for everything.”

Indeed, Israel has recruited Hizballah officials in the past, and likely has sources in the Iranian establishment as well, says Karmon. The Israeli army occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years, with its security services developing human assets that sometimes emerge only after decades, if ever. In 1973, the surprise Egyptian attacks on Israeli positions that became the cataclysmic Yom Kippur War was in advance tipped by the son-in-law of Egypt’s president. (His warnings were ignored, proving that Mossad isn’t omniscient after all.) What makes an insider turn? “Clearly money is very important,” says Karmon. “Also safe haven, in case of need. But sometimes it can be an issue of revenge, infighting in an organization, some personal dispute with one of the leaders.”

On the Iranian side, things have quieted down. Israel has greatly reduced its tempo of detectable attacks, and the Quds Force has eased off as well, likely in order to allow nuclear negotiations to go forward, Levitt says. But from Hizballah, the hits keep coming. Last April, another planned attack on Israelis was thwarted in Bangkok. And at the end of October, Peruvian authorities arrested a Lebanese man who admitted to working for Hizballah, and taking photos of apparent targets. Traces of nitroglycerin reportedly were found in his Lima apartment. The A-Team evidently remains on hiatus.

TIME Iran

A Former U.S. Marine Imprisoned in Iran Has Gone on Hunger Strike

Iranian-American Amir Mirza Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the charge of spying for the CIA,  stands with Iraqi soldiers in this undated still image taken from video in an undisclosed location
Reuters TV/Reuters—Reuters Iranian-American Amir Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on charges of spying for the CIA, stands with Iraqi soldiers in this undated still image taken from video in an undisclosed location made available on Jan. 9, 2012

Dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Amir Hekmati was sentenced to 10 years for espionage

As the U.S. and Iran engage in dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program, a former U.S. Marine who fears that he may be forgotten amid the diplomacy has gone on hunger strike to draw renewed attention to his plight.

Amir Hekmati, who has been imprisoned near the Iranian capital since 2011, announced the hunger strike to his family in a phone call Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Hekmati holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, and was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison on suspicion of espionage. The U.S. government has repeatedly denied that he is a spy, as has his family in Flint, Mich., who says he went to Iran to visit his grandmother.

“I ask that you not forget me, Mr. President,” Hekmati said in a letter dictated to his family and addressed to Barack Obama. “I ask that you make it clear that my case … should be resolved independent of your talks.”

[AP]

TIME espionage

Edward Snowden, Lupe Fiasco and More Wish Chelsea Manning a Happy Birthday

Bradley Manning, Chelsea Manning
U.S. Army/AP This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Chelsea Manning wearing a wig and lipstick.

Michael Stipe called her a "patriot"

Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army soldier who turned over hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks and serving a 35-year prison sentence, turns 27 on Wednesday. To celebrate, a diverse assortment of admirers, from Edward Snowden to rapper Lupe Fiasco, have sent her best wishes that have been published by the Guardian.

“I thank you now and forever for your extraordinary act of service and I am sorry that it has come with such an unbelievable personal cost,” Snowden wrote. “You have inspired an angry public to demand a government that is accountable for its perpetration of torture and other war crimes, for the true costs of its wars, and for conspiring in corruption around the world.”

Michael Stipe, the former frontman for the band R.E.M., sent her a card with a rose on it and a handwritten note inside and called her a “patriot.” Fiasco celebrated with an homage to the cover of Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, using Manning’s face in the center of the cover art instead of West’s. “She encapsulates the antiheroes in society – sitting up in the heights of mythology, simultaneously demonised and forgiven,” Fiasco wrote.

The letters and cards were sent to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, where Manning is currently being held. Her first chance for parole comes in 2021.

[The Guardian]

TIME U.S.-Germany spy scandal

Germany May Counter U.S. Spying With Typewriters

The use of typewriters instead of e-mail was adopted by Russia last year following similar claims of U.S espionage

A leading German politician has suggested that typewriters will be used to write confidential documents, in the wake of the U.S. spying scandal.

Patrick Sensburg, head of the German parliament’s enquiry into NSA activity, said that email may soon become redundant, in an interview with the Morgenmagazin TV show Monday night.

Faced with the incredulity of the interviewer, Sensburg insisted that his announcement wasn’t a joke. He added that should German politicians adopt typewriters, they’ll be using manual, not electronic, models.

Sensburg said that ongoing U.S. monitoring of Germany necessitated the change in operation.

Berlin isn’t the first country to consider reverting to old-school technology. Germany follows in the footsteps of Russia, which reportedly took similar measures after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the Kremlin had been a target of NSA spying.

The Kremlin’s security agency spent 486,540 rubles, or around $14,162, on typewriters equipped with a unique typing pattern that allowed each document to be linked to a particular machine.

The scandal surrounding U.S. surveillance of Germany escalated last week after the top U.S. Intelligence official at the American Embassy in Berlin was ordered to leave Germany.

The CIA station chief’s exodus clipped on the heels of news reports earlier this month that a German intelligence official arrested on suspicion of spying had been working as a double agent for the U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Germany Sunday to play down tensions, calling the two nations “great friends.”

TIME Germany

U.S. and Germany Make Nice Amid Espionage Claims

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a press conference, after talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, Austria on July 13, 2014.
Jim Bourg—AP U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a press conference, after talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, Austria on July 13, 2014.

"We have enormous political cooperation and we are great friends," says Secretary of State John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the U.S. and Germany “great friends” on Sunday, playing down the tensions surrounding recent allegations that the U.S. has been spying on Berlin.

Kerry and German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in Vienna to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, but used the occasion to reiterate their commitment to the U.S-German alliance as the espionage scandal that has battered the relationship between the two countries in recent weeks continues to reverberate.

Germany ordered the CIA’s station chief in Berlin to leave the country last week, after the arrest of a German man earlier in July on suspicion of spying on behalf of the U.S. government.

Although Kerry did not explicitly address the espionage claims, he stressed the importance of the U.S.-German partnership after noting that he and Steinmeier discussed ongoing conflicts in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

“Let me emphasize the relationship between the United States and Germany is a strategic one,” Kerry said in a statement alongside Steinmeier. “We have enormous political cooperation and we are great friends. And we will continue to work together in the kind of spirit that we exhibited today in a very thorough discussion.”

Steinmeier said the two countries “want to work on reviving this relationship, on a foundation of trust and mutual respect,” Reuters reports. He mentioned that the effort applies to “all the difficulties that have arisen in our bilateral relations in recent weeks,” adding that the U.S.-German alliance will strengthen attempts to resolve issues in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iran.

Both Steinmeier and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have highlighted the necessity of continuing Germany’s partnership with the U.S. despite recent setbacks, but Merkel said in a Saturday interview with public German broadcaster ZDF that the two countries have completely different notions of the role of intelligence.

The Chancellor expressed hope that the reaction in Germany would persuade the U.S. not to spy on its allies. “We want this cooperation based on partnership,” she said in the interview. “But we have different ideas, and part of this is that we don’t spy on each other.”

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