When President Obama spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about Ukraine last week, there could have been an awkward moment prompted by the arrest the day before of a double agent allegedly working secretly for the CIA within German intelligence. At least there likely would have been, had Obama known about the arrest or the undercover spy to begin with.
But the president went into the call blind and Merkel didn’t bring it up, according to White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. The incident has left “frustrated” White House officials to question why the CIA didn’t immediately tell the administration about the bungled operation, The New York Times reported.
It’s unclear who is responsible for the breakdown in communication about the arrest — Hayden and the CIA won’t say — but two retired senior intelligence officials told ABC News it should not be surprising that most likely the president and his national security advisor all along were not aware of the alleged recruitment of the German agent, as well as that of another recently discovered purported U.S. spy in the German Defense Ministry.
As former White House counter-terrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke put it, “never in a million years” would the president be briefed on what Clarke called such “totally mundane” recruitment targets. A third retired senior CIA covert operations specialist disagreed in this case, saying it was a “real possibility” the White House was aware of the operation.
Either way, all three former senior officials said it’s up to the CIA’s “good judgment” whether to let the White House in on what one called “pure espionage.”
Readout of the President’s Call with Chancellor Merkel of Germany
The President spoke today with Chancellor Merkel of Germany to consult about the situation in eastern Ukraine. The leaders expressed their support for diplomatic efforts to pursue a sustainable ceasefire that would be respected by the separatists and fully supported by Russia. They stressed that Russia must take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The President and the Chancellor agreed that the United States and Europe should take further coordinated measures to impose costs on Russia if it does not take steps toward de-escalation in short order. The President and Chancellor also discussed the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the need for Iran to take advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate that their nuclear program is peaceful.