Europe follows America’s lead on FIFA, VW scandals

First world soccer, now the world’s top automaker. The US has taken the lead in prosecuting trans-Atlantic white collar crime. Has Europe dropped the ball? Spencer Kimball reports from Chicago.

FIFA’s leadership has been decimated since the US Justice Department charged world soccer with racketeering and money laundering last May.

Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s long-time president, and two of his deputies have been banned from the organization for 90 days. Powerful sponsors such Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Visa are calling on Blatter to step down immediately.

Volkswagen is next in the firing line. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the automaker had been cheating on US emissions tests. Volkswagen’s stock value has plummeted and its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, has resigned. The Justice Department is now investigating and criminal charges could be brought against Germany’s largest company.

Both FIFA and Volkswagen are based in Europe. Yet US regulators and investigators have been at the forefront in pursuing these white collar criminal cases. According to William Black, a former bank regulator, the US simply has more tools at its disposal than Switzerland, Germany or the EU.

“The United States, despite this record of catastrophic failure in responding to the white collar epidemics that drove the financial crisis, still has vastly better laws for regulating and prosecuting, and still has vastly greater willingness to take on powerful folks than is true in many places,” Black told DW.

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Fact or fiction: Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932

Did US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders fail history when he said, “Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932?” The Washington Post thinks so, but historian Mark Roseman told DW that Sanders does have a point.

Senator Bernie Sanders was asked about his religion. How does it inform his politics? The US presidential candidate and self-proclaimed democratic socialist is Jewish. He responded by discussing the cautionary tale of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932,” Sanders said during an event organized by the Christian Science Monitor in June. “He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

This statement by Sanders was subsequently re-tweeted and posted across social media. The Washington Post, in response to one of its readers, published a fact-check article on Friday with the headline: “Why you shouldn’t re-tweet Sanders’s claim that ‘Hitler won an election in 1932.”

The Post reports that Sanders got his history wrong: “There was an election in 1932 – but Hitler lost.” The article focuses on the German presidential elections.

Deutsche Welle spoke with historian Mark Roseman, a professor of modern European and German history at Indiana University in Bloomington. According to Roseman, there were five German elections in 1932. And if you look at the national parliamentary elections, what Sanders said makes sense.

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German weapons deliveries to Iraq’s Kurdish region

(By Deutsche Welle) The German government has decided to deliver weapons and munitions worth a total of 70 million euros ($91 million) to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. DW provides an overview of the weapons systems in question.

The weapons will be delivered in three tranches to a secure region of Iraq that has not been affected by the civil war, according to the German Defense Ministry. An initial partial delivery will leave Germany in the next two weeks and arrive in Irbil via Baghdad. The entire first delivery to northern Iraq will be completed by the end of September. The second and third deliveries will depend on the situation on the ground.

Berlin will send enough weapons to equip a brigade of 4,000 soldiers, according to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Von der Leyen said parliamentary approval is not required for the weapons deliveries.

Training, if necessary, will take place in Germany. If that’s not possible, training will occur either in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, or a third country. The deployment of German soldiers for the purpose of training Kurdish forces to use the weapons does not require a parliamentary mandate, according to the Defense Ministry.

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Berlin demands US ambassador explain snooping on German parliament

(By Deutsche Welle) Berlin has called on the US ambassador to explain allegations that Washington spied on a parliamentary committee investigating NSA surveillance in Germany. A double agent reportedly sold the US sensitive documents.

On Friday, the German Foreign Ministry called on US Ambassador John Emerson to cooperate with the investigation into allegations that a double agent had spied on the Bundestag for Washington.

Germany’s top prosecutor, Harald Range, confirmed that a 31-year-old intelligence agent had been detained on Wednesday on suspicion of espionage.

The suspect was a midlevel agent with the foreign intelligence agency, known by its German initialism, BND. He had been active as a double for two years, according to the daily Bild newspaper, citing security sources.

According to German media, an employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been arrested on suspicion of spying for the United States. Intelligence expert Schmidt-Eenboom tells DW why this case is outrageous. (04.07.2014)

Bild reported that the agent sold 218 sensitive documents to an unspecified US intelligence agency for 25,000 euros ($33,000). At least three of the documents were from the parliamentary committee investigating the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations in Germany. He reportedly obtained his orders directly from the the US embassy.

“Spying for foreign intelligence agencies is not something that we take lightly,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

The public broadcasters WDR and NDR, as well as the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reported that the agent was detained under suspicion for allegedly having contacts with Russia. But during questioning, he admitted that he had delivered information to the US.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was informed of the affair on Thursday. She spoke with US President Barack Obama that evening, but it’s unclear whether or not the German double agent was a subject of their conversation.

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Merkel meets Obama in Washington amid violence in Ukraine

(By Deutsche Welle) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with US President Barack Obama. The two leaders are seeking to repair ties after the NSA scandal and forge a common front in the Ukraine crisis.

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel held talks in Washington on Friday, amid escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.

In a joint press conference, the two leaders made clear that they were stepping up preparations to impose sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy, if Moscow did not work to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine before the country’s presidential elections on May 25th.

President Obama told reporters that the West was unlikely to end its business dealings with Moscow in the energy sector, but said that other areas of the Russian economy were vulnerable to EU-US sanctions.

“The idea that you’re going to turn off the tap on all Russian oil and gas exports, I think is unrealistic,” the president said. “But there are a range of approaches that can be taken not only in the energy sector, but in the arms sector, the finance sector, and lines of credit for trade, all of which have significant impact on Russia.”

Chancellor Merkel warned that the crisis in Ukraine has challenged Europe’s post-war order, which rests on the principle of the territorial integrity of all nations. Merkel said that although both the EU and US preferred a diplomatic solution, Moscow’s behavior would determine whether or not economic sanctions were imposed.

“It’s very much up to the Russians which road we will embark on,” Merkel said.

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Trade ties expose EU, US rift over Russia sanctions

(By Deutsche Welle) The EU and the US have threatened Russia with punitive measures if Moscow does not reduce tensions in Ukraine. But some European countries are reluctant to impose sanctions due to close trade ties with Russia.

Scrambling to react to the crisis in Crimea, the Obama administration has threatened Russian officials with visa bans and asset freezes, if the Kremlin refuses to roll back its military intervention in the Black Sea peninsula. But the European Union has proven reluctant to follow suit, holding out hope that diplomacy can resolve the Cold War-style crisis on its doorstep.

The White House has already suspended military ties and trade talks with Moscow, while the entire Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations have agreed to not participate in preparations for their summit in Sochi this June. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday, where they strongly condemned “the clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by acts of aggression by the Russian Federation.”

Although the EU threatened to suspend bilateral talks with Moscow on trade and visa liberalization and “consider further targeted measures,” the bloc did not explicitly place the threat of economic sanctions on the table. The EU’s 28 leaders are scheduled to meet for an emergency summit on Thursday, where they will consider whether or not to impose punitive measures.

“It’s clear that everybody would like to see this crisis solved politically without imposing sanctions, because those would severely damage bilateral relations,” Paul Ivan, an expert on EU sanctions with the European Policy Center, told DW.

“Sanctions are the most serious measure you can take before going to war,” he said.

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Ehud Barak: ‘It’s a wake-up call’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak tells DW that the controls on intelligence agencies should probably be tightened as a consequence of the NSA affair. But he warns that citizens shouldn’t be naïve about security.

Ehud Barak has served as Israeli’s prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, among a host of other posts. He has decades of experience in intelligence matters and is Israel’s most highly decorated soldier.

DW: You mentioned during your presentation at the Cyber Security Summit in Bonn that offensive capabilities are greater than defensive capabilities in terms of cyber security threats. With the NSA affair, we’ve seen the extent to which governments are able to conduct surveillance on foreign leaders, private citizens and industry. What can these groups do to protect themselves against such surveillance?

Ehud Barak: I don’t think that we should look at it as a competition or struggle between the American government or other governments and individual citizens. I don’t think that the American government, by allowing the NSA to do what it is doing, intended to spy on individual citizens. Basically, I believe them. They are trying to block terror, and probably they drifted into somewhat of a more general kind of operation.

The real answer is not to be taken by citizens, but by government. If the German government or the French government or other governments in Europe want to discuss this issue with America – and probably they need to discuss it with America – and they expect the Americans to be responsive, they have to sit together and clarify what happened. What is done by the American and what is done by other, including European, intelligence services and to set together rules for future behavior. My experience with the Americans is that once they accept a rule, they respect it.

Basically, within a government – like the NSA case or be it any other operation – I believe from my experience that it should be not just at the disposal of the executive branch, namely the heads of the intelligence services, but controlled by a triangle of the three branches.

Namely, the executive branch of course [and] the judicial branch. Everything should be under control of a judge or group of judges that have total access for the details of what is done and should prove it from a legal point of view. And then inspections by subcommittees of the parliaments with enough stuff to be able to learn and know what’s happened. I believe that was the case with the Americans, that both the Congress and judicial system had their representative. If it didn’t work well enough it should be improved. But it’s not something that we cannot think of.

The real challenge will be with the bad guys. There are some bad guys in the world, both cyber criminals and even some governments with bad intentions, where certain steps should still be taken in order to avoid terror and avoid breaking the foundations of world order. And that needs certain capabilities in these arenas of intelligence gathering.

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Snowden aide Harrison takes refuge in Berlin

(By Deutsche Welle) After helping US whistleblower Edward Snowden attain asylum in Russia, British journalist Sarah Harrison has left Moscow. Harrison has taken refuge in Berlin, out of concern she could be detained in the UK.

National security leakers lead a precarious existence these days. Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over a year now, unable to leave for fear of being arrested by British authorities and extradited to Sweden as part of a sexual assault investigation. Assange believes that going to Sweden would be the first step in his extradition to the US and an eventual trial there.

Meanwhile, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is under constant guard in Moscow after having received temporary asylum in Russia. For now, at least, Snowden has managed to avoid the fate that befell Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced in June to 35 years in prison for leaking 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

Snowden’s good fortune is largely due to British journalist Sarah Harrison, a Wikileaks researcher who helped the former NSA contractor escape the long arm of the US Justice Department. Having assisted one of the US government’s top public enemies, she has now taken refuge in Berlin, reticent to return to her native England for fear of being detained by authorities under the UK Terrorism Act.

On Wednesday, Harrison published a letter calling for whistle-blowers to be shielded from prosecution, saying that “giving us the truth is not a crime.”

“Wikileaks continues to fight for the protection of sources,” Harrison wrote. “We have won the battle for Snowden’s immediate future, but the broader war continues.”

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Calls for Snowden to testify in Germany met with skepticism

(By Deutsche Welle) Members of Chancellor Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats have expressed openness to receiving testimony from Edward Snowden. But they are skeptical that the US whistle-blower can travel to Germany.

The suggestion by Greens parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele that Snowden could testify before the German Bundestag has received a mixed response in Berlin, with members of the governing Christian Democrats (CDU) saying that a US application for the whistle-blower’s extradition would preclude him from leaving Russia.

CDU spokesman for domestic affairs Hans-Peter Uhl told the daily Berliner Zeitung on Saturday that a German delegation could possibly travel to Moscow to question Snowden about the surveillance operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

“A trip by Snowden to Germany would be problematic because it is questionable whether or not he would receive asylum here,” Uhl said. “If he didn’t receive asylum, then there’s the extradition application from the Americans.”

Ströbele’s Moscow trip criticized

On Thursday, Ströbele traveled to Moscow, where he met with Snowden. The former NSA contractor said that he was prepared to testify before the German parliament on the condition that his security could be guaranteed. Ströbele returned to Germany with a letter from Snowden, in which the whistle-blower said he hoped “to cooperate in the responsible finding of fact” as it regards US surveillance programs.

Meanwhile, senior CDU parliamentarian Michael Grosse-Brömer criticized Ströbele’s trip, saying that the Green had done little more than act as a mailman. Grosse-Brömer went on to say that there “was currently no reason to make a decision about possible stay by Snowden in Germany,” adding that he doubted the whistle-blower would make the trip because of the US extradition application.

Call for Merkel to confront Obama

Revelations about NSA surveillance operations have strained US-German relations in recent weeks. In October, the boulevard publication Bild and leading newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had hacked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, sparking widespread shock and outrage. Over the summer, there were reports – based on Snowden’s leaks – that the NSA had also collected the metadata of millions of German citizens.

German representatives are currently negotiating a “no-spy agreement” to end the NSA surveillance operations in the country. However, Greens chief Simone Peter called on Merkel to confront US President Barack Obama in person over the issue.

“A no-spy agreement isn’t enough,” Peter told a German regional newspaper on Saturday. “Angela Merkel needs to immediately meet with President Obama in Washington, and put US snooping in its place.”

slk/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Merkel’s strength at the polls leaves her searching for a coalition partner

In the wake of arguably Europe’s most important election since the outbreak of the eurozone debt crisis in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decisive showing may ironically prove to be her Achilles heel. Although Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) managed to secure a whopping 41 percent of the vote on Sunday, their victory is in certain respects a hollow one.

The chancellor’s governing partners in the last coalition, the both fiscally conservative and socially liberal Free Democrats, have failed to surpass the all-important five percent hurdle. That means they will not have representation in the upcoming parliament. And Merkel’s Christian Democrats just barely missed securing an absolute majority on their own. Their nearly 8 percent gain compared to the 2009 election result came partially at the expense of the FDP.  So although the Christian Democrats are indisputably the strongest force in German politics, they apparently aren’t strong enough. Germans overwhelmingly confirmed Merkel as chancellor, but effectively voted against her now defunct center-right coalition.

As a consequence, the chancellor will have to seek a coalition partner among one of the opposition center-left parties, with the most likely candidate being the Social Democrats. The CDU and the SPD governed together in a grand coalition from 2005-2009. Other political combinations seem unrealistic. Although Merkel moved to trade nuclear for renewable energy in the wake of Fukushima, she still remains far apart from the Greens on economic and social issues. Likewise when it comes to the socialist Left party, still the pariah of the German political system.

A grand coalition would alter the political landscape in Berlin. The Social Democrats won a respectable 25 percent of the vote and are firmly anchored in a broad base of support. Merkel will not be able to simply twist the SPD’s arm and pull them in her direction, as was the case with the much smaller FDP.

The bottom line: Europe’s political landscape continues its slight tilt leftward. When Greece first asked for a bailout in 2010, Merkel was governing in a secure center-right coalition. She had a conservative ally in neighboring France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Today, Merkel faces the prospect of a coalition with Social Democrats, while a socialist president already resides in the Elysee in Paris. In light of this, the eurozone’s debt-stricken member states may be hoping for a reprieve from biting austerity and more focus on economic stimulus. But they shouldn’t expect drastic change in short order. After all, the SPD – despite its rhetoric – has voted for Merkel’s eurozone policies.