Merkel replaces spy chief in shock move

BERLIN • Chancellor Angela Merkel has replaced the chief of Germany's foreign intelligence service, a move that caught many by surprise as Europe faces growing pressure from terrorism and as the chancellor looks ahead to a general election next year.

Mr Peter Altmaier, Dr Merkel's chief of staff, said the decision to replace spy chief Gerhard Schindler was a response to the challenges the intelligence agency faced, including new security threats and reforms being considered by a parliamentary oversight committee.

The committee was formed after revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), that Washington had tapped the chancellor's personal cellphone in 2013.

Last year, agents in Mr Schin- dler's agency told the committee they had carried out searches at NSA's behest, without questioning whether they were in compliance with German law.

It also came to light last year that German agents had spied on domestic and European companies, further fuelling outrage among Germans.

Germany and the United States have clashed repeatedly over spying, but Mr Schindler had managed to weather the uproar set off by each revelation.

Wednesday's announcement thus came as a surprise to many, even within Dr Merkel's party.

"I am shocked," Mr Stephan Mayer, a member of the chancellor's Christian Democrats, told ARD, a public broadcaster.

Dr Merkel has sought to mend her country's differences with Washington over intelligence gathering, but many Germans still believe that she has not done enough.

Lawmakers have been debating a Bill that would overhaul the foreign intelligence agency, giving Parliament more control over its actions and requiring increased transparency.

Mr Schindler, 63, who was to retire in two years, will be replaced on July 1 by Mr Bruno Kahl, an official from the Finance Ministry.

Opposition lawmakers voiced concern that the change could endanger the push to enact changes at the agency.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'Merkel replaces spy chief in shock move'. Print Edition | Subscribe