Spying is now being played as a popular political game, rather than just as a state secret: the US tries to expose Chinese spies as if they were hackers, Germany is rolling out the US spies in its ministries, as if there had ever been any before. Because ordinary people care about their computer privacy in a way that never existed before, the question of spying is being played as if it were an offense against the average citizen.
You don’t have to be a John Le Carre reader to believe that the German officials have always known about, if not tolerated, American spies. The point is that they are now making a public demonstration of removing them as a strategy in the new public relations of espionage. The US wants to claim that it is being abused by Chinese hackers and Germany is suddenly exposing operations that have been in place since the late 1940s.
These state responses are aligning themselves with the outrage and cynicism created by the Snowdon revelations, and German politicians are particularly eager to align themselves with Snowdon in part because of their aversion to totalitarian surveillance and, on the slightly more conservative side, a desire to uncouple themselves from the post-war understanding that Germany is the saturated with spies from all sides.