This seems typical of the US agencies' [lack of] tradecraft. I think the reason that we are trying for pervasive SIGINT is that we, frankly, are not very good at HUMINT and bungle a lot of it.
This is treason?
Probably not, or at least not strictly speaking. In Germany the definition of treason is intentionally relatively narrow. I don't think it will be possible to show "a danger of serious prejudice to the external security of the Federal Republic of Germany".
The most likely charge is "Activity as an Agent for an Intelligence Service". Because both suspects seem to have been entrusted with classified material at work, they are likely candidates for an "especially serious case". That would mean that they face up to ten years in prison. In practice it will be a bit less than that, because at least the first one seems to have confessed and it is pretty safe to assume that neither has any prior convictions.
I'm sure they only did it because they love freedom.
I am really curious how this came about.
It could have been a simple coincidence amplified by increased public interest in US intelligence activites.
However it is also possible that it's Merkel doing her thing again. It's remarkable how the tone has changed. Her party, the Christian Democrats, is traditionally the party of... I guess the polite phrase is "proponents of western integration". In an attempt to downplay it, she has kind of mishandled the initial NSA affair. Perhaps she has had another "Fukushima moment" and we are seeing the beginnings of a purge and a reevaluation of German-US relations in intelligence matters.
Aaaand things are getting a little more interesting:
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