WEST Germany's spreading spy scandal raises a number of serious questions not only for that nation but also its Western allies. Germany is not the only Western nation to be confronted with a highly-publicized security case, of course. Great Britain has had several espionage leaks in recent years, and in the United States the so-called Walker family spy case is now being played out in court. But the German case is the only one in recent years in which the espionage apparently has penetrated into offices at the highest levels of government.
In the short run Western nations can be expected to re-examine -- and revamp as necessary -- their current intelligence activities, as Germany is doing, and their initial security clearance procedures. Western countries must find out which agents and activities may have been compromised by the West German spy ring, which evidently included Bonn's troubled counterintelligence senior official, Hans-Joachim Tiedge.
Longer-range questions also require action. Western nations should more often perform stringent security reviews for all persons who hold security clearances; in some cases reviews of persons who long have worked in security fields may now verge on the cursory, as the Tiedge case indicates.
A thorough review is especially important for persons who, like Tiedge, experience personal difficulties, as an article elsewhere on this page points out: They can be especially vulnerable to espionage recruitment efforts by adversaries. It is astonishing that procedures were so lax that Tiedge was permitted to continue in his top-secret counterintelligence role despite the considerable evidence of private life pressures.
Thorough security reviews of existing employees will require time, and presumably extra people to conduct them. If governments are to be expected to cooperate in military operations, and to share military and other secret information, as NATO members do, it is imperative that they earn each other's confidence that shared secrets will not be leaked to the Soviet Union or its East bloc allies.
The spy scandal increases political pressure on West German chancellor Helmut Kohl. It provides grist for critics of greater reliance on West Germany to resist East bloc aggression. It reflects on the special historical relationship between the two Germanys that continues to give some in the west discomfort.
But other Western nations have their own need for reexamining security practices promptly and thoroughly: There is too much at stake for business as usual.