The top intelligence official at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin has been asked to leave the country, the German government said Thursday.

Authorities recently arrested a member of Germany's intelligence services on charges he spied for the United States, and media accounts say a Defense Department employee is also under investigation.

"The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

"The government takes the matter very seriously," he said in a statement.

Germany will continue to pursue "close and trusting" relations with key partners such as the U.S., Seiffert said, while adding that those kind of ties require transparency and "mutual trust."

During a press conference prior to the foreign ministry announcement, Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to speculate about what actions her government might take in response to the alleged U.S. spying.

She did, however, describe the practice of spying on allies as a "waste of energy" in a time of "enormous problems" such as jihadist terrorism.

Preliminary investigations indicate that neither suspected spy had access to especially sensitive or valuable information, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

Germany is determine to strengthen its communications security and enhance the counterintelligence efforts that are "essential" for the protection of democracy, he said.

Even before the spy cases, Germans were angry about the U.S. National Security Agency's extensive surveillance of their communications.

Documents released by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden showed that the electronic spying operation included Merkel's cellphone. 

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