First interview in 57 years for chief of Germany’s most secretive spy agency

Ulrich BirkenheierBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The head of the German military’s counterintelligence service, which is widely seen as the country’s most secretive intelligence organization, has given the first public media interview in the agency’s 57-year history. Most readers of this blog will be aware of the Federal Republic of Germany’s two best-known intelligence agencies: the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), tasked with domestic intelligence, and the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the country’s primary external intelligence agency. Relatively little is known, however, about the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD), which has historically been much smaller and quieter than its sister agencies. As part of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, the MAD is tasked with conducting counterintelligence and detecting what it terms “anti-constitutional activities” within the German armed forces. It is currently thought to consist of around 1,200 staff located throughout Germany and in at least seven countries around the world, including Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Djibouti. Until recently, the MAD was so secret that its headquarters, located in the west German city of Cologne, bore no sign on the door. For generations, its senior leadership remained unnamed in the public domain. This changed on Monday, when Ulrich Birkenheier became the first Director of MAD to speak publicly in the nearly six decades of the agency’s existence. Birkenheier, who assumed the leadership of MAD in July of 2012, told German newspaper Die Welt that it was time for a “paradigm shift” and that the agency felt the need “to explain [its] task and work to the outside world”. In his interview, Birkenheier explained that members of the German armed forces are routinely targeted by foreign intelligence agencies, while far-right extremist groups are represented in the ranks of the German military. MAD’s job, he said, is to address these concerns from a counterintelligence perspective. But Birkenheier stressed that MAD’s greatest and growing challenge is “espionage conducted against international defense projects” by foreign intelligence operatives who try to penetrate scientific and technical trials of German weapons systems. He also went so far as to name the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China as his organization’s primary adversaries in the realm of military espionage. Both these countries operate intelligence agencies that “are still trying to recruit German soldiers” on a regular basis, said Birkenheier. He closed his interview by stating that MAD will soon launch a public press office specializing in interfacing with the news media and addressing “the rising public interest” in the organization.

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5 Responses to First interview in 57 years for chief of Germany’s most secretive spy agency

  1. Pete says:

    MAD may have kept its head down for the additional reason that its predecessors included the Gestapo and several other confusingly linked SS organizations. In comparison the Abwehr was positively cuddly. MAD wouldn’t want the public to confuse it with the Gestapo heritage.

  2. Jack says:

    I disagree with Pete’s analysis here. I see no relation between MAD and the Gestapo or SS organizations. A close examination of the historical aspects of the German intelligence community indicates to me that MAD are more closely aligned with organizations like the Abwehr of WWII or Section IIIb of World War I. There is simply no reason for MAD to have been out in the media or in the public eye. The world is full intelligence services that have no real media presence. For example the Austrian intelligence services have little to no real public presence. Neither the HNaA nor the Abwehramt have no websites and public information is scant.

  3. Pete says:

    @Jack

    I’m talking about German Government sensitivities about German public perceptions. These public perceptions may well lack our more informed knowledge of German military intelligence agencies in World War Two and now.

    While its difficult to gauge German public knowledge about 70 year old German military intelligence agencies I’m sure more Germans have heard about the Gestapo than about the Abwehr. Hence MAD would be more worried about being seen as a new version of the Gestapo.

    Pete

  4. Jack says:

    Pete:

    I am sure that you are correct in that younger Germans have heard of the Gestapo. After all the world’s media like to refer to Germans as Nazis continuously. I refer you to the recent comments made by “comedian” Joan Rivers about Heidi Klum.

    As for MAD, the organization has been around since the inception of the Bundeswehr. I believe that it is simply just one of those organizations that has managed to escape the media spotlight for years. Intelligence agencies like the BND and the BfV have historically had more of their laundry aired in public so the German public is more aware of their presence.

    John

  5. Pete says:

    Thanks for the extra information Jack.

    Regards

    Pete

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