First interview in 57 years for chief of Germany’s most secretive spy agency
February 19, 2013 5 Comments
By 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.