Russian spy activity has reached Cold War levels, say Germany’s intelligence chiefs

Thomas Haldenwang Bruno Kahl

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITY in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, while espionage methods by foreign adversaries are now more brutal and ruthless, according to the country’s spy chiefs. These claims were made by Thomas Haldenwang, who leads Germany’s Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and Bruno Kahl, head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), which operates externally.

The two men spoke to the Sunday edition of Die Welt, one of Germany’s leading newspapers. Their joint interview was published on June 6. Haldenwang told Die Welt am Sonntag that the presence of Russian spies on German soil reflects Moscow’s “very complex intelligence interest in Germany”. Accordingly, Russia has “increased its [espionage] activities in Germany dramatically” in recent years, said Haldenwang.

The counterintelligence chief added that Russia has a “large number of agents” that are currently active in German soil. Their goal is to try to “establish contacts in the realm of political decision-making”. One of many topics that the Kremlin is intensely interested at the moment is the future of Russia’s energy relationship with Germany, according to Haldenwang.

At the same time, Russia’s espionage methods are becoming “coarser” and the means that it uses to steal secrets “more brutal”, said the spy chief. Kahl, his external-intelligence colleague, agreed and added that Germany’s adversaries are “employing all possible methods […] to stir up dissonance between Western states”. Their ultimate goal is to “secure their own interests”, concluded Kahl.

However, despite Russia’s increased intelligence activity in Germany, the most serious threat to the security and stability of the German state is not Moscow, but domestic rightwing extremism, said Haldenwang. Notably, the German spy chief discussed the unparalleled rise of rightwing rhetoric on social media and websites. Such propaganda is being spread by people that he termed “intellectual arsonists”. Their “hate-filled messages” are essentially anti-democratic, said Haldenwang.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2021 | Permalink

German spy officials dismiss calls to create European intelligence agency

European UnionGermany’s two most senior intelligence officials have dismissed suggestions by European officials and leaders, including the president of France, to create a Europe-wide intelligence agency. The numerous deadly attacks carried out by Islamic State supporters across Europe in recent years have given rise to calls from various quarters for the establishment of a new intelligence service that would combine resources from every member-state of the European Union. Last month, the European Union’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that the time had come for Europe to be “ambitious and bold, to overcome the security taboos of the past and finally work in order to build a European intelligence system”. He went on to say that, had there been sufficient “cooperation, information sharing and exchanging” between the various European intelligence services, “maybe some of these tragic events could have been predicted and prevented”. Avramopoulos’ remarks were echoed last week by France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron. Speaking at Sorbonne University in Paris, France’s head of state said that the creation of a European Intelligence Agency would “strengthen links between our countries” and prevent emerging security threats.

But these calls were rebuffed this week in Berlin, where Germany’s two most senior intelligence officials rejected any and all calls for the creation of a European intelligence service. The officials are Bruno Kahl, director of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, and Hans-Georg Maaßen, who heads the country’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, known as the BfV. The two men spoke before a special session of the Intelligence Oversight Committee of the German Federal Parliament, known as the Bundestag. The BND’s Kahl said Europe already had an intelligence-based early-warning center, known as the European Union Intelligence and Situation Center (EU INTCEN). He argued that there was “no need for a European intelligence agency or any other supplemental Europe-wide intelligence organization” and added that “intelligence is better organized on the national level”. He was backed by BfV’s Maaßen, who warned that the creation of a European intelligence service would “create additional bureaucratic structures, both on the European and domestic levels”, which would “profoundly lower our efficiency”.

The two German intelligence officials said that cooperation between European Union member-states had improved substantially in the past few years, and that the current model of bilateral exchange was “the most efficient […] and quickest way to share information”. The current system of inter-agency coordination would be weakened if a European intelligence service was created, according to the two men.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October | Permalink

Germany publicly rejects Turkish spies’ request to monitor dissidents

KurdsGerman intelligence and security agencies have publicly rejected a direct request made by Turkey’s intelligence chief to gather information on Turks who are living in Germany and are critical of the Turkish government. The request reportedly relates to attempts by the Turkish government to round up its critics, following a failed military coup in July of last year. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses members of the so-called Gülen movement of orchestrating the coup, which included an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s.

Since the end of the failed coup, the Turkish state has initiated a nationwide political crackdown against alleged supporters of the coup. Over 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs, while hundreds of thousands have been demoted, censured or warned. Another 41,000 are believed to be in prison, charged with supporting the failed coup or being members of the Gülen network. But many observers in Europe view the coup as a catalyst that was exploited by the government in Ankara neutralize its political opponents.

On Monday, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper claimed that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, gave its German counterpart a list containing the names hundreds of Turks living in Germany, and asked him to spy on them. According to the newspaper, the list was given by MİT chief Hakan Fidan to Bruno Kahl, head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND. The two men allegedly met at a security conference held in Munich last February. The Süddeutsche Zeitung claims that the list given to Kahl included 300 individuals and approximately 200 groups and organizations that the MİT wanted the BND to monitor.

But instead of spying on these targets, the BND wrote to them and warned them that the Turkish state was after them. The German spy agency also warned them to stay away from any contact with Turkish authorities in Germany and to refrain from traveling to Turkey. On Tuesday, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas De Maiziere, confirmed the Süddeutsche Zeitung article and warned Turkey to respect Germany’s territorial sovereignty. “Here German jurisdiction applies”, said De Maiziere, “and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2017 | Permalink

German intelligence chief fired in surprise move

BND GermanyThe head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been removed from his post in a move described by observers as surprising. Gerhard Schindler, 63, had led Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, since 2012. Founded 60 years ago with direct input from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the BND is today responsible for collecting intelligence abroad in the service of German national interests. Headquartered in the southern German city of Pullach, near Munich, the BND is directly subordinate to the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Tuesday, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said that Chancellor Merkel had ordered Schindler’s removal from the BND. Several regional television stations followed with similar reports. The Süddeutsche Zeitung cited unnamed government sources as saying that Schindler’s sudden removal from his post was unexpected, as the career intelligence officer was scheduled to retire in two years.

However, intelNews readers will recall that last year Schindler was severely criticized in Germany, after the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as French-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities.

In the months that followed the revelations, Schindler appeared to have convinced the Chancellery that he was not personally responsible for the BND-NSA collaboration, which many political figures in Germany said had subverted Germany’s national interest. In response to criticism, Schindler said that some departments inside the BND had taken on “a life of their own” and promised to reform the agency. On Tuesday, however, his tenure came to an end. It is believed that he will be replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior civil servant in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance, who is a close associate of the country’s Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2016 | Permalink

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