Germany is prepared for projected increase in Russian spy activity, says BfV director

BfV GermanyRUSSIAN FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES in Germany have increased exponentially since the start of the war in Ukraine, and are projected to further-increase in 2023, according to the head of German counterintelligence. In an interview on Monday with the German Press Agency (DPA), Thomas Haldenwang, director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), also warned that China, Iran and Turkey are intensifying their intelligence activities inside Germany.

In April of last year, the German government expelled 40 members of the diplomatic staff from Russia’s embassy in Berlin. It is believed that the majority of those expelled were intelligence officers operating under official cover. According to Haldenwang, the Kremlin has taken steps to compensate for the loss of its intelligence presence in Germany. This is largely being done in two ways: first, with “traveling operatives”, i.e. intelligence officers who are stationed in third countries and travel to Germany to carry out specific operations; second, with non-official-cover officers, i.e. intelligence operatives who have no overt relations with the Russian government. Moreover, Russia has been mounting its cyber-attacks and foreign-influence operations against Germany, according to Haldenwang.

In response to the Kremlin’s actions, German counterintelligence is making “great efforts to prevent […] people who may be connected to Russian intelligence from entering Germany” with valid visas, Haldenwang said. The BfV has hired more personnel and has “organizationally redesigned” its defensive and offensive counterintelligence capabilities, as well as cyber-defense expertise. As a result, the BfV “feels sufficiently prepared for the current challenges”, Haldenwang said. He also disputed allegations in Western media that the BfV had been relatively passive in countering Russian intelligence operations prior to the war in Ukraine.

Finally, Haldenwang cautioned that Iran and Turkey maintained a significant intelligence presence in Germany, and that the stormy domestic politics in those countries would “have an impact in Germany”, as “internal political conflicts [in those countries] are fought here”. This also applies to China, whose intelligence collection targets are no longer primarily economic, but are moving into the political domain. According to Haldenwang, a “pan-European solution is needed to reverse this trend, at least for the European [Union] states”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 January 2023 | Permalink

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

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