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Espionage

German spies clamor for counter-espionage funding

The discovery of US spies in Germany's intelligence service and Defense Ministry has sparked outrage. Now German spies are calling for a boost in funds and staff directed toward counterintelligence.

When it comes to cases of espionage on German soil, officials in the secret service and the politicians responsible for overseeing them automatically start using words like "counterintelligence" and "protection."

"Effective protection against attacks on our communication, as well as effective counterintelligence, are essential for our strong democracy," said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in a statement responding to recent revelations of alleged spying in Germany.

Within a matter of days, an employee in Germany's Defense Ministry and an official from the foreign intelligence body, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), were unmasked as having provided information to US spies. Then the German government demanded the top CIA official in the US embassy in Germany leave the country.

Bernd Schmidbauer, who worked as a federal intelligence service coordinator between 1991 and 1998, also used the word "counterintelligence" frequently.

"Counterintelligence, counterintelligence, and more counterintelligence. Only then can you be strong," said Schmidbauer in an interview with DW. But such activities require money and well-trained staff, the 75-year-old added.

"Only then would it mean that not everyone is free to mess around in our backyard," he said. "It's not about friends or foes, it is only a matter of national interests."

NSA scandal paves the way

The time to push ahead with the expansion of counterintelligence seems ripe to many in Germany. Since the revelations of whistleblower and former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, German politicians and the general public have been angered by the seemingly never-ending reports of espionage carried out in Germany by allied states - particularly by the United States.

Thomas de Maiziere speaking on his phone
Photo: imago/Sven Simon

Thomas de Maiziere: 'Counter-espionage is being strengthened'

The conservative head of the committee set up to investigate the activities of the NSA in Germany, Roderich Kiesewetter, has demanded more money be channeled into counterintelligence. He told the "Rheinische Post" newspaper that Germany had "saved in the wrong place."

He called for a "substantial increase" in the BND's budget, so it could develop capabilities to "exercise effective reconnoitering" in the future. According to a report by German public broadcaster SWR, Kiesewetter's mobile phone was also allegedly tapped by foreign intelligence services.

Desperately needed makeover

The BND had been planning to upgrade its capabilities for some time, especially the technology used to monitor social media. It has a project as part of the "Strategic Technology Initiative," which would require parliamentary approval of 300 million euros ($410 million) in funding.

According to information confirmed by DW, the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) also aims to reinvent itself. With around 1,000 employees, MAD is the smallest of the three federal intelligence agencies in Germany.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, could also be better equipped. A process to strengthen counter-espionage and protection against attacks on German communications is already underway, de Maiziere said Thursday (10.07.2014).

Following the NSA spying scandal, the BfV had thought about focusing on friendly intelligence services. "In light of what has happened, we have to expand our work," de Maiziere told public television broadcaster ZDF. He said it was important not to forget that "other states carry out espionage on a large scale in Germany." Until now, Germany has kept a close eye mainly on the intelligence activities of countries like Russia, China and North Korea.

Who watches the spies?

Burkhard Lischka and Clemens Binninger
Photo: Daniel Naupold/dpa

Burkhard Lischka and Clemens Binninger want tighter control over the secret service

But who is monitoring the increasing number of intelligence agents? The Bundestag's Parliamentary Control Panel (PKG) is the body responsible, and the federal government has to keep the panel's members informed about intelligence service activities.

The panel's eight representatives from the Bundestag, the German lower house of parliament, currently oversee around 10,500 intelligence officers. The PKG has set itself the task of monitoring the work of the secret services more closely. To this end, they are setting up a new task force with up to seven federal government staff to provide additional support.

The operation will also change in the future. We want to be more active, said panel chairman, Clemens Binninger. "We now make house calls," he said. Members of the PKG and the task force will be able to visit departments unannounced, view files and data, and interview employees of the intelligence services.

We plan to "sniff out what's going on, to bark, and, if necessary, to bite," added Burkhard Lischka, the Social Democrat representative in the PKG.

The Bundestag is expected to put forward around 400,000 euros per year in additional funding to enable the PKG to successfully carry out its tasks. The Bundestag will also decide on a possible expansion of intelligence services. To do this, it would have to free up the necessary funds and create new positions for employees in the secret service agencies.

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