The XX Committee

German Counterintelligence and the American Threat

In the aftermath of the Snowden Operation’s deep impacts in Germany over the last year (see here, here and here for background), with highly negative effects on the relationship between Berlin and Washington, DC, it was inevitable that Germany, which previously had devoted minimal counterintelligence effort against U.S. espionage in that country, would refocus energies onto what Snowden had exposed. Political pressure on Berlin to “get tough” in this arena became overwhelming recently when it was revealed that CIA had been running a spy inside the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service. Although the U.S. Intelligence Community has legitimate reasons for spying on Germany, which I’ve explained in detail here, there can be no doubt that many Germans feel that important lines have been crossed, and America is not the firm friend that many in Germany had long believed the U.S. to be.

Just what employing enhanced counterintelligence against American (and British) espionage in Germany might mean has been clarified in a new and detailed interview in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, with Hans-Georg Maassen, the director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz — BfV), which is the country’s domestic intelligence agency, charged with counterintelligence and counterterrorism. When asked about the impact of Snowden, particularly if any revelations had surprised German security officials, Maassen replied:

I was surprised that so many people were surprised. We didn’t know that NSA did all these things. But there were many indications that NSA has great capabilities. And we knew that NSA has the legal permissions to do what it does. That is to say, we could assume that it collects data on a worldwide basis, including Germany. However, there is a difference between assuming and knowing.

FAZ then asked if Snowden’s more salacious allegations were true, leading to this answer from the BfV director:

In counterintelligence, we often have to rely on indications. Rarely is there real proof. We don’t know whether NSA monitors telecommunications in Germany. We don’t know whether the Federal chancellor’s mobile phone was monitored from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. But we are well advised to be watchful and step up security and strengthen our counterintelligence measures.

The next question dealt with the legitimacy of these alleged U.S. activities, to which Maassen replied:

Spying has no place in my understanding of friendship. The Federal Government has made it clear to the United States that we expect different behavior and asked a high-ranking CIA employee to leave Germany.  This was a politically necessary and right decision. The Americans were surprised at this reaction by [Berlin].

Maassen’s answer to a question about the alleged CIA source run inside the BND is interesting:

The point is whether it violates German law. If the United States collects German information in the United States because we are so careless to let our telecommunication run via the United States, we really have no reason to criticize it; nor is our counterintelligence department able to do anything against it. However, when the Americans tap data lines in Germany or even have human sources, they violate German law. Then I say: enough is enough; we cannot accept that. In Germany, German law must be abided by. By the way, I expect an Allied intelligence service to tell us when someone offers himself as a source.

His answer, which would not be considered credible by many intelligence services, led to an interesting reply from FAZ: “Are you seriously telling us that the BND abides by the local telecommunications law in Afghanistan and does not tap lines?” To which Maassen said, a bit pedantically: “I don’t know about that. I’m sure that the BND abides by the laws it is subject to.”

FAZ then inquired about the BfV’s reaction to Snowden and other revelations, leading to this answer from Maassen:

After the end of the Cold War, some people thought that we would no longer need a counterintelligence department because Germany was surrounded by friends. Now, the political and public perception has changed and people have become aware that it’s necessary to give counterintelligence the attention it deserves. I welcome that. We will restructure our work. I’m grateful for the political backing that we have for it now.

Wrapping up the counterspy aspect, FAZ asked specifically what would change, and Maassen gave as direct an answer as any counterintelligence boss can be expected to:

The United States, the United Kingdom — to mention only two examples — are still our partners, I would even say our friends. We need them, and they need us. Yet, as the old saying goes: Trust is good, control is better. This is why we will increase counterintelligence activities. This is the lesson we have learned.

In Germany’s shoes I would be doing exactly what the BfV is now executing, namely treating the U.S., U.K. and other members of the Anglosphere’s Five Eyes SIGINT Alliance as CI threats that can no longer be ignored. Such is the price of the epic counterintelligence fail that is the Snowden Operation. Life will get interesting for certain American and British personnel in Central Europe henceforth.




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