Germany was a soft target for Russian spies. Things are changing fast, For years. A sweeping investigation into alleged. Russian espionage inside Germany’s state intelligence service. The BND, has set off alarm bells in Western capitals. And calls for a major overhaul of the agency to strengthen. Its defenses against Russian espionage.
Coming at a critical moment in the war in Ukraine.
When the US and its allies are sharing intelligence with Kiev. The case raises questions about how much potential damage could be done. By a senior German spy service employee accused of passing on secrets. From Russia.
A key partner in Western efforts to counter the Kremlin in the wake of its attacks on Ukraine. Germany has long proved a soft target for Russian spies. Who sparked the 2019 assassination of one of Moscow’s opponents in the heart of Berlin.
The revelations about a possible Russian mole inside the BND are the latest amid troubling reports of suspected. Russian espionage in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Intelligence experts say there are likely more Russian agents yet to be uncovered. And German lawmakers say there is a growing consensus. That Berlin’s security services need to be restructured. And take a tougher line against Russian espionage.
“The government is upset and afraid that Russia had a spy in such a high position.
Said a member of the German parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The employee under investigation, only “Kirsten L.” Identified as. He worked in the BND’s technical division, or Abteilung Technische Aufklärung. An important arm of the agency that oversees sensitive secrets. And other information collected through technology — not human informants.
German authorities announced a second arrest in the case. On Thursday, saying a German national. Who is not a BND employee, was taken into custody. On suspicion of helping a BND officer pass information to the Russians.
A second suspect, identified only by German authorities as Arthur E. Identified as. He was arrested Sunday at Munich airport while arriving on a flight from the United States.
“Arthur E. took information to Russia and passed. It on to intelligence agencies there,” prosecutors said in a statement.
German authorities said the FBI was assisting in the investigation.
The revelation of possible turncoats within the country’s spy service has coincided. A major political shift in Germany since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. The German government abandoning its long-standing policy of appeasement toward Moscow. Commentators and some parliamentarians are citing the case as further evidence. That Berlin must take a tougher stance against. Russia’s aggressive espionage and political warfare.
“If the allegations are proven, a clear signal to Russia is needed. Unfortunately, such signals were lacking in the past. Said Greens lawmaker Constantin von Notz. Chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing intelligence services. “Other countries have responded more to similar incidents.”
The BND employee under investigation. Who held the military rank of colonel, worked in the technical department. But his exact position and duties remain unclear. Given his senior status, it is likely. That he “did not only have access to information collected by the BND. But also information from partner services,” said Marburg University professor Wolfgang Krieger. Who specializes in intelligence services and testified. As an expert witness on previous espionage. The case.
The lawsuit from the allied country is “damaging to the relationship.
Between the BND and partner services”, he said. “As a result less information may be given to the BND. And partner services may now be more cautious. As a spy is vulnerable to the service’s own people and their procedures.”
A BND spokesman declined to comment on the case, saying it was an ongoing investigation. US intelligence officials also declined to comment. German media first reported details of the case.
In his statement on the case in December. The president of the BND, Bruno Kahl, said the success of the investigation would depend. On ensuring that as little information as possible was released.
“Moderation and discretion are very important in this particular case. With Russia, we are dealing with an actor on the other side whose unscrupulousness. And willingness to use violence we have to reckon with,” he said. “Every detail of this operation that becomes public means. An advantage for this adversary intent on harming Germany.”
Gerhard Konrad, a former senior officer at the BND, said. That until the precise nature of the suspect’s work in the intelligence service was made public. It was too early to assess the potential consequences of the alleged espionage. “To get a reliable picture here, we need to know the specific function of the alleged employee,” said Conrad. Now a visiting professor of intelligence studies at King’s College London.
Besides to the BND case, a German man was convicted in November of passing information to Russia. While serving as a reserve officer in the German army.
German authorities are also investigating whether two officials. From Germany’s Federal Economy Ministry were spying for Russia. According to the newspaper Die Zeit. The officials under investigation dealt with energy supply issues. Putting them at the center of key decisions. On the now-defunct Russian Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany.
Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, BFV. Which is roughly equal to the FBI, declined to comment on the case.
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action said. It could not comment on any specific case. But said it works in close coordination with federal law enforcement authorities. On energy, the ministry has “completely revised. The policy of the previous government” to reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas, it said.
Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat considered wary of friction with Russia. Served 16 years as chancellor before leaving office in 2021. He was succeeded by Olaf Scholz of the left-leaning Social Democrats. Forming a coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats as leader of Germany.
‘The Russian services are relentless’
“The Russians have invested a lot of time. And effort in infiltrating German institutions at all levels. Russian services are relentless and have benefited. A weak counterintelligence environment in Germany,” said John Siefer. A former CIA intelligence officer who worked for the agency’s secret services. 28 years with postings in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
“So, when you have a weak defense combined with a focused. And relentless offense. You can expect that there are many sources within the German government. And business elite that are doing Moscow’s bidding,” he said.
In 2019, a former Chechen separatist fighter was shot dead in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park. A German court has finally convicted a Russian citizen. Who authorities said was an officer of Russia’s FSB domestic. Intelligence agency acting on Moscow’s orders.
Russia has denied the allegations. At his trial, the convicted assassin, Vadim Krasikov. Denied that he was acting on Moscow’s orders.
A member of the German parliament said, “The killings at Tiergarten show. That Russia thinks Germany is so weak that they can kill. A treaty in broad daylight in the government quarters in Berlin.” “That tells you something.”
Germany has underestimated the Russian threat and given counterintelligence work. A low priority, but that is changing now in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Experts and Western officials say.
“It’s clear that we have to take a completely different approach to counterintelligence. Than in the past,” von Notz said. “We have been drawing attention to this for a long time. Given the sharp rise in security threats following Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Which violates international law, we must act very .”
Konrad, the former BND officer. Said decision-makers in Germany failed to heed concerns raised. By security services about Berlin’s approach to Russia in the past. Including its reliance on Russian natural gas imports.
“Services have been the unheard of counsel here for years,” Conrad said.
The German government has proposed plans to give the intelligence service more funding. And clearer legal authority to carry out its mission.
BND is hampered by a lack of resources, its technology lags behind many of its partners. And a complex legal framework that makes it difficult to counter adversaries inside Germany. According to Konrad and other experts.
“The BND law does not meet current needs,” Krieger said.
Given the country’s Nazi past and the totalitarian legacy of Soviet-controlled East Germany. Politicians have been reluctant to empower German security services. And have sought stricter protections for privacy and civil liberties. German leaders, aware that Germany had invaded Russia in World War II. Also sought to avoid conflict and hoped that economic ties could ease tensions. But the invasion of Ukraine has triggered. A political sea change, with Berlin now supplying Kiev with artillery. And tanks while supporting sanctions on the Russian economy.
Last April, Berlin expelled 40 Russian embassy staff accused of working for Russian intelligence. Announcing the move, German Foreign Minister Annalena Bierbock. The activists “worked every day against our freedom. And against the cohesion of our society here in Germany.”
Western officials and former US intelligence officials called the expulsion of the BND employee. And the current investigation a positive sign that Berlin’s attitude has changed.
“This government is serious about dealing with this. Said a Western official familiar with the issue.
Germany’s intelligence services failed to expect that Russia would invade Ukraine. A failure that has yet to be the subject of any released “lessons learned” review. Such a review would show Germany is serious about changing its approach, Western officials said.
“There is definitely a change. The question is, how far do they take it?”