August Hanning and Gerhard Schindler, two former chiefs of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service, have publicly criticised their former organisation by claiming that it needs to make considerable improvements if it is to “look Western allied services in the eye again.” They were wrting in Germany’s Bild newspaper.
They said there was too much oversight – there are seven different committees that the service has to respond to – and that this led to massive inefficiency. They suggested thatall three branches of the intelligence services (domestic, foreign and military) should be integrated and all be brought under the control of the German Ministry of Defence. They also said that Germany needs a new signals interception agency similar to GCHQ in the UK or the NSA in the USA.
It is a bad time for the BND. Earlier this year Cartsen Linke, an experienced officer was revealed to be a far-right extremist who was spying for Moscow. Bruno Kahl, the current head of the BND, has also been criticised for the Service’s current performance. It was almost blind on the Ukraine (which is practically a neighbour) unable to predict the Russian invasion or the Wagner uprising. In fact, when war broke out, Kahl found himself trapped in Kyiv and had to be rescued by German special forces.
In fairness, the German services are saddled with several big problems that do not affect the services of other countries: 1) German re-unification is still an issue with many former East Germans ready to help Moscow. 2) There is a strong far-right presence that harks back to Nazism and sees Putin’s Russia as the autocratic, anti-unified Europe, model that they wish to emulate. 3) At the other end of the political spectrum, the extreme left also have contacts with Moscow because they want to undermine the capitalist system. Some German MPs regularly visit Moscow despite the current war in Ukraine. And all of these factions have a finger in the oversight system. No wonder the German services are a mess.