BND headquarters. Image: euroluftbild.en/Grahn/CC BY-SA-3.0
Interview with intelligence critic Erich Schmidt-Eenboom on the BND’s planned counter-intelligence unit
According to information from Der Spiegel, the BND "powerful force" expand, "to spy on foreign intelligence services". There is explicit talk of "counterintelligence activities" which were discontinued after the end of the Cold War. Main opponents are again the Russians. In the game against the "Main enemy", as it hieb at that time in the jargon, the western services remained at that time always only "second winner". Intelligence expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom has been watching the BND for decades (and vice versa).
How does the BND define "Counterintelligence"?
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: Counterintelligence defines the BND as "offensive and defensive intelligence operation to combat espionage z.B. in the form of counterplay". countergames in turn are operations "with an uber-committed agent, using game material". Counterintelligence is considered to be the supreme discipline of intelligence. What counterintelligence operations did the BND conduct against Eastern intelligence services during the Cold War, and how successful were they??
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: Even Reinhard Gehlen shied away from the danger of falling into a trap when working with double agents against eastern intelligence services. Only BND-president Klaus Kinkel (1979 – 1982) relied on the so-called "Detour" in which foreign cadres of the Warsaw Treaty states – including intelligence officers – were to be recruited in Western or neutral foreign countries to defect or to engage in double-agent activities. There were some failed attempts, for example a "cold approach", in which a Soviet intelligence officer was involved in an accident in Vienna in order to induce him to spontaneously defect to the Federal Republic of Germany. The GS’s roughest success against the KGB was the source "Viktor", a KGB colonel who, however, had to flee Moscow in 1985 because of the threat of exposure. But "Viktor" was a self-provider and not success of an active Mabnahme of the BND. The BND was riddled with double agents even during the Cold War. Given that the existence of a counterintelligence unit has now leaked out in embryonic form, can sufficient operational security be expected from?
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: Whether it leaked out or was leaked as a warning shot, I would like to leave open. According to Spiegel, the new unit will be headed by an experienced official from the security department. Now in the personnel pool of the BND there are so few top female officers in the security department of the service that their identity is not long concealed from the intelligence adversary, so she will soon come into their sights. In any case, this publication calls opposing services on the plan. Have there been strategic attempts by Eastern services to infiltrate the BND in recent years??
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: There is no need for a grand strategy, because the Eastern intelligence services consider it an integral part of their work to infiltrate Western intelligence services. In 2003, one such successful attack became public: the senior government director with the code name Humbach had been lured into a honey trap as a resident of the BND in Sofia. When he was promoted to head of the Danube Region Procurement Department after returning to Pullach, his agent guide Mariana Dimova followed him and was dismissed as deputy consul general in Munich. In October 2003, Humbach was arrested for espionage on behalf of the Bulgarian intelligence service, following an investigation by the JCC.
The fine art of distinguishing between double agents and genuine defectors
How will the Russians react to the establishment of such a unit politically and in terms of intelligence??
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: Politically, this is a marginal ie, which at best is taken note of in the Kremlin. In defensive counterintelligence, there will be no tightening of defensive methods, as the Russian services have long been exposed primarily to British attacks, many of which have been successful. At the Munich Security Conference, the heads of the foreign intelligence services of France, the Federal Republic of Germany and Great Britain emphasized the need for close intelligence cooperation despite the Brexit. It is therefore possible that the BND will enjoy partner service assistance from MI 6, which has experience in this area, in its new task. James Jesus Angleton, CIA counterintelligence chief from 1949 to 1974, amed that almost all Soviet defectors were not genuine traitors but had been sent by Moscow to spread disinformation and cause confusion. In the offensive counterintelligence, the Russian services could also be tempted today to use a so-called field-of-view taking to get an allegedly defecting intelligence officer to the BND, in order to get a feel for the new adversary. The high art will be to distinguish between the double agents and the real defectors. The BND had to learn the hard way from the highly professional Russians. As former BND president Gerhard Schindler said: "no risk, no fun." The corresponding unit is to be closely interlocked with the Federal Office for Interception Protection, which, in contrast to the BND, is allowed to become operational within Germany. What are the risks of such dovetailing of domestic and foreign intelligence services?
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: It is not about interlocking, but about task sharing. The BfV has to use its capacities not only to inform the intelligence services of enemy states, but also to check their readiness to jump ship, and thus to alert the BND to target persons. Whether the courage to take risks is then so coarse that the BND addresses potential defectors from the Russian, Chinese, Iranian or even North Korean services on German soil, I would like to doubt. It is more likely to do so in Western or neutral countries, if only to keep the opponent in the dark about the nationality of the recruiting service. Although Germany is no longer a frontline state, the Service will seek cooperation with Western partners to safely house defectors with new identities who are at risk from revenge attacks, preferably in the far-flung United States. While foreign intelligence services enjoy patriotic support and are romanticized among the respective domestic population, the BND has so far been largely denied acceptance. Could this new unit polish up the image of the BND??
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom: The new, soon-to-be 50-headed counterintelligence unit will be hell-bent on hanging successful counterintelligence operations on the rough end of the stick. It must be methodologically new, imaginative ways and ensure for decades that its methods remain secret to continue to be effective. In this respect it is completely unsuitable to improve the image of the BND. At best, its very existence could act as a signal that the BND is trying to overcome its traditional risk aversion. (Markus Kompa)