Intelligence, foreign and domestic

March 13, 2013 - This is just a brief post about two articles I have in this week's edition of DIE ZEIT where I work. Unfortunately we don't run our stuff in English (yet?), so I am going to provide summaries for those of you interested in intelligence issues.

First item is a brief news bite: According to my information Germany's domestic intelligence agency "Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz" or BfV will shut down a unit they founded in 2009 whose task it was to provide background (academic and scientific) on Islamist ideology for the purpose of sharpening analysis of Islamist movements. It was comprised of roughly a half dozen experts, all of whom had studied Islamic Studies. In fact, most of these officials have already been moved to other departments weeks or even months ago. The agency states that they need their expertise in departments that are more pragmatically oriented, so in the end they apparently figured it is more honest to just close the shop. I found the idea behind the original founding of the unit very interesting and I know that internally some of their inout was highly valued; for example, these people seem to have made solid contributions towards a better understanding of Salafism. But be that as it may, they will from know on be working elsewhere inside the agency. Maybe some of them will even enjoy that, we will see. But it is interesting to note that other countries still maintain similar units and deem them important.

Second item is a bigger story I wrote about a case concerning the "Bundesnachrichtendienst", Germany's foreign intelligence agency. It is a bit complicated, but very interesting. So here are some bullet points:

* In late 2011 the agency received complaints about one of their officials who was at the time running a liaison office in the German city of Mainz. According to these complaints, the man, among other things, made right wing populist statements on a regular basis.

* The agency started an internal investigation, seeking disciplinary matters, that would focus on what the agency described as "right wing populist statements". In hearings, witnesses said that they had heard the official in question making numerous statements that would be hostile towards Muslims and Islam as well as black people and foreigner.

* However, in the course of that internal investigations other members of the agency were heard and some of what they said alarmed the agency. There had apparently been talk about the need to train for when things would get ugly, and some witnesses said they overheard the man speaking about how he had already buried a crate of weapons and was having preparatory meetings with high standing, like minded people.

* These bits and pieces led the agency to formally turn the investigation over to a prosecutor. They filed charges, suggesting the official had broken laws regulating weapons. The agency made it clear they believed it possible he was thinking about starting his own militia.

* Police investigated the charges, including measures like wire tapping the agency official, raiding his home and even tailing him. Nothing came of it: they closed the file because they couldn't produce evidence he had broken any gun laws (he does have weapons, but they are all legal and legally stored) or made attempts at starting his own militia.

* After the file was shut, however, the agency took up the internal investigation again (which had to be stopped during the external investigation). The BND is still seeking disciplinary matters because they believe that his alleged islamophobic statements are not in keeping with his obligations as a state official (who by law in Germany have to be balanced or at least can't be extreme in their publicized views).

* The lawyer of the official says it is all mobbing, misunderstandings and misportrayal. He says his client is neither a racist (witnesses claim he had called black people less intelligent) or an islamophob (other witnesses say he said Islam doesn't belong to Germany, and that there was reason to believe Muslims would undermine our society).

* The lawyer also filed charges against another official of the BND, claiming he lied about his client.

It is going to be interesting to see whether the BND will be able to discipline the man and in what ways. This process may take weeks or even months. The argument is now not about weapons anymore, it is about words -- and the question of what things you can say as an intelligence official. Of course there also the question of what things the man actually said - as the lawyer is disputing most of that. In any case, it is the first case of this kind that I am aware of.

Here are links to short German summaries of the stories. 1 & 2.

Alright, good night,


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