Архив за етикет: anti terrorism

Apocalypse Now: A Year of Crises, Shocks and Fears of Terror

 Ansbach, Munich, Würzburg, Nice, Brussels – in light of the many horrific news stories, many are asking: What’s the matter with 2016?



Has the world gone mad? This question is occupying the minds of many people these days. It feels like the world is out of step, that multiple crises are encroaching upon us and that the distant world of international politics is about to get dangerously personal. How are we supposed to deal with the feeling of living in an era that we no longer seem to understand?

This year, international political events have overlapped in an unsettling way. Something seems to be coalescing and brewing, though it’s not yet clear what. Each new development seems to come a bit faster than the last. It may have begun with the Arab Spring in 2011, but it also continued with the wars in Libya and Syria and was further exacerbated by the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the latest terrorist attacks. We are witnessing the destabilization of the world as we’ve known it since 1989.When our phones began vibrating a week ago Friday with breaking news alerts about the military coup in Turkey, we were still processing our shock over the terrorist attack in Nice, France. Each shock fades quickly in light of the next one. On Sunday, a Syrian refugee detonated a bomb outside an outdoor concert in Ansbach, Germany. Last Friday, an 18-year-old student shot and killed nine people in Munich, most of them teenagers. And only days before that, a 17-year-old asylum-seeker in Würzburg attacked a group of Chinese tourists with an ax.

It was only a month ago that a majority of British voters decided to leave the European Union. The United States is shaken by racial unrest, the massacre in Orlando – and the rise of the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

July 18, 2016: A 17-year-old from Afghanistan attacked people with an ax and knife.


July 18, 2016: A 17-year-old from Afghanistan attacked people with an ax and knife.

With that, 2016 was really only the worst year since 2015, the year of the great refugee crisis. And 2015 was only the worst year since 2014, the year of the war in Ukraine.

We are living in an age of shocks and crises that could well be traumatizing in their rapid succession and concentration, since it’s not yet clear whether they’re only a temporary jolt or the beginning of a trend with no end in sight. Of course, the sheer number of conflicts has remained constant in recent years. But there is much indication that we find ourselves in a new era of global instability. The biggest geopolitical stories of our time are the destabilization in the Middle East, the European security order and the European Union. In addition, there has been a societal shift in many Western countries: Many citizens are angry at the elites, because they see themselves as victims of globalization, free trade and migration. This anger has enabled the rise of political movements from the fringe to the mainstream in only a few years: Donald Trump, the Brexit movement, Front National and the Alternative for Germany, or AfD. The classic political camps are dissolving as the battle between the political left and the right is replaced by one between Isolationists and Internationalists.

Every now and then, there are phases in international politics during which more happens in the span of a few weeks than would otherwise happen in decades. Do 2014 and 2016 fall into that category? They’re not comparable to the most dramatic phases of the past century, when both World Wars broke out; nor are they anything like 1989, when the Cold War ended and the world order was rearranged. It’s also unclear whether this year will end with the same chaotic violence it started with.

But it is rather likely that global insecurity will become the new status quo. The old, more stable world of the 1990s is not coming back. We have to accept the fact that we live in trying times. Many things are being thrown off-kilter: the balance of power between the United States and China, the future of the EU, NATO’s eastern flank, the global economic order, the relationship between modernity and political Islam, not to mention democracy and human rights in the West.

July 18, 2016: An Erdogan supporter in Ankara. The Turkish government is now considering reimposing the death penalty.


July 18, 2016: An Erdogan supporter in Ankara. The Turkish government is now considering reimposing the death penalty.

Finding the thread that ties all this together is tough. There are causal and random effects, clear connections and we’re often dependent on speculation. Does the ease with which attackers commit murder in the West have anything to do with the horrific images of Syria that we’re seeing? Do military officials like those in Turkey find it easier to encourage a coup if they find themselves surrounded by violent conflicts and the region is gripped by chaos? And is Erdogan taking a page out of Putin’s book when he suspends the European Human Rights Convention? Instability begets instability – that’s something we are now seeing on a daily basis.

It’s hard to say when the world began to grow more instable. It’s a truism to say 1989 didn’t usher in the end of history, as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama predicted at the time. The end of the Cold War also meant the disappearance of the rivalry between two superpowers that kept the rest of the world in icy suspense. After a short phase of sole American dominance and the relative calm of the 1990s, history once again reared its head with the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War, which bears responsibility for much of what is afflicting the world today.

July 15, 2016: A woman mourns the dead in Nice after dozens were killed in a terrorist attack.


July 15, 2016: A woman mourns the dead in Nice after dozens were killed in a terrorist attack.

The Iraq War had two consequences. It ushered in the collapse of the Iraqi state and the rise of terrorism in the region, as the self-styled Islamic State was born out of the rubble of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. George W. Bush’s war marked the overextension of American military might and the beginning of a new isolationism in US foreign policy.

Barack Obama began the withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East and Europe. He wanted to concentrate more heavily on the Pacific region, where China was reclaiming its historical sphere of influence. He wanted to leave interventionism behind him, opting not to invade Syria even though he admitted the situation in the region had spiralled out of control.

If neither the US nor the Europeans or some other major power wants to maintain order, a geopolitical vacuum forms – and that’s what we’re dealing with now. So far China hasn’t been interested in taking on a global role militarily either. If Donald Trump becomes president, America would withdraw from the world even further. It would be the end of NATO as we know it. The Europeans filling the gap left behind by the US is rather unlikely in light of their own weaknesses. Western foreign policy now seems impotent.

The second cause of the geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East is the Arab Spring. It arose from a dissatisfaction with the economic conditions in Arab countries and it has only been exacerbated by rapid population growth. Enraged young people overthrew their post-colonial rulers, whose power had become brittle. But rather than democracy and prosperity, what followed in many cities was chaos, sectarian clashes and destabilization in the entire region.

Old state structures in Syria, Libya and Iraq have collapsed. Borders once imposed by colonial rulers have disintegrated. Some political scientists feel reminded of the Thirty Years War given the unrest throughout the region. By now, the destabilization of the Middle East has also enveloped Turkey, where old state structures are being called into question. The country is on the brink of civil war as political Islam faces off with secular tradition, tearing the country apart. The further Turkey distances itself from Europe, the more the unrest in the region will have an impact on Europe, for the Continent will have lost an important buffer between East and West.

The geopolitical turmoil wouldn’t have the same effect on us if the West wasn’t already feeling insecure. The shock hits us so hard because we are no longer sure of ourselves. External instability reinforces internal instability.

Terrorism threatens our daily lives, while nationalist populism threatens the political culture. Since the financial crisis of 2007, there has been uncertainty about whether capitalism is still working. Many European countries are languishing amid low growth, high unemployment and growing inequality. A new class of angry citizens has emerged, one in which voters feel left behind, threatened and unrepresented. The beneficiaries of the crisis are the nationalist populists. They sympathize with the authoritarianism of Putin, fan the flames of anti-Muslim rhetoric and dream of bringing an end to the EU. They are fighting the West from within.

Another worrisome tendency in the West is the tendency to believe the kinds of conspiracy theories that circulated on Facebook and Twitter in some countries after the Arab Spring and poisoned the atmosphere there. Even in Europe, some citizens have completely lost their certainty that a reality based in proven facts even exists. The credibility of classic media and politicians is called into doubt – instead, lies and rumors are preferred.

At the beginning of the Arab Spring, there was a debate about whether the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or Syria would have happened had it not been for Facebook and Twitter. They probably would have still happened, but the protesters wouldn’t have been able to mobilize as quickly as they did online.

In June, the citizens of Britain made the shocking decision to leave the European Union in a national referendum.


In June, the citizens of Britain made the shocking decision to leave the European Union in a national referendum.

The same holds true today. Social media platforms bring the world closer to us than ever before and help us understand it. But they at the same time intensify and spread a new permanent sense of insecurity. They disseminate word of every single shock, attack and cruelty across the globe, and they give everyone a forum where they can further incense themselves. Furthermore, they make it more difficult to maintain perspective in this chaotic world.

Many of us simply don’t understand the world anymore. It will probably be up to the historians of future generations to accurately categorize what exactly it is that we’re experiencing in these times of transition. This is, however, not the time to give in to panic – it is time to have confidence in one’s own values and keep fighting for the society one believes in. Geopolitical turmoil is best overcome when one is grounded in clear convictions, which holds true for both citizens and countries as a whole. First of all, a clear compass is needed in order to take responsibility for foreign policy, confront dictators and manage the crises that we’re witnessing.

Mathieu von Rohr is DER SPIEGEL’s deputy foreign editor.

Terrorism in the Age of the Market State

Stratfor, June 19, 2016

The Orlando attacks were not isolated, but an attack on our era’s constitutional order. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


Editor’s Note: In 2008, Stratfor contributor and editorial board member Philip Bobbitt, widely considered a leader in the field of international security, published Terror and Consent, which argued that every era of constitutional order is afflicted by its own unique brand of terrorism. Jay Ogilvy, who chairs Stratfor’s editorial board, sat down with Bobbitt to discuss the current incarnation of terrorism in light of the Orlando shootings. 

Jay Ogilvy: In my earlier column introducing Philip Bobbitt, I gave much less attention to his book, Terror and Consent, than to two of his other books. For obvious reasons, it’s time we give Terror and Consent the attention it deserves. And it deserves quite a lot. In his cover story review in The New York Times’ „Sunday Book Review,“ Niall Ferguson calls it, „quite simply the most profound book to have been written on the subject of American foreign policy since the attacks of 9/11 — indeed, since the end of the cold war.“

Like Bobbitt’s earlier book, The Shield of Achilles, the argument of Terror and Consent is based on his reading of Western history since France’s King Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494. According to Bobbitt, the centuries since have seen a succession of different constitutional orders, from the Machiavellian princely state, through the dynastic kingly state, the aristocratic territorial state, the imperial state nation and the industrial nation state to what Bobbitt calls the informational market state, which is just now emerging. Each constitutional order has its own epochal war, and the treaties that conclude those wars determine the terms on which the following constitutional order will be built.

What Terror and Consent adds to this already magisterial construction is another column in a vast matrix of correspondences, this time with respect to terrorism. It turns out, not altogether surprisingly once one has caught the Hegelian sweep of Bobbitt’s thinking, that each of the epochs has its own brand of terrorism. Understanding this historicity of terrorism is important for, like those apocryphal generals who always prepare for the last war, we fight yesterday’s terrorism at our peril.

Over the centuries, the nature of terrorism morphs in part because of advances in technology, from knives and pitchforks to weapons of mass destruction. But more profoundly, the nature of terrorism flexes to the structure of each new constitutional order. „In each era, terrorism derives its ideology in reaction to the raison d’etre of the dominant constitutional order, at the same time negating and rejecting that form’s unique ideology but mimicking the form’s structural characteristics.“

So, for example, in the kingly state, the state and the monarch are joined as one: L’etat c’est moi. And the form of terrorism that typifies the era of the kingly state is piracy perpetrated by sea captains who regard themselves, vis-à-vis the states arrayed against them, as enjoying all the sovereignty of kings.

Bobbitt summarizes the relationships between constitutional orders and their corresponding terrorisms as follows:

„So it was that princely states coexisted with fanatically religious mercenaries, kingly states flourished in the golden age of piracy, territorial states vied with the private armies of commercial consortia for overseas revenues and investments, imperial state nations struggled with international anarchists, and nation states attempted to suppress national liberation movements. And so it will be when the market state finds it has generated a terrorism that negates the very individual choice that the State exalts, and puts in service of that negation the networked, decentralized, outsourcing global methods characteristic of the market state itself.“

And so it has come to pass in Orlando. As many commentators have remarked, the choice of a gay bar as the target represented an attack on the kind of individual liberty that is so prized in the market state. As Frank Bruni put it on the op-ed page of The New York Times:

This was no more an attack just on L.G.B.T. people than the bloodshed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was an attack solely on satirists. Both were attacks on freedom itself. Both took aim at societies that, at their best, integrate and celebrate diverse points of view, diverse systems of belief, diverse ways to love.“

Bobbitt acknowledges that these are early days for the market state, which itself could unfold in several different forms. On the very first page of his text, Bobbitt calls out three different wars on terror: „an attempt to preempt attacks by global, networked terrorists; a struggle to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and the worldwide endeavor to protect civilians from natural catastrophes.“ In light of the mass killings by so-called „lone wolf“ shooters from Sandy Hook and San Bernardino to Orlando, I asked Professor Bobbitt whether or not we should consider a fourth war against terror.

Here is his reply:

Philip Bobbitt: As we search to find a successful method of preventing terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando, it might be worthwhile to visit one of the common myths that arise in the wake of such atrocities. This is the myth of the „lone wolf.“

Last December, U.S. President Barack Obama observed that,

„… the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase. As we become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack we saw at Fort Hood in 2009, in Chattanooga earlier this year and now San Bernardino.“

This is unquestionably true, and much credit must be given to the FBI and the intelligence services for the fact that the United States has not suffered the kinds of attacks we saw in Paris. We should be very wary, however, about claims — which seem invariably to come quickly after a shooting — that the terrorist was „self-radicalized“ and operated essentially alone.

The myth of the lone wolf is that of the killer who is inspired by a terrorist group’s ideology but is not under its operational control. As one commentator put it,

„Because lone wolves operate on their own, their personal agendas often mix with those of the terrorist group they claim to serve. In San Bernardino, the killers struck at a holiday party at the county health department where one of them worked, not exactly the center of the Crusader effort to dominate the Middle East.“

In fact, it seems very unlikely that the San Bernardino murders were the result of the twisted psychological problems of an unhappy couple. The fact that the killings occurred at a civil service office, which might imply a workplace shooting, was actually much more likely to have been a target of opportunity once the imploring calls for action coming from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave the killers an emergency directive to act. This is confirmed by the enormous arsenal amassed by the killers, and the various quotidian acts they undertook in the days before the shooting — buying groceries, getting movie tickets and so on. And, as is almost always the case, once the lives of the killers are scrutinized, we invariably find recent trips to terrorist centers abroad. In the case of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernardino shooters, it was Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

In the case of the Chattanooga killer, it was Jordan. In the case of the Boston Marathon terrorists, it was Dagestan. In the case of Omar Mateen, the Orlando mass murderer, it was Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the father of the Chattanooga terrorist was himself on a terrorist watch list. The Tsarnaev brothers were on a watch list and had been interviewed by the FBI. Mateen was interviewed three times by the FBI. His father is a prominent Afghan political figure who urges acceptance of the Taliban. Being on a terrorist watch list, being interviewed by the FBI, traveling through war-torn areas where terrorist groups are prominent: These are not the characteristics of the misfits and loners who attack classrooms. Moreover, following the Islamic State’s recent battlefield setbacks, the Islamic State commander responsible for attacks outside the Middle East called on supporters to carry out killings in the United States during the holy month of Ramadan, which began June 5.

The myth of the lone wolf depends on the comforting distinction between „Islamic State-inspired“ and „Islamic State-directed“ attacks. The lone wolf, we are told, lacks those links with the terrorist network that would tip off the authorities. In an unfortunate lapse of logic, many people are inclined to conclude that if such links are not immediately apparent, the killer is a lone wolf: Lone wolves lack links, so if a terrorist lacks links, he is a lone wolf.

But the image of the isolated and unhappy youth, mesmerized by messages and violent videos on the Internet, the „self-radicalized“ terrorist is an extremely unlikely occurrence. The vast majority of radicalized individuals come into contact with extremist ideology through offline socialization prior to becoming indoctrinated online. The Internet does not, in fact, radicalize in isolation of other factors, and it is not operating on isolated individuals when these people take up violence. Search engines rarely provide links to content that supports Islamist indoctrination. The Internet’s role is less about initiating the radicalization process than acting as a facilitator for educating and indoctrinating people who have already been recruited.

It is comforting to tell ourselves that someone like Mateen is merely hateful and pathetic, and not a component of some grandiose plot. But it is deeply misleading if the precedents of the past decade are any guide, and it ultimately will be enervating to our strategies. After all, the self-radicalized lone wolf will always get through. What’s the point of expending much energy fruitlessly trying to stop him? And thus, support for more aggressive investigations and surveillance will naturally ebb; what good would they be against the lone wolf?

I was living in London at the time of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. The newspapers the next day were full of assessments and claims that the terrorist group was „local“ and had no links with larger terrorist networks abroad. I cautioned at the time that this conclusion was premature, and therefore I was not surprised when the martyrdom videos surfaced. It may be recalled that the fourth member of the terrorist team did not execute his bombing mission on the underground as did the other three. His explosives went off while he was riding some miles away on the upper deck of a bus. Is it really so far-fetched to think that the telephone call to the cellphone that triggered the explosion was made by someone who didn’t want the conspirator to survive? Yet we are discomforted by the possibility of the networks to which these terrorists are attached.

Yesterday, by contrast, a vibrant and popular member of the British Parliament was murdered in her constituency by a deranged man. He seems to have been politically motivated — he reportedly shouted „Britain First“ several times during the attack — but he was not politically active. His profile is a familiar one: raised apart from his natural parents, living alone for many years with a grandparent who is now deceased, helpful to neighbors though quiet. One knows the newspaper quotes from relatives: „I am struggling to believe what has happened. He is not violent and is not all that political. I don’t even know who he votes for. He has a history of mental illness.“ Or from neighbors: „All this is totally at odds with the man we thought we knew. He was a quiet guy, you would not think it of him. There was no reason to think he would be capable of something like this.“

This man, though he committed an act that will have significant political repercussions, was no terrorist. And though he acted alone, he was not the mythical lone wolf. More a wounded creature, I would say. For Americans, the murder of Britain’s Jo Cox is likely to remind us of the attempted killing of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a meeting in her constituency. The assassin actually killed six other people in the attack. He had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was only sentenced when the forcible administration of antipsychotic drugs brought him to a state in which the trial judge reversed an earlier ruling and held him competent for trial. What he shared with Cox’s murderer was a generalized if incoherent hatred of government and an apparently nonviolent personality.

Ogilvy: Professor Bobbitt, one more question please: In your book, you devote a great deal of attention to the danger of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the prevention of the proliferation of these weapons is one of your three wars on terror. But the weapon of choice in all of the attacks over the past several years is the assault rifle. Would you care to comment?

Bobbitt: These are very different problems, the terrorist malcontent and the wounded loner, though they may raise common policy issues like gun control. Where they really differ, however, is in their future access to weapons of mass destruction, which is one more reason to be wary of the lone wolf myth. The assault rifle was the weapon of choice for both the Giffords assassin and Mateen. But the men who sought to kill a U.S. congresswoman and a British lawmaker were not capable of the planning involved in a quasi-military attack. That wasn’t the case with Mateen. If he had had access to more formidable weapons, weapons a terrorist network could devise and deliver, one can only imagine the destruction he might have caused.


Spying on Friends? Atmosphere of Distrust Hinders EU Anti-Terror Cooperation

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Following the attacks in Brussels, calls are growing for European intelligence services to work together more closely. But cooperation is difficult because Germany’s secret service has little trust in its EU partners, and has even spied on them.

The man who wants to explain the psyche of Germany’s foreign intelligence service sips a cappuccino and talks about the abduction of German tourists in the Sahara Desert a few years ago. A crisis committee was meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, and agents at the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in Pullach, outside Munich, were trying to figure out how to get information about the kidnappers. Human lives were at stake, the pressure considerable.

The French intelligence services had good sources in the region, but they had been unwilling to share their information with the Germans, so the BND decided to spy on the French to get it. This was how it came to be that the Germans spied on a government agency in a friendly country, one they treated as being among of their closest political allies. Friendly? Allied? In the man with the cappuccino’s work, the two were mutually exclusive terms.A senior BND official at the time, he prefers to keep his name a secret. He recounts the episode to explain why an intelligence service sometimes finds it necessary to spy on one of its partners – and how it could happen that the BND spied on so many institutions in Europe. The intelligence business, he says, is based primarily on suspicion.

It took only a few hours after three bombs had exploded in Brussels and 35 people had been killed for politicians and experts to begin calling for better cooperation among intelligence services in Europe.

Hoarding Data

There was talk of a community of values, of solidarity and of trust. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), mentioned various „pots of data“ and the need to finally link them together. Federal Prosecutor General Peter Frank and the domestic policy spokesman of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary group, Burkhard Lischka, called for a European counterterrorism center.

Politicians and others have been singing the same tune for months, just as always happens when there has been an attack. It happened in November, after the attacks on the Stade de France stadium and the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, and before that, in January, on the editorial officials of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The argument makes sense: If terrorists are forming cross-border networks, then governments must do the same to fight terrorists. Nevertheless, cooperation among security agencies in Europe remains rudimentary.

The episode in the Sahara illustrates why this is true. Intelligence services mistrust rather than trust each other, with data getting hoarded instead of shared. As we have learned from past revelations, everyone spies on everyone else. The American National Security Agency (NSA) tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, and the BND spied on former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The list of examples could go on forever.

For months, the German government has been working on a law to reform the country’s intelligence agencies. Its aim being to improve transparency and eliminate mistrust, especially with European partners. But the suspicion is deeply entrenched, as evidenced by the thousands of spying targets, known as selectors, the BND has directed at European neighbors.

Deep Distrust

The selectors consist of long sequences of letters and characters. The sequence begins with a telephone number, email address or number of a device the BND wishes to spy on, followed by a code for the subject matter: „WPR“ for weapons production, „LAP“ for agricultural policy, „TEF“ for funding of terrorism, „ISG“ for an Islamist who poses a potential threat to public safety.

Then comes a three-letter code for the country where the spying occurs. The sequence often ends with a blocking code to identify intelligence services with which the Germans prefer not to share the results of the spying operation: HORT for Hortensie (hydrangea), for example, the code for the United States, and BEGO for Begonia, the code for Denmark.

The BND employees referred to the services of other countries as Fleurop partners (which stands for the Europe-wide online flower delivery service of the same name). Many of the BND selectors included blocking codes, a sign of how deeply the Germans mistrusted these agencies.

The selectors open a window into the world of BND espionage, revealing how pronounced the German agents’ desire to gather information was. To some extent, they used the same terms to search the worldwide sea of data as their counterparts from the United States. The overlap encompassed many areas, including politics and business, government agencies and private citizens. The BND was snooping around in crisis zones, but also in countries like the United States. European neighbors were targets of its espionage with remarkable frequency.

For instance, the email addresses, telephone and fax numbers of virtually all European embassies and many consulates in Germany were on this target list, and the agents didn’t even shy away from spying on a Vatican delegation. The list also included phone numbers for the interior ministries in Vienna and Brussels, the Defense Ministry in London and the US State Department, as well as banks like HSBC.

International institutions were on the list of targets, as well as the United Nations drug control program, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the International Monetary Fund in Washington. So were non-governmental organizations, such as Oxfam, Care International, the International Committee of the Red Cross in Vienna, the International Medical Corps in Los Angeles and the International Action Center in New York.

The offices of politicians were also wiretapped, such as that of the Israeli prime minister, along with telecommunications companies like British Telecom and MCI Worldcom, a NASA flight operations center, a department of the US Air Force, and many small and mid-sized companies in Austria and Switzerland, even gun manufacturer Heckler & Koch in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, which was British-owned at the time it was spied on.

At the beginning of the espionage scandal, it seemed that the BND was mainly gathering information about European targets on behalf of the Americans. One revelation that triggered outrage was that the Germans had wiretapped European companies Eurocopter and EADS for the NSA, fueling speculation over possible industrial espionage. The Americans had given their German counterparts 73 telephone numbers at both companies to monitor. BND terminated the program in 2006, because it violated German and European interests.

It is now becoming clear that the BND listened in on calls associated with at least two phone numbers at the defense contractors for its own purposes, a Eurocopter office in Marignane, France, and an EADS number in Warsaw.

An Atmosphere of Distrust

The surveillance was so broad in scope that it forces the question of whether the targets were all actually necessary to track down terrorists and money launderers, human traffickers and arms dealers. Put differently, how many encroachments on personal data are needed to ensure security in Germany?

The selectors show that part of the BND’s mentality is to not trust anyone. But this lack of trust is not talked about, nor is the question of what society expects from an intelligence service, what powers it should have and where its limits should lie. As long as these questions remain unanswered, there can be no honest debate over sensibly combatting terrorism in Europe.

For more than two years, a parliamentary investigative committee has been trying to shed light on the activities of intelligence agencies on German soil. But in this environment of suspicion, lawmakers are encountering one roadblock after the other in their work. Most BND employees are only willing to say the minimum required to avoid being liable to prosecution. Many are unable to remember details, many contradict themselves and some call in sick when called to testify. During the hearings, an attorney for the German Chancellery often interjects as soon as he sees a threat of secret information being disclosed.

This secretiveness also pervades the debate surrounding a new BND law that would police the agency’s work. The reform effort has been stalled for some time. The plans to monitor the agency are too lax for some politicians and yet too strict for others, who fear it will paralyze the BND. The skeptics have voiced their concerns behind the scenes, and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Chancellor Angela Merkel, both members of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), have reportedly intervened. Suddenly their party is divided on the issue.

From the investigative committee to the parties to the Chancellery, the case illustrates how two worlds are colliding, those of the reformers and those seeking to preserve the status quo. Gerhard Schindler is caught between the two.

‘Transparency Offensive’

The BND president points to a photo of a salami sandwich in the office of a scientist in Pullach. It’s his favorite image. A wrinkled white work coat is draped over a chair, a chemical formula is written on a blackboard in the background, and papers, magazines and files are stacked on brown furniture. The sandwich, still wrapped in plastic wrap, is on top of one of these stacks. This is the BND to a T, says Gerhard Schindler.

He’s surrounded by people holding wine glasses. Schindler has come to the offices of the Gruner + Jahr publishing house in Hamburg to open an exhibition about the BND. Large images by photographer Martin Lukas Kim taken at the BND’s Pullach headquarters depict the inner life of the agency. They make the BND seem very old-fashioned, like a relic from the Cold War. There aren’t any people in the photos, which were all taken at night, but they depict many details. One could say that they represent the BND’s dark past.

The exhibition is part of a „transparency offensive,“ says the president, who envisions the BND of the future as a modern intelligence service in a modern democracy.

He recently ordered the elimination of the code names for BND field offices, and employees are also no longer required to conceal who they work for. Some 4,000 of the BND’s 6,500 employees will soon have been moved from a hidden compound on the banks of the Isar River in Pullach to a modern, light-filled building in downtown Berlin. Images of the new headquarters are also on display at the exhibition. They could be interpreted to represent the BND’s bright future.

Schindler knows how long the path from darkness to light is. He mentions a „deep incision“ into the culture of his agency, and a necessary „mental shift.“ He wants less suspicion and more discussion, as he puts it.

The NSA’s Willing Helper

The last few months have also taken their toll on Schindler, who was out sick for some time. Many of his employees feel unfairly criticized and let down by lawmakers. When testifying before the parliamentary investigative committee, these agents, people who were left alone for decades as they quietly engaged in their espionage activities, are now expected to explain to the public how the BND became the NSA’s willing helper.

In 2002, the two agencies, still reeling from by the shock of the 9/11 attacks, signed a memorandum of agreement to engage in close cooperation, which included a jointly operated listening station in Bad Aibling south of Munich. After that, BND employees entered millions of search terms, or selectors, for the Americans into their databases – a program the public only learned about a year ago.

As we know today, the Americans palmed off thousands and thousands of search terms on the Germans that violated German interests. Over the years, the BND sorted out about 40,000 of these selectors, but the number it overlooked cannot be quantified. Some 68.7 percent of the search terms were directed against government offices of European Union partners, while many others targeted German companies.

But the BND also spied independently on many targets in Europe, entirely without being requested to do so by the Americans. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that Schindler issued the order to suspend spying operations on friendly EU and NATO partners, but some problematic selectors remained active nonetheless.

The Parliamentary Control Panel of the German Bundestag in charge of supervising the intelligence services appointed a task force, which paid a visit to BND headquarters in Pullach. Although the task force was shown a 900-page list of selectors, its final report remained classified.

Nevertheless, some details were revealed – for instance, that the BND was not only surveilling politicians like the French foreign minister, but also German citizens, such as the diplomat husband of Emily Haber, a state secretary in the Interior Ministry. He was head of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia from 2008 to 2011. Other Germans were also on the list, including employees at EU outposts abroad. Not even German citizens were spared when it came to the agency’s suspicions. The task force concluded that the BND had „spied on a large number of targets that were not in conformity with its mandate, and were legally inadmissible.“

A Dearth of Scrutiny

How pan-European cooperation among intelligence services is supposed to flourish under these conditions remains a mystery. As long as no clear legal basis for their work exists, and as long there is no reliable supervision of their activities, a European counterterrorism program will make little progress.

Every four years, the German government provides the BND with a secret mission profile detailing which issues and countries it should focus on and address. There are also three bodies that monitor the BND: the G-10 commission of the Bundestag, which consists mainly of experienced lawyers; the Parliamentary Control Panel, which meets behind closed doors; and a department at the Chancellery headed by State Secretary Klaus-Dieter Fritsche. But neither the government nor any of these bodies has learned very much about the everyday activities of BND agents, in part because no one is asking pointed questions.

This, at least, might explain why Chancellor Merkel made a statement on the sidelines of an EU summit on Oct. 24, 2013 that would be remembered for years to come: „Spying between friends, that’s just not done.“ It was a reaction to the news that the Americans had eavesdropped on one of her mobile phones. At the time, didn’t she know that the BND was also spying on Germany’s friends? How blind were politicians, and how ignorant?

The NSA investigative committee recently held its 91st meeting inside a committee conference room in parliament in Berlin. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) sat down at a semi-circular table, facing 10 members of the Bundestag in the hearing. Behind him, representatives of the federal ministries, the intelligence services and the German states observed the hearing as stenographers took notes. The foreign minister peered out a row of windows, where he could see excursion boats passing on the Spree River outside. The building’s architect once wrote that his design was meant to symbolize the German Bundestag’s claim to openness and transparency.

Steinmeier spent more than an hour giving his opening presentation. He described the situation shortly after the 9/11 attacks, which revealed a „completely new quality of terrorism,“ as well as the need for close cooperation with the Americans. He said that he still supports this cooperation today.

‘Plausible Deniability’

The foreign minister used his words to paint a large political picture, something he does very well. But he seems less interested in the small brushstrokes.

From 1999 to 2005, Steinmeier served as chief of staff in the Chancellery under Gerhard Schröder, which also made him the BND’s top supervisor. He claims that he knew nothing about problematic selectors at the time, and that he never issued any orders to spy on European partners. According to Steinmeier, he also never received any such dossiers in his later role as foreign minister. In fact, he said, he had no need for the BND’s information, because he was already familiar with the European partners’ political positions.

Steinmeier’s predecessors said similar things to the investigative commitee. In his hearing, Thomas de Maizière said that until leaving his position as head of the Chancellery in 2009, he had received no indication that the BND had entered search terms like „EADS“ or „Eurocopter“ for the Americans. Was the Chancellery that clueless for so many years?

Internal memos show that the BND was already reporting problematic NSA selectors to a department head in the Chancellery in early 2008. Former BND President Ernst Uhrlau also told the committee that the selector problems were discussed at length in the Chancellery in 2008. Was the Chancellery head not present in that debate? Or is de Maizière simply having a memory lapse?

There will be no credible responses to these questions, because the agreements between intelligence agents and their supervisors are usually verbal. For instance, no minutes are prepared for the so-called presidential group, in which the heads of the security agencies at the federal level meet in the office of the Chancellery head every Tuesday. The Americans call this method „plausible deniability.“ Those who leave no paper trail behind have nothing to deny.

Taking on a Life of Its Own

Through a lack of political leadership, the situation took on a life of its own. At the BND, it manifested itself in the unbridled collection of data. Was a shipping company suspected of proliferation, because it had once shipped goods to Iran? Should a chemical manufacturer be monitored because its products can be used to build bombs? These questions were discussed often and heatedly, say BND employees. When in doubt, however, the agents reverted to entering the surveillance target. For an intelligence service, neglecting to do something is worse than gathering too much information.

The employees had little to fear from a legal standpoint. The BND operates largely without binding rule. The BND law enacted in 1990 consists of 12 sections, which are intended to create a framework for the agency’s operations. But when it comes to conducting surveillance abroad, one of the BND’s main tasks, it operates largely outside the confines of German law.

The BND also violated the rules in its thirst for data. This is evident in its forwarding of raw data to the Americans, which was even automated in 2002. Internal documents show that at that point, BND offices had long known that these activities were partly opposed to German and European interests.

But the BND brushed aside the concerns – and used a bizarre justification to do it. According to an expert report, the „deliberate disclosure“ of such data is „illegal,“ but through the use of a filter, the BND documented its intention not to pass any sensitive data from Germany or Europe to foreign intelligence services. It neglected to mention that this filter didn’t work very well from the start.

It is legally „unobjectionable,“ according to the report, if the automatic sharing of data „is to be viewed as being of greater value“ than the isolated forwarding of „information about German citizens.“ In other words, close cooperation with the NSA was more important than protecting the constitutional rights of German citizens.

Schindler’s agency even wanted to give itself a carte blanche of sorts for intercepting satellite communications. The BND law is invalid in orbit, the agency wrote in a memo dated 11/25/2014, explaining its so-called space theory to the Chancellery. A department head working for Chancellor Merkel retorted that she considered the BND’s argument to be „hardly acceptable.“

Failures in Government Supervision

As these examples show, government supervision of Germany’s intelligence services has failed. In response, the SPD parliamentary group presented the key parameters of a reform of the BND in June of last year, and seven months later, many of those ideas were incorporated into a draft bill that emerged from the Chancellery.

Under the proposed legislation, not just Germans but all citizens and institutions in the EU would be placed under special protection against surveillance in the future. The BND president would be required to sign off on critical surveillance operations. The draft law also calls for an external panel consisting of several units that would monitor BND activities more closely.

The domestic policy experts of the government coalition in Berlin quickly agreed on the basic elements of the proposal, and Schindler also agreed. The draft law, says Karlsruhe constitutional law expert Matthias Bäcker, will at the very least create a framework for the BND’s work. Although Bäcker criticizes some provisions as too vague, he believes that on the whole the effort is an attempt to provide BND employees with greater legal security.

Nevertheless, the reform still has a long way to go before implementation. Talks within the government coalition have been bogged down for weeks, because the CDU is divided. Domestic policy expert Clemens Binninger, who is also the chairman of the Parliamentary Control Panel, supports the draft put forward by the Chancellery. In contrast Patrick Sensburg, chairman of the NSA investigative committee, proposes that an outside control committee should „report regularly to the Chancellery.“ Other politicians with the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), would rather see the BND left as it is.

„The necessary reform cannot become a bone of contention in the CDU/CSU,“ says Burkhard Lischka, the domestic policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group. He is calling on the coalition partners to complete the legislative procedure. The opportunity „to place the intelligence service on a modern and clearly constitutional basis“ should not be squandered, „especially not in times when we face the threat of attacks and we need our intelligence agencies to cooperate in partnership.“The draft bill was originally slated for debate in the German parliament, but it has been put on ice for the time being.

Once again, suspicion has prevailed.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan