Germany deals with wave of spying threats from Russia and China

Six suspected spies have been arrested in Germany this month alone, leading to a series of suspicions of Russian and Chinese espionage.

It was a particular embarrassment for the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), as it targeted its top two candidates for June’s European elections.

Aide to MEP maximilian kraThe head of the party’s list has been arrested on suspicion of spying for China. Mr. Jiang G is accused of being an “official of a Chinese secret agency.”

Prosecutors have also opened a preliminary investigation into the politician himself over alleged payments from pro-Russian and Chinese sources. Mr. Kula denies any wrongdoing.

A few days earlier, Petr Bistron, the second person named on the AfD’s list, accused European intelligence of receiving cash from the Voice of Europe website, which claimed that it was a front for Russian intelligence. I denied it.

But the allegations go far beyond the AfD.

Two Russian-Germans were arrested on suspicion of plotting to obstruct German military aid to Ukraine, and three Germans were detained on suspicion of plotting to pass advanced engine designs to Chinese intelligence services.

“It’s really unusual for three networks to be detained.” [allegedly] They were engaged in some kind of espionage against Russia and China, which came at about the same time,” said Noura Charati, a researcher at the Leibniz Center for the Modern Orient.

The efforts of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, are believed to have been key in all three espionage cases.

“Our security services … have significantly stepped up counterespionage efforts,” said Interior Secretary Nancy Feiser.

The arrest came shortly after Prime Minister Olaf Scholz returned from extensive talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

“Arrests are always political decisions.”

Andrey SoldatovRussian security experts believe the Russian-German pair’s incidents may reflect the Kremlin’s desire to escalate its attacks on aid to Ukraine.

“This is a whole new level of escalation,” Soldatov told the BBC. “These people [allegedly] Gathered information useful in organizing sabotage operations against military installations on the German mainland. ”

meanwhile, Roderich KiesewetterThe former German army officer and current opposition lawmaker claimed that China was trying to gain access to advanced research that could be useful for military and other purposes.

“China sees an opportunity to take advantage of Germany’s openness to access our knowledge and technology,” he told the BBC.

Still, Andrei Soldatov believes Berlin is setting up a marker.

“Arrests are always political decisions,” he says.

“Counterintelligence agencies of any country prefer not to arrest people, because it is better to track them and monitor their activities in order to learn more about their networks and their activities.”

One of the reasons why such a political decision was made is that Germany’s adversaries, especially Russia, are becoming increasingly eager to publicly humiliate Berlin as it becomes more assertive in its foreign relations. This is what it looks like.

Particularly damning was the leak by Russian intelligence sources of a March phone call between top generals discussing the supply of Taurus long-range missiles to Ukraine.

A few months ago, a senior official in Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency called Carsten L. went on trial for leaking classified information to Russians in exchange for a payment of around 400,000 euros (about £343,000).

Former British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace expressed the frustration of many allies, saying Germany was “very infiltrated by Russian intelligence” and “neither secure nor trustworthy.”

Roderich Kiesewetter said he was concerned that Germany was seen as unreliable by its allies. “We need to be willing partners,” he told the BBC. “We cannot afford secret intelligence cooperation without Germany.”

A major crackdown on suspected spies could be one way to signal to allies and foes that Berlin takes security seriously.

The BND and BfV said they would not comment on ongoing operations. The Interior Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

heritage of history

Germany’s intelligence services have long complained that their actions are more broadly restricted than those of many other Western countries.

That’s partly a legacy of communist rule in the former East Germany, widely considered one of the most policed ​​societies in history. It is estimated that one in every 6.5 East Germans was an informant for the secret police known as the Stasi.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the extent of Stasi espionage became clear, and strong legal restrictions were placed on intelligence agencies.

On December 31, 1989, revelers at the Brandenburg Gate celebrate the first New Year in unified Berlin since World War II.standing on the remains of the berlin wall

Revelers at the Brandenburg Gate celebrate the first New Year in unified Berlin after World War II [Thierry Monasse/Getty Images]

These restrictions largely remain in place, although some have since been relaxed.

Human rights activists believe these restrictions are good for protecting citizens’ right to privacy. But intelligence agencies have long complained that they cannot act effectively because their actions are regulated.

Last year, two former BND chiefs wrote that “German intelligence services, and the BND in particular, are currently suffering from excessive surveillance.”

Some in the intelligence community see the recent high-profile arrests as a way to highlight the extent of hostile foreign infiltration in Germany and an opportunity to further their case for further powers. .

Kiesewetter says this level of penetration is part of the legacy of political “naivety” after the end of the Cold War.

“Since 1990, there has been an idea that Germany is surrounded by friends.”

He explained that the leaders were focused on business deals, including deals with authoritarian states such as Russia, and ignored national security.

“I can’t sleep anymore.”

Rafael Ross of the European Council on Foreign Relations was more specific about what went wrong.

Germany’s intelligence services completely abolished its counterintelligence unit in 2002 under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

“It’s remarkable that this entire unit of about 60 people was completely disbanded,” Ross said.

However, things are changing. The BfV’s personnel has doubled in the last ten years. The recent spate of detentions shows intelligence agencies are becoming more assertive in a country with a traditionally wary political culture.

“Having them all arrested at once sends a good signal to the countries that are spying on us,” said Felix Neumann of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

“Germany is awake, but no longer asleep.”

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