Spying on Friends? Atmosphere of Distrust Hinders EU Anti-Terror Cooperation
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 were unwilling to share their information with the Germans, so the BND decided to spy on the French to gain access to it. This was how it came about that the Germans spied on a government agency in a friendly country, one they treated as one of their closest political allies. Friendly? Allied? These are not categories with which the man with the cappuccino is familiar in his work.
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. Our business, says the man, 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…