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How Germany's intelligence agency became a liability for Europe - The Telegraph - 03.02.23

The unmasking of a German football coach as a Russian double agent is the latest in a string of embarrassments for Berlin's spy unit say James Crisp, Europe Editor.

On February 24 of last year Bruno Kahl, Germany's spy chief, was in Ukraine when Vladimir Putin ordered his forces over the border.

He had travelled for "urgent talks" in Kyiv seemingly unaware of the imminent danger of invasion.

The man heading one of Europe's most important intelligence agencies ended up being escorted home by special forces in a desperate retreat.

His two-day journey overland was the latest in a string of embarrassments for Germany’s Federal Intelligence Agency (BND), an organisation hollowed out since the Cold War.

The BND once confidently predicted Moscow would not launch an attack, despite US and British intelligence warning Putin was on the cusp of invading.

There were red faces among Berlin’s spooks again this week, after 52-year-old father of two Carsten Linke was exposed as a suspected spy for Russia.

To make matters worse the double agent, feared to be passing sensitive battlefield information to Moscow, was found by a foreign intelligence agency.

Had the BND been shown up by the Americans again? It wouldn’t be the first time, it was only after Edward Snowden’s leaks that Berlin found out Washington had bugged Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

Britain, meanwhile, is fuming over the possibility that some of its intelligence has been passed to Moscow by the officer. How has it come to pass that the foreign intelligence service of Europe’s richest country could be found so lacking?

Germany’s Der Spiegel blames former chancellor Gerhard Shroder, a close friend of Vladimr Putin, who infamously took the Kremlin’s shilling through his business links to state-owned Gazprom.

Back when he was Germany’s answer to Tony Blair, he did nothing to rebuild the country’s hollowed out intelligence services.

The BND completely shut down its counter espionage unit in 1997 after a massive cull of staff following the reunification of Germany in the 1990s; an error that Russia has been exploiting ever since.

Other countries close to Russia, such as the Scandinavian nations, maintained first class intelligence units so why didn’t Germany?

Part of the reason why this was possible is cultural and historical. Germans have a deep distrust of state agencies and a strong belief in the need for privacy because of their experience of the Gestapo and Stasi.

The counter-espionage unit was only reopened in 2017, three years after Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and had to start the delicate work of building up sources from scratch.

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Germany’s Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) has suffered a string of embarrassments Credit: Christophe Gateau/AP

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