German spy chief targets espionage

German spy chief targets espionage

BERLIN - Reuters
German spy chief targets espionage

German Bundeswehr armed forces soldiers mount the rotor blades of a Tiger attack helicopter at camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The head of Germany’s military intelligence has said in a rare interview that one of his main challenges was to protect defense projects from industrial espionage by the Chinese and Russian secret services.

Chief Ulrich Birkenheier told Die Welt in an interview published Feb.18 that “espionage against international defense projects” was a growing challenge, with foreign agents trying to get hold of information about military trials of new defense products. “Russian and Chinese secret services are still trying to recruit German soldiers. We have to investigate that and prevent it,” he said.

The Military Counter-intelligence Service has until now kept a much lower public profile than Germany’s two other larger federal spy agencies, the BND, which gathers foreign intelligence, and the BfV, charged with domestic intelligence.

Germany’s intelligence services were seriously criticized after the discovery in 2011 of a small far-right cell, the National Socialist Underground, which murdered nine immigrants and a policewoman, carried out a bomb attack and robbed 14 banks over a decade without being detected.

Ulrich Birkenheier said that affair had convinced his spy agency “how useful it is to explain our task and our work to the outside world.” The service has 1,150 staff, he said, with agents in seven overseas locations including Afghanistan, Kosovo and Djibouti, where the German military takes part in international missions.