German intelligence

Squaring the Circle

ARCHIV - Zahlreiche Lampen, Überwachungskameras und Zäune sichern am 02.05.2015 in Berlin den Neubau des Bundesnachrichtendienstes (BND) (Langzeitbelichtung). Foto: Paul Zinken/dpa (zu dpa «Prozess vor dem Münchner Oberlandesgericht gegen Ex-BND-Mitarbeiter wegen Landesverrats.» vom 13.11.2015)+ +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
The spies who love us.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    It is time for Germans to overcome their aversion to intelligence services, especially given that most employees of today’s services were born after World War II.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Intelligence services must by nature operate in a gray zone between constitutional legality and the need to avert potential threats.
    • Agencies must be subject to parliamentary control.
    • Domestic intelligence services are highly criticized within Germany.
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  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Domestic surveillance is a double-edged sword in democratic societies like Germany. Citizens want their government to take action against opponents at home to protect the liberal way of life, but intelligence service operate in legal gray zones that oftentimes betray the very foundations of liberal society.

In spite of the impossibility of squaring this circle with democratic freedoms and security, Germans still wants to have their cake and eat it too.

Not everything the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) does is legal. Their opponents often define the laws, and it is not always possible to examine the German constitution before taking necessary action to avert potential threats. It’s a near-impossible act to balance, but while intelligence services must be subject to parliamentary control, a line must be drawn where the effectiveness of our intelligence services is jeopardized.

It is not always possible to examine the German constitution before taking necessary action to avert potential threats

It is precisely in these emotional days and weeks of terrorist threats to our liberal order that it is so important to understand how important the work of our intelligence services at home and abroad is.

In no other country in the world have these services come under so much fire as in Germany, primarily because of our history. The trauma inflicted by the Gestapo in the Third Reich and the State Security Service in East Germany remains deeply embedded in the German consciousness today.

But modern Germany must not abandon itself as a result. Every government is tasked with defending itself against threats, and this often involves taking preventative measures and even spying on friends.

It is important that intelligence services do not take on a life of their own and become states within the state. There are risks involved when special rights are conferred, combined with secrecy and the lack of public access.

Nevertheless, intelligence services are indispensible in ensuring the wellbeing of our society. Most employees were born after World War II and have nothing to do with the nefarious traditions of the Gestapo or SS.

All of these employees are responsible for our security. It’s time that the intelligence services in our country are finally given the recognition and appreciation they deserve.

 

To reach the author: gastauthor@handelsblatt.com.

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