Protection of the Constitution assessment: Russian secret service shows increased interest

Since the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Russian secret service has been more active in Germany than before.

Protection of the Constitution assessment: Russian secret service shows increased interest

Since the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Russian secret service has been more active in Germany than before. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution comes to this conclusion. The attempts at reconnaissance become clear, among other things, from the arrest of a number of suspected spies.

According to estimates by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the interest of Russian secret services in Germany continues to increase the longer the war in Ukraine lasts. The head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, also counts China and Iran among the states whose intelligence services are developing significant activities in Germany. "Russia's interest in enlightenment here in Germany is not only unbroken, but is also increasing the further the effects of the war continue," said the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the German Press Agency.

"The current case also shows how real the danger of Russian espionage is," said Haldenwang, referring to the suspected double agent arrested by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) shortly before Christmas. In order not to jeopardize the investigation, he, like BND boss Bruno Kahl, does not want to comment on the details. The arrested man is suspected of having given secret information to a Russian intelligence service. Haldenwang said he expects that Moscow will try to compensate for the reconnaissance opportunities lost by the expulsion of 40 agents: either with more "traveling agents" or with other covers.

According to the authorities, such a camouflage was used, for example, by a suspected Russian spy who has been in custody in Norway since October. He had posed as a Brazilian researcher. In response to the start of Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine on February 24, European states expelled Russian agents.

At the beginning of April, the federal government declared 40 members of the Russian embassy in Berlin to be undesirable persons. "We are making great efforts to prevent other people who may be assigned to Russian services from coming here to Germany," said Haldenwang. The federal government has also tightened the visa rules for this. A massive increase in Russian cyber attacks and so-called influence operations is also to be expected. This includes disinformation campaigns and other methods aimed at influencing public opinion, the outcome of elections or political decisions in the target country.

Overall, however, the domestic secret service feels sufficiently prepared for the current challenges. "I would like to firmly counter allegations that we have done too little in the field of counterintelligence in the past," said the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In fact, the Federal Office has long been prepared for the increased espionage activity of Russian and other services. The area has been “significantly increased in terms of personnel” and organizationally redesigned, including through greater integration with cyber defense.

China, which used to focus more on economic espionage, has also been making increased efforts to clarify German politics for several years. The head of the authority criticized that for a long time too little attention had been paid to the risks arising from the intensive economic relations with China. It is also known "that China is already using its economic power worldwide to implement political goals".

Haldenwang said: "A pan-European solution is needed to reverse this trend, at least for the European states." The Office for the Protection of the Constitution is already increasingly pointing out possible Chinese spying and attempts to influence the economy, the public and politics. "Another big problem is influencing your own community," said the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. China is very interested in controlling the diaspora of Chinese origin in Germany. The majority of the 40,000 Chinese students are "very closely linked to the embassy and consulates".

That also applies to researchers. Wherever China invests in the German economy, Chinese personnel are deployed - including members of the Communist Party. These are organized in party cells and are obliged to report to Chinese government agencies.

Iran's "exploration of Jewish institutions or of goals that can be linked to the State of Israel" has also increased. Haldenwang said: "We have to assume that this will happen in order to be able to take action against these targets at a certain point in time." According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, it cannot be ruled out that the elections planned for this year in Turkey will have an impact in Germany. "Turkish internal political conflicts are fought here: on the one hand there are those who are loyal to the government, which also include Turkish nationalists and right-wing extremists, on the other hand there are democratic opposition forces, but also supporters of extremist and terrorist organizations such as the PKK," said Haldenwang. Opposition journalists are spied on and intimidated.

Campaign appearances by politicians from non-EU countries three months before the election date have been prohibited since 2017. However, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has already seen "the first campaign flyers from individual participants" for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Germany.

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