Germany to Revamp Domestic Intelligence Service | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.03.2004
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Germany to Revamp Domestic Intelligence Service

Federal and regional German politicians are working on plans to overhaul the country's domestic intelligence service to be better able to combat terrorism and avoid attacks similar to the Madrid bombings last week.


Interior Minister Otto Schily supports the move.

Presently, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), is split among 16 different bureaus in each of the country's federal states. Long considered by some security experts as inefficient and unwieldy, the deadly terrorist attacks in Spain have increased pressure to overhaul its structure.

"There is more openness than before regarding the question whether the smaller state offices could find new ways to cooperate," Chancellery official Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Financial Times Deutschland on Wednesday. "If the states are prepared to give up competencies then its a suggestion that can be discussed."

Although some conservative politicians are calling for completely abolishing the state offices in favor of a centralized federal authority, it's more likely that they will be folded into four or more regional departments. There are also proposals to merge Germany's federal police (BKA) with border control and customs services.

"Germany's fragmented system dates back to the Cold War when fighting domestic militants was the priority," said Frank Umbach from the German Council on Foreign Relations, according to the Reuters news agency. "Now we have to deal with international terrorism."

Affordable experts

Some of the largest states like North-Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria remain keen to keep their BfV bureaus in tact, but many smaller and poorer states hope greater cooperation would make it easier to afford expensive equipment or specialized personnel such as Arabic experts.

Although Germany opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, few security experts doubt that the country is a target for Islamic extremists. In particular, Germany's role in stabilizing Afghanistan angers the al Qaeda terror network of Osama bin Laden. And several of the terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States were part of a terror cell based in the northern German city of Hamburg.

Besides considering a revamp of its own domestic intelligence agency, Germany is pushing for greater cooperation at the European level. After the bombings in Madrid, German Interior Minister Otto Schily called for a ministerial summit on security in Brussels that will be held on Friday.

Steinmeier from the Chancellery told the FTD that Berlin supported the idea of creating an EU collection point for information collected by domestic intelligence agency, underscoring plans announced on Tuesday by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to step up joint efforts to combat terrorism.

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