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Opinion

Opinion: Germany's domestic intel agency faces an uphill climb

Germany's domestic intelligence service, responsible for combating terrorism and espionage, is often criticized, but then again, it's an easy target. Still, DW's Marcel Fürstenau considers the agency indispensable.

In whichever direction he looks, Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or Bundesverfassungsschutz (BfV) in German, sees a potential threat: Islamist terror, right- and left-wing extremism, cyberattacks, industrial espionage. The enemies of democracy ensure that his agency is experiencing "a boom in all business areas," as Maassen put it. Unfortunately, he's right about that. Therefore, at first glance, the state's decision to provide more money for additional staff and skill training would seem logical.

This is what Maassen has been advocating for since taking office in 2012 - with great success, as a glance at key figures shows. His budget rose during this period from a good 200 million to almost 350 million euros ($340.3 million). The number of employees is approaching the 3,000 mark. Most of the financial and personnel growth is a direct result of the terrorist attacks of the past year. After the terrorist attack at the Berlin Christmas market in December, the parties in Germany's ruling coalition scrambled to outdo each other in the area of domestic security.

More money doesn't mean more success

When this happens, the security agencies almost invariably benefit. But more money doesn't always equal more success. The assertion that police on both the federal and state levels need to be better equipped after decades of depleting resources is largely unchallenged across Germany. The absence of personnel to fight everyday crime and even deal with such mundane things as traffic accidents can be felt immediately. However, this compelling logic can't necessarily be applied to the latent terrorist threat. To perceive such threats and implement the necessary defensive measures, one needs a high level of professional cooperation at all levels of the security apparatus.

Deutsche Welle Marcel Fürstenau Kommentarbild ohne Mikrofon (DW )

DW's political correspondent Marcel Fürstenau

The BfV has done a good job in the recent past - when it comes to identifying dangers posed by Islamic extremism. The Joint Counterterrorism Center (GTAZ) had also exchanged information about Anis Amri, the Berlin Christmas market attacker, with other agencies. But the fact that Amri was still able to kill 12 people was the consequence of a lack of clarity at the decision-making level.

More transparency needed

The same applies to the string of racist murders committed by the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Evidence of this can be found in a recently published report by the NSU investigative committee. It's been almost six years since the group was uncovered by chance in an investigation riddled with errors, and the problems that led to these errors have still not been resolved by the BfV. Such failures at the governmental level have also raised questions about parts of the country's domestic intelligence agency. Only through greater transparency can these problems be eliminated.

It was a few days ago that Norbert Lammert, the outgoing president of the German parliament, the Bundestag, said that the intelligence agencies, which are necessarily working in secret, needed to be better supervised. And the conservative politician is hardly one to share the naive view of the left that the BfV should be dissolved. Maassen himself defines his agency's mission statement on its website: "We are a service provider for democracy." Good luck with that, BfV!

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