Germany's conservative opposition has accused Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's center-left government of failing to protect the population effectively from the threat of international terrorism.
Germans were shocked that the 9/11 terrorists lived among them
In the Bundestag on Friday, speakers of the conservative union parties warned that Germany’s law enforcement and intelligence authorities were ill-prepared for countering terrorism and were in need of a structural overhaul. They suggested moves aimed at amalgamating the various anti-terrorism activities at regional and national level.
About three years ago, Germans were shocked to learn that nearly all the terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States had planned their crime while living undisturbed in the north German city of Hamburg.
This year two close associates of the 9/11 terrorist chief Mohammed Atta had to be released after German prosecutors were unable to present water-tight cases against them. Dramatic failures like these, said Germany’s conservative opposition, are clear evidence of the rampant incompetence of Germany’s anti-terrorism structures.
Clemens Bininger, a security spokesman for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said the SPD-Green coalition has failed in its role in the war on terror to date. "Since the government has no successes to present, all it can do is cry out for greater powers," he told reporters.
Separation weakens information flow
German Interior Minister Otto Schily.
"Interior minister Otto Schily wants to tighten his grip on regional authorities. But the separation of regional and central structures in crime fighting is not the problem. The bottleneck is clearly a lack of coordination and an insufficient and bureaucratic flow of information among them."
The CDU has complained that the exchange of information among a staggering 37 anti-terrorism authorities in Germany can sometimes take up to four weeks. The conservatives now want to combine the anti-terrorism activities of Germany’s 16 federal states with those of the central government in Berlin.
The new centralized agency should combine the tasks of police and intelligence services here and compile daily status reports. Fritz Rudolf Körper, Otto Schily’s right-hand man for counter-terrorism in the interior ministry, disagreed and said there's no need for a new agency as two government-controlled risk assessment offices are currently being established.
Central office will bring coherance
The central office of the Federal Criminal Agency in Weisbaden.
"The two offices will be concentrating our staff‘s individual knowledge about Islamic terrorism in a central location," he explained. "This will enable us to speed up and intensify the flow of information, while sticking to the principle of the separation of police and intelligence services."
Under Germany’s post-war constitution, police duties and intelligence activities cannot be combined -- a principle which harks back to the blatant civil rights abuses committed during the Nazi period. Max Stadler, justice expert for the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP), vehemently opposes the CDU’s plans.
Balance between liberty and justice
"It must be possible to combat terrorism and at the same time stick to the rule of law here," he said. "If we are going to jettison our legal principles in this fight we can just as well give up discussing the protection of privacy rights in this parliament and allow security services to gather information however they want."
Al Qaeda court case in Frankfurt
Terrorism experts believe that Germany is home to about 30,000 militant Muslim fundamentalists organized in a loose network of 24 groupings. They have criticized the conflict of responsibilities between state and regional authorities in Germany which they say still make it easy for terrorists to use the country as a safe haven to which they can retreat before or after carrying out attacks.