German intelligence agency expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom offers his take on the allegations that German secret agents were involved in assessing targets during the US military invasion in Iraq.
Bad for Germany's reputation in the Arab world?
DW-WORLD: Both the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the television channel ARD have reported that German agents helped the US pick out bombing targets -- including Saddam Hussein. What do you think of the accusations?
Erich Schmidt Eenboom: They are partly justified. The Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) surely kept up contact with their partner agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, despite the political tension between Washington and Berlin during the Iraq war. They surely also did that with the backing of the chancellor's office. As a result, the knowledgeable BND agents in Baghdad probably gathered information on targets to avoid but also, in my opinion, worthwhile targets. What they can't be accused of is functioning as real-time scouts, with the information they relayed back being used for US bombing attacks soon after.
Was it normal that BND workers continued their work in Iraq, even after the German embassy was closed?
The BND has been Baghdad since the early 1980s, and it has a very big and important office there. The desire and need of the federal government for information, both leading up to the war and during the war, was large and gathering information locally is one of a foreign intelligence agency's core duties.
How far did intelligence cooperation go during the Iraq war? And how much did the office of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder know?
The intelligence coordinator in the chancellor's office, (current foreign minister Frank-Walter) Steinmeier, surely knew the extent of the cooperation, and was kept up to date on the information exchange on the working level, which is defined by strict regulations. The BND agents most definitely did not have direct radio or fax communication with American agencies. The contact probably always went through the (BND headquarters) in Pullach.
The coalition government won a lot of respect in the Arab world for their rejection of the Iraq war. Will their reputation suffer a setback following these revelations?
Partly, because I think that's what's behind the publication of these stories. We're experiencing a sort of psychological attack on the part of the American intelligence agencies against the old Social Democratic-Green party coalition government, but also against the new government following Merkel's demand that the US close Guantanamo Bay. The Americans want to make clear -- especially in light of their bad image following the CIA torture allegations -- that Germany isn't as pure as assumed, because they were more involved in the Iraq war than they said they were.
Is it possible that Germany could become the target of Islamic terrorists as a result of these allegations?
I don't think so. Islamic terrorists, especially those in Iraq, have other priorities, namely the American occupiers. I think the growing militancy in Afghanistan is more likely to have an effect in Germany, creating a threatening scenario especially ahead and during the soccer World Cup.
To what extent?
That is hard to predict. We're experiencing a radicalization of youth and a professionalization of terrorism in Afghanistan, but also in Bosnia. At one point, the terrorists and terrorism will no longer only be directed at German soldiers in those places, but against the motherland, against the country that sent them, namely Germany. It's hard to say at what point that will happen and with what sort of intensity.
Erich Schmidt-Eenboom is director of the Research Institute for Peace Policies and considered one of Germany's top experts on the BND. He was unwittingly spied on during his research into the BND in the 1990s, an act for which the former intelligence agency head has apologized.
Lenz Hörburger interviewed Erich Schmidt-Eenboom (dre)