Academic upgrade for Germany′s spies | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.07.2019
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Academic upgrade for Germany's spies

Germany has set up a special degree program to build up its national intelligence community. But it's only open to a select few — thoroughly vetted — students.

Luisa W. is studying for her master's degree, and has just come from class. But today's politics lecture was far from ordinary — the lesson was top secret, and held in a high-security building. Luisa is among the first generation of Germans to be enrolled in the Intelligence and Security Studies (MISS) master's degree program, jointly offered by the Federal University of Applied Administrative Sciences and the Bundeswehr University Munich. And, for obvious security reasons, she must keep her surname secret.

Before enrolling, Luisa contributed to various branches of Germany's foreign intelligence agency, working with the counterterrorism analysis team, in operations and with the agency's administration. Now, after 10 years of service, she's decided to take part in the MISS program.

Read more: Police informants in Germany: Money, attention and scandal

"I enjoy getting a break from my ordinary work and having time to think about different issues," she told DW. "I'm interested in the relationship between our intelligence agencies and German society." Her degree will include a range of courses, including one dedicated to intelligence analysis and another on cyber intelligence.

The MISS degree program is not open to just any applicant. Only individuals employed either by Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the military counterintelligence service, the domestic intelligence service or the armed forces may enroll. Police officers active in these fields, and civil servants working for ministries whose activities pertain to sensitive political and security issues, may also apply. To be admitted, students must undergo a thorough vetting process — as do lecturers.

Sharing insights

The degree program was launched in January, with compulsory introductory courses for anyone without prior experience working for a German intelligence agency. Now that these preliminary courses are over, all students have arrived in Berlin where work on the actual master's program will take place.

"The students form a very heterogeneous group," said Jan-Hendrik Dietrich, head of the department. "There are really young students from the armed forces, just 22 or 23 years old. But there are also some from the intelligence agencies, who are very experienced and have worked on the threat posed by the extreme right-wing and left-wing." Dietrich said these groups enrich the learning experience by sharing their insights.

Read more: The German who went from left-wing terrorist to Salafist sympathizer

The degree program was developed over the course of four years. Among other things, it aims to improve Germany's various intelligence services; cyberattacks and numerous fact-finding committees on the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror cell had revealed a range of serious weaknesses.

"This degree instills a set of values into students from different backgrounds, which can improve cooperation — especially when fighting terrorism," said Dietrich.

Promoting inter-agency cooperation

Dietrich and his colleagues relied on international experts to help draw up the program. US and UK universities, after all, have been offering degree programs aimed at intelligence agency staff for decades. Their purpose is to build up a close-knit intelligence community and foster collaboration among different agencies.

"We want to train a cohort of critically thinking, reflective leaders, not yes-men who simply report what the government wants to hear," said Dietrich. Once students have completed the degree, Dietrich said they will be able to put their new skill sets to use and promote inter-agency cooperation.

Despite her previous experience, Luisa said the degree program's focus on cybersecurity has broadened her horizon. "I have little experience working in this area, so it's really useful understanding how data used for analysis is generated."

When she graduates after two years, she will return to the foreign intelligence agency and be part of Germany's brand new intelligence community. "So far, I've been a generalist, and that is what I will continue to be — though I will have a different position, and carry greater responsibility."

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