German Interior Minister Otto Schily has opened a new center for combating terrorism in Berlin. It aims to increase cooperation among the country's many federal and state security services.
Otto Schily, right, with heads of security agencies
The new center will serve as a coordination point for work by both federal police and intelligence agencies, providing what the interior minister called a "clear leap in quality" in the fight against terrorism.
Some 100 experts from the federal criminal police (BKA) begin work this week, joined by about 15 from the national domestic intelligence agency (BfV). More staff are expected to be added next year. Besides serving as an information exchange point between the two agencies, the center will also work with other security organizations, such as the border police and state police forces.
Analysts at the center, located in the Berlin neighborhood of Treptow, will be charged with making terrorism threat assessments and sharing knowledge with international partners on matters such as terror finance, travel movements of militants and forgery of travel documents.
The center is part of Germany's reforms to its intelligence services since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US. It follows the trend in several Western nations after the attacks to create more synergies between police and intelligence services.
Cooperating, but separate
Headquarters for the Federal Criminal Police in Wiesbaden. Some 65 scientists and more than 200 security officials work in the complex.
Germany's case has been more complex due to the particularities of its constitution. Each of the country's 16 states has its own police force and intelligence agency, bringing the total number of federal and state security bodies to almost 40. Critics have long complained that security services often work in competition with each other instead of cooperating effectively.
Schily pointed out on Tuesday, however, that Germany's separation of its police and intelligence services would remain, as is required by the country's constitution. The laws were enacted in West Germany after World War II to prevent the rebirth of an all-powerful secret police force along the lines of the Nazi Gestapo.
The center has not arrived without criticism, however. Some say they fear a new, more powerful super-agency that, despite the safeguards, still uncomfortably reminds many of the combination of police and intelligence bodies that created the greatly feared Gestapo, or later the Stasi secret police in East Germany.
The federal border police function above the state level and can be deployed outside the country
The conservative opposition called the center a "half-hearted solution," saying that the separation of police and intelligence agencies in effect created two agencies that would prove a drag on the efficiency of the fight against terror. But the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) praised the center and rejected the criticism put forward by the conservative Union bloc. "It's frightening how quickly the critics of the information center are ready to abandon the guaranteed principles of our constitution," the FDP's point man on domestic issues, Max Stadler, told the Associated Press.