Opinion: The BND, a completely normal secret service | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.08.2014
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Opinion: The BND, a completely normal secret service

The German intelligence service, the BND, treats its NATO partner Turkey just as America's NSA treats Germany. Everyone mistrusts everyone else, but nobody's prepared to admit it, says Marcel Fürstenau.

A world without secret services? The idea is too good to be true. Unfortunately, in view of the numerous security threats, both abstract and concrete, the idea is also naive.

One of these potentially deadly threats is international terrorism, motivated by religious fundamentalism, which acquired a new dimension with the mass murder in the United States on September 11, 2001. Since then, it has not only been our worst enemies who, for various reasons, have fallen under suspicion, but also long-term partners and friends. And this has destroyed that modicum of trust that makes partnerships and friendships possible.

Of course, not everyone is put on the same level. Enemies are, rightly, regarded as being capable of all manner of terrible things. But partners are also mistrusted, because they might be doing too little for national and global security. American spies from the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdrop on Islamist terrorists in order to prevent terrorist attacks. And they eavesdrop on German Chancellor Angela Merkel… well, why exactly? Is it because there are people in the White House, independently of the current US president, who are afraid that attacks along the lines of September 11 could again be planned in Germany? It's well known that the 9/11 plotters developed their plan in Hamburg.

Marcel Fürstenau

Marcel Fürstenau is a DW correspondent in Berlin

Different kinds of silence

As irrational as these sorts of scenarios may sometimes appear, they do seem to play an influential part in the minds of leading secret service agents and politicians and in their anti-terrorism strategy. All sides have to take into account that, as a result, they may recklessly and permanently damage a relationship that for many years has been good, even friendly. This is the case with US-German relations since Edward Snowden's NSA revelations - and now also with relations between Germany and Turkey. The German government has not admitted that the BND is systematically spying on its NATO partner, a partner who is, above all, of key strategic military importance. But it hasn't denied it, either.

Until proven otherwise, this kind of silence allows us to draw only one conclusion: The reports in the media about the BND's spying activities are true. That may have grave consequences for the already strained relationship between Germany and Turkey. Ankara has long accused Germany in general, and Merkel in particular, of seeking to prevent Turkey from joining the European Union at all costs. Then there's the series of racism-motivated murders by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) in Germany, the victims mostly of people of Turkish origin. These crimes have still not been properly solved, let alone atoned for. One may have little to do with the other, but between them they have considerably compromised trust, at both the political and the interpersonal level.

Politicians and security services must think again

It will take a long time to reestablish trust. And unfortunately skepticism is called for, when the intelligence services are carrying on as normal, and politicians of all stripes are essentially allowing them to do so. We see this exemplified in the German-American relationship with the 'no-spy agreement' called for by Berlin: Washington has simply rejected the idea that the two countries should agree not to spy on each other. Paradoxically, in this respect the Americans are actually being consistent. They are tacitly admitting that they want to be able to use intelligence service methods to form a picture of their partners in the future, too. However, this will not make them any friends.

One thing is and remains clear: The conduct of intelligence services, regardless of which country they work for, is not of a high moral standard. However, that cannot mean that we allow those in government to evade responsibility. Their task is more urgent than ever: to explain and justify, with the greatest possible transparency, the work of their intelligence services, which they call security services. They owe this to the public, and to their various partner countries. If we carry on with "business as usual" the mistrust will continue to grow, both at home and abroad. Mistrust leads to estrangement. Both, in the long term, damage democracy: in Germany, in the United States, in Turkey - everywhere.

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