The BND’s new official “task profile” (given the acronym APB) will go into effect this week, according to anonymous security sources quoted in the “Die Welt” newspaper on Wednesday. The directive is supposed to be issued by the government every four years to determine which areas its spies need to focus on.
But since the last PDB was released in 2009, it looks like the latest is three years behind. And there is a lot of speculation in the media that the fallout from Edward Snowden’s revelations about cooperation between the US National Security Agency and the BND led to this delay.
The Snowden leaks showed that the BND had spied on European allies on behalf of the NSA, and in 2015 the German government announced that the BND’s work would be overhauled – a move that led to the adoption of a new “BND law” in parliament last November. year.
Christian Flisek, member of the Social Democratic Bundestag and participant in the parliamentary inquiry into the activities of the NSA in Germany, had no doubt that this had caused the delay. “Through the parliamentary investigation, we uncovered significant wrongdoing, in particular violations of German law and against German interests,” he told DW. “Actions were taken that were not covered in the task profile, which seems to have been the reason why [the government] took his time with the new profile and revised it. They almost certainly waited for the BND reforms last year too. “
Christian Flisek says it would not be in the public interest to publish the job profile
For some members of the parliamentary committee, it was vital to be able to consult the PDB, in order to see if the BND had overstepped its powers in helping the NSA – which it emerged that it did. “The NSA case played a role in the delay as the key question was who can be a surveillance target for the BND. party representative on the supervisory committee. “The point was, the command profile was far too broad – that’s why many people said the BND went beyond its remit, for example when it spied on European institutions and governments.”
“I’ve always said that was unacceptable – we’re supposed to check whether the BND is doing the right thing according to its tasks, but we don’t even know what its tasks are,” Hahn told DW. “And meanwhile, a CIA spy already has the document.”
Top secret – but vague
The PDB is set up by the government, and although individual ministries are allowed to suggest topics of interest, it remains a top secret document.
But the four-year cycle, as well as the weight of national security, means that what is made public on the PDB is necessarily unclear. According to the BND website, current BND priorities include “proliferation, international terrorism, state failure or conflict over resources” and current priority regions include the Middle East, North Africa , as well as West and Central Asia. And yet, there is no reason to believe that this list is exclusive, and the document itself is not even handed over to the Bundestag’s Intelligence Review Committee.
On top of that, the BND’s instructions are obviously adapted over the four years anyway, as Wolfgang Krieger, a Marburg-based professor and member of an independent commission on the history of the BND, explained. “If a conflict breaks out in Syria or Iraq or elsewhere, it is part of the tasks of the BND,” he said. “And there are additional instructions from the Chancellery to the BND on exactly what they need to do. The PDB is just a general directive, so to speak.”
Nevertheless, its importance cannot be underestimated. “The PDB contains the main thematic and regional news targets of our foreign secret services,” Flisek said. “Making it public in parliament would be unthinkable – it would not be in our best interests and indeed it is not the case in any country in the world.”
The BND, which has only 6,500 officers, is a fraction of the size of the CIA and the NSA: “It cannot even cover all the countries in crisis, which is why the APB sets the priorities”, Flisek said.
BND was credited with hiring work for the NSA
Countering the Russian threat
Krieger believes that the spectacular case of informant Markus R. also played a role in the delay. Markus R. was a BND officer arrested in 2014 for selling over 200 secret documents to US intelligence agencies and sentenced to eight years in prison in March last year – following a trial in which Krieger was an expert witness.
“One of the documents he handed to the Americans was the 2009 task profile,” Krieger told DW. “For this reason, the Bundestag said: if this has been revealed in court, it is not justifiable that the Parliamentary Oversight Committee is not allowed to see it.”
The government caved in and handed the PDB to MPs, and although the document was never disclosed, some of its details were published in the German press, which meant it was, in Krieger’s words , “compromise”. It is still unclear whether these leaks come from the Bundestag or the CIA, but as it stands, the new PDB will not be communicated to the parliamentary committee. Nonetheless, opposition politicians on the Intelligence Review Committee are pushing for access to the document – even if they are not allowed to get a copy.
Following revelations that Russia may have interfered in the US presidential election and helped elect Donald Trump, media speculated that the Kremlin would seek similar influence over Germany’s September elections. Krieger could only speculate if countering this threat would be one of the BND’s new tasks, but he argued that the whole issue was overblown anyway.
“All this circus that got a makeover in the United States about intervening in the election campaign – it’s always been there,” he said. “States have always supported financially or provided information to certain interest groups or to certain publications or press organizations in other States. that social media has made it impossible to tell who is actually posting what information. “