The heads of the German foreign intelligence and domestic security services have criticized the idea of establishing a joint intelligence structure at the EU level and instead asked for more powers for their agencies.
The security chiefs unanimously renounced the idea of creating a pan-European security service that would exert control over the similar national structures by saying that would only lower the efficiency of their work and in fact impede effective cooperation between the European countries.
The heads of the German security services answered the questions of the German parliament’s committee monitoring their activities during the first open hearing on October 5.
Bruno Kahl, president of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, said that the intelligence work is better organized at “the national level” and any “additional” institution in this field operating at the European level is just redundant.
The head of Germany’s domestic security service, the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV, Hans-Georg Maaßen, also said he is skeptical about such an initiative as it would only lead to the creation of “bureaucratic double structures,” both at the European and national level.
Facing a growing threat posed by various extremists and radicals, the EU repeatedly saw calls for greater cooperation between its member states on security.
In August, the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani said he wants to establish a domestic intelligence service similar to America’s FBI within the bloc to fight terrorism. At that time, he added that hat member states must cooperate much more.
In late September, the French president Emmanuel Macron expressed a similar idea when he said that “European intelligence academy” should be created “to strengthen links between our countries” as he spoke about his view of the future of the EU.
Earlier the same month, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos said that a pan-European intelligence service is needed to tackle the terrorist threat that Europe is facing.
Rejecting these ideas, what the German spy chiefs see value in, however, is giving their own agencies more extensive powers to deal with the urgent security problems.
The German security services need “a full toolset to be able to solve the problems of today,” Maassen said as he called on the MPs to give the security agencies broader surveillance capabilities. The relationship between the personal data protection and public security should not be viewed “in a static and especially in a dogmatic way,” he added.
He further explained that his service would like to be able to track computer IP-addresses of people that use proxy servers and other anonymizers to hide activities that could potentially pose a threat to public security.
The BfV also needs access to the popular messenger apps, such as WhatsApp or Telegram, to track potential terrorists, Maassen also said, adding that “security has its own price and this price is not paid in euro.”
“It is impossible for us to be dependent on instruments that are provided by our partners,” he added.
Kahl actively supported this idea, saying that security services should be able to face the challenges of the modern world and keep up with the technical progress. “Otherwise, [this progress] would only benefit precisely those, from whom we actually have to protect our land,” he said.
In the meantime, Maassen went further and said that the German security services would like to have a capability to destroy data stolen from the German servers and moved to some foreign servers by “hacking back” in the event of cyberattacks from foreign powers.
He also said that “infecting” the servers of the foreign hackers with malicious software would give the German intelligence services greater surveillance capabilities over any operations potentially aimed against Germany.
“In the real world, it would be like turning a foreign intelligence agent and getting them to work for us… Something like this should be possible in the cyber world, too,” Maassen told the parliamentary oversight committee.
In the meantime, Kahl said that the BND already has the necessary expertise in destroying foreign servers but still lacks the legal authority to do that.