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Spy chief seeks to bring field officers to heel

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Spy chief seeks to bring field officers to heel
Gerhard Schindler at the BND's Bad Aibling listening post. Photo: DPA
09:12 CEST+02:00
The head of Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has decided to reorganize the agency to stop a repeat of the US National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal that has engulfed it this year.

BND chief Gerhard Schindler told close colleagues that he wanted to bring the 6,500 agents in field offices back under central control, after some of them acquired "a life of their own", the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday.

Schindler plans to hire external advisors to guide his restructuring of the agency and end the "frayed" way key work is done.

And he wants to invite more oversight from legal and statistical observers into the work of the BND:

Previously, work on the "content" of the BND's operations was split between people in field offices and at headquarters.

For example, work on intercepts carried out on behalf of the NSA which stand at the heart of the current scandal – in which the BND continued spying on allied countries and German industry after finding out the Americans' abuse of their trust – was divided between the listening post at Bad Aibling and at the agency's former HQ in Pullach.

That division of labour led to "significant problems in communication," Schindler said, which were "cemented yet further" after the HQ was moved to Berlin.

No-one responsible

No-one in the central office felt responsible for what was going on at Bad Aibling – a partial explanation for the years-long silence about the NSA spying that breached the agency's "Memorandum of Understanding" with the US agency.

The BND was not supposed to spy on Nato partners or European institutions on behalf of the Americans.

But so-called "selectors" - identifying information such as IP addresses, email addresses or phone numbers – targeting the French president's office, Airbus and the European Commission, among others, were included in huge target lists passed to the BND from their supposed allies.

Even when the subterfuge was discovered, the BND went along with it for years, although officials at the Chancellery, which is responsible for overseeing the spies, were informed.

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