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Germany, Intelligence and Security

Germany is an active, key participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), working closely with neighboring European nations and the United States on international economic, intelligence, and security issues. However, Germany weathered a turbulent and sometimes violent past century. Germany is currently one the world’s leading democratic governments, but for the nation’s intelligence and security agencies, overcoming the legacy of their role in two world wars, the Nazi government, the Holocaust, and Soviet-dominated East Germany, has proved a formidable challenge.

During the late nineteenth century and through World War I, the German Abwehr was one of the world’s leading, most sophisticated, and successful intelligence agencies. The Abwehr maintained one of the largest spy networks and made tremendous advances in the technology of espionage, cryptology, and signals intelligence. During World War II, the Abwehr was again successful in many operations, especially in the recruitment of double agents who infiltrated Allied military instillations. Some of the Abwehr’s leading officers opposed Nazi rule, and organized a failed attempt to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The organization was dissolved before the fall of the Third Reich.

While the Abwehr was operated much like any other modern intelligence agency, some German intelligence agencies of the era were more sinister. In 1941, Hitler issued a directive known as the “Night and Fog Decree.” This decree elevated Nazi intelligence and security agencies such as the Gestapo above the law, granting them sweeping powers of arrest, detainment, torture, and imprisonment of persons suspected of anti-government offenses. The decree was expanded to cover the arrest, detainment, and deportation to concentration camps of Jews, gypsies, prisoners of war, and political dissidents.

After the war, Germany was partitioned into two separate nations. Soviet influenced East Germany employed a powerful secret police and intelligence force, known as the STASI. The East German government charged the STASI with spying on citizens to ferret-out political dissidents. The force gained an oppressive and brutal reputation much like that of its Nazi predecessors. In 1989, the fall of Communist East Germany and the Berlin Wall began Germany’s reunification process. After endeavoring for decades to heal the wounds of Nazism, the German government had to address the oppressive legacy of former East German government agencies. After the formal reunification of Germany, government leaders set forth a highly publicized campaign to restructure and reform the re-emergent nation’s intelligence and security agencies. Today’s German intelligence community has actively sought to distance itself from its predecessors.

Germany’s primary intelligence agency is the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the Federal Intelligence Service. The BND handles both internal and external intelligence and is part of the Federal Chancellor’s Office, the German government’s executive office. The BND manages a substantial network of human intelligence worldwide and conducts extensive radio and signals surveillance in Germany and throughout Europe. Working in cooperation with other security agencies, especially the Federal Criminal Police, the BND collects information relevant to the location and prosecution of terrorist groups, illegal narcotics traffickers, money launderers, and arms dealers. In accordance with international law, the BND conducts intelligence operations aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear technology and materials.

Aside from the BND, the German intelligence community makes the traditional distinction between internal and external intelligence and divides their military and civilian intelligence agencies accordingly. Military intelligence is coordinated by individual branches of the armed forces and the Defense Ministry. The primary military intelligence agency is the Amt füpr Nachrichtenwesen der Bundeswehr (ANBw), or the Office of Federal Armed Forces Intelligence. ANBw coordinates the operations of various branches of military intelligence and facilitates the sharing of vital intelligence information with civilian agencies in the German intelligence community. ANBw primarily assesses the military strength, operations, and political position of foreign militaries.

The Militaerischer Abschirmdienst (MAD), Military Security Service, is responsible for counterintelligence operations. One of the federal intelligence offices, MAD collects intelligence on foreign intelligence operations, and assesses security systems intended to guard classified materials and maintain military secrecy when needed. MAD advises the armed forces and German government on security issues. The counterintelligence agency relies on the cooperative efforts of the Amt für Fernmeldwesen Bundeswehr (AFMBw), the Office for Radio Monitoring of the Federal Armed Forces, when conducting surveillance operations.

The Interior Ministry administers Germany’s civilian intelligence agencies. Charged with collecting and analyzing internal intelligence and security information, the nation’s main civilian agencies are the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI), Federal Office for Information Technology Security, and the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The BSI is responsible for the security of all government information technology. The office assesses potential security threats, and develops protective measures to guard sensitive and classified materials. While mainly concerned with government information systems, the BSI has also conducted operations to assess the security of the nation’s banking computer systems. The office publishes a yearly manual on information technology security, and distributes it to German corporations. The BSI also conducts of surveillance of Internet and information systems crimes, such as fraud.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) assesses risks posed by various extremist groups. The agency conducts surveillance operations and infiltrates extremist groups to gather information about their organization, financial resources, weapons, and plans for action. The BfV is not a censorship organization, and does not conduct espionage against law-abiding citizens. The BfV’s mission is to monitor extremists and paramilitary groups that pose a potential threat to national interests. Extensive intelligence resources are devoted to monitoring and destroying Neo-Nazi groups that are banned under German law.

In its most important capacity, the BfV interprets and processes all information regarding espionage cases. When necessary, the agency shares this information with Federal Police, justice officials, and defense lawyers.

Germany participates in many international intelligence operations, including global anti-terrorism measures. In recent years, the German intelligence community has become one of the main sources of information on extremist political organizations and subversive groups throughout Europe.


Browder, George C. Hitler’s Enforcers: The Gestapo and SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Childs, David and Richard Popplewell. The Stasi: The East German Intelligence and Security Service. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Schiel, Katy. Inside Germany’s BND: The Federal Intelligence Service (Inside the World’s Most Famous Intelligence Agencies). New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.


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