Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, had recently moved to its new headquarters in the centre of Berlin from its old base in Munich. The huge nine story monolith standing on the Chausseestraße occupies a space equivalent to the area of some thirty-five football fields, cost over a billion euros to build and employs over 4,000 personnel. A quotation on the BND website stating “That the merging of various units under one roof promises growth in efficiency and effectiveness and further improvements in helping Germany to enlarge, meet, and overcome the future challenges of an increasingly globalized world” has an ominous ring to it.
On the ground floor of the open plan offices the busy tap of keyboards, the clicking of computer printer heads and the murmur of voices on telephones reverberated through the air-conditioned environment. It was here that the BND gathered its global information, acting as an early warning system alerting the German government to threats from abroad. Its role in detecting these threats depended on wiretapping and the electronic surveillance of international communications.
Its mainframe computers analysed every day over 250 million pieces of metadata lurking in the huge basement below. They collected and evaluated information on weapon shipments, drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal immigration. Top on the list of priorities were international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Twenty-four hours a day the computers whirred away, inputting the raw data, storing it in their memory banks until ready to crunch it over and spit out the results. They never stopped.
The predecessor of the BND had been the eastern military intelligence service started during the Second World War, its purpose to collect information on the Russian Red Army. Run by a Wehrmacht Major General, Reinhard Gehlen, at the war’s end he went on to work with the American occupation forces in West Germany. In 1946, Gehlen set up his own intelligence service, known simply as The Organisation, which worked at first for the American CIA, who funded and supplied equipment, cars, gasoline and other materials for the fledgling service. Some of the agents recruited had come from the German Abwehr, the counter-intelligence service run during the war by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, but many came from the former SS and Gestapo after their eventual release by the Allies. At the time, these latter recruits were considered controversial, having come from the services that were the main perpetrators of many Nazis atrocities before and during the war.
The present BND, created from the original service in April 1956, became part of the West German government. Reporting to the federal minister of special affairs in the chancellor’s office, it was not at all, what it appeared to be.