Russian intelligence activities in Germany have grown since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and are expected to increase even more in 2023, according to the head of German counterintelligence.
In an interview with the German Press Agency (DPA), Thomas Haldenwang, director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), also warned that China, Iran, and Turkey are activating their intelligence activities in Germany.
Russian intelligence operates undercover in German offices
Last April, the German government removed 40 diplomatic workers from the Russian embassy in Berlin. It is believed that most of those released were intelligence officers who operated under official cover.
Galdenwang claims that the Kremlin has taken steps to compensate for the loss of its intelligence presence in Germany. This is mainly done in two ways: firstly, with the help of “traveling agents,” that is, intelligence officers who are located in third countries and travel to Germany to carry out specific operations.
Secondly, with unofficial cover officers, intelligence officers do not have an open relationship with the Russian government.
Furthermore, according to Galdenwang, Russia is increasing its cyberattacks and foreign influence operations against Germany.
The threat of leakage of secret information
“Russia’s interest in Germany is growing as the effects of the war continue,” the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said in an interview with the German Press Agency.
Haldenwang said he expects Moscow to try to compensate for the intelligence capabilities, either with more “traveling agents” or other camouflage. According to authorities, such a mask was used, for example, by a suspected Russian spy who has been in arrest in Norway since October. He pretended to be a Brazilian researcher.
“The current case also shows how real the danger of Russian spying is,” Haldenvang said, referring to the suspected double agent arrested by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) shortly before Christmas.
To avoid endangering the investigation, he, like BND boss Bruno Kahl, does not want to comment on the details. The detained person is suspected of giving secret information to the Russian special service.
German counterintelligence prevents Russian intelligence
In response to the Kremlin’s actions, “German counterintelligence is making significant efforts to prevent people who may be connected to Russian intelligence from entering Germany with valid visas,” – Galdenwang said.
The BfV has hired more staff and “reorganized” its defensive and offensive counterintelligence capabilities and cyber defense experience. As a result, BfV “feels sufficiently prepared for the current threats,” Haldenwang said. He also denied claims in Western media that the BfV was relatively passive in countering Russian intelligence operations before the war in Ukraine.
Iran and Turkey also have a significant intelligence presence
Haldenwang warned that Iran and Turkey have a significant intelligence presence in Germany and that turbulent internal politics in these countries “will have an impact on Germany” because “there are internal political conflicts in these countries.”
This also applies to China, whose intelligence-gathering goals are no longer primarily economic but are moving into the political sphere. According to Galdenwang, ” European solution is needed to reverse this trend, at least for the European states.