John Sipher is considered one of the most experienced intelligence experts in the United States. He doesn’t see any reliable partners in Germany’s secret services when it comes to Russia. And what’s more: he considers the BND’s Russia analysts to be “completely useless”.

“Arrogant, incompetent, bureaucratic, useless” – the verdict of an American CIA expert on German counterintelligence sounds devastating. In an interview with FOCUS online, John Sipher describes his professional experience with German colleagues in relation to Russia.

Sipher is one of the most experienced intelligence experts in the United States. He worked for the CIA for 28 years in counterintelligence and was a member of the Senior Intelligence Service, a US Intelligence Service leadership team for global CIA operations.

He worked for a long time as an agent trainer and, together with the secret services of other Western countries, was responsible for assignments in Europe and Asia that were classified as highly dangerous.

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FOCUS online: How do you rate the cooperation with the German intelligence services?

John Sipher: I’m sorry to say that. But although Germany is the center of the European economy, the German secret services are absolutely not reliable partners when it comes to Russia.

Actually, I don’t like to comment negatively on the German secret services, because there are quite a few good people there. And we are all urgently dependent on Germany when it comes to continuing to put pressure on Russia.

But the German agents are being held back by their politicians, who seem unwilling to accept that Putin could be up to something bad. So the German spies stuck their heads in the sand. And that’s why the Russia analysts from the Federal Intelligence Service are completely useless.

Are you speaking from personal experience?

Sipher: During my time in the secret service, when among other things it was about defending the country against state threats from Russia, I noticed how much less capable the Germans were compared to all their colleagues from almost all other European countries.

They were also significantly less helpful than other Europeans. I really can’t remember a single time when cooperation with the Germans worked. I also had some close friends who worked with the BND and the BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) in Berlin and Munich.

And their assessments were similar?

Sipher: They all came to the same conclusion: the BfV does solid, serious work – but only if the will is there to do something. And when it came to Russia, both the BfV and the BND deliberately turned a blind eye for years and decades respectively.

One got the impression that they were so lax about Russia because they were afraid of finding out something they didn’t want to see. Because then maybe they should have done something. And they knew that the Chancellery and the German government did not want that.

Incidentally, I also hear these assessments from the secret services of other countries, which have also tried to cooperate with the Germans.

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Secret agents from other countries also judge Germany negatively?

Sipher: Yes. For example, when voices from other countries were raised that Russia posed an increasing threat, German analysts and top figures – mostly from the BND – almost always reacted very arrogantly, claiming that they understood the Russians much better than anyone else.

The rest of us are simply “full of prejudice” against Russia. So it should come as no surprise that the German secret services have a very bad reputation among other NATO partners when it comes to cooperation on Russia.

The motto seemed quite obvious: “Don’t search and you won’t find anything and then there won’t be any problems either.” Most of the other secret services also found that cooperation with Germany was a one-way street.

While the Germans liked to hear information from others about Russia’s dangerous actions, they, in turn, refused to divulge anything or cooperate.

The main problem was the pressure from above, from the German government?

Sipher: Exactly. In addition, the German secret services are not sufficiently funded and far too bureaucratic. Anyone who has ever worked with the Germans says that neither the BND nor the BfV are taken seriously by the government and are hardly even listened to.

Many individual BfV and BND agents did not at all agree with the political leadership in Berlin. But everyone knew that if they raised their voices, they would damage their careers. Ultimately, nobody wanted to work with the German intelligence services because it never brought anything.

Do you see any signs that this is now changing?

Sipher: Hopefully this will improve in the future. NATO’s secret services will again welcome the Germans with open arms if they are willing to cooperate in the future.