Ironically, the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin had obviously placed a top spy in the heart of the German foreign intelligence service. Carsten L. is now in custody. But the real scandal is only just beginning.
The official order from the top officials was short and strictly confidential. For the time being, Maik Pawlowsky, head of counterintelligence at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), announced to his people that they no longer wanted to pursue normal “four-person cases”. It was thus clear to the employees of several departments in Specialist Department 4: They should no longer uncover suspicious foreign spies, but primarily seek out and monitor neo-Nazis and Reich citizens.
Right-wing extremists, as Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) had clearly stated in her catalog of measures, were now the BfV’s priority targets. Shadow men and hostile agent leaders – for Faeser these seem to be figures from yesterday and the day before yesterday.
Pavlovsky’s change of course, which experts say means a clear weakening of counterintelligence, came in January this year, four weeks before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Only a few insiders are likely to know whether the alleged Russian top agent Carsten L. was already active in the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) at that time. On Wednesday last week he was arrested on charges of alleged treason and the disclosure of a state secret to Russia’s secret service.
The shock runs deep – in all German security authorities. War is raging in Europe – and of all people, the brutal aggressor and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin had obviously placed a top spy in the heart of Germany’s foreign intelligence service. From Moscow’s point of view, that was at least temporarily a masterpiece. A feat like something out of the novels by John le Carré or Frederick Forsyth.
Germany’s agent hunters also sat in front of a puzzle over the holidays. The BfV is trying to find out whether there are any peculiarities in the alleged spy’s CV that made him receptive to recruitment. The state security department in the Federal Criminal Police Office is trying to clarify: Was L. blackmailed? Could it be a betrayal for ideological reasons? Or simply attracted big money? Is there a Russian lead officer? How were BND secrets transmitted to Moscow? Did conspiratorial meetings take place somewhere? Was L. first noticed by a foreign service, which then alerted the BND?
The BND seemed deeply affected. President Bruno Kahl could clearly see the secret service defeat on the day after the arrest. Within an hour, he invited selected media to a background discussion and urgently asked for restraint in journalistic research. According to Kahl, every published detail could ultimately inform the Kremlin to what extent the investigators had cleared up the apparently serious case of treason in the BND. Quite a few in the industry have long been talking about a secret service super meltdown.
How, the BND boss will have asked himself again and again over the Christmas holidays, was L. able to survive all the strict security checks that he has to pass as a higher-ranking civil servant with access to state secrets?
The suspected spy, whose name and age are strictly concealed by the security authorities, must have made a reliable impression so far. Otherwise it would be hard to understand why he was entrusted with one of the most sensitive tasks in the almost 6,000-strong secret service agency.
Carsten L. was practically the big ear of the BND. He worked in a leading position in the technical reconnaissance department. The BND’s special antennas, which collect and filter communications around the world like vacuum cleaners, deliver top information about the military, wars, corrupt governments, terrorists and arms dealers. Carsten L. is said to have filtered the most important information from this mass of information and prepared it for the federal government, the armed forces, individual ministries or specialist committees – all top secret.
As a supplement to his situation reports, L. was authorized to view sensitive findings from friendly intelligence services and to use them for his evaluation and situation reports. And that’s where a huge secret service scandal could loom.
According to Focus information, it cannot currently be ruled out that Carsten L. forwarded intelligence gems from the eavesdropping operations of several NATO eavesdropping services to Moscow. This would severely shake the relationship of trust between the BND and its partners around the world. Secret services exchange exclusive information, they live on give and take. Once this basis is brittle, a professional distrust sets in very quickly, which is difficult to win back on both sides.
The investigating federal prosecutor, responsible for espionage crimes, is rejecting any information about their case against Carsten L. these days. A report in the daily newspaper “Die Welt”, according to which Carsten L. might even have had accomplices in the BND, was neither confirmed nor denied. This will not stop the major intelligence services in the US, UK, France or Israel from launching their own investigations. This is primarily about this question: How safe are my sources and their supplies if there is a traitor in the BND control center?
For many, the BND has always been an insecure cantonist. As early as April 1956, when German foreign espionage was founded, foreign countries observed the troop with suspicion and skepticism, in which many figures from Hitler’s repressive apparatus had come together.
One of them, the former SS man Heinz Felfe, even rose to become head of counter-espionage. For years he shone with material that he allegedly claimed to have obtained through recruited officers of the Soviet secret service, the KGB. It was all lies and deception: the Russians had hired Felfe long ago and provided him with game material that ultimately accelerated Felfe’s rise to the head of counter-espionage. In this function he betrayed dozens of CIA operations and dozens of Western agents in the Eastern bloc, who were executed immediately after their arrest or sentenced to long prison terms.
In 1961, Felfe was exposed by the Polish double agent Michael Goleniewski. He received 14 years in prison for treason.
The Americans were not satisfied. For 15 years they kept their distance from the BND, appalled that the former SS officer Felfe remained undiscovered and that in his function he was able to send so many spies to the knife.
Putin’s Net – How the KGB took back Russia and then set their sights on the West
Is a new ice age looming now?
Alfred Spuhler, born in Munich in 1940 and trained as a long-distance scout with the Bundeswehr, triggered a serious crisis at the BND, which in turn strained the relationship with partner services. Like the current suspected traitor Carsten L., Spuhler worked in the BND’s technical reconnaissance department from 1968. From 1972 he revealed military information such as the locations of nuclear weapons and the identity of Western agents to the GDR secret service. His salary: 330,000 marks. A defector from the Eastern Bloc outed Spuhler – for his treason he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent end of the Cold War initially seemed to defuse aggressive espionage against reunified Germany. A fallacy. The residences of the Russian secret services – including the KGB successor FSB, the civilian foreign service SWR and the particularly aggressive military secret service GRU – are currently staffed as in the 1960s and 1970s.
Around 200 Russian diplomats working in Moscow’s embassy in Berlin and in several consulates general such as Hamburg or Munich are in reality secret service agents in disguise who are constantly on the lookout for informants. The diplomatic passport usually protects them from arrest. The former director of the British foreign service MI6 stated months ago: Only ten percent of the Russian espionage network is known in Europe.
At the beginning of April, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) had 40 Russians expelled from the diplomatic corps because the government believed they posed a threat to Ukrainian refugees in Germany. In addition, the expulsion was supposed to be a reaction to the massacre by the Russian army in Bucha.
The arrest of the alleged spy in the BND last week led to clear confessions. Politicians from all parties called on the Office for the Protection of the Constitution to be more vigilant against hostile espionage. “This is a wake-up call,” said the FDP’s defense policy spokeswoman, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann. Russia’s secret services tried to destabilize the Federal Republic. SPD faction deputy Dirk Wiese suggested improving the equipment of the security services if necessary.
Counterintelligence is apparently not doing so well, and there are no professionals. “Almost all good people in the higher and higher civil service are recruited for Department 2 to monitor and investigate right-wing extremism,” says an experienced insider from the BfV headquarters in Cologne.
A federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe, responsible for espionage crimes, has been wondering for a few years: “There are more and more agent leaders at the Russian embassy, but almost none of their German sources have been discovered. I dare say that you have to wear the BfV to hunt in this regard!”