Germany: Federal Intelligence Service (BND)

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Overview

Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Federal Intelligence Service, informs the German chancellor on policy and political decisions regarding foreign diplomacy and national security. It also protects Germany’s worldwide interests. The estimated BND budget for 2017 was  $944 million.

With Germany’s strict hate speech laws and strong privacy protections, the BND must operate under unusually tight constraints for an intelligence service. The agency’s priorities include close monitoring far-right organizations suspected of fomenting violence against immigrants and the possible terrorist cells pledging allegiance to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

 After the attacks of September 2001, the BND learned three of the pilots of the hijacked planes had lived in Hamburg. The BND had monitored the apartment of the so-called “Hamburg Cell,” but detected no evidence of the occupants’ plans. The BND became embroiled in scandal in 2005 when it was revealed the agency had been spying of German journalists since 1993. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate, and BND was banned from such activity.

The BND works closely with the U.S. National Security Agency. The BND and NSA run a large surveillance base in the town of Bad Aibling southeast of Munich that captures telecommunications data from around the world. According to documents made public by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA created a network called SIGINT Seniors in the 1980s that brought together 14 Western intelligence agencies, including the BND, to share signals intelligence. This network sometimes referred to as the “14 Eyes” – collaborated to monitor communications during major European events, such as the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the 2006 World Cup soccer tournament, hosted by Germany.

In April 2019, the BND was called to investigate what Bild, a leading newsweekly, called “a huge hacker attack on politicians, celebrities and individuals.” Almost 1,000 well-known public figures, including journalists, actors, musicians and elected officials were victims of a data leak from their mobile phone. While some suspected the Russian’s might have been behind the attack investigators determined that a 20 year old man, living at home with his parents, was responsible.

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