The Daily Telegraph

Hollowed out intelligen­ce service was sitting duck for ‘aggressive actor’

- By James Crisp EUROPE EDITOR

On Feb 24 of last year Bruno Kahl, Germany’s spy chief, was in Ukraine when Vladimir Putin ordered his forces over the border. He had travelled for “urgent talks” in Kyiv, seemingly unaware of the imminent danger of invasion.

The man heading one of Europe’s most important intelligen­ce agencies ended up being escorted home by special forces in a desperate retreat.

His two-day journey overland was the latest in a string of embarrassm­ents for Germany’s Federal Intelligen­ce Agency (BND), an organisati­on hollowed out since the Cold War.

The BND once confidentl­y predicted Moscow would not launch an attack, despite US and British intelligen­ce warning Putin was on the cusp of invading. There were red faces among Berlin’s spooks again in December after a suspected Russian mole was exposed within their ranks.

To make matters worse the double agent, feared to be passing sensitive battlefiel­d informatio­n to Moscow, was found by a foreign intelligen­ce agency.

Had the BND been shown up by the Americans again? Allies, meanwhile, are said to be concerned over the possibilit­y intelligen­ce has been passed to Moscow by the officer. How has it come to pass that the foreign intelligen­ce service of Europe’s richest country could be found so lacking? Der Spiegel blames Gerhard Schröder, a former chancellor and friend of Vladimir Putin, who took the Kremlin’s shilling through his business links to state-owned Gazprom.

The BND shut down its counter espionage unit in 1997 during a cull of staff after reunificat­ion. It was only reopened in 2017, three years after Putin annexed Crimea, and had to start building up sources from scratch.

The Carsten Linke case is set to be one of the biggest scandals yet and a fresh blow for a German government so often accused of getting it wrong on Ukraine. That Putin allegedly had a man in the upper echelons of its foreign intelligen­ce is more evidence that Germany has underestim­ated the danger posed by Russia. There are now calls to give the BND the same kind of overhaul Olaf Scholz has promised to the German army.

Last October, Thomas Haldenwang, head of domestic intelligen­ce, told the Bundestag that Russia was an “aggressive actor with dishonest means and motives”. Sitting next to him was Mr Kahl, who fled Ukraine eight months earlier. If he knew there was a Russian mole in his organisati­on at the time, he didn’t let on.

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