After the publication of secret information by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) during the early phase of the Ukraine war, the BND apparently comprehensively controlled the secret protection in its own ranks. The “specific verification measure” was carried out “for the purpose of raising awareness among employees”, explained the authority for foreign intelligence in response to a request from the daily mirror.
However, a spokesman denied a connection with the increased appearance of BND information in media reports. “The verification measure had nothing to do with BND information becoming known.”
In the course of its checks in May and June, the BND found more than 160 violations of security regulations in its ranks. Usually there are only a few, if any, per month. The authority recorded only one violation in April and only two violations in March. However, there were also accumulations like in the spring when the spy scandal involving the US secret service NSA was processed six years ago. At that time, too, BND documents had become public, and the government promised to “optimize” the handling of classified information in the secret service.
This April, the media reported, among other things, about radio messages intercepted by the BND that are intended to prove war crimes by the Russian military. Because copies of the wiretapping logs are said to have gone not only to the highly secret parliamentary control committee in the Bundestag, but also to the Defense Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, the leak of information in the Bundestag was suspected.
The chairwoman of the defense committee Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP) reported various suspected cases to Bundestag President Bärbel Bas (SPD), who in turn authorized the Berlin public prosecutor’s office to prosecute, as is required by law in the case of an alleged betrayal of secrets by parliamentarians. The investigative procedures are delicate from the point of view of freedom of the press, since informants can be targeted by the media – and thus also journalists themselves.
However, the approximately 6,000 BND employees should not possibly get the impression that the information they have obtained is being handled too freely – hence the concerted action. The BND did not want to say what other reason there should have been for the “specific verification measure”: The secret service generally does not comment publicly on matters affecting its own security, it said. In general, every agency that handles classified information is obliged to carry out controls to protect it.
The BND emphasized that the breaches of security protection registered in May and June were of “consistently low intensity”. No criminal charges were filed. No media reports were evaluated in the course of the measure.
However, there are doubts as to whether the BND always comprehensively answers such press inquiries: For example, the BND had expressly refused information in response to an initial inquiry by the Tagesspiegel in May of this year about breaches of security protection: “Since the BND does not keep any lists or overviews in this regard, there are Unfortunately, we do not have these requested numbers,” it said at first. In response to another inquiry on the subject at the end of June, the BND repeated this statement.
What is correct is that the BND does not keep any separate lists of security breaches. What is wrong, however, is that the authority does not have any figures on this. But it was only after further questions in July and August that the authority then transmitted the requested information, although the BND is obliged to do so according to a judgment by the Federal Administrative Court (Az.: 6 VR 2.15). The BND did not want to comment on the reasons why the secret service was delaying the research until the summer.
The public prosecutor’s investigation into the possible betrayal of secrets in Parliament is still ongoing. After two reports of suspected cases in April, Strack-Zimmermann reported two more cases, the Bundestag administration said. In another case, the ad came directly from the secret protection department of the Bundestag, where parliamentarians are allowed to view particularly sensitive government documents. As the parliamentary administration also reported, the occasions were again media reports on the war in Ukraine, on the one hand in “Spiegel” and on the other hand in the ZDF news program “heute journal”.