Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service headquarters in Berlin. PHOTO: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The US and other NATO allies limited intelligence sharing with Germany over allegations a key German intelligence official was working for Russia.
Carsten Linke, a supervisor at Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND), on Dec 21, 2022 was arrested on charges of providing classified intelligence to Russian intelligence in exchange for thousands of euros in payments, according to German prosecutors.
Linke, 52, was reportedly first suspected by an aligned intelligence service – officials refused to specifically disclose the country who tipped off Germany – that led to both a warning to Germany’s domestic intelligence service, and the Official for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).
Linke has not commented on the allegations in the media.
“The Germans weren’t already aware [he] was a red flag,” said a US official on background. “We already work very hard to vet information or intelligence shared with NATO partners but in light of the situation in Ukraine, some adjustments [to what was shared] were made.”
A Brussels-based NATO counterintelligence official was more blunt, explaining to VICE World News on condition of anonymity that “the Germans have long been considered infiltrated on some level but it was determined there was at least an attempt to gather specific military information on the war in Ukraine.
“Linke would have had access to very important information in his role as a supervisor in the signals intelligence side of things,” said the official, who said that Linke was first noted after an allied intelligence service intercepted Russian intelligence that clearly had originated with the BND.
“Everyone moved very quickly,” said the anonymous NATO official.
Germany has long had complicated ties with Russia due to the relationship with the Soviet Union when the country was split in two.
Media reports said that Linke had used his role as the head of Technical Intelligence to request information related to Ukrainian positions in the nearly year-old war with Russia. None of the intelligence officials would confirm specifics of what was believed to have been passed to Russia.
NATO countries have seen years of violent Russian intelligence operations targeting its enemies, including use of radioactive materials and nerve agents as poison, the murder of a Chechen dissident in a Berlin park in 2019 and suspicions of Moscow being behind explosions in both Czechia and Bulgaria targeting arms deliveries for Ukraine.
Germany’s military and intelligence establishments have been criticised both at home and abroad for refusing to believe that Russia would attempt a full scale invasion of Ukraine despite repeated warnings from the US and UK.
Years of underspending have left Germany’s military lacking many capabilities that critics argue are necessary for Europe’s largest economy, with embarrassing scenes in 2015 showing troops using broomsticks instead of heavy machine guns during a NATO training exercise. Despite promises to increase military spending, Germany has been seen as reluctant to support weapons transfers to Ukraine.
According to a NATO counterintelligence official based in a Central European country that regularly deals with Berlin on intelligence matters, Germany has been considered a flawed, often passive partner in confronting Russian intelligence operations.
“The Germans have never dedicated the proper resources to intelligence gathering and collections and have almost no counterintelligence capability,” said the official, who said that Germany relied on economic influence with Russia and tacitly accepted that Germany’s economic and political elite were often compromised by Russian cash and intelligence gathering operations.
“[The Germans] will claim it’s culturally problematic to spy on its citizens in light of its history with the [East German] Stasi,” said the official. “But it’s because of that long relationship between the East Germans and Russian intelligence that so many German institutions are compromised.”
In part, experts and officials point to Russia’s commitment to maintaining its intelligence capabilities in Germany, as well as economic soft power arrangements, such as the €10 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline project connecting Russian natural gas to Germany. That project was cancelled but it represents only one of the close economic ties between the countries.
“They have highly specialised experts who speak fluent German, who know their way around very well, and who launch very targeted operations in Germany,” Nico Lange, a former German Defense Ministry official, told the New York Times. “On our side, you actually have almost no one left who knows Russia, speaks fluent Russian, and watches the other side closely.”
German investigators are pursuing links between Linke and Germany’s far-right movement, which has long been seen as a trojan horse for Russian influence operations inside the EU. In the past few years, the top German special forces unit had to be partially disbanded because of widespread Nazi sympathies, while last year the former head of the BfV was kicked out of his political party for also expressing hard right views. Linke has not responded to the claims.