Germany weighs curbs on intelligence service after arms export scandal

November 10, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- Political leaders are considering ways to rein in Germany's headstrong intelligence service in the wake of revelations that it was smuggling weapons to Israel.

This was not the first time it had been accused of such activities. And since the illegal Israeli shipment was exposed, still more revelations have shown that the organization, known by its initials BND, has misled its political overseers on other occasions.

In several cases, intelligence and military officers have simply shipped weapons overseas without bothering to inform their superiors or the civilians who nominally control them.

"It has started to take up the regular practice of not informing the federal government about its activities. This cannot continue," said Juergen Ruettgers, who heads the ruling Christian Democratic Union's members of Parliament.

His Social Democratic counterpart, Peter Struck, said new laws had to be passed to put the BND under stricter civilian control.

"There is work for the BND to do -- for example, in controlling illegal weapon sales -- but not in engaging in such activities," Mr. Struck said.

Officials said the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, ordered the weapons from the BND. Israel was reportedly interested in the mobile radar units and missile launchers because its Arab neighbors have similar Soviet hardware.

According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, the BND arranged the export in cooperation with the army, which acquired the goods when it took over the East German army.

The agency tipped off most of the relevant police departments to ignore the freight. But it forgot to notify the harbor police, and a curious inspector discovered the weapons during a routine inspection Oct. 27.

German law requires that weapons sales and shipments be approved by the government.

Politicians found this case even more troubling because the government had rejected an Israeli request for the same equipment in March.

While weapons have been sold regularly and openly to Israel in the past, analysts say German officials rejected the request because it came during the Persian Gulf war with Iraq when zTC Bonn was trying to implement a policy forbidding weapon sales to crisis zones. Although equipment to combat chemical and biological weapons was sent to Israel, the government ruled out providing any weapons that fire projectiles.

Shortly after the BND took matters into its own hands, government officials had suspicions that the agency and Defense Ministry were ignoring orders. In a letter last month to the defense secretary, Undersecretary Willy Wimmer said BND officers "lack an awareness of the law" and were acting on their own.

Mr. Struck said part of the reason for the BND's independence is that the Parliamentary Control Commission that oversees the BND is a "paper tiger." Mr. Struck, a commission member, said politicians hear only what the agency deems appropriate.

Last week, opposition and government leaders agreed on the framework for a new law to control the BND. The new law would require arms shipments to be reported to the BND leadership, but would not allow politicians on the control commission to look into BND files or to question the lower-ranking BND officers who sometimes organize shipments.

Although formed primarily to spy on East Germany and the Communist bloc, the BND has a history of organizing weapon shipments and of illegal domestic spying -- in one case paid for by industry.

The BND became involved in scandals in the 1960s for violating West German law by exporting $50 million worth of weapons to India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

More recently, the BND made secret sales of eavesdropping equipment to China, Pakistan and Turkey -- all of which caused minor scandals when uncovered.

Since the two started cooperating in 1967, Israel has been one of the BND's best partners. The problem, according to Mr. Ruettgers, is not that the BND works with Israel but that there are few guidelines and that most deals seem to be settled privately between the BND and Mossad officials.

In an effort to establish control over his organization, BND chief Konrad Porzner announced that all future weapons deliveries have to be cleared by him. Few expect this directive to be of much use; a similar one has been in place for 15 years.

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