Terror fears leading to a police revolution
Five decades after Germany stepped back from centralised police and security services following the horrors of the Third Reich, Leon Mangasarian says that fear of terrorism is now forcing Berlin to consider beefing up police powers.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily faces resistance to centralising police
Otto Schily, Germany's interior minister, has led calls to beef up agencies in Berlin charged with hunting terrorists amid warnings the public fails to see the magnitude of current dangers.
"There is the tendency to say after a terrorist attack 'that was it, it's over and done with'. And then the reactions of lawmakers or security officials are seen as exaggerated," complained Schily in a recent Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper interview.
In a key move, the government is moving the headquarters of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, with 6,000 employees to Berlin from its present location outside Munich. The BND is responsible for foreign intelligence.
But this is not enough, says Schily who is also targeting the Cologne-based domestic security agency, the Verfassungsschutz, and its 16 regional branches, each jealously run by the country's 16 Laender (federal states).
"If I could have my way ... they would all be under the control of the federal agency," says the law-and-order Schily who admits this is unlikely to happen given big powers held by Laender under Germany's federal system.
*quote1*But Schily is adamant things cannot continue as in the past.
"Cooperation between the state domestic security bureaus and the federal agency must improve," he said.
Schily also wants to strengthen the Federal Crime Bureau (BKA), which despite its name does not have nearly the same sweeping powers of the American FBI. Police and intelligence work have been strictly separated in Germany since 1945, unlike in many other countries.
He has called for the BKA to move to Berlin from its current headquarters in the distant western German cities of Wiesbaden of Bonn.
This suggestion was angrily rejected by a demonstration of 6,000 people in Wiesbaden and an anti-Berlin petition signed by 67,000.
Schily tartly notes that protecting the nation and not problems posed by real estate prices for its employees dictate the BKA's work. Key national security agencies must be sited near the Berlin chancellery and parliament, he says.
"Why should it be based in Wiesbaden? Just because the Americans put it there after the Second World War? That's absurd," said Schily.
German officials - speaking on the condition of anonymity - said it would probably take a big terrorist attack in Germany to convince those blocking both the BKA move and a merger of 16 regional security agencies to change their minds.
Hans Leyendecker, one of Germany's best-connected columnists who writes for the centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung paper, agrees.
*quote2*"All the debate over presumption of innocence and civil rights will only come to a sudden end after people are ripped to pieces in an attack in this country," said Leyendecker.
So far Germany has been spared from any major attack by Islamist radicals. The country's main experiences with terror were shootings and bombings by the left-wing extremist Red Army Faction from the 1970s until the early 1990s.
Shaking his head over public attitudes, one official said proof of current problems should be easy to see given that leaders of the 11 September 2001 attacks on United States lived in Germany while posing as students prior to travelling to the US.
The government says there are about 30,000 Islamic extremists living in Germany out of a total Moslem population of over three million.
Despite fears, many are wary over Schily's proposals to centralise police and intelligence power in Berlin.
Wolbert Smidt, an ex-government official who heads an intelligence services networking group, said while it was good to have the foreign intelligence BND in Berlin, German history made it a bad idea to run the whole domestic spy agency from the capital.
"That would be reckless," said Smidt, adding that a centralised domestic security service would likely become even more bureaucratic and lose local contacts.
But Schily - who is a spry 71 - seems undaunted in his bid to streamline security and is also leading the way with demands to sharpen German immigration laws.
The minister - who first became famous as member of the Greens party and lawyer for Red Army terrorists - wants to be allowed to expel any foreigner who is proved to have visited an al-Qaeda training camp - even if no concrete crime can be shown.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: German news, terrorism, police powers