In Germany, the government's counter-espionage organization has again warned that Russian agents are actively seeking economic and military information. The warning follows last month's arrest of two Germans accused of funneling military technology to Moscow. RFE/RL's German correspondent Roland Eggleston files this report from Berlin.
Berlin, 24 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's Intelligence Service has warned that as many as 200 Russian agents may be actively collecting military and economic secrets in the country.
The warning came from Germany's counter-espionage organization, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. A spokesman recalled that since 1995 it has regularly warned German industry and business that Russia is as interested in collecting commercial information as it is in learning German and NATO military secrets. In 1996 the counter-intelligence organization published a pamphlet warning industry against Russian espionage.
A spokesman for the organization, who spoke with RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity, says that its warnings have "often not taken seriously enough". The spokesman says, "the evidence indicates that too often information about new technology and other secrets is not sufficiently protected against espionage from within the company."
The government's security advisor, Ernst Uhrlau, said a few days ago that an "energetic protest" had been made in Moscow against Russia continuing espionage activities despite Germany's massive financial assistance to the Russian economy. But commentators noted that Uhrlau's predecessors and even the former chancellor, Helmut Kohl, made similar protests without any apparent effect. Kohl raised the issue at a November 1997 meeting in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Uhrlau said it was unlikely that Germany would impose economic sanctions on Russia as has been demanded by the chairman of the parliamentary internal affairs committee, Wilfried Penner. But Penner has said he may ask questions about the damage caused by Russian espionage in an open session of parliament.
The latest warning about Russian espionage in Germany follows the arrest of two men alleged to have passed to Russia secret military information.
One of them, Peter Sommer, is a 52-year-old engineer at Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace (DASA), which has research contracts for various military projects. He is said to have been active since 1997 and is suspected of having stolen studies about the latest developments in military helicopters and anti-tank weapons and possibly information about the weaponry carried by the new fighter aircraft, the Eurofighter.
The other man accused is a 39-year-old landowner in Lower Saxony, Michael Koch. The authorities believe it was he who persuaded Sommer to obtain the information. Koch is the son of an arms dealer who was formally accused in 1979 of trying to recruit former German officers for the Libyan army of Muammar Gaddafi.
The Federal Prosecutors Office has declined to give details of the case while investigations continue. But lawyers for the two say Koch is suspected of having tried to recruit several people to obtain sensitive information. When Koch was arrested in Hanover on July 28 he was allegedly about to leave for Moscow with a briefcase full of secret documents. The head of the provincial security organization in Lower Saxony, Rolf-Peter Minnier, told journalists that with Koch's arrest "we caught a really big fish."
Koch appeared in the Federal court in Karlsruhe last Thursday but refused to make any statement. He and Sommer are detained in separate prisons. Officials say they are unlikely to go on trial until next year.
The counter-espionage organization says it is also worried about economic espionage. The spokesman said Russia appears to be interested in new technology in industry, in computer technology, microelectronics, and in gene technology. The spokesman told RFE/RL that "apparently, the goal is to improve Russia's economy by obtaining information about Western advances in the industrial, scientific and electronic fields."
Russia makes no secret of its activities. A Russian Federation law obliges the foreign intelligence service to "support the economic development and scientific progress of the country." German newspapers frequently report that President Yeltsin supported economic espionage for the good of the country in a speech to Russia's National Security Council in February, 1996. But German officials concede that in many cases Russia now obtains its economic information through joint ventures with German companies.
The German counter-intelligence agency says other countries are also active in trying to obtain information in Germany about Western technology. Among them are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and China.
Accusations have also been made against the United States. The U.S. still maintains a Cold War electronic listening station at Bad Aibling near Munich and in some other parts of the country. Some German politicians charge that the U.S. monitors phone conversations and other communications inside German industry. The chairman of parliament's internal affairs committee, Wilfried Penner, renewed these charges last week.
But political commentators say such actions are common in many countries. In June last year the French magazine "Le Point" said France systematically monitors communications in the U.S. and other countries. Britain is also known to have a large monitoring operation.
In Germany itself, Department Two of the foreign intelligence service monitors thousands of faxes and telex messages using computers to look for suspicious words which could indicate terrorist connections or drug smuggling. A spokesman said recently that about 15,000 taps are made daily but on the average only about 20 are worth following-up. A similar monitoring of phone calls was closed down a year ago because the results were unsatisfactory.