Counter-Terrorism Institutions in Germany

In Germany, four main executive institutions at federal level are involved in counter-terrorism: Bundespolizei (BPol), Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), and Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). This does not include two additional executive bodies each on the level of the 16 federal states with state protection, on the one hand, and protection of the constitution, on the other.

While the BPol, formerly Bundesgrenzschutz, has been intensely restructured during the course of drop of border controls which came with the European Schengen agreement, the BKA is responsible for international cases of terrorism and works hand in hand with the office of the Generalbundesanwalt, the highest-ranking German attorney, as to the most prominent cases of violent extremism.

The BfV, silently for the most part, monitors cases of extremism. While data gained by the BfV can be decisive when it comes to bans of political groups and even political parties, it is in the overwhelming number of cases not presented in courts of the legislative. Finally, the BND provides a broad perspective of the international scenaries including the aspect of terrorism, but is not involved in domestic procedings of the different branches of the police nor the BfV.

After calls in the early 2000s to dismantle the BPol for – at times – challenging the work of the BKA, a consensus was found with the establishment of the Gemeinsames Terrorabwehrzentrum (GTAZ) where information of the four mentioned institutions concerning dangers and for the prevention of terrorist attacks are collected in cooperation with other executive state offices of lesser importance, at least according to the media. Moreover, the Ge­mein­sa­mes Extremismus- und Terroris­mus­abwehr­zentrum (GETZ) is responsible for internal exchange regarding broad developments of political crime and violent extremism.

The setting in Germany is unique due to the specialization of the institutions, yet it seems to have become less criticized thanks to the establishment of the two centers, although there are political voices calling for more centralism due to financial considerations.

Whereas the member institutions of the two centers, including the four main German offices working against terrorism, do their work based on a mix of classical policing and modern technology, the operations of the Nationale Cyber-Abwehrzentrum (Cyber-AZ) – which is to analyse data related to digital threats – has been in the media with a view on demands to conduct hacking operations to protect critical infrastructure in Germany. However, such MOs have so far not been conducted by the Cyber-AZ.

Thus, regularized exchange has streamlined the work of German security institutions, but progression in digital technology will certainly lead to much less classical work in the fight against terrorism – and to additional computerization.

Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
27 December 2022

Author: author

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