Germany’s top spy chief says espionage ‘significantly higher’ than during Cold War

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The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service has said levels of espionage are at least as high as during the Cold War – and warned they could be “significantly higher”.

Thomas Haldenwang, chief of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warned of an increased risk of sabotage as Russia continues to wage war on Ukraine.

Germany has exposed a string of Russian spies operating in the country in recent years.

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Mr Haldenwang appeared at an event entitled “Threats to Germany’s Internal Security – From Delegitimization to Disinformation” in Berlin on Thursday.

He told the audience: “Today we assess the level of espionage against Germany at least at the level of the Cold War – if not significantly higher.”

The spy boss also said he believes the “inhibition threshold for espionage, sabotage and illegitimate influence” would fall in a world of “open hostilities and drastic sanctions”.

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The BfV has increased monitoring of extremist groups and individuals seeking to undermine the state’s legitimacy in the wake of the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The risk presented by such people was heightened by foreign powers aiming to promote anti-government propaganda through disinformation, Mr Haldenwang said.

His warning comes as Germany’s top security official, interior minister Nancy Faeser, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of stoking the idea of “Russophobia” in the West since launching the war in Ukraine.

She said: “For us, the coronavirus pandemic was already a lesson in state disinformation.

“Back then, we saw that for more than two years now, especially states like Russia and China have been carrying out disinformation and propaganda here as well.

“We have reached a new dimension in Germany since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.”

MI6 chief Richard Moore warned last year how China was the greatest single focus for the intelligence service – describing Beijing as one of the “big four” priorities alongside Russia, Iran and international terrorism.

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