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German Minister of the Interior Faeser/IT security chief Arne Schönbohm. Wikipedia

German cyber defense chief suddenly fired

The German Minister of the Interior Faeser (SPD) is facing strong headwinds, even within her own administration. The staff council has expressed incomprehension that the minister dismissed Arne Schönbohm, the long-standing head of the country's IT security facility (Federal Office for Information Security, BSI).

Published: January 7, 2023, 9:14 am

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    Schönbohm was ousted from his office and transferred to another one. Schönbohm’s “crime” was that as head of the BSI, he is said to have maintained contacts with the so-called Cyber ​​Security Council Germany (CSRD eV), which in turn is said to have connections to Russian secret service circles. Such contacts are common and understandable from a security perspective.

    Not so for the German Minister of the Interior: She has now withdrawn Schönbohm from the BSI and instead made him head of the Federal Academy for Public Administration.

    Faeser’s measure has apparently been met with harsh criticism, not only from the opposition, but from within her own administration. The opposition and security experts have expressed displeasure and total incomprehension. In a letter from the authority’s staff council, the staff representatives expressed their irritation at the way in which the minister removed Germany’s top cyber defense chief from his post.

    The staff council demanded clarification as to what prompted Faeser to make her decision. It said that “Mr. Schönbohm was experienced as a person of integrity despite all the conflicting interests”.

    “In this respect, the staff council of the BSI finds the circumstances unsatisfactory, as the BMI [Interior Ministry. ed.] has reacted to Arne Schönbohm’s appointment in public.” One would have “expected more support and transparency here” and would now like a “joint discussion”.

    The mood of the most important German cyber defense authority is described in the letter from the staff council as follows: “In the BSI, the employees have been left wondering what happened, how to proceed and what role the BSI will continue to play.”

    Interior Minister Faeser is not alone in her autocratic personnel policy. Months ago, Federal Economics Minister Habeck (Greens) had two senior officials from his own ministry observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution – on suspicion that the two employees could have “spied” for Russia.

    Their crime: the two “suspects” had a different opinion than the minister on gas supply issues impacting Germany negatively. Months later, however, the Secret Service had to report that they had found no evidence of espionage.

    On a path to war?

    Hans-Georg Maaßen, ex-chief of the domestic intelligence service, meanwhile expressed his reservations in a TV talk show on Berlin’s decision to supply tanks to Ukraine. In particular, he pointed out that German voters were never consulted.

    “If we don’t deliver wound dressing packs but weapons, we of course run the risk of being a war party. You have to imagine that: We are now a war party – against Russia,” commented Maaßen (60), on the German government’s current decision to supply Marder armoured personnel carriers to the Ukrainian army.

    And Maaßen emphasised the obvious problem with this presumably momentous step: “There was no public discussion about it.”

    The expert on constitutional protection also added: “It is quite frightening how many are now shouting ‘hurray’ again. Not so much on the street, but in the editorial offices. Some would like to march directly into the Kremlin to get Putin out of there.”

    Maaßen warned: “We could now become the target of Russian attacks with these arms deliveries. That means: Germany is being dragged into a war – without having our own war aims.”

    In addition, he said about Ukraine: “Ukraine is not the West’s bulwark of human rights, freedom and peace – it is not. Even if the German newspapers and public broadcasters say otherwise.”

    Maaßen then wanted to know: “Why are we exposing ourselves to a nuclear confrontation?”

    After much hesitation, Germany is now supplying armoured personnel carriers to the Ukrainian armed forces. It is still open, however, how many there might be. Initially, 40 Marder tanks are to be delivered. The two armoured infantry companies of the Bundeswehr, which since the beginning of the year have been part of the NATO rapid reaction force that Germany now leads, are equipped with 28 Marder infantry fighting vehicles.

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