Fighting Terror: Lessons from Germany

January 10, 2012

On January 10, 2012, the American-German Institute (AGI) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung hosted a discussion with Günter Krings and Michael Grosse-Brömer, Members of the German Bundestag, on “Fighting Terror: Lessons from Germany.”  The speakers discussed the differences in how Germany and the United States have dealt with terrorist threats since 9/11, and what policies to expect in the future.

Germans’ perception of the terrorist threat differs from that of Americans’. For the public, New York and the events of 9/11 were distant and, despite subsequent attacks elsewhere in Europe, there is the sense that it will not happen in Germany.  Many Germans were alienated by the Iraq war and the war on terror, and by the perception of a U.S. government that is too strong. The extreme emphasis on data privacy and protection in Germany is another example of Germans’ fear of strong government—a fear that some parties try to benefit from.

The recent extension of the anti-terrorism legislation in Germany has brought new questions to the forefront of the debate, namely data protection. The European Union’s data retention guidelines—providers must store telecommunications records for a minimum of six months—has caused controversy in Germany, with the Minister of Justice choosing to ignore the EU law. Amidst debate over the future of the EU and the euro, Mr. Krings argued that the future of the EU is based on the survival of its legal order.

After debate within the Bundestag, Germany’s anti-terrorism legislation was changed and extended past its original end date of 9 January 2012. The governing CDU/CSU/FDP coalition was able to find compromises that contribute to security but also protect civil liberties. They put procedures in place to ensure the law meets broader expectations of the rule of law and does not grant the government undue power.  The renewal of the Patriot Act in 2011 in the United States allowed certain controversial provisions to continue—specifically roving wiretaps and FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) search warrants—and grants minimal oversight to administrative subpoenas (i.e., subpoenas issued by the FBI, rather than by a court).  Issues of oversight and judicial review are important differences in the way that Germany and the U.S. approach domestic counter-terrorism measures.

Intelligence capabilities are increasingly important, and international cooperation is essential. According to Mr. Krings, Germany is trying to prepare for yesterday’s attacks.  German intelligence expects “sleepers,” or lone actors loosely connected over the internet, for which access to data records will be crucial to law enforcement.  Considering Germany’s history, however, cooperation between intelligence services and law enforcement will not come easily.  By using data collected on known terrorist suspects, German intelligence hopes to use that information to find connections to the unknown terrorists and intervene before an attack can be launched.