The Magazine

Germany’s War on the War on Terror

Terrorist financiers: good. Tax evaders: bad.

Mar 29, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 27 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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Much of the data covered by the EU directive is information that is automatically generated by telecommunications firms as a matter of course for technical and administrative reasons. It has nothing to do with surveillance. Although it obviously can become highly relevant to criminal and/or counterterrorism investigations, under normal circumstances it will not be consulted by anyone ever. Nonetheless, the German court argued that the mere existence of the data “creates a diffuse threatening feeling of being observed.”

Well, if telephone or Internet users in Germany experience the “threatening feeling of being observed,” it is likely because they really are being observed. German law enforcement authorities are able to employ wiretaps and other forms of electronic surveillance with an ease that would make their American counterparts green with envy. In 2007, nearly 1 million phone calls were monitored by police in Berlin alone. Over 1,000 Berlin residents were the targets of wiretaps. A 2003 study conducted by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law found that wiretaps are used by law enforcement authorities some 30 times more frequently in Germany than in the United States. 

The same study found that only 0.33 percent of the German wiretaps were associated with subsequent prosecutions and convictions. This is one-fifth of the corresponding figure for American wiretaps. Taken together, the statistics strongly suggest that German authorities make a broad practice of monitoring the telecommunications of generically “suspicious” persons without having to meet anything near the probable cause standards that obtain in the United States.

What is perhaps most startling about the German opposition to the SWIFT agreement, however, is the seemingly total indifference of the opponents to the reality of terrorist financing and the threat that European jihadist networks represent. 

As was already made clear by the 9/11 attacks, Germany itself has been a major hub of jihadist activism and terror financing. Americans will largely be aware of the Hamburg cell and of the three suicide pilots—Mohammed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, and Marwan al-Shehhi—who came from Germany to America to train for and carry out the attacks. But they might be less aware that even after the arrival of the trio in the United States, their Hamburg cell co-conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh continued to play a crucial role in facilitating the attacks from German soil. Among other things, he did so, notably, by transferring funds.

It was indeed the discovery of Binalshibh’s Hamburg phone number among Zacarias Moussaoui’s personal affairs that would allow investigators to connect Moussaoui to the 9/11 plot. Binalshibh is known to have transferred $14,000 to Moussaoui in America. Binalshibh is also suspected of having been involved in the planning of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. He had lived in Germany since the mid-1990s. 

At Moussaoui’s 2006 trial, FBI agent Michael Anticev complained about the lack of cooperation of German authorities with American counterterrorism investigations. Asked whether it was difficult to obtain phone records from Germany in 2001, Anticev replied, “Extremely, extremely.” He explained, moreover, that phone numbers that were furnished would often be truncated, the last “three or four digits” having been dropped off. Asked whether obtaining financial records was equally difficult, Anticev replied that it was “a little bit easier,” but that the process was “not automatic” and, in any case, typically took “months.”

In September 1998—at a time when, under the chancellorship of Helmut Kohl, German officials were more cooperative—al Qaeda financier and cofounder Mamdouh Mahmud Salim was arrested near Munich while on a visit to Germany. Also known as “Abu Hajer al Iraqi,” he would subsequently be extradited to the United States to face trial for his role in the August 1998 terrorist attacks against American embassies in Africa.

Two other well-known al Qaeda financiers remain free men in Germany. Mamoun Darkazanli held power of attorney over a joint German bank account with Salim. In a 2002 report on terror financing prepared for the U.N. Security Council, Jean-Charles Brisard stated that Darkazanli provided “financial and logistical support” to the Hamburg cell. Darkazanli is also suspected of involvement in the African embassies plot. He is on both the U.S. and U.N. lists of terrorist persons and entities. He is wanted by Interpol. And he is under indictment in Spain. The 2005 Spanish indictment describes him as “the permanent interlocutor and assistant of Osama bin Laden in Germany.” 

German prosecutors have themselves confirmed Darkazanli’s activities on behalf of al Qaeda, but they have somehow managed to conclude that these activities are “without criminal relevance.” German authorities have not only declined to bring charges against Darkazanli, but have also refused to extradite him to face charges abroad. 

The case of Reda Seyam, a naturalized German citizen of Egyptian origin, is perhaps even more astonishing. Seyam is widely believed by intelligence sources and terror experts to have organized the financing for the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed over 200 people. He had already been arrested by Indonesian authorities on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity several weeks before the attacks. 

After his arrest, Germany’s Federal Crime Bureau (BKA) dispatched agent Michael von Wedel to Indonesia to investigate the charges. In his 2008 memoir Die Abrech-nung (“Settling Accounts”), von Wedel described how his investigations would confirm Seyam’s involvement in jihadist financing in Southeast Asia. But he also described how his own assignment in Indonesia morphed from investigating Seyam into protecting him from possible “rendition” by the CIA. In July 2003, a BKA team whisked Seyam safely home to Germany. German authorities have never brought charges against him. 

Since his return, incidentally, Seyam has made no secret of his jihadist convictions. He has, for instance, told a reporter that Muslims have an “obligation to kill kafir [unbelievers]” and even named one of his many children “Jihad.” In a documentary that was broadcast by Germany’s ARD public television in February 2007, Seyam explained that al Qaeda “is fighting for the good cause.” Asked what he thought of al Qaeda terror attacks, he replied, “No comment” and then broke into a broad mischievous grin.

Another prominent member of the rogues’ gallery of terror facilitators who have operated out of Germany is Christian Ganczarski. The German convert to Islam is presently serving an 18-year prison sentence in France for membership in a terrorist organization—al Qaeda—and complicity in the 2002 Djerba synagogue bombing. Shortly before the attack, the suicide bomber called Ganczarski at his home in North Rhine-Westphalia to ask for his blessing. We know this, because German police were listening in on the conversation. But German prosecutors never saw fit to bring charges against Ganczarski. In June 2003, he made the mistake of changing planes in Paris while on a trip from Saudi Arabia to Germany. The French police were waiting for him. Otherwise, he might never have been brought to justice.

When it emerged that one of the suspects arrested in March 2004 in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings had previously spent time in Darmstadt, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ran a slightly defensive article with the telling headline “There Is Always a Clue that Leads to Germany.” It would later turn out that no less than the presumed mastermind of the attacks, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, had moved to Spain from Germany in September 2001.

How many of the clues uncovered by the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program led to Germany? We probably will never know. We do know that American law enforcement officials tipped off their German counterparts about the Sauerland cell. Would the plotters’ envisioned inferno at the American Air Force base in Ramstein have come to pass were it not for the TFTP? The 2006 U.K.-based transatlantic airliners plot is also reported to have had a German connection. 

Now, however, it appears that there are to be no more clues. As a consequence of the annulment of the SWIFT agreement—as well indeed as the German Constitutional Court’s quashing of the data retention law—Germany is sure to become an even more secure haven for terrorists and their financiers than it already has been. And, as we know, when Germany is a safe haven for terrorists and terror financing, it is a danger for the United States and the rest of the world.

There remains one mysterious detail in Judge Bruguière’s report that urgently requires clarification from the Obama administration. The report notes that in 2009 one country was already removed from the scope of TFTP data requests. It is difficult to see why any country should be excluded from the scope of the program, and it is hard to imagine that any country would be excluded unless it had requested to be so. If the Obama administration has already removed Germany from the scope of the TFTP, then the administration’s ostensible efforts to defend the program are nothing but a farce.

John Rosenthal writes regularly on European politics and transatlantic relations for various both old and new media. More of his work can be found at the Transatlantic Intelligencer blog (www.trans-int.com).

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