German intelligence agencies open new spy school in Berlin

BERLIN (AP) — A room full of grey suits, strict instructions only to photograph the audience from behind and — of course — a medley of James Bond tunes to lighten the mood.

Germany’s intelligence agencies on Tuesday inaugurated a joint training center in the heart of Berlin, a city that was dubbed the ‘capital of spies’ during the Cold War and that to this day remains a hotspot of espionage.

The heads of the foreign and domestic spy agencies officially opened the Center for Intelligence Service Training close to where the Berlin Wall once sliced the city in two, fulfilling German lawmakers’ demands that they cut costs by merging their long-separate training facilities.

Closer cooperation would benefit both agencies, said Hans-Georg Engelke, a senior German security official, citing an incident several years back when a visiting delegation from one organization was denied entry to another.

In a separate case, officials at the BfV domestic intelligence agency at one point were surprised to learn that their American counterparts had provided long-sought information to the foreign intelligence agency BND — who had kept it to themselves.

With space for 700 students, more than 110 of whom can live on-site, the school offers lessons in covert observation, law, interrogation and IT. Among the practical skills students will learn are how to fend off cyberattacks, foil terrorists and shake off hostile agents on their tail.

Students include recruits fresh out of high school, as well as those who have already completed first degrees and want to pursue a two-year Masters in Intelligence and Security.

Known by its German acronym, ZNAF, the facility includes laboratories, workshops and video studies — all strictly off limits to the press.

The spy school is located at the new 1 billion-euro ($1.1 billion) headquarters of the BND, which opened earlier this year and houses 4,000 staff. The agency was previously based in a sprawling Nazi-era complex in Pullach, near Munich, which remains the site of Germany’s electronic eavesdropping operation.