Berlin woos young spooks

December 7, 2001

Prospects for graduate employment in Germany may be bleak as the economy slides into recession, but one employer is busy hiring: the German spy service.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) is trawling universities for would-be agents to beef up the intelligence war against terrorism.

The Munich-based intelligence agency has received € million (£17 million) in extra funding since September 11 to find 500 new staff. "We need young people in our teams, especially IT specialists and graduates with language skills," said BND spokeswoman Lydia Rauscher.

The extra funds represent a remarkable change after decades of financial cuts. Since the end of the cold war, the spy service has shrunk from 7,000 in 1989 to only 5,900 this year. But in the wake of the terror attacks in the US, the BND is being seen in a different light. A fair share of the government's financial commitment to fight international terrorism goes to the BND.

The agency is placing advertisements in newspapers, on recruitment websites and on university noticeboards. Would-be spies must be under 45, have a German passport and pass stringent tests.

Current BND staff average 45 years old and the service wants younger, more technologically aware people. Candidates have to possess the usual espionage skills - a talent for making contacts with foreign government officials and securing the flow of information. Would-be James Bonds will be disappointed. According to Ms Rauscher, the recruitment process is similar to the procedures at large companies: "Written applications, job interviews and various practical tests."

The secret service's selection process, however, differs in some respects from the private sector. As well as applicants' police record "we also investigate their personal background", said Ms Rauscher. Previous arrests, contact with criminal or highly suspicious people or major debts can easily disqualify a young, ambitious spy.

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