Germany's federal intelligence service (BND) is supposed to ensure the country's safety — but it seems as if it can't even protect its own future headquarters. On Tuesday, parts of a newly constructed building in Berlin were flooded after taps were removed from their original position.
So far, it is not known who removed the crucial taps and let water flood floors and ventilations shafts of the supposedly high-security headquarters. Suspecting thieves to have caused the security lapse, police have launched an investigation into the country's very own "Watergate" scandal, as the incident has become known in German media. As of Thursday, it was unclear why thieves would break into one of Germany's most secure buildings to steal taps. Police officials did also not exclude the possibility of an attack with a political motive or revenge taken by disgruntled employees.
Whereas the U.S. Watergate scandal forced President Richard Nixon to step down in 1974, the German incident will likely remain a financial disaster instead of a political one. According to German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it will cost millions of dollars to repair the damage.
Given that the new BND headquarters is closely monitored day and night, some have raised questions over the intelligence service's professionalism and its ability to protect the country's citizens.
If alleged amateur thieves can steal taps, what could professional foreign agents do in the building? German authorities have long feared the placement of bugs in the building and even stepped up security at the construction site — without success, it seems.
Many Germans, however, will hardly be surprised by the incident. The country — particularly well known for its technical prowess — has recently witnessed a series of embarrassing construction failures. Only weeks before the opening ceremony of Berlin's new airport BER was supposed to take place in 2011, experts realized that the project would probably take several years instead of weeks to be finished. The airport is now scheduled to open in 2017.
BND's new headquarters has made headlines for similar reasons. In 2014, experts determined that many of the building's passive infrared detectors were not properly working, among other technical flaws. The same year, sensitive diagrams of the building were stolen — a goldmine for anyone seeking to undermine the federal intelligence of one of the United States' closest allies.
The building complex is now supposed to house the intelligence service's roughly 4,000 employees by 2017 instead of 2016. Some media reports have indicated that Tuesday's flooding may cause further delays. According to Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, several employees have resigned out of frustration. Currently, the service is based in Pullach, a village of 9,000 close to Munich.
Bad news for the BND may in fact be good news for other Germans. Many of the country's citizens are skeptical of the the work of their intelligence services. Much of this can be traced to Germany's history: In the communist east, the Stasi intelligence service monitored most of the country's citizens, intimidated opponents and paid others to inform on their neighbors and friends.
Germans were outraged when they discovered that the NSA had spied on German telecommunications data two years ago. Despite frequent denials by the BND, many suspect the German intelligence to have been involved in the data collection. In a 2014 survey, nearly 40 percent of Germans said they considered increasing digitalization and the role of intelligence services to be a threat.
Contrary to other large European countries such as Spain, France or the United Kingdom, terrorists so far have not succeeded in pursuing an attack on German soil. After Tuesday's Watergate incident, however, many doubt that this is due to the work of the BND.