BND’s Temporary Blindness: Espionage from Space

Spy satellite: BND temporarily remains "blind" on espionage from space

The Federal Intelligence Service (BND) is facing further delays in the launch of its “Secret Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System Germany” (Georg), which aims to provide worldwide electro-optical reconnaissance. The initial plan was for the first satellite to deliver high-resolution images by 2022, but the launch has now been pushed back to 2025. This is seen as a setback for the prestigious project initiated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Office. The BND has already invested over 500 million euros in the project, with implementation entrusted to the Bremen-based space company OHB. The project is described as having a high degree of planning complexity.

Currently, only the Bundeswehr has its own reconnaissance satellites in Germany, but they use different technology. The Sarah system, consisting of three radar satellites, can generate high-resolution images even in cloudy conditions. With Georg, the BND aims to obtain even more precise and detailed images, as long as the sky is clear. France is currently considered the leader in electro-optical data collection.

Optical systems can help in photographing military reconnaissance targets and providing better situation reports in the event of natural disasters or pandemics. For example, the early observation of parking spaces in front of Chinese hospitals during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic or the mass graves in Iran could have been possible through satellite imagery.

There are concerns about obtaining images from other sources, as it reveals the interests of spies and can compromise their operations. The BND has faced criticism recently for failing to detect the activities of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in Russia.

Internally, the Georg system has been a subject of debate within the BND. Critics argue that the funds should be used to update existing technical monitoring systems, as there are already sufficient satellite images available. The challenge lies in the correct evaluation of the data, for which artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to play a role.

The launch delay is seen as a response to the changing security situation and the desire for Germany to become more independent of foreign partners. The national security strategy emphasizes the importance of space and aims to develop strategic capabilities in that domain.

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