There is a collective understanding of the fact that any system, may it be institutional or not, operating beyond legal frames, is a threat to Democracy.
Throughout the last two meetings of the prevailing political party in Germany which I attended, the increased concern about security in Germany was brought up repeatedly. A member of the Bundestag (which is the legislative branch and considered to be one of the core parts of the German constitution: http://bundestag.de) expressed his gratitude for the empowerment of the German Intelligence branches and also conveyed his support to further increase technical surveillance measures at public places. The guaranty of the national security certainly justifies a series of unusual measures. And yet an increased video surveillance would not have prevented the dramatic incidents which have taken place on December 19th on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin causing twelve fatalities, leaving fourteen severely injured and marking so many for a lifetime. This fatal incident was only one of a series which had spread throughout Israel and Europe. The reason I am analyzing this particular incident is not due to the fact that Berlin is my birthplace. The reason I am referring to this incident in particular is that I am directly witnessing the political consequences which this act of terror has caused here in Germany. It is hard if not impossible to find an unemotional approach to this topic. And yet this might be the only appropriate approach to define a sustainable strategy and the right political move to adopt measures of effective prevention.
Political measures which could be well considered as reactions or even short-term tactics in order to respond to collective tragedies are neither effective as short-term actions nor preventive. They simply blur the collective vision on facts and thereby render it even more difficult to define and implement a sustainable strategy to defend the required political stability on national and international levels.
And the fact is: public video surveillance could not have prevented this terrible incident on December 19th in Berlin. Actually it was well other measures which could have easily done so: concrete blocks as barriers for amok drivers had been raised to protect other public places long before the terror attacks in Berlin. Those physical barriers are not costly and do not infringe any privacy concerns which are continuously being raised when talking about video surveillance. At the latest after the terror attacks in Nice on July 14th homeland security should have been not only conscious but well aware of the concrete peril involved by the abuse of heavy goods vehicles as weaponry of terror against civilians. Additionally precise terror alerts had been pronounced regarding “holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets” amongst others by the U.S. Department of State. And yet there were no concrete blocks protecting the biggest Christmas market in Berlin as the capital of Germany.
Given the general and yet concrete state of alert in Europe (which had been expressed by Thomas de Maizière, amongst others, who is the incumbent Federal Minister of the Interior, on a press conference on 11.08.2016), the question should be raised why those simple measures had not been installed altogether with any other facilities for the market as a mayor social event taking place on an open public space in the very center of Germany.
However, the incident generated a lot of political opportunism amongst opposition parties and forcibly generated a new and almost unquestionable empowerment of the German Intelligence Services as its primary political consequence.
The audio-visual technology employed by these agencies commissioned with the security of our nations actually fits on contact lenses. Even for private use data transfer has been made wireless decades ago. Advanced technology and operations embedded in a legal limbo render the unperceived observation of any individual, may it be a politician, a journalist or even a civilian perfectly feasible. If they find something people won’t tell, if they don’t, people won’t notice. It’s that simple. But privacy is not even the reason I am writing on this subject.
I am writing this, because it appears somehow odd that an institution with such possibilities claims that it did not dispose of the necessary capacities to prevent the terror attack on Breitscheidplatz on the 19th December, 2016.
Throughout my professional career I repeatedly witnessed how individual employees or even departments as a whole were downgraded or intensely scrutinized whenever being unable to meet their professional responsibilities. The above described case however shows an opposite effect: national security agencies which possessed all required means to prevent terror attacks at mayor public spaces failed to do so.