BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of Germany's military intelligence said in a rare interview that one of his main challenges was to protect defense projects from industrial espionage by the Chinese and Russian secret services.
The Military Counter-intelligence Service has until now kept a much lower public profile than Germany's two other larger federal spy agencies - the BND, which gathers foreign intelligence, and the BfV, charged with domestic intelligence.
Chief Ulrich Birkenheier told Die Welt in an interview published on Monday that "espionage against international defense projects" was a growing challenge, with foreign agents trying to get hold of information about military trials of new defence products.
"Russian and Chinese secret services are still trying to recruit German soldiers. We have to investigate that and prevent it," Birkenheier told Die Welt in the agency's first media interview in its 57-year history.
Germany's intelligence services were seriously criticized after the discovery in 2011 of a small far-right cell, the National Socialist Underground, which murdered nine immigrants and a policewoman, carried out a bomb attack and robbed 14 banks over a decade without being detected.
Birkenheier said that affair had convinced his spy agency "how useful it is to explain our task and our work to the outside world". The service has 1,150 staff, he said, with agents in seven overseas locations including Afghanistan, Kosovo and Djibouti, where the German military takes part in international missions.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)