Can deployed soldiers use social media?

Stricter security screening of soldiers: Good, but just a start

Status: 05.03.21 11:57 a.m.

A draft law provides for tightening the security screening of soldiers who are deployed in particularly security-sensitive areas. Just a start, says Caroline Walter. Because incidents would have to be followed up consistently.

The Bundeswehr is waging an arduous fight against right-wing extremism within its own ranks. In recent years, one scandal has followed the next, at the Special Forces Command (KSK), but also in other units. Because a right attitude is not automatically noticed during the service, but in another place - on social media. But so far this has been a blind spot for the MAD Military Counterintelligence Service.

Blind spot: social networks

Panorama reported on this problem for the first time in March 2020. While researching the social networks, we came across soldiers who network with right-wing extremists and share their racist, xenophobic content. The MAD was not aware of these cases. This should happen during security checks by the MAD. But that is exactly what had gaps so far - the focus on social networks was missing.

Social media are coming into focus

This should change in the future, as a federal government bill now shows. This provides for tightening the security screening of soldiers who are deployed in particularly security-sensitive areas. The appearances in the social networks should now finally be targeted: which networks are used and under which names or pseudonyms. The Bundeswehr knows that the numbers of right-wing extremist suspected cases are alarming, that the weapons found in soldiers represent a security risk for society. The new powers over social networks are important, but only a start.

It remains unclear how extensive the investigative powers of the MAD will actually be. If the review is limited to the publicly available information, it would probably be of little use in the end. During our research, it is particularly noticeable that soldiers who have been reported to the MAD as suspected cases, for example because they regularly disseminate racist content on social media or follow right-wing extremist martial arts groups, can suddenly clean up their profiles and remain in the troops.

Blind spot reserve

The bill also addresses another loophole in the review, that of reservists. These should have to go through a simple security check before a military exercise - similar to that of newly recruited soldiers. Here in particular, there is a great danger that right-wing extremists will try to obtain weapons training in this way. In the draft law, it is estimated that 25 percent of reservists will have undergone a security check with "security-relevant findings". A shockingly high number that shows how big the blind spots have been so far. The security checks will not be enough to get the fight against right-wing extremist activities under control. It is important that incidents in the troops are consistently followed up and punished and that soldiers and women soldiers have the courage to report them. Because only if superiors listen and look will something fundamentally change.