Germany’s spymasters did not have to look far to find the embarrassing leak that had sprung within the walls of their brand new intelligence headquarters; evidence of it literally dripped from the ceilings and poured down the soggy walls of the huge Berlin complex.
Today, red-faced officials at the German equivalent of M15 were confronted with the fact that thieves had not only penetrated an elaborate security curtain around their €1.5bn Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) secret service HQ. They had also stolen dozens of taps from the upstairs lavatories and flooded the complex with tens of thousands of litres of water.
“The taps were stolen from toilets on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the complex,” a spokesman for the Berlin police unit investigating the mysterious theft told reporters; “As all the water pipes were under pressure, water has flooded the ceilings and walls and destroyed doors, electricity connections and security systems.”
Investigators said the tap theft at the largely empty 100,000sq m complex was not discovered until some 12 hours after thieves had broken into the building and removed the taps.
“Tens of thousands of litres must have flooded the building,“ said Stephan Natz, a spokesman for the water authorities. “An average of 1,300 litres per hour would have come out of each open tap.”
Officials at Berlin’s Federal Building Office, responsible for completion of the buildings, said it was too early too say whether the damage would delay BND plans to move almost 4,000 of its employees into the new complex from their current offices near Munich by the end of the year. The Berlin building neared completion last year, allowing the first of 170 BND staff to start working there.
The theft, dubbed, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Watergate”, by the German media caused widespread online mirth. But commentators asked how the thieves had managed to get past the scores of surveillance cameras surrounding the complex unnoticed, and why they had stolen mere taps.
Police said that they were not ruling out political motivation. The theft appeared designed to inflict maximum damage, police said, as all the taps were stolen from the upper floors of the complex, allowing water to pour through the whole building.
There was speculation that the aim was vandalism perpetrated by Berlin’s militant anti-gentrification protesters, who have been angered by the growing influx of middle-class government officials into their hitherto predominantly “alternative” bohemian Berlin.
Construction work on Berlin’s BND headquarters was started in 2006 but since then the costs of the project have almost doubled. More than 4,000 mistakes were reported in building plans. Draconian secrecy rules required every foreign labourer working on the complex to be accompanied by a BND chaperone – resulting in a €25m increase in security expenditure.
The BND’s PR managers have tried to allay the ingrained fears of Germans weaned on the collective memories of the Gestapo and the Stasi, by creating a BND visitors’ centre in the complex. It is believed to be the only one of its kind in the world.
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