US General on Berlin Agents in Baghdad 'The Germans Were Invaluable to Us'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Retired General James Marks, 55, discusses the importance of the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, for US attack plans in Iraq.


SPIEGEL: General Marks, how valuable was the information you received from the BND team in Baghdad during the war?

Marks: The German information was of extreme importance and value for us. That's true of all of the information we received from all of the "eyes on the ground" human intelligence we got out of Baghdad. We were well supplied with electronic, signals and aerial reconnaissance. That made up about 95 percent of our intelligence. When it came to human intelligence, we were in bad shape. That's why the Germans were invaluable to us, but also because the information they provided was detailed and reliable.

SPIEGEL: The German government claims that the information wasn't suitable for US purposes.

Marks: I can only say this: We trusted the information from the Germans more than we trusted the CIA because we knew that the Germans tend to be anal retentive and would only report on things they had seen, felt or smelled or that they were very sure of.

SPIEGEL: Was there information that influenced your plans for attack?

Marks: One of the first things that comes to mind was our plan to do a surprise attack and to seize Baghdad International Airport with the 82nd Airborne Division. One of the main reasons we canceled this operation was because of intelligence we got from the Germans about anti-aircraft defenses.

SPIEGEL: Could you be more concrete?

Marks: I remember they provided me with what I think was a handheld picture, probably from a cell phone, of a Roland Air Defense system which was placed on a small hill near the airport. The information about where Saddam had placed large oil ditches was very important. Those ditches, once lit, could have caused the disruption of rotary wing vehicles, especially our helicopters. They also provided information about a ZU-23 short-range air defense cannon positioned on top of a house. We'd never heard of a ZU-23 being used that way before. We owe the two courageous Germans who where in Baghdad during the war who risked their lives our deepest and heartfelt thanks. With their intelligence they saved American lives; there is no doubt about that.

SPIEGEL: Did targets or the coordinates of targets that came from the BND make it into American targeting plans? Were such targets bombed, and did the information help the ground war in any way?

Marks: That's not how it works. Take the report, for example, from Feb. 25, 2003. The BND team describes how along the highway toward Hilla that there are anti-aircraft positions next to government buildings. We then sent out our drones to double check the information. Later, I know that we attacked these positions from the air.

SPIEGEL: Were there other reports from the Germans that you would rate as especially relevant?

Marks: The information they provided on the defense in and around Baghdad, the positions of various units and weapons were of enormous help. I remember for example that the Germans provided us with information that the Baath Party had set up checkpoints staffed by activists at all major intersections. This knowledge, of course, was very important for our ground troops as they approached Baghdad.

SPIEGEL: Did you really need two lone BND agents on the ground to get access to that information? Couldn't you have seen the checkpoints from the air?

Marks: Of course the two Germans were not our only source. However, they frequently confirmed information that we already had from our own technical reconnaissance and other sources. But that was very important for us, because the source of the information was extremely reliable.

SPIEGEL: Were there other BND reports that were important to you?

Marks: We found out through our German channel that the Iraqis were preparing to destroy their oil production centers. That was important information that led to advancing the start of the war and us sending in the 1st Marines Expeditionary Force (MEF) to secure the oil facilities.

SPIEGEL: Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's former chief of staff at the time, Frank Walter Steinmeier, has said that the BND received a political directive not to supply intelligence to the United States that would "actively support of combat operations."

Marks: Our motto in the intelligence section of the US Army is that "intelligence drives operations". Information forms the basis for every operation. There was nothing more important for us in our intelligence shop than HUMINT directly out of Baghdad. I don't understand why people feel they have to talk down the achievements of these two men today. If you ask me, those guys are heroes.

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