Germany’s BND head says no remote working or cellphones puts off new spies

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Would-be spies face many challenges — from mastering the difficult technical or linguistic skills that intelligence agencies seek, to the new life of secrecy that awaits them if they are accepted. But, according to the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, its potential recruits have more mundane concerns: the lack of remote working and not being able to take their personal cellphone with them into work.

“We cannot offer certain things that are taken for granted today,” Bruno Kahl, president of the Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in a live-streamed discussion Monday, adding that recruitment was a “major challenge” for the agency.

Remote working is “barely possible” for the agency’s workers because of security reasons, he continued, and the idea of not being able to take cellphones to work “is asking a lot from young jobseekers today.”

He noted a lack of recruits for certain roles in science and technology, cyber experts and Arabic speakers, and said the BND is using “new methods” to recruit within specific targets groups. He also cited a competition for skilled workers from other, better-paying employers.

“Just three years ago, before [the coronavirus], I could always say that we have 10,000 applications every year and can choose the best of them — which also wasn’t enough, even then there were deficits,” he said.

The BND did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment Tuesday.

Kahl’s comments appear to reflect a wider demand for flexibility among younger workers since the pandemic, as other intelligence agencies across the world adapt to new demands of the modern workforce and ramp up their recruitment tactics.

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Last year, Britain’s three main intelligence agencies — MI5, MI6 and GCHQ — announced an end to the requirement for applicants to have at least one British parent, and must now only hold British citizenship, while MI6 says on its recruitment website that its “flexible working policy means you can work around personal commitments.”

Earlier this year, the CIA said that security issues leave “few chances to work from home or any other unsecured location,” but added that it was aiming to improve flexibility in other ways.

The CIA has also tried novel approaches at home and abroad, from publishing recruitment videos on YouTube, to launching a social media campaign in Russian aiming to recruit new spies. GCHQ regularly releases puzzles for members of the public who want a sense of the challenges involved in its work.

The U.S. federal government has also been seeking new ways to attract new talent, including job fairs and more internships, as its workforces ages.

A YouGov poll of 14 countries carried out from August to September 2021 found that 49 percent of workers in Germany polled would like to work from home at least some of the time in the future, compared to the United States, where the figure was 66 percent.

Working from home also enjoys certain protections in Germany: in late 2021, a federal court ruled that the route from an employee’s bed to their desk while working at home is considered a commute.

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