As fans from around the globe pour into Germany for the WorldCup soccer tournament, which begins today, security experts fromGerman government agencies and international police groups will beglued to their computer screens.
Tucked away in the Interior Ministry in Berlin is the NationalInformation and Cooperation Center (NICC), which this reportervisited on Wednesday. For the duration of the month-long event, thecenter will be manned around the clock by security experts fromaround 20 government agencies, including the Federal Office ofCivil Protection and Disaster Assistance, the Federal IntelligenceService and the Federal Office for Information Security, inaddition to Europol and Interpol.
The NICC was tested successfully during the FederationInternationale de Football Association (FIFA) Confederation Cupgames held last year in Germany. The games, which allowed severalteams to check their skills in an international competition, alsogave the center an opportunity to test its information coordinationservice ahead of the World Cup games.
Each of the 22 groups participating in the center operates itsown communications network and, in some cases, has established aspecial unit to monitor activities during the games. The FederalOffice of Criminal Investigation, for instance, has a special unitmonitoring possible terrorist attacks, while the Federal PoliceOffice has one focused on hooligans.
Although a substantial amount of IT is involved in gathering,processing and delivering the information that feeds into theservices of the various government agencies and internationalpolice groups organized under the NICC umbrella, the control roomitself is relatively low-tech.
Each of the 22 represented agencies has its own terminal locatedin the control room with its own expert who can turn quickly to anexpert from another agency to consult on a situation and reactswiftly if necessary. Large displays on the wall facing them showvarious information, such as stadium floor plans and videofootage.
“Interpersonal contact is key,” said Christian Sachs, aspokesman for the Interior Ministry “No one is slowed down byhaving to wait for an e-mail or a phone call from another unit.Here it’s all about immediate consultation.”
Each group is staffed with four experts working in shifts 24hours a day for the duration of the 64 games, scheduled to end July9.
NICC has no operational powers itself due to the complexstructure of Germany’s federal government system. But for the firsttime in the country, numerous federal government agencies concernedwith security are under one roof working together to coordinate theflow of information from a big event and to help expedite swiftdecision-making.
“We came up with the idea for NICC after reviewing terroristsituations such as Sept. 11 in the U.S. and outbreaks of violenceat previous international soccer matches where hooligans got out ofcontrol,” Sachs said. “We saw a need for super swift lines ofcommunication for experts evaluating and coordinatinginformation.”
The NICC has created a portal, which consolidates keyinformation generated by the various agencies.
“We have no indication of international terrorist groupsplanning to disrupt the World Cup games,” Sachs said. “But, ofcourse, we also have no guarantees they won’t do something.”
The situation is different with hooligans and neo-nazis. Polishhooligans have already indicated their intention to cause trouble,while neo-nazi groups are planning demonstrations, according toSachs.
Should a situation reach a certain “critical” level, such as anunauthorized airplane heading in the direction of a stadium (allplanes are banned from flying within 5.4 kilometers of a stadiumthree hours before and three hours after a game), an InteriorMinistry emergency unit would move swiftly to make criticaldecisions, Sachs said.
For sure, shooting down an airplane could be one of toughestdecision the ministry would have to make, given that German lawforbids such action against civilian aircraft.
In a recent television interview, however, German InteriorMinister Wolfgang Schauble indicated that if necessary, he wouldconsider bending the law to save lives.