German chancellor relies upon 19th-century mail system – Der Spiegel
German leader Olaf Scholz has shelved plans to phase out a 19th century-era pneumatic tube system that is being used in Berlin’s chancellery to distribute about 1,000 documents per month amid fears that more modern electronic systems may pose an espionage risk, a report by Der Spiegel has claimed.
For decades, Germany’s government headquarters has relied upon the archaic system, which uses compressed air to send capsules containing documents between 36 stations inside the building. The network costs just €15,000 ($16,400) to operate annually – far less than some other more sophisticated electronic message delivery methods.
The documents are often “generally urgent transactions that cannot be forwarded electronically or via house courier service, for example, because they are subject to secrecy or have to be signed in the original,” a government spokesman said, according to Der Spiegel on Thursday.
The network of tubes was intended to be phased out by 2025. Still, according to a report by the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung, Scholz has put those plans on hold – with the newspaper citing concerns over an alleged increase in Russian espionage attempts since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine in February 2022 as the primary reason.
Berlin’s focus on protecting sensitive information was brought into sharp focus last year when Carsten Linke, a senior agent in Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, was arrested for allegedly working as a spy on behalf of Russia. Linke, who denies all charges, faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted of engaging in espionage against the German government.
Germany has long been known for clinging to aging technology, even when more modern options become available. A recent survey found that about 80% of businesses in the EU country still rely on fax machines for communication, along with around 20% of doctor’s surgeries.
In 2015, it was revealed by WikiLeaks that the US National Security Agency had tapped phone calls involving then-chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as some of her closest advisers, for several years.
The UK’s intelligence and security organization, GCHQ, had previously used a similar network of pneumatic tubes to ferry messages throughout its London headquarters before replacing it with more modern technology in the 1980s. In one notable incident in the 1950s, the system was used by a British agent to send a marriage proposal to his partner, who worked as an analyst in the building.