Uhrlau, a mediator with vast experience

German has brokered several prisoner exchanges for Israel.

August 28, 2009 00:00
1 minute read.
Uhrlau, a mediator with vast experience

ernst uhrlau 88. (photo credit: )


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High-ranking domestic and foreign intelligence officials in Germany tend to be attorneys. But Ernst Uhrlau, the head of Germany's Foreign Intelligence Service (BND), is a political scientist who has a long history in German law enforcement. According to media reports, Uhrlau last week bounced around the Middle East like a ping-pong ball to mediate efforts among Israeli, Egyptian, and Syrian diplomats over the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Uhrlau took the reins of the BND in 2005. He has mediated some of the most dramatic prisoner swaps to have taken place between Israel and Hizbullah. Uhrlau assigned one of his top agents - whose real name is not known but he is referred to as Gerhard Konrad - last year to mediate the exchange of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were murdered by Hizbullah in 2006, for convicted murderer Samir Kuntar as well as Hizbullah fighters. The swap went through, but raised criticisms of Israel's willingness to grant deep concessions to Hizbullah. In 2004, Uhrlau was the principal mediator during the release of over 400 Arab prisoners, including the German terrorist Steven Smyrek, in exchange for the corpses of three IDF soldiers and the release of Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum. Uhrlau, 62, began his career as academic at the Hamburg police school in 1974. The then Hamburg Social Democratic Party (SPD) Interior Senator Werner Staak appointed fellow SPD member Uhrlau his chief of staff in 1975. In 1981, Uhrlau transferred to the domestic intelligence agency in Hamburg and took over as vice president of the agency. Ten years later Uhrlau would become head of the agency. After serving in that post for five years, he was appointed Hamburg police president in 1996. The move to a federal level position and his entry into foreign intelligence work crystallized in 1998. He relocated to Berlin and took over a top-level function within the BND. He served in the Federal Chancellery, where he worked as an intermediary between the BND and the federal government. His efforts as skilled mediator and negotiator are an outgrowth of his coordination work within the sprawling and complex federal government. In 2008, he took a pounding from the German media and some politicians over his agency's monitoring of e-mail correspondence between Afghan Trade and Industry Minister Amin Farhang and German journalist Susanne Koelbl. Uhrlau issued a formal apology to Koelbl for his agency's surveillance of her activity.

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