Border Security Experts


Expert Interviews

Oliver Stiller.png

Oliver Stiller

Border Security Expert

english deutsch 


Q: Welcome, Oliver Stiller. Thank you so much for joining us in advance of the conference. We always try to give conference participants the most comprehensive picture possible of our keynote speakers. Before we begin discussing border security could you please tell us about the kinds of things you've done in the past?

A: Yes, thanks for having me. Well, we don't need to make it all too long. I was 21 years officer in the GFP, the German Federal Police. The German name is Bundespolizei or BPOL, which used to be called the Federal Border Guard. I started out as a simple patrol officer, then moved on to border and passport control at the airport in Berlin, and then joined the investigative service after completing my university of applied sciences degree and apprenticeship with the BKA which is the German Federal CID.

I was then assigned to criminal investigation with GFP after which I was transferred to the staff at GFP headquarters. From there, I was briefly assigned to the Federal President's office and then to GASIM, a multi-agency center focused on combating illegal migration. I was there right from the beginning and was able to help lay the foundations for the center's work.

I then ran my own security consulting firm for a year and then moved to Saudi Arabia to work on a border project there.

Q: Can you briefly describe what exactly your duties were at GFP?

A: Yes, of course, although I'm not sure if I can really keep it short.

At first, I just did ordinary police tasks such as patrolling and conducting identity checks. I then worked for a while taking people who had been deported for serious crimes back to their homelands. It was exciting when I worked as an investigator at the airport in Berlin. I got to conduct interesting investigations into the smuggling of illegal immigrants. I collaborated with the Berlin Investigation Service on many of these cases.

I then joined the Federal Criminal Police, BKA, as part of my combination apprenticeship and university degree program, which would make me eligible for further promotion.

Q: Was that easy to join? After all, the BKA is a completely separate agency.

A: At the time, the Ministry of the Interior made it possible for GFP officers to take part in this training at the BKA. The goal was to strengthen GFP's own investigative expertise. On paper, that was pretty easy. How it was handled within the authorities was rather more difficult. But it worked finally out. It is worth mentioning that it was an exception to the usual practice and so it is really unusual for someone on the federal level to have been trained both in border protection by GFP and in criminal investigation by BKA.

Q: What did the training consist of?

A: Overall, it was a really interesting time for me. In addition to all the theoretical content in subjects such as business administration, economics, public finance, constitutional law, civil law, criminal law, procedural law, criminology, criminal investigation, and many others, we also enjoyed long and extensive practical training. I was then delegated for a year to the Berlin police department, where I held many roles. It was very beneficial that I was already a police officer and could therefore do any job without reservations.

I started for 4 weeks working patrol duty with patrol officers. Quite normal patrolling and so on. I did these both in uniform and undercover. I was then assigned for 4 weeks as a detective with the criminal police. This time was a real highlight, because in addition to what are really everyday occurrences such as burglaries, etc., there are a lot of things going on in a big city that can make you love your job. As I recall, I had to deal with a dead body every day, whether it was from an accident, a suicide, or murder, we saw it all. I particularly remember a case where an 11 year-old girl jumped from the 11th floor of a high-rise because she could no longer stand her own parents. That was really hard for me.

After this time, I then spent another 4 weeks working on juvenile delinquency and juvenile violent crime. It was also very interesting with lots of experiences. But we would be here all day if I started telling you stories about that. I then worked 3 months on computer criminality, which at the time was not the kind of dangerous cyber crime we see nowadays, but rather its precursors, which the Berlin CID really had under control. It had to do with child pornography, piracy, fraud, and other crimes that could be committed with computers.

Q: In 1998, if I'm right, was there already Internet-based crime back then?

A: The Internet was still in its beginnings. This meant that there weren't quite as many potential victims. But if you take the police profession seriously enough, you know that you're always running after the perpetrators and that's why we've worked so hard on prevention.

Q: Then what came?

A: Yes, I then spent 3 months working on fighting organized crime. In one case, I had to deal with Russian citizens who were a major focus of police work in Berlin at the time. The case had to do with murder, robbery, extortion, and other serious crimes.

I then spent the final 3 months of my training with various special units, including special operations, mobile undercover operations, and tactical commands.

Overall, I spent a year with the police in Berlin and I have to say that it was very good for me.

After we had learned a lot of theory, it was time for the internship at the BKA, where I spent 6 months with security services. Security services is that part of the BKA that protects government ministers and others requiring security protection. I spent three months in risk and hazard analysis and then three months as part of a federal minister's security guard. I can tell you that was one of the more interesting times I've ever experienced.

Then we went back to the books and then took a final examination at the end of the 3 years.

Q: Which you passed?

A: Yes. The result could certainly have been a bit better, but I was very pleased overall.

Q: When we were speaking earlier, you said that you went back to the GFP right after completing your degree. Is this right?

A: Yes, that's right. That was the plan from the start.

Q: What did you do there?

A: My first job after finishing my degree was with the GFP criminal investigation division in Berlin. I mainly conducted investigations and supported other teams in their work. These mainly included investigative work such as searches, wiretapping, serving arrest warrants, interrogations, and so on. Normal police work, so to speak.

After about two years, I moved to an office one level higher where I could take on tasks with more responsibility.

Q: Did you apply for that position?

A: Hm, actually, the way it happened is that I got a call and they told me that I was being promoted. It might sound a bit strange, but that's what happened. I did found it interesting and so I took the job. And it worked out.

Q: What were your duties there?

A: At first, I was a specialist in crime control. We were working on fighting criminality in eastern Germany, to be precise, the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony and parts of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. I was responsible for coordinating GFP's major investigations, ensuring cooperation with the various state police forces, other authorities, and the public prosecutors, planning and organizing joint activities and much more. In addition, my job was to support the investigative services by providing important equipment and, of course, I had the task of reporting up the chain of command. I was also responsible for witness protection and undercover police operations in our territory.

Then there was a bit of restructuring and I was named deputy head of that unit. The crime control unit at the time was divided into "principles of crimefighting," "evaluation and analysis," "investigation," and "police crime prevention." It was my job to lead and organize these areas. It was an interesting task, quite challenging, but together with my boss and a really good team, we always achieved our goals.

Later, personal mandates were added, such as seats on special national and international committees. It was, and is, of course, always important to align your strategy with the other agencies you partner with.

Q: What national or international mandates do you mean?

A: On the one hand, there are national and international bodies that have certain focuses, such as falsified documents, new drugs, or certain phenomena such as money laundering, etc. You find yourself meeting on a regular basis with a lot of experts to analyze, discuss, and come up with a strategy to recommend to the superior agency or ministry.

On the other hand, Germany has always been involved in helping other European countries develop their police and border guard organizations. In the period between 2001 and 2006, I was regularly holding seminars in Poland and Romania to teach them the Western European approach to border protection. I also visited countless headquarters to show commanding officers how Integrated Border Management works and how it should be implemented. Integrated Border Management, IBM, is in this case the basis for a unique form of collaboration. The Eastern European countries needed this in order to become EU members. I can therefore say that I became a part of the wider European security community. The people I trained are now the decision makers in their agencies.

Q: Then what came next?

A: Yes, sometime in the spring of 2006, I was asked if I would like to apply to run the German President's security staff. To explain, GFP is responsible for protecting the entire office and residence of the German President. I found this an exciting opportunity and it was always a good sign when you're asked to do something, so I applied and got the job.

What was funny, though, was that GASIM was being created at the same time. GASIM is an inter-agency platform that collects, analyses and makes conclusions about global migration, whether legal or illegal. These are then used mainly to provide policy advice, as well as the strategic orientation of the different ministries. This center involved not only GFP, but also the BKA, the Foreign Office, the Interior Ministry, Customs, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the Federal Intelligence Service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, means domestic intelligence, and the various state police forces.

Because I was an expert in migration matters, the agency head decided to appoint me to GASIM to help get it set up. As a result, my time at the president's office was cut short and I started at GASIM.

But my time at GASIM wasn't really so long, either. The reason was that GASIM was not used by the politicians and the Ministry of Interior as an opportunity to analyze the situation and prepare properly for the future. No, instead, there was always a power play going on among the individual participants or their interests, which tremendously affected our ability to do an effective job. The really good idea behind GASIM devolved into a political skirmish, which I was not prepared to support. I have always taken the view that the safety of the public and of individuals has nothing to do with political beliefs. Of course, one can use the successes and failures of security agencies to make policy, but that was really not why the center was created.

I also want to add that it was already clear to me at the time that the federal government would eventually lose sight of the subject of migration and in particular its connection with security matters.

So that was how my career at GFP ended.

Q: What was your favorite time?

A: I really enjoyed the 2006 World Cup. I was in GFP senior command in Berlin at the time. The atmosphere was really great and everything ran smoothly. Yes, that was really good.

Otherwise, there are, of course, important investigations that come to mind. I once conducted an investigation where we arrested several officials in the Berlin Ministry of the Interior and Berlin Clerk's Office for corruption. The Berlin CID had set up a commission of inquiry into economic crime to which I had been assigned. But the case was not just about bribery. The real problem was that the corruption had allowed a large number of Chinese citizens to be illegally smuggled into Germany. We had to investigate it and come up with evidence for the prosecution, which was not easy, because many of these smuggled persons were closely intertwined with major players in Berlin business and politics.

Another important investigation came shortly thereafter, which I also worked on together with the Berlin CID. This one involved human trafficking, in this case of Bulgarian women who had been abducted against their will by Turkish men to be put into prostitution in Germany. This case really showed me for the first time just how unscrupulous the trade in human beings really is, without any respect for their dignity, health, or even lives.

Overall, I really enjoyed all of my work. I always enjoyed working with the Bundespolizei.

Q: But now you are in Saudi Arabia.

A: Yes, now I'm here. When I was with GASIM, let's say, I strayed. I had very close contact with a political party and I was advising the party on security policy matters. I had also been tipped for a transfer to the German Development Ministry, where I was supposed to work in its security department. The first meetings with the minister, the secretary of state, and the department head were conducted, but then there were problems with GFP, who really did not want to agree to the transfer, and then I got a call from Saudi Arabia.

It was my former GFP commissioner calling me. He asked if I would be interested in working for the border project in Saudi Arabia. I had 24 hours to decide, so I said yes.

Q: Can you discuss the border project with us?

A: I think that I'll keep things that I'm not supposed to share to myself. Go ahead and ask.

Q: What exactly is this border project?

A: Saudi Arabia decided to secure its external borders with additional equipment. As you probably already know, EADS, that is Airbus, had won the tender for this job and they hired me to develop the concept that would allow the Saudi border guards to work with this technology. We're still working on that aspect. In addition, Saudi Arabia required Airbus to reorganize the entire border guard organization according to modern aspects. This means that a completely new organization had to be created. And I'm still working on that as well.

Q: I think we should take a break now. We have now reached the point where we're going to begin discussing what we really want to talk about with you. The right time for a break.

A: Sure.

Q: Thank you for joining us for the second part of our interview. Are you ready to talk a bit about border security?

A: Sure, go ahead. Just ask.

Q: What exactly is border security? I suppose that I would be wrong if I said you hide yourself somewhere along the border and wait to catch smugglers?

A: Let's put it this way, there are better ways to explain the work. What's important is to first describe what a border actually is and where borders are located. A border is a purely administrative line between two countries that demarcates each of their territories. Theoretically, this line can be on land, in the water, or in the air. Legally speaking, this line, once crossed, means that you are subject to the laws of that country you just entered. Of course, there are subtleties that need to be respected, but, by and large, that's how it works.

The Border Police, that is the agency that handles border security, not only protects this line itself, but everything that is enclosed by this line. So for example, people, goods as well as law and order, as I just mentioned. Border Guards protects these things by looking across the border at what might be coming in while the police protect these things by looking inside the border. But again, there are subtleties and exceptions that have to be observed which I will come back to later.

Short and sweet, the Border Police protects the country, its people, and its legal system from interference from outside. This happens wherever it can do this, either directly on the border line, in harbors or airports, or through some kind of cooperation with foreign agencies. But it can also do this within the borders, when, for example, the Border Guard decides not to staff a border. It's ideal when the border is protected equally everywhere.

Q: Can you explain the law in more detail?

A: A good example is normal passport control at border crossings. Every person who enters into a specific country needs permission to enter. That's the law. Either they have this permission by virtue of where they were born or they have earned it through some sort of administrative procedure and have been given a visa that allows them to enter. And that's exactly what border officials are checking. They're just checking to make sure that the law is being complied with or not.

If a member of the Border Guard is assigned somewhere along the border that's not an official border crossing, usually their job is to prevent anyone from crossing that line without permission. So, once again, it's about upholding the law.

Q: Aren't people basically prohibited from crossing the border anywhere other than an official crossing?

A: It's not quite as simple as that. There are countries where it's forbidden for everyone and there countries where it is allowed. As long as you have permission to do it. Just look at Schengen, where it's allowed.

Q: Okay, I see. It's really not that difficult. What makes the whole thing so problematic?

A: It becomes problematic when criminals try to cross the border. Regardless of the reason. They do this either by using falsified documents or obtaining real documents, for example, through bribery. And this needs to be found out. Or they might have no papers and still try to cross the border.

In addition, it is not always just a matter of catching those who have just crossed the border and then do something illegal. Imagine, sending a packet of heroin in the mail to a friend. It wouldn't make sense to arrest the mail carrier. The goal is to find out who's behind the crimes, tracking down criminal networks, and preventing the spread of criminality. That is the real work of border protection. So much more than simply standing guard at the physical border. It is the duty of every police officer. And because this has been realized, the idea of Integrated Border Management has been expanded and professionalized.

Let's look at a couple of examples: Imagine someone comes to an airport border crossing point with a fake passport. The officer is sitting in his box and doesn't suspect anything. He first has to become suspicious. To do this, he needs to know whom he's dealing with. The normal questions are: What language does this person speak? Can I speak with him? What's this person's nationality? What does a passport for this nationality look like? Does this passport match? Is there anything unusual in this passport? Is there a watermark, for example? What security features does the passport have? Does the person need a visa?  Does he have one? Is there anything specific about this visa? What security features does the visa have? Was this visa obtained lawfully? Are there any other conditions that this person must meet? And so on.

This makes it complicated!

Of course, there are technical aids, some of which are very, very good. You no longer have to recognize every fake yourself, but you shouldn't necessarily depend on the technology. After all, it's a matter of human judgment, you know? This makes it complicated.

And imagine if the officer recognizes that the passport is fake. He must now decide whether to say so or not. Of course, the person can be immediately arrested, but it might be much more important to figure out why the passport was faked in the first place. Did the person just want to enter illegally and get a job here? Did he want to conceal his true identity because he is perhaps a wanted criminal? Is he part of a terrorist network? Is he a smuggler and could he lead me to his backers? All of this is what makes the job difficult. It's a highly complex story that's never the same, but it can always be dangerous. Does that make sense?

Q: Yes, thank you. But what if it's a genuine passport, which they've obtained by bribery, as you mentioned earlier?

A: Well, the officer has to try to figure this out. It is difficult and it is highly likely that the officer will not become suspicious. In such a case, even the biometric data is genuine, so the technology is not going to be any help. By the way, that's one of the reasons why I am opposed to the so-called e-gates. At least if they're allowed to check passports completely automatically.


Q: We'll come back to those.

A: Good. So, the border official needs to use the data he has and skillful questions to determine whether the passport is genuine or not. Sometimes, all it takes is asking about the place or date of issue. Sometimes it helps to count the family members and check whether this matches what has been registered. Those are options, but you have to be very careful with them. And of course, the legal framework plays a major role in all this. Excessive protection of data can sometimes be a hindrance.

Another example: Let's imagine someone simply crosses the border. The Border Guard has seen the person or it's been detected by some type of technology. So the following questions should be asked first: Is the person alone? Is someone else coming? Is the person armed? Is it a smuggler? What could be the reason for it to enter illegally? If I follow the person undercover, will it take me to the heart of a criminal network? Can I do all this by myself? Does the person have a cell phone? What could I do with the technology at my disposal? How is the person behaving? How much time do I have? The Border Guard should ask all of these questions. And that's what makes the whole thing so difficult.

Q: As you list all of these difficulties and questions, I get the impression that there really isn't any solution.

A: No, nothing is unsolvable. The border control agencies have figured that out. More and more technology is being used that can be really helpful and methods have also changed.

Q: What technology are you talking about?

A: In particular I'm talking about information technology. The flood of data that is available to us can be put to use. Intelligent border security systems are software solutions that can be developed to make it easier for Border Guards to put two and two together. In Europe, it's not quite so simple, even just because of the data protection laws or the fear of making use of public data. Elsewhere, it's doable. In addition, the cooperation among all the international agencies has continued to improve and being able to access extraterritorial data puts everyone in a better position to do their jobs. Although this has more to do with Integrated Border Management and not technology per se, it still has to do with it. At least it complements it.

Q: Let's get back to technology. Why don't you like e-gates?

A: It would be wrong to say that I don't like them. They are certainly good if you can use the options offered by biometrics. And when the processes work, then I even find them very helpful. They also offer a wonderful opportunity, and I could talk about this for an hour, for increased detection, such as sniffing for nuclear materials, drugs, etc. And reducing the burden on staff is certainly an advantage. But still. Such a gate is still just a machine. A human has to be able to decide whether they believe someone or not. A machine can't make this decision. And this will soon be prescribed in Europe, at least that's what the latest court rulings suggest.

When the logical questioning of a conventional border guard can be combined with modern technology, then I will be a friend of automated border controls. Even if it's only a semi-automated control as I envision it.

Q: Does this mean that the industry is working on what's in demand?

A: In this case, maybe not. The market is not yet demanding something new. The court rulings don't yet require it and probably it is the cost that is the decisive criterion. It would be unfair to say that the work being done in this segment is bad. I know that there are countless companies that are working on the continuing development of such e-gates. I am also in direct contact with one of these companies. In addition, many consortia are participating in EU tenders that have repeatedly addressed this issue. No, things are moving forward in this area, which makes me happy. The research is encouraging. Even the Fraunhofer Institute has continuously shown great interest in the continued development of this technology.

However, the industry is marching to a different drummer than the market. If anyone still thinks that all of border security can be handled with radars and cameras, they are only playing at cowboys and Indians. I sometimes get angry when at major border security conferences I see almost the entire industry relying on old NATO technology. The industry has not really understood what border security involves and what needs to be achieved.

It is no wonder that the Mexican border is still as permeable as a sieve. Surveillance and response is not enough now. Technology is only a tool, but technology alone is never a solution. I really can't comprehend the approach being taken especially by American and British companies, whether they're in the industry or as individual consultants. Border security has nothing to do with NATO. It has nothing at all to do with handling border violations by military means. Smugglers and illegal immigrants are not enemies. And definitely not refugees. But, unfortunately, the industry has failed to grasp this. I could talk about this complex subject for hours.

Q: I find it extremely interesting, especially because you're working on just such a project in Saudi Arabia.

A: Yes, you're right. I have the same difficulties here. But it is even more complicated than what I have just said.

Q: Why?

A: It's not just my own company to whom I have to tell the truth over and over again. It is also the country, our customer, here. It was just this morning when I was saying that we will have to rebuild the entire Border Guard organization here. Theoretically, that's possible. It's exactly what I did in Poland and Romania. A quasi transformation from a military organization into a police force. Here, however, the police has a military ethos and war-like conditions prevail down south. In addition, the border guard even sees its self as military to a certain extent. They really do not understand police methods. But we're working on it. In many small meetings, we've explained what police work is and what it looks like and they're beginning to understand what we're talking about. However, they've still got a long ways to go.

Q: What is discussed in such meetings? Are you explaining the same thing over and over?

A: No, of course not. We have always tried to work together on taking small steps forward. We have developed a vision, we have analyzed the tasks, described the mission, and developed a strategy. This strategy is then used to identify strategic initiatives that are at least going to help describe the organizational structure. We've come a long way. On paper, the organization is ready and able to start learning about Integrated Border Management. Each individual role has been described. Right now, we're honing the training program into shape.

Q: You have repeatedly mentioned Integrated Border Management. What is that exactly?

A: Very simply put, IBM, Integrated Border Management means nothing other than cooperation. Of course, always for a purpose and in line with the law. In reality, it is a highly complex approach that the European countries have agreed on. Europe claims to have invented it. In my eyes, it really is an automatic consequence of the development of technology, especially information technology. Other parts of the world are using Integrated Border Management, not just Europe. Sometimes under a different name, but ultimately it's always the same approach. IBM is a form of cooperation that allows big issues to be tackled from different angles without having to duplicate effort to the benefit of all involved. In literature, IBM has been divided into three aspects: intra-service cooperation, inter-agency cooperation, and international cooperation. But that's not all it is, of course. The cooperation partners need to create certain similarities in their structures and it must be clear who is supposed to do what.

In my eyes, this is the best approach in the world, especially because you not only know what you're supposed to be doing, but also know what the others are supposed to be doing for you. And in particular, a good cooperation with other security agencies makes it possible to actually nip crime in the bud and continuously track it.

Q: When we spoke earlier, you said that Integrated Border Management also includes information analysis, prevention, and investigations. Can you briefly explain what you meant by that?

A: Well, I said that these are the most important pillars of border protection. They are based on a foundation that I call general principles and the roof over these pillars is cooperation. Prevention in this case means prevention of everything illegal, and not just about preventing illegal border crossings. It's also about preventing any crime from being successful, preventing crimes from being repeated, preventing Modus Operandis becoming the topic of discussion encouraging copycats, etc. There is so much more to prevent, at least from a police perspective, than you might think.

But, of course, the job is also about investigating those crimes that do occur. The victims of crime have a right to this as does the state. In addition, prosecution and punishment is a form of prevention. It has the role of a pillar in my model, because the methods used for law enforcement are often different from those used for crime prevention and should therefore be considered as a separate tool.

The last, but perhaps most important pillar is the analysis of information. Without information, modern border management, as I have described it, would not function. It would take too long now to go into detail here.

But what perhaps should still be said is that these pillars are the building blocks on which all police work can be built. In other words, even for matters that have nothing to do with border protection. What I mean to say by that is that we could talk about Integrated Security Management instead of just Integrated Border Management.

Q: I'm glad that you pointed that out. If I understand it correctly, modern Border Police organizations has mostly other tasks, right?

A: Yes, absolutely correct. Basically, every Border Security agency on this earth has the job of protecting itself and its functions. This includes basically everything that, for example, would be a part of Corporate Security for a company.


Border protection services are also regularly assigned tasks on the high seas, where they're usually well equipped and often on the go.

Q: Is it that easy? Taking on whatever tasks you're asked to do?

A: Yes, it's that easy. At least in my eyes. A well-established police force or a well-positioned Border Guard will work with so-called tactical measures. Reconnaissance are, for example, such a tactical measure. These are defined precisely to avoid any misunderstandings. Every police officer knows exactly what they're supposed to do when they're told which tactical measure is to be taken. Of course, it is possible to perform multiple tactical measures at once or combine them. Tactical measures can really be used to do any job.

Of course, I should say, provided you're qualified to do them. Everything has to be coordinated, and the personnel and equipment need to be on hand. But that is absolutely doable in a well-organized agency using modern methods.

Q: What constitutes a well-organized agency, or better put, what do you think is the most important element in such an agency?

A: I think knowledge is the most important thing. For me, therefore, training and continuing education are the top priority. Without it, nothing would work. Of course, there are many other things that have to be right as well. The leadership must be good, a decent staff development strategy must be in place, and you need the right equipment. But, for me, communicating and sharing knowledge is the most important thing.

Q: Is continuing education the topic you are going to be addressing today?

A: No, while continuing education is always on topic, today I'm going to be talking more about Integrated Border Management. I'll be giving an overview of what it's all about and how organizations can deal with it. Of course, I will also be discussing regional particularities and take into account the specific requirements for agencies here. Tomorrow, I'm going to go into a little more detail about  information analysis and intelligence, as it's called here.

Q: Thank you very much. We look forward to your presentations and wish you every success.

A: Thank you.

Please visit also our Border Security webpage


This interview was made under observation by ALS

SC Consulting Ltd. - Security Concept Consulting - - service(at)

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