„Discover, identify and interfere“: The MUROS from Meckenheim

A German company builds special vehicles with surveillance technology. They film demonstrations, wiretap telephones or coordinate swarms of drones at EU external borders.

In the EU security research project ROBORDER, European border authorities are testing various drones for controlling land and sea borders. An unmanned ground vehicle, a long-range drone, a surface drone and an underwater drone operate independently and in swarms. Several sensors deliver videos and geodata of suspicious vehicles or ships. Unauthorised border crossings on land are monitored using thermal imaging cameras or radar equipment.

Tests are carried out on the Greek island of Kos in the Aegean Sea. All recordings converge in a mobile situation centre. The vehicle comes from the German manufacturer Elettronica from Meckenheim in North Rhine-Westphalia and is based on a Mercedes Sprinter. Under the product line „Public Security“ it is sold as „Multirole operations support vehicle“ (MUROS). Elettronica receives around 430,000 euros from the EU Commission for its participation in ROBORDER. The Greek Ministry of Defence is also involved in the research into swarms of drones, so the results could be used for military purposes.

„Mission Control“

Little is known about the concrete equipment of MUROS in the EU project. In Kos it is the „Surveillance“ van that Elettronica keeps ready for the “ increasing demand of Governments of more security for citizens“. The company should also prevent the unauthorized jamming or interception of the drones used in ROBORDER.

As part of the EU project, its participants will also test software that automatically recognizes and classifies people and objects based on their appearance or behavior. In Greece, the MUROS may also transport individual components from the „Area and Border Protection“ variant, which, according to Elettronica, includes a radar device, a daylight and night vision camera, microphones and receivers for ship detection systems.

Elettronica also sells the MUROS for „Mission Control“. Equipped with a video camera, a directional microphone and several screens, they are intended to improve the „situational awareness“ of border and police authorities. The collected data can be processed in the vehicle and transferred to other departments.

MUROS at the German police

In Germany, this „Mission Control“ variant is used by the police. As „Evidence Preservation and Documentation Vehicles“ (BeDoKw) with extendable, four-metre-long masts with video cameras and microphones, the MUROS drive, among other things, on demonstrations and transmit the pictures in high resolution to the responsible command or to mobile snatch squads. There, further measures can be decided, such as arresting or pursuing certain persons. One of the microphones has a directional characteristic, so that, for example, speeches at demonstrations can be transmitted to the police headquarters.

A MUROS as BeDoKw at the German police.

Five years ago, the German federal and state police forces renewed their BeDoKw. Initially, the riot police of the Länder received 52 new MUROS, followed later by 24 more for the Federal Police. In Berlin, the unit price based on Mercedes vehicles is said to have been around 180,000 euros. The Federal Ministry of the Interior spent similar sums on the new spy vehicles: The 76 MUROS cost 14 million euros, an average of 184,000 euros each.

Elettronica sells to Pakistan

In an interview, a managing director of Elettronica described the company’s slogan as „discover, identify and interfere“. Accordingly, the MUROS are also sold with interception technology. Elettronica advertises with a far-reaching „radio spectrum monitoring“, all common standards are mentioned, including GSM, UMTS and LTE as well as satellite communication. The manufacturer does not say a word about the technology. For example, it would be possible to use an IMSI catcher to locate and monitor telephones near the MUROS.

The technology for the „Tracking of suspects“ is interesting for police authorities and secret services. Elettronica promises to equip even camouflage vehicles with the interception systems. But the company also sells to the military, at least Elettronica presented the special vehicles at relevant military fairs. Elettronica is also likely to export the MUROS abroad. Not further named vehicles from Meckenheim, for example, are sold to Pakistan, and the Federal Government has issued the corresponding export permits on the basis of the Dual-Use Regulation. The supplied equipment is not specified, so that it could be technology for interception, for disruption of communication or also for the surveillance of demonstrations.

Image: A MUROS in Rigaer Straße, Berlin at 1st May 2019.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.