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Shameful History: German Domestic Spying Agency's Most Embarrassing Scandals

© AP Photo / Gero BreloerPresident of Germany's intelligence agency (German Verfassungsschutz), Hans-Georg Maassen, poses during a ceremony where he received the letter of appointment in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012.
President of Germany's intelligence agency (German Verfassungsschutz), Hans-Georg Maassen, poses during a ceremony where he received the letter of appointment in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. - Sputnik International
Germany's domestic intelligence agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen may be forced to resign after casting public doubt over the authenticity of footage seemingly showing protesters in Chemnitz, Saxony chasing migrants. It's far from the first time the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) has been engulfed in scandal.

Maassen made his incendiary comments in September, igniting countrywide outcry, spurring leading lawmakers to call for his resignation, on grounds of meddling in national politics, and exposing deep rifts in Germany's fragile and passionless ruling coalition. The Social Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partners, have demanded Christian Social Union Interior Minister Horst Seehofer sack the agency chief, calls that have as yet gone unrequited — a meeting between the ruling parties to discuss his future has been set for September 18.

The government has declined to comment on national media reports indicating Merkel has already decided to oust Maassen — although whatever his fate, the controversy is but the latest to besmirch the BfV's reputation.

Guillame Affair

In 1956, Gunter Guillame and his wife, citizens of the German Democratic Republic, emigrated to the Federal Republic of Germany. Posing as dissidents fleeing Communism, Gunter was in fact a Stasi operative, sent to penetrate West Germany's political system.

The secret agent was devastatingly effective — he quickly ascended the ranks of the Social Democratic Party, becoming so trusted he was named one of then-FRG Chancellor Willy Brandt closest aides in the wake of the SPD's electoral landslide in 1969.

Gunter operated without detection for almost two decades, passing highly sensitive information directly to the Stasi. It would not be until 1973 authorities uncovered his covert activities — while Brandt was informed, they asked him to allow Gunter to continue working as usual until they built a concrete case. Brandt duly did so, even going on a subsequent holiday jaunt with the Stasi spy.

Gunter was eventually arrested April 1974. The resultant scandal was a major contributing factor to Brandt resigning the Chancellery the following month, adding to existing controversies over his serial adultery, and issues with alcoholism and depression.

© RIA Novosti . Yuryi Abramochkin / Go to the mediabankLeonid Brezhnev visits FRG
Leonid Brezhnev visits FRG - Sputnik International
Leonid Brezhnev visits FRG
In December 1975, Gunter was sentenced to 13 years in prison for treason, his wife to eight. He was returned to the GDR in 1981 in exchange for Western spies caught by the Eastern Bloc. While welcomed as a hero, the affair wasn't just an embarrassing cataclysm for West German intelligence agencies — East German spymaster Markus Wolf subsequently said Brandt's downfall was not intended or welcomed by the GDR, and named the operation one of the Stasi's biggest failures.

After German reunification in 1990, Gunter was granted immunity from prosecution — he even served as a supportive witness in Wolf's trial for treason in 1993.

Double Agents Uberalles

Gunter was not alone — many Stasi agents penetrated the upper echelons of various spheres of West German society during the Cold War. However, the readiness of BfV employees to offer their services to the Stasi negated the need for the latter to infiltrate the former, with perhaps the most famous — and interconnected — examples being the cases of Klaus Kuron and Hans-Joachim Tiedge.

Klaus joined the BfV in 1962, and was promoted to the agency's counter-intelligence division within five years. In 1981, motivated by financial pressure, he contacted the Stasi directly via the East German embassy, receiving a one-off lump sum payment of 150,000 Deutschmarks and a monthly stipend of 4,000 Deutschmarks for providing information on West German informants and agents operating in the GDR.

In August 1985, Hans-Joachim, the BfV's head of counter-intelligence, fled to the GDR — again motivated by financial concerns. It was the most damaging defection of the Cold War for the FRG — agents had to be rapidly pulled out of East Germany, and the credibility of the BfV was severely damaged, resulting in the resignation of several top agency officials.

For one, it was revealed Hans-Joachim had been secretly working for the Stasi for several years prior to his departure, using his position to hamper and prevent the detection and capture of East German spies operating in the FRG. Question marks also abounded over how the double agent had remained in the service so long, and been promoted to the top of an extremely important division, despite sizeable debts, familial issues and a serious drinking problem.

Moreover, the defection also allowed the Stasi to claim information provided by Kuron had actually been passed to them by Hans-Joachim — allowing the former to continue operating undetected until the end of the Cold War. Kuron turned himself into authorities post-reunification, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his activities.

An Infiltration Too Far?

Between September 2000 and April 2007, the National Socialist Underground (NSU) — a neo-Nazi group comprised of just three individuals — wreaked intermittent havoc across Germany, robbing at least 14 banks, carrying out a number of bombings, murdering at least 10 people and injuring potentially scores more.

The group's assassination targets were almost all small business owners, including doner kebab vendors and greengrocers, of Turkish descent — a Greek shopkeeper was also murdered, along with a German police officer. Despite the attacks having clear connections — the victims were all murdered in broad daylight with a gunshot to the face at close-range, fired from a rare Ceska 83 pistol — the trio evaded arrest for almost a decade due to an apparent refusal by law enforcement to accept a racial motive behind the killings.

© AP Photo / Marc MuellerBeate Zschaepe, alleged member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) enters a court room in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Beate Zschaepe, alleged member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) enters a court room in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - Sputnik International
Beate Zschaepe, alleged member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) enters a court room in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, June 4, 2013
However, the NSU also managed to remain hidden for the majority of its existence due to the support of perhaps hundreds of fellow neo-Nazis across Germany. Over the course of the trial of Beate Zschape, the last surviving member of the NSU, for murder, attempted murder, arson, and belonging to a terrorist organization, it was revealed some of these individuals were high-ranking BfV informants, and the spy agency had indirectly but knowingly funded and aided the group at various points during its reign of terror.

Moreover, a fully-fledged BfV agent, Andreas Temme, was present at the slaying of Halit Yozgat, an internet café owner in the central city of Kassel, by NSU members in April 2006. He initially told investigators he left the premises shortly before the killing, but after a number of witnesses placed him directly at the scene of the crime, he changed his statement. Despite being arrested for complicity in the murder, and being fired from his BfV job, Temme's role in the incident has never been conclusively determined or publicly investigated as of September 2018.

‘Lack of Clarity'

Prior BfV infiltration of right-wing entities in Germany was decidedly less murderous, but no less ignominious and awkward for the spy agency. In January 2001, the federal government, Bundestag, and Bundesrat all asked the Federal Constitutional Court to determine whether the National Democrats, was unconstitutional, in an attempt to ban the party outright.

An investigation of the party was launched by officials — but the joint petition was eventually rejected in 2003, after it was determined a vast number of NPD members and grandees — including at least 30 of its leading figures — were undercover agents or informants of the BfV.

© REUTERS / Fabrizio BenschSupporters and members of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) (File)
Supporters and members of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) (File) - Sputnik International
Supporters and members of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) (File)
Most shockingly though, much of the government's case against the NPD's constitutionality was in fact based on statements made and texts published by party figures on the agency's payroll, with one undercover operative having authored an anti-Semitic pamphlet that figured prominently in the evidence provided to the Court by the government.

As a result, the court ruled it was impossible to ascertain which statements, publications and actions attributed to the party were partially or wholly directed and/or influenced by the BfV — a task made all the more difficult by the agency refusing to fully disclose operatives' identities and activities — and even suggested the party's more incendiary activities were deliberately directed in an attempt to ban the party.

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