Why was counterintelligence created

Germany archive

Christopher Nehring

The author

Dr., scientific director at the German Spy Museum Berlin, studies in Heidelberg and St. Petersburg, employee of the Bulgarian Stasi records authority, doctorate on the history of the secret service.

The history of the German intelligence services is a blank spot. Mistrust, disinterest and comparisons with dictatorial secret police determine their image. However, a democratically grown interaction requires transparency and background knowledge. Part I describes the period from 1945 to 1969.

View of the entrance to the headquarters of the Federal Intelligence Service in Pullach near Munich (& copy AP)

Hardly any other area of ​​the state has as little meaning for its own history as the intelligence services. [1] The tasks, methods, scandals and challenges facing services are not new in the 21st century. German security authorities had been preoccupied with terrorism since the 1960s; Migration had been the work area of ​​the BND and its predecessors since the late 1940s; “Fake news” and disinformation are age-old methods, packaged in a digital guise. However, knowledge about and the academic work with intelligence services is still in its infancy in Germany. [2]

It is a tradition to think of intelligence services as a political secret police. The origins for this already lie in the German Empire; as political secret police, intelligence services reached inglorious peaks of power in the two German dictatorships - which means responsibility and a difficult legacy for the democratic intelligence services. [3] The understanding of what an intelligence service is, does and should do, thus deviates from current scientific theories and definitions. The English intelligence describes both the secret collection, evaluation and dissemination of information, as well as this (secret) knowledge itself. [4]

The approach of the intelligence history is to be applied here in order to overcome the information deficit and the taboo of intelligence services in the Federal Republic of Germany. [5] Only concise historical background knowledge enables the "subsequent control of power" (Martin Broszat) of intelligence services and at the same time contributes to a better understanding, management and control of this special institution.

In two articles, im Germany Archive Online the historical context of the German intelligence services for the period between 1945 and 1990 will be presented. The first part covers the period up to 1969. The second part describes the time until the reunification in 1990 (will be published in June 2019). The domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and the foreign intelligence service, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) are dealt with. At the same time, references to the Ministry for State Security of the GDR (MfS) are made clear and reference is made to detailed studies on the work and the structure of the secret police in the east.

Excursus: The Military Counterintelligence Service of the Bundeswehr (MAD)

Often forgotten in the series of (federal) German intelligence services is the smallest federal intelligence service: the Military Counter-Intelligence Service (since 2017 - Federal Office for Military Counter-Intelligence Service / BMAD). Today it has around 1,200 employees and reports to the Federal Ministry of Defense. BAMAD is headquartered in Cologne. Unlike the intelligence services assigned to the military in most countries, the MAD is not a military intelligence service, i.e. it does not conduct military reconnaissance. Instead, he takes on tasks comparable to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution within the Bundeswehr and its locations. The MAD is therefore responsible for security checks in the military sector, is supposed to track down extremists and terrorists of all stripes in the Bundeswehr and operates military counter-espionage for the Bundeswehr.

Since the Bundeswehr has also been deployed abroad, the MAD has also taken on these tasks in the Bundeswehr bases abroad. Outside of these narrowly defined zones, however, it has no jurisdiction. The classic military reconnaissance of foreign armies, military opponents and crisis regions is the task of the BND. Even if, for example, technical systems for radio reconnaissance are used in military facilities or vehicles, these must be operated by BND personnel.

The origin of this division of tasks, which is unusual in international comparison, lies in the peculiarity of the German post-war situation. Only one year after the Bundeswehr was officially founded in 1955, what was then the "Office for the Security of the Bundeswehr ASBw" was founded, which was renamed in 1984 to "Military Counterintelligence". At this point in time the "Organization Gehlen" (Org) operated by the US Army and the CIA, which in the same year passed into the aegis of the federal government as the "Federal Intelligence Service BND", was already conducting military reconnaissance behind the "Iron Curtain". At the same time, numerous former Wehrmacht soldiers who had found a new home in the org through networks of comrades, now switched to the Bundeswehr. Furthermore, the American occupying power also preferred to see military reconnaissance in the hands of the BND it had built up. The military intelligence service of the Federal Republic of Germany was modeled on the domestic intelligence service ("Verfassungsschutz"). Even when the MAD was put on a legal basis for the first time after reunification in 1990 and the Bundeswehr became active in combat missions in Kosovo or Afghanistan for the first time since its foundation, this basic orientation was retained.

post war period

Even before the Federal Republic and GDR were founded, the course was set for the new intelligence services. In West and East, the establishment of the security authorities was in the foreground. It quickly became apparent that political and military issues became more and more important during the Cold War. In the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ), the Soviets set up a secret police based on the Soviet model. [6] This combined domestic and foreign secret service with far-reaching powers in one institution, the Ministry for State Security of the GDR. Securing and enforcing socialism and one-party rule were its most urgent tasks. In contrast to the intelligence services of the Federal Republic of Germany, the MfS not only had executive powers for arrests and searches, but was also the investigator with great influence on the police, public prosecutor, courts and lawyers' guild. The MfS was exclusively subject to internal control and supervision by the Politburo of the SED, to which the long-time Minister for State Security Erich Mielke himself belonged from 1976. The National People's Army (NVA) of the GDR had had its own military reconnaissance service, the "Enlightenment Administration," which was supported by the MfS on the one hand and monitored by it on the other. [7] (Here you will find a detailed description of the work of the State Security of the GDR, the editor.)

But the West German domestic and foreign intelligence services, the Protection of the Constitution and the BND, began at the end of the 1940s. In the British occupation zone, police departments began to monitor communist and neo-Nazi activity. For example, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, after coordination between the Ministry of the Interior and the British occupying power, informants were used and there were considerations to establish the emerging institution as the highest authority for the entire federal territory. Ultimately, this "only" became the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution in North Rhine-Westphalia, the corresponding federal office was only founded in 1950.

A network of political intrigues relaxed around the new domestic intelligence service. Because in the American zone of occupation a secret intelligence organization had emerged that claimed this office for itself. Reinhard Gehlen, head of the Wehrmacht's "Foreign Armies East" evaluation department until 1945, managed to first get the US Army, the US armed forces, and then the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States' foreign intelligence service convince to use his (alleged) intelligence expertise in the conflict against the Soviet Union. [9] He recruited former comrades in arms and formed the Org, which from 1948 found its headquarters in the Munich suburb of Pullach. Allegedly he wanted to spy for the Americans against the Soviet Union, in fact he intended to be taken over by a new German government as head of a comprehensive secret service. [10] The Org became the best equipped intelligence service in the area of ​​the later Federal Republic in terms of personnel, finances and connections. It was an American organization - initially it was subordinate to the US Army and later to the CIA - without a legal basis, regulated competencies and with management staff whose worldview was closer to National Socialism than to democracy. Equipped with a lot of political opportunism, continuities became visible here, which outlived the system change from the totalitarian Nazi dictatorship to the federal republican democracy. At the same time, the org had a "hinge function" planned by the USA, which "transferred" old Nazi security personnel into the new era, tied their anti-systemic potential and also monitored organizations of former Waffen SS members and other associations. [11]


At the beginning of the 1950s there were three intelligence services in the Federal Republic of Germany, of which, with the BfV and the "Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz Service", only two were subordinate to the federal government. Only one of them, the BfV, was based on a legal basis. Relations between them were marked by overlap, skirmishes and intrigues. Reinhard Gehlen in particular stood out here. He eliminated both the security advisor to Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU), Count Gerhard von Schwerin, and his competitor Friedrich-Wilhelm Heinz with the help of intrigues. [12] Gehlen received support from the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Otto John. When John appeared in July 1954 after an alleged kidnapping in the GDR and denounced the resurgence of Nazi forces in the Federal Republic of Germany, Gehlen's opponent was also eliminated. [13]

The orders of the three intelligence organizations were shaped by the international system conflict. The org was supposed to enlighten the GDR and the Soviet Red Army in Central Europe; the "Heinz Service" had received the same order from Adenauer and the forerunner of the Ministry of Defense ("Amt Blank"). Heinz delivered at least as good results as the Org, despite lower resources. [14] Their achievements were ambivalent: On the one hand, Gehlen exaggerated his intelligence skills and the importance of the information obtained by his service, which was not relevant to either the US Army or the CIA. [15] On the other hand, military and economic intelligence in the GDR, for example, produced solid insights. [16] In addition, the Org played a major role in the background of the preparation for the remilitarization of the Federal Republic. [17] In this context, the Org "absorbed" the "Heinz Service" in the mid-1950s after Gehlen had intrigued against his competitor Heinz.

The BfV had a different background: a new type of intelligence service was to be created here that broke with the traditions of the Prussian political secret police. This made itself felt through the strict separation requirement between executive police measures and intelligence gathering of information. The new German intelligence services were limited to the latter. "No new Gestapo" was the motto of the Allies when designing the BfV. [18] Its tasks comprised three areas: The largest and most important was the investigation and defense against communist infiltration and sabotage as well as the investigation of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD); Linked to this was counter-espionage with a focus on the GDR and the USSR. Third was the monitoring of right-wing extremist activities. In the mid-1950s, the BfV employed 70 people who were supposed to monitor up to 60 organizations. [19] Information from the BfV was used in the first party prohibition proceedings in the young Federal Republic - in 1952 against the Socialist Reich Party (SRP) and in 1956 against the KPD. [20] Also in the early 1950s, the first state offices for the protection of the constitution were founded, which had the same mandate. [21] The cooperation and coordination between the LfV and the BfV took decades to overcome competence disputes and communication problems.

In the defense against espionage activities, the areas of responsibility of the Org and BfV overlap. In doing so, they regularly crossed the boundaries between actual counter-espionage and domestic political intelligence. [22] Under the guise of counter-espionage, the org in particular collected information about people and organizations that it considered politically suspicious in order to serve the federal government. [23]

During the reconnaissance of the GDR and the Soviet Union, the org and the BND that later emerged from it achieved good results in military and economic reconnaissance in the 1950s. [24] In the early 1950s, the Org still had numerous top sources when it came to political enlightenment. To recruit human sources, she relied primarily on family connections and networks from the war. [25] Again and again, however, the MfS's counter-espionage succeeded in breaking these networks. In the aftermath of the uprising of June 17, 1953, several hundred actual and alleged Western agents were arrested in the GDR. [26] The intelligence service struggle between East and West was often fought with brutal severity in the 1950s. In the GDR, spies could face the death penalty, and kidnappings with an intelligence background from West to East Berlin were not uncommon in those years. [27] Conversely, this also applied to violent acts of sabotage by Western organizations, such as those supported by the CIA and the Org Combat group against inhumanity.[28]

Organizations like this, but also recruited agents ("V-people") used the Org and the Allied intelligence services for propaganda campaigns in the GDR. [29] The Office for the Protection of the Constitution also used similar methods to hinder the work of the KPD before it was banned. [30]

The large number of these areas of work shows that even the vaguely defined limits set by the BfV and Org and the resulting BND were exceeded in the direction of “executive measures”. The intelligence services acted with the approval of the Federal Government and the Allies. In the mid-1950s, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the BND increased in personnel, accompanied by nepotism and mismanagement. [31] On April 1, 1956 - after a long bureaucratic struggle between Gehlen, the CIA and the Chancellery - the org was taken over as the foreign intelligence service BND in the service of the federal government. [32] Unlike the BfV, the BND was not given a legal basis. Democratic control mechanisms for the intelligence services also existed only in rudimentary form. [33]

In establishing the German intelligence services, the Federal Government essentially pursued three goals:
  1. Protection of the new democratic system from internal enemies and infiltration.
  2. Preparation of rearmament in the Federal Republic and integration into the Western military alliance.
  3. Increase in the foreign policy sovereignty of the Federal Republic. [34]

All of these goals have been achieved. Due to the legal gray areas in which the work of the intelligence services was left (and which they widely exploited) and their political instrumentalization, the governments of Adenauer did not endanger the democratic system as such, but reduced its quality. At the same time, the federal government was not very interested in general educational information. Results that could be used in daily politics were gladly received - also by representatives of the opposition [35]; In contrast, there was a lack of interest in intelligence work, its legal structure and democratization. The management and control of the BfV and BND were limited to a few people such as the Federal Chancellor, Minister of the Interior, the President of the Federal Audit Office and the representatives of the Parliamentary Board of Trustees (the forerunner of today's Parliamentary Control Board). [36]


The 1960s were a decade of crises and scandals for the German intelligence services. It all started with the scandal surrounding Heinz Felfe, head of the counter-espionage division of the BND, responsible for investigating the Soviet KGB. Felfe, a former SS man, had worked for the KGB since the 1950s, passed on internal information from the BND, failed numerous operations and agents and paralyzed all counter-espionage of the BND. [37] In early 1961, Felfe was arrested amid media hype. The Spiegel affair followed in 1962, in which the BND was not at the center of the dispute, but was taken into the line of fire by the Chancellor.Adenauer personally ordered the BND President to be questioned about the role of the BND in the scandal about the search of the Spiegel headquarters in the Chancellery. The Minister of Justice and investigators were waiting in the adjoining room in the event that the Chancellor should have had his BND boss arrested for betrayal of secrets. [38]

In 1963 Werner Pätsch, an employee of the counterintelligence department at the BfV, went public and denounced illegal wiretapping practices in association with allied partners. [39] Since the protection of the constitution took legal action against Pätsch, a whistleblower scandal arose, which ended with an acquittal. In addition, there were scandal reports about the Nazi past by employees in the BND and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. [40] However, these scandals also triggered reactions in the management and control of the services. In the 1960s, both carried out internal investigations into Nazi pollution, which resulted in dismissals, transfers and retirements. However, they never got rid of the problem entirely. [41] In response to the Pätsch scandal, among other things, the law on postal and telecommunications surveillance was passed in 1968. [42] In a long back and forth between politics, the services and the allies, regulations and mechanisms for monitoring communications were created. This also included the "G10 commissions" of the federal and state governments, which have existed to this day and which have to authorize the intelligence services to intervene in postal and telecommunications secrecy (Article 10 of the Basic Law). However, this by no means ensured complete legal and political control of the intelligence service measures. [43] At the same time, the scandals and debates led the shop stewards' committee and the Federal Audit Office to exercise their control more actively than in the 1950s. [44] However, the consequences of the scandals were devastating. They tied up resources and led to the services becoming increasingly preoccupied with themselves, which hindered operational work and led to mistrust on the part of politics and society.

This burdened relationship was also reflected in the fact that the BND's intelligence results were not taken seriously by the government. His warnings about a border closure in Berlin went unheard in the run-up to the construction of the Wall. [45] With the construction of the Wall in 1961, the Western services did not lose all sources overnight, but the connection was interrupted, and in the following years the MfS counter-espionage should succeed in tracking down and arresting many of the sources contacted via couriers, radio links and secret writing procedures. [ 46] Added to this was the problem that the wall made new sources even more difficult to find, contact and check. [47] In the case of human sources, "travel sources" such as truck drivers, sailors, train or travel personnel and pensioners were now used. [48] Interviewing GDR refugees was a much more laborious and fragmented method. [49] Another source of information was postal and telephone surveillance. In addition, there was the exchange of information with the British and American intelligence services, which, depending on the area of ​​responsibility, could account for around a quarter of the information volume. [50] BfV and BND also expanded their cooperation beyond that. A “spying on friends” was often inherent in these collaborations. [51]

For the protection of the constitution, counter-espionage and communist infiltration were in the foreground in the 1960s. In total, the BfV recorded around 600 agent advertisements or advertising attempts. [52] However, the most important events occurred behind closed doors and were an expression of structural crises: At the BND, the system that President Reinhard Gehlen had built up since the 1940s collapsed. Secrecy and isolation of the departments, chaotic organization, ineffective mismanagement, mediocre operational results, constant overstepping of competencies as well as domestic work and intrigues were the most serious. In 1968 Gerhard Wessel, who was first in the Wehrmacht department “Foreign Army East” and then at the BND Gehlen's deputy, became the new BND president. He stood in front of a pile of broken glass that needed to be reformed. This is the conclusion reached by the Chancellery Commission of Inquiry named after Reinhold Mercker, the former coordinator of the intelligence services in the Chancellery, who was the chairman of the commission ("Mercker Commission"). [53]

Conclusion and outlook

At the end of the 1960s there was not only the first change of a BND president, but also the change of government to the social-liberal coalition and "1968" with all its upheavals. These changes also marked a turning point for the Protection of the Constitution and the BND. Seized in internal crises and reforms, self-employment, the domestic situation and the relationship to superordinate and subordinate positions were more important than the actual operational work. Numerous scandals, undesirable developments, birth defects and a strained, mistrustful relationship to politics, but also to the public, were responsible for this. The results and achievements of the operational work were mixed in the first decades of the existence of the German intelligence services. In particular, the Gehlen Service, contrary to its self-styling, often fell short of the demands. In 1961 and 1968, when the Berlin Wall was built and the Prague Spring, the BND's early warning system worked, but the results remained unused, probably also due to the complicated relationships with the decision-makers. The results of the BfV were also different and characterized by its completely different role as a supplier in the run-up and "early warning of danger" for politics and the police. Both services had relatively few resources: the BfV had around 950 posts at the end of the 1960s, the BND between 2000 and 3000, while the MfS had 16,613 full-time employees in 1959 and 40,328 in 1969. [54] The financial endowment was similar, not to mention the political backing that the East German secret police enjoyed in their work. In the GDR, the secret police as the “shield and sword of the party” was a pillar of party rule, endowed with powers, political weight, personnel and resources. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the BND were subordinate federal authorities that had neither special resources nor a good reputation or outstanding political significance. Since the intelligence services were an open book to the British and Americans, trust in them was not strengthened. At the same time, there was little interest or concepts for the management, guidance and democratic control of the services on the political level outside of the specialist departments. Under these unfavorable conditions, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the BND entered a new decade. For the BfV in particular, the tasks were to change: “1968” and the radicalization of the extra-parliamentary opposition (APO), but also the growing immigration, brought about new tasks and priorities. At the BND, however, the GDR, USSR and “world communism” continued to be on the agenda.

Part II, published on 6/8/2019

Citation: "News services in Germany", Christopher Nehring, in: Germany Archive, May 29, 2019, Link: www.bpb.de/292006

You can find out more about the work and structure of the intelligence services in the Federal Republic of Germany in the issue ofFrom politics and contemporary history from 2014 with the title "Monitoring"