Debate over future of German security agency | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.07.2012
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Debate over future of German security agency

The apparently ever-widening wrongdoing of the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution has prompted discussions of reform. It remains unclear, however, what shape these reforms could take.

The German parliament's inquiry into the far-right terrorist group NSU continues to be confronted with new questions. The shredding of documents that could have shed light on how the NSU worked with persons associated with a state security agency has not been clarified. The existence of these documents, which apparently were shredded last fall, became known last week.

This week, it became known that the Italian security agency AISA in 2003 had already warned the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution about potential neo-Nazi attacks. On Tuesday, more information was uncovered indicating that the office failed to adequately investigate a 2004 attack in Cologne that severely injured 22 people.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said that gaps in the neo-Nazi affair should have consequences. The head of the constitutional protection office, Heinz Fromm, already announced his intention to retire early, at the end of July. Now, there is talk of reforming the office. But just in which ways the office should be reformed and monitored remains unclear.

More analysis

Political scientist and expert on right-wing extremism Hajo Funke says it would be difficult to formulate a monitoring plan. He says that in any case, it's important to set up structures that examine the phenomenon of right-wing extremism, such as scientific observation and independent observers.

Photo of Hajo Funke

Funke said that any cover-up would be an indication of deeper problems

"We need a far more open structure that can come to grips with the root of the right-wing extremism problem," said Funke, who also sits on the parliamentary inquiry committee.

Existing state and federal supervision, as well as parliamentary control, hasn't been enough, Funke added.

Covering up

The constitutional protection office worked too independently and often overlooked or wrongly interpreted clues, Funke told DW. At any rate, the issue goes deeper, he said.

"Shredding documents is an act of covering up. Even if this hasn't been confirmed yet, there are indications that this was done intentionally," Funke said.

Patrick Kurth, a parliamentarian with the free-market Free Democratic Party, who is also on the investigative committee, emphasized that legal measures against the constitutional protection office, and its staffers, should also be considered in light of the NSU affair.

"I believe that it should also be clear to the public that any witnesses [to acts within the office] cannot simply say whatever they want," Kurth told DW.

Institutional problems

Journalist and right-wing extremism expert Thies Marsen doesn't see the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as an institution capable of reform, and argues instead for its dismantling.

The fact that the establishment ignored or overlooked evidence has a clear cause, Marsen claimed: "The constitutional protection office is a child of the Cold War, from a time when two irreconcilable blocks stood in opposition." It was mainly oriented against former East Germany and the genuine or imagined influence of communists, he said.

It's also known, he added, that the office was at least partly built up by former Nazis, who had contributed to putting down resistance to Nazism in occupied countries. Of course, that office from 50 years ago isn't the same as the current one, but "this spirit has been retained, which is why they tend to look to the left rather than right," Marsen said.

Anti-Nazi demonstration in Rostock

The office considers some anti-fascist activists as left-extremists

Marsen had mostly researched constitutional protection in Bavaria, where he said "civil-society organizations were declared to be left-extremists because they were active against neo-Nazis."

Groups such as AIDA, an anti-fascist information point in Munich, were suddenly listed in a constitutional protection report as being left-wing extremist. The educational group lost its non-profit status through the accusation, and ended up with huge problems.

Marsen thinks the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has become superfluous. Its work could be taken over by other authorities, such as the police - and this is already happening, he said.

Author: Günther Birkenstock
Editor: Sonya Diehn

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