It's the stuff of spy stories: Germany's foreign intelligence service gave a newspaper access to files that show to what extent it employed Nazi criminals in its early years.
Germany's Foreign Intelligence Service has a dark past
The German foreign intelligence service (BND) has disclosed files on the Nazi past of some of its former spies, but a prominent publicist has called for more frankness.
"The service is not interested in concealing its actions, or promoting the creation of myths," said BND head Ernst Uhrlau in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
Uhrlau pledged more openness in dealing with the service's past, but pointed out there was an area of conflict between secrecy and transparency: German law demanded, he said, that some files had to be kept under wraps for 60 years.
The BND made several documents available, including a secret internal report, detailing the service's Nazi past, for a lengthy report in the paper. The files show that a BND committee investigated 146 employees between 1963 to 1965, 71 of whom were eventually dismissed, due, according to the BND, to their participation in Nazi criminal activities during World War II.
Schmidt-Eenboom is critical of the BND's information policies
The investigation was prompted by the spy trial of Heinz Paul Johann Felfe. Felfe worked for the BND, but was arrested in 1961 for spying for the Soviet Union. During his trial, it was also revealed that he was a former SS officer. The secret BND investigative committee formed two years later was meant to find out how many more Nazi henchmen had found employment with the foreign intelligence service.
The threat of Communist moles
That investigation, BND president Uhrlau said, dealt with the service's Nazi past thoroughly. But Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, director of the Research Institute for Peace Policies and an expert on intelligence services, believes the interior investigation did not get rid of all of the employees tainted by a criminal Nazi past.
He also told Deutsche Welle that the BND's purge in the 1960s was not meant as denazification in the first place.
"After the Felfe case, the service had to conclude that quite a few of the Nazi criminals working for the BND were in a position to be blackmailed, making them easy prey for Soviet intelligence services," Schmidt-Eenboom said.
The German federal police has long since disclosed its Nazi past
The employees that were most susceptible were sorted out and retired, the publicist said. "Those weren't necessarily the worst Nazi war criminals, but those suspected of spying for the enemy," he added.
Recruited regardless of their Nazi past
The BND was created in 1956 from the Gehlen Organization under legendary Cold War spymaster Reinhard Gehlen, a former German army general recruited by the US military after the end of the war to set up a spy ring against the Soviet Union. Collecting information on the Soviet Union was its main purpose.
In those early years, Schmidt-Eenboom said, that was the main point. In contrast, it was of no importance, he claims, "what kind of a past people had."
Schmidt-Eenboom believes that the pressure is on, and that making selected reports on former Nazi employees accessible can only be a first step.
He urged more openness like that displayed by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which has already taken steps to come to terms with its Nazi past. Four years ago, the BKA presented a list fully detailing the names of its officers with a Nazi past, including their positions at the BKA and their position under the Nazis.
Author: Dagmar Breitenbach
Editor: Ben Knight