News of an astonishing catalogue of wanton failures by Germany’s intelligence agency, the Bundesverfassungschutz – Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfS) – is sending shock waves through the country.
Details of a 30-page confidential investigation was commissioned for the German government and sent to the state authorities just before Christmas have been revealed by Der Spiegel magazine. They document how a murderous neo-Nazi terror group known as the Zwickau cell was well-known to the authorities and could have been stopped years ago.
Right-wing terrorism in post-unification Germany is nothing new. Germany was wracked by a spate of killings between 2000 and 2007 in which eight people were killed by two members of the terror group which called itself the National Socialist Underground. The men, Uwe Bohnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, later shot themselves after a failed bank robbery.
What is new is the sharp increase in acts of right-wing violence over the past year – from 300 to 9,800. But the neo-Nazis are not only targeting people of foreign descent, gays and the homeless. Recent months have seen some 100 attacks on members of Germany’s Left Party, including its leader Gregor Gysi.
Lists of names and addresses of Left Party officials were found amongst the Zwickau cell terrorists. The Left Party’s security policy spokeswoman, Ulla Jelpke, has seen her Dortmund office attacked by paving stones, graffiti, acid and steel balls fired through the window.
The exposure of the intelligence service’s failings, has brought to the surface a truly shambolic situation within the German state itself. Even mainstream media are asking how much of the state’s blind eye to right-wing terrorism is due to bungling and how much to protection from within the security agencies themselves.
Far from being a secret, the activities of the neo-Nazis in the former east Germany states of Saxony and Thuringia were closely monitored by the state.
But due to distrust between different branches of the German state and lack of action by local prosecutors, far right terrorists in groups like the Thuringian Homeland Protection and Jena Comradeship continued their bank robbing and murdering people of foreign descent.
As long ago as 1997, the Thuringian state sold a luxury mansion to a far right group of holocaust deniers and some accuse the Thuringian section of the state intelligence service of disrupting police investigations into the terror cells. The head of Thuringia’s state branch in Erfort, Helmut Roewer, was suspended in 2000 for a “range of irregularities” and a confidential report said that some sections of the agency had “failed completely” during his period in office.
Der Spiegel has long been known for exposing murky aspects of Germany’s state – but matters are now so bad that even authorities themselves are expressing shock at the scale of the inaction, bungling and bureaucratic infighting.
The president of the BfS, Heinz Fromm, who has headed the agency since 2000, professed shock in an extraordinarily apologetic interview with the Tagespiegel newspaper. He said the agency had transferred its attention from the far right to Islamic terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, but claimed not to know why investigations into neo-Nazis were halted in 2001.
Despite the state running 130 paid informants within Germany’s chief neo-Nazi organisation, the National Democratic Party (NPD) and within the Thüringer group itself, the security services failed to prevent the National Socialist Underground group’s terror activities.
Jorge Ziercke, head of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has said that public confidence in the rule of law has been “shaken to the core” while opposition parties in the Bundestag are calling for a parliamentary investigation.
But the Zwickau scandal is only one sign that the relations within the German state are under stress. Even the long-standing cosy relationship between Das Bild newspaper and Angel Merkel’s ruling CDU party is showing signs of breaking down. With German capitalism fighting a desperate rearguard action to prevent a collapse of its cherished eurozone project, the divisions within the state indicate a deep turbulence in ruling class circles.
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