Federal Intelligence Service
Federal Intelligence Service
The BND was founded during the Cold War
in 1956 as the official foreign intelligence agency of West Germany
, which had recently joined NATO
, and in close cooperation with the CIA
. It was the successor to the earlier Gehlen Organization
, often known simply as "The Organization" or "The Org", a West German intelligence organization affiliated with the CIA whose existence had not been officially acknowledged. The most central figure in the BND's history was Reinhard Gehlen
, the leader of the Gehlen Organization and later the founding president of the BND, who was regarded as "one of the most legendary Cold War spymasters."
From the early days of the Cold War the Gehlen Organization and later the BND had an intimate cooperation with the CIA, and often was the western intelligence community's only eyes and ears on the ground in the eastern bloc
. The BND is also regarded as one of the best informed intelligence services in regards to the Middle East
from the 1960s. The BND was quickly established as the western world's second largest intelligency agency, second only to the CIA.
Both Russia and the Middle East remain important focuses of the BND's activities, in addition to violent non-state actors
CIA report on negotiations to establish the BND (1952)
The predecessor of the BND was the German eastern military intelligence agency during World War II
, the Abteilung Fremde Heere Ost
or FHO Section in the General Staff, led by Wehrmacht
Major General Reinhard Gehlen
. Its main purpose was to collect information on the Red Army. After the war Gehlen worked with the U.S. occupation forces in West Germany. In 1946 he set up an intelligence agency informally known as the Gehlen Organization
or simply "The Org" and recruited some of his former co-workers. Many had been operatives of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
' wartime Abwehr
(counter-intelligence) organization, but Gehlen also recruited people from the former Sicherheitsdienst
, after their release by the Allies
. The latter recruits were later controversial because the SS and its associated groups were notoriously the perpetrators of many Nazi atrocities
during the war.
The organization worked at first almost exclusively for the CIA, which contributed funding, equipment, cars, gasoline and other materials. On 1 April 1956 the Bundesnachrichtendienst
was created from the Gehlen Organization, and was transferred to the West German
government, with all staff. Reinhard Gehlen became President of the BND and remained its head until 1968.
Several publications have criticized Gehlen and his organizations for hiring ex-Nazis. An article in The Independent
on 29 June 2018 made this statement about some of the BND employees:
"Operating until 1956, when it was superseded by the BND, the Gehlen Organisation was allowed to employ at least 100 former Gestapo or SS officers. ... Among them were Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Alois Brunner, who would go on to die of old age despite having sent more than 100,000 Jews to ghettos or internment camps, and ex-SS major Emil Augsburg. ... Many ex-Nazi functionaries including Silberbauer, the captor of Anne Frank, transferred over from the Gehlen Organisation to the BND. ... Instead of expelling them, the BND even seems to have been willing to recruit more of them – at least for a few years".
The authors of the book A Nazi Past: Recasting German Identity in Postwar Europe
state that Reichard Gehlen simply did not want to know the backgrounds of the men that the BND hired in the 1950s.
The American National Security Archive
states that "he employed numerous former Nazis and known war criminals".
On the other hand, Gehlen himself was cleared by James H. Critchfield
of the Central Intelligence Agency
who worked with the Gehlen Organization from 1949 to 1956. In 2001, he said that "almost everything negative that has been written about Gehlen, [as an] ardent ex-Nazi, one of Hitler's war criminals ... is all far from the fact," as quoted in the Washington Post
. Critchfield added that Gehlen hired former Sicherheitsdienst
(Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS) men "reluctantly, under pressure from German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to deal with 'the avalanche of subversion hitting them from East Germany'"
From 2011 to 2018, an independent commission of historians studied the history of the BND in the era of Reinhard Gehlen. The results are published in comprehensive studies. So far (as of April 2020) eleven volumes have been published.
During the first years of oversight by the State Secretary in the federal chancellery of Konrad Adenauer
of the operation in Pullach
, Munich District
, the BND continued the ways of its forebear, the Gehlen Organization.
The BND racked up its initial East-West cold war successes by concentrating on East Germany
. The BND's reach encompassed the highest political and military levels of the GDR regime. They knew the carrying capacity of every bridge, the bed count of every hospital, the length of every airfield, the width and level of maintenance of the roads that Soviet armor and infantry divisions would have to traverse in a potential attack on the West. Almost every sphere of eastern life was known to the BND.
Unsung analysts at Pullach, with their contacts in the East, figuratively functioned as flies on the wall in ministries and military conferences. When the Soviet KGB suspected an East German army intelligence officer, a lieutenant colonel and BND agent, of spying, the Soviets investigated and shadowed him. The BND was positioned and able to inject forged reports implying that the loose spy was actually the KGB investigator, who was then arrested by the Soviets and shipped off to Moscow.
Not knowing how long the caper would stay under wraps, the real spy was told to be ready for recall; he made his move to the West at the appropriate time.
The East German regime, however, fought back. With still unhindered flight to the west a possibility, infiltration started on a grand scale and a reversal of sorts took hold. During the early 1960s as many as 90% of the BND's lower-level informants in East Germany worked as double agents
for the East German security service, later known as Stasi
Several informants in East Berlin reported in June and July 1961 of street closures, clearing of fields, accumulation of building materials and police and army deployments in specific parts of the eastern sector, as well as other measures that BND determined could lead to a division of the city. However, the agency was reluctant to report communist initiatives and had no knowledge of the scope and timing because of conflicting inputs. The erection of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961 thus came as a surprise, and the BND's performance in the political field was thereafter often wrong and remained spotty and unimpressive.
"This negative view of BND was certainly not justified during … [1967 and] 1968." The BND's military work "had been outstanding",
and in certain sectors of the intelligence field the BND still showed brilliance: in Latin America and in the Middle East it was regarded[by whom?]
as the best-informed secret service.
The BND offered a fair and reliable amount of intelligence on Soviet
forces in Eastern Europe, regarding the elaboration of a NATO
warning system against any Soviet operations against NATO territory, in close cooperation with the Bundeswehr
(German Armed Forces).
One high point of BND intelligence work culminated in its early June 1967 forecast – almost to the hour[dubious – discuss]
– of the outbreak of the Six-Day War
in the Middle East on 5 June 1967.
According to declassified transcripts of a United States National Security Council
meeting on 2 June 1967, CIA Director Richard Helms
interrupted Secretary of State Dean Rusk
with "reliable information" – contrary to Rusk's presentation – that the Israelis would attack on a certain day and time. Rusk shot back: "That is quite out of the question. Our ambassador in Tel Aviv assured me only yesterday that everything was normal." Helms replied: "I am sorry, but I adhere to my opinion. The Israelis will strike and their object will be to end the war in their favor with extreme rapidity." President Lyndon Johnson then asked Helms for the source of his information. Helms said: "Mr. President, I have it from an allied secret service. The report is absolutely reliable." Helms' information came from the BND.
A further laudable success involved the BND's activity during the Czech crisis
in 1968; by then, the agency was led by the second president, Gerhard Wessel. With Pullach cryptography[clarification needed]
fully functioning, the BND predicted an invasion of Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia.[dubious – discuss]
CIA analysts on the other hand did not support the notion of "fraternal assistance" by the satellite states of Moscow; and US ambassador to the Soviet Union, Llewellyn Thompson
, quite irritated, called the secret BND report he was given "a German fabrication".
At 23:11 on 20 August 1968, BND radar operators first observed abnormal activity over Czech airspace. An agent on the ground in Prague called a BND out-station in Bavaria: "The Russians are coming." Warsaw Pact forces had moved as forecast.
However, the slowly sinking efficiency of BND in the last years of Reinhard Gehlen became evident. By 1961, it was clear that the BND employed some men who were Soviet "moles"; they had come from the earlier Gehlen Organization.
One mole, Heinz Felfe, was convicted of treason in 1963.
Others were not uncovered during Gehlen's term in office.
Gehlen's refusal to correct reports with questionable content strained the organization's credibility, and dazzling achievements became an infrequent commodity. A veteran agent remarked at the time that the BND pond then contained some sardines, though a few years earlier the pond had been alive with sharks.
The fact that the BND could score certain successes despite East German communist Stasi interference, internal malpractice, inefficiencies and infighting, was primarily due to select members of the staff who took it upon themselves to step up and overcome then existing maladies. Abdication of responsibility by Reinhard Gehlen was the malignancy; cronyism remained pervasive, even nepotism (at one time Gehlen had 16 members of his extended family on the BND payroll).
Only slowly did the younger generation then advance to substitute new ideas for some of the bad habits caused mainly by Gehlen's semi-retired attitude and frequent holiday absences.
Gehlen was forced out in April 1968 due to "political scandal within the ranks", according to one source.
His successor, Bundeswehr
Brigadier General Gerhard Wessel, immediately called for a program of modernization and streamlining.
With political changes in the West German government and a reflection that BND was at a low level of efficiency, the service began to rebuild. Years later, Wessel's obituary in the Los Angeles Times
, reported that he "is credited with modernizing the BND by hiring academic analysts and electronics specialists".
Reinhard Gehlen's memoirs, The Service, The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen
(English title), were published in 1977, (World Publishers, New York). A Review of the book published by the CIA makes this comment about Gehlen's achievements and management style:
"Gehlen's descriptions of most of his so-called successes in the political intelligence field are, in my opinion, either wishful thinking or self-delusion. ... Gehlen was never a good clandestine operator, nor was he a particularly good administrator. And therein lay his failures. The Gehlen Organization/BND always had a good record in the collection of military and economic intelligence on East Germany and the Soviet forces there. But this information, for the most part, came from observation and not from clandestine penetration".
The agency's second President, Gerhard Wessel, retired in 1978. According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times
in August 2002, the "former intelligence officer in Adolf Hitler’s anti-Soviet spy operations" ... "is credited with modernizing the BND by hiring academic analysts and electronics specialists".
The New York Times
News Service obituary lauded the BND's many successes under Wessel but noted that there had been "a number of incidents of East Germans infiltrating the West German government, particularly intelligence agencies, on Gen. Wessel's watch".
Munich Olympic bombings
The kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich was a watershed event for the BND, following early warnings from other countries, because it led the agency to build counter-terrorism capabilities.
Acquisition of Crypto AG
In 1970 the CIA and the BND bought the Swiss informations and communication security firm Crypto AG
, for $5.75 million. Already in 1967 the BND tried, together with the French intelligence service, to buy the company from its founder Robert Hagelin. This deal though fell through due to Hagelin, who was already cooperating with the CIA, refusing. The CIA at the time did not cooperate with the French. In 1969, after negotiations with the US, the BND approached Hagelin anew and bought the company together with the US intelligence service. Crypto AG produced and sold radio, Ethernet, STM, GSM, phone and fax encryption systems world wide. Its clients included Iran, Libya, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican. The BND and the CIA rigged the company’s devices so they could easily decipher the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.
Libyan bombings in Germany
Spying on journalists
In 2005, a public scandal erupted (dubbed the Journalistenskandal
, journalists scandal) over revelations that the BND had placed a number of German journalists
under surveillance since the-mid 1990s, in an attempt to discover the source of information leaks from the BND regarding the activities of the service in connection with the war in Iraq and the "war against terror". The Bundestag constituted an investigative committee ("Parlamentarischer Untersuchungsausschuss") to investigate the allegations. The committee tasked the former Federal Appellate Court (Bundesgerichtshof) judge Dr. Gerhard Schäfer [de]
as special investigator, who published a report confirming illegal BND operations involving and targeting journalists between 1993 and 2005.
As a consequence, the Chancellery issued an executive order banning BND operational measures against journalists with the aim to protect the service.
The committee published a final report in 2009,
which mostly confirmed the allegations, identifying the intent to protect the BND from disclosure of classified information and finding a lack of oversight within the senior leadership of the service but did not identify any responsible members from within the government.
In 1990, BND gave the Finnish Security Intelligence Service
the so-called Tiitinen list
—which supposedly contains names of Finns who were believed to have links to Stasi
. The list was classified and locked in a safe after the Director of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, Seppo Tiitinen, and the President of Finland, Mauno Koivisto
, determined that it was based on vague hints instead of hard evidence.
Promoting the invasion of Iraq
On 5 February 2003, Colin Powell
made the case for a military attack on Iraq in front of the UN Security Council. Powell supported his case with information received from the BND, instead of Mr. Hans Blix
and the IAEA
. The BND had collected intelligence from an informant known as Rafid al-Janabi
alias CURVEBALL, who claimed Iraq would be in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction
, apart from torturing and killing over 1,000 dissidents each year, for over 20 years. Rafid was employed before and after the 2003 incident which ultimately led to the invasion of Iraq
. The payments of 3,000 Euros monthly were made by a cover firm called Thiele und Friedrichs (Munich). As a result of the premature cancellation, al-Janabi filed a lawsuit at the Munich labour court and won the case.
Several former senior BND officials publicly stated that the agency had repeatedly warned the CIA not to take Curveball's information as fact. Hanning, the BND president at the time, even formulated his concerns about that in a letter to then CIA Director George Tenet. The CIA however ignored those warnings and presented the information as facts. 
Israel vs. Lebanon
Fighting tax evasion
In the beginning of 2008, it was revealed that the BND had managed to recruit excellent sources within Liechtenstein
banks and had been conducting espionage operations in the principality since the beginning of the 2000s. The BND mediated the German Finance Ministry's $7.3 million acquisition of a CD
from a former employee of the LGT Group
– a Liechtenstein bank owned by the country's ruling family. While the Finance Ministry defends the deal, saying it would result in several hundred millions of dollars in back tax payments, the sale remains controversial, as a government agency has paid for possibly stolen data
See 2008 Liechtenstein tax affair
In November 2008, three German BND agents were arrested in Kosovo
for allegedly throwing a bomb at the European Union International Civilian Office
, which oversees Kosovo's governance.
Later the "Army of the Republic of Kosovo" had accepted responsibility for the bomb attack. Laboratory tests had shown no evidence of the BND agents' involvement. However, the Germans were released only 10 days after they were arrested. It was suspected that the arrest was a revenge by Kosovo authorities for the BND report about organized crime in Kosovo which accuses Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi
, as well as the former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj
of far-reaching involvement in organized crime.
In 2014, an employee of BND was arrested for handing over secret documents to the United States.
He was suspected of handing over documents about the committee investigating the NSA
spying in Germany.
The German government responded to this espionage by expelling the top CIA
official in Berlin.
In December 2016, WikiLeaks
published 2,420 documents from the BND and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). The published materials had been submitted in 2015 as part of a German parliamentary inquiry into the surveillance activities of the BND and its cooperation with the US National Security Agency
The BND has been reported to store 220 million sets of metadata
That is, they record with whom, when, where and for how long someone communicates. This data is supposedly collected across the world, but the exact locations remains unclear to this date. The Bundestag committee investigating the NSA spying scandal
has uncovered that the German intelligence agency intercepts communications traveling via both satellites
cables. It seems certain that the metadata only come from "foreign dialed traffic," that is, from telephone conversations and text messages that are held and sent via mobile phones and satellites. Of these 220 million data amassed every day, one percent is archived for 10 years "for long-term analysis." Apparently though, this long-term storage doesn't hold any Internet communications, data from social networks, or emails.
The new BND headquarters in Berlin, near the former Berlin Wall
, was completed in 2017. At the official opening in February 2019, Angela Merkel
, Chancellor of Germany
, made this statement: "In an often very confusing world, now, more urgently than ever, Germany needs a strong and efficient foreign intelligence service". At the time, some 4,000 employees were expected to work from this location, moving here from the former headquarters in Pullach
, a suburb of Munich
The agency's total number of employees, in Germany and other countries, was approximately 6,500.
The Bundesnachrichtendienst is divided into the following directorates:
- Regionale Auswertung und Beschaffung A (LA) und Regionale Auswertung und Beschaffung B (LB) (Regional Analysis and Procurement, A/B countries)
- Internationaler Terrorismus und Internationale Organisierte Kriminalität (TE) (Terrorism and International Organised Crime)
- Proliferation, ABC-Waffen, Wehrtechnik (TW) (Proliferation, NBC Weapons)
- Technische Aufklärung (TA) (Signal Intelligence)
- Gesamtlage und unterstützende Fachdienste (GU) (Situation Centre)
- Innerer Dienst (ID) (Internal Services)
- Informationstechnik (IT) (Information Technology)
- Zentralabteilung (ZY) (Central Services)
- Eigensicherung (SI) (Security)
- Umzug (UM) (Relocation [to Berlin])
Presidents of the BND
The head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst is its President
. The following persons have held this office since 1956:
The president of the BND is a federal Beamter
paid according to BBesO order B, B9,
which is in payment the equivalent of a lieutenant general.
The President of the BND has three deputies: one Vice President, one Vice President for Military Affairs (Since December 2003), and one Vice President for Central Functions and Modernization (Possibly Since 2013). Prior to December 2003, there was only one Vice President. The following persons have held this office since 1957:
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Ronny Heidenreich, et al.: Geheimdienstkrieg in Deutschland. Die Konfrontation von DDR-Staatssicherheit und Organisation Gehlen 1953. Berlin 2016
Last edited on 7 March 2021, at 20:55
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