Neo-Nazi Terror Cell: Intelligence Agency Tried to Recruit Uwe Mundlos
German politicians are outraged at the revelation that the military intelligence agency withheld information about trying to recruit as an informer a man who would later become a member of the neo-Nazi terror cell currently under investigation. Chancellor Merkel has promised that the case will be cleared up.
Germany's investigation into the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the neo-Nazi terrorist cell that is believed to have killed at least 10 people between 2000 and 2007, has been plagued by a series of scandals. Now a new affair is putting the country's Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) and the Defense Ministry under pressure.
The revelations came to light in the investigative committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, which is looking into the NSU affair. Representatives of all parties said they were "shocked" and "deeply angered" that the MAD, the Defense Ministry and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had kept important information and documents concerning Mundlos withheld from the Bundestag committee for several months.
It was only through the persistent investigative work of veteran Green Party Bundestag member Hans-Christian Ströbele that the information became public on Tuesday. The MAD, which is tasked with monitoring soldiers for radical tendencies, had created a file on Mundlos after he attracted attention to himself with his far-right views during his military service.
The file, which SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained, deals with an interview between Mundlos and MAD officials in March 1995, just a few days before the end of his military service. During the conversation, Mundlos talked openly about his political views. Mundlos admitted that he was a member of a "skinhead group" of around 10 men who listened to neo-Nazi bands. The then-soldier said he was not xenophobic, but at the same time railed against asylum-seekers who "make a nice life for themselves here in Germany at the cost of the state." He said he would not attack those people, but that they should be deported.
The file paints a picture of a frustrated young man whose views were slowly becoming more radical. After training with an optical systems firm in Jena in the eastern state of Thuringia he had failed to find a job, Mundlos said, so he decided to complete his military service. Afterwards he wanted to be unemployed and "party," which he said was more fun than "slaving away." Mundlos admitted that he had already had problems with the police because of his far-right views and that right-wing extremist propaganda material had been found in his home during a search.
Mundlos' statements are typical of attempts by young people in the far-right to justify their opinions. He did, however, distance himself from the murder of millions of Jews in the Nazi era, describing it as a "bad business," according to the MAD records. Nevertheless, the future terrorist told the officials that he did not understand why soldiers were still being "criticized" today for the past when they had just been doing their job. "Back then they didn't have any choice," reads the MAD report, describing Mundlos' attitude. "They either had to take part or be sent to a concentration camp."
According to the file, the MAD officials tried at the end of the conversation to acquire Mundlos as an informant. A note added to the record of the conversation says that Mundlos was asked "if he could imagine reporting dates for attacks on asylum centers that he knew of to the police or the intelligence agencies." Mundlos replied in the negative, according to the document. Firstly, he didn't take part in such activities, he said, adding that he couldn't "imagine cooperating with the relevant authorities."
Wave of Outrage
The revelations that the intelligence agency had tried to acquire Mundlos as a source has outraged members of the Bundestag committee. Members of parliament severely criticized the fact that they had been provided with important files far too late and only after they had asked to see them.
As it happens, officials already knew about the conversation with Mundlos in March of this year. At the time, one of the state-level domestic intelligence agencies had asked the MAD if it was possible to somehow locate the original file with the statements. In June 1995, just two months after the interview, the MAD had sent copies of the documents to the state agencies in the states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as to the national domestic intelligence agency, which is based in Cologne. The MAD had shredded its own file after Mundlos left the army.
But instead of responding quickly, the authorities in question dragged their feet. Although the MAD passed on the request to all the other agencies, there were initially no responses. It was only at the end of July when the new president of the MAD sent another urgent request to all the agencies who had received a copy of the file in 1995 that word came from Cologne that the dossier had been found. After that, it took another month before the parliamentary committee obtained the files. Bundestag member Ströbele said that the authorities had treated the committee "like fools once again."
The MAD tried to calm the waters, with new president Ulrich Birkenheier, who had been spontaneously summoned by the committee, saying that the agency had done all it could to obtain the document as quickly as possible. Birkenheier denied that the MAD had tried to recruit Mundlos as an informer. According to Birkenheier, the questions had only been an attempt to clarify if Mundlos wanted to distance himself from the far-right scene.
'A Veritable Scandal'
The members of the committee are unlikely to be satisfied with Birkenheier's comments. Instead, the committee plans to hold a special session focusing on the MAD in October, when Birkenheier and some of his predecessors will be questioned.
On Tuesday, members of parliament also criticized the Defense Ministry, which is responsible for the MAD. Committee member Eva Högl, who belongs to the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), called on Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière to make sure that his ministry and the MAD provided the committee with all the relevant information "immediately and completely." If there is another incident like the Mundlos file, the minister would have to testify himself, she said.
The MAD was also the target of severe criticism on Wednesday. Sebastian Edathy, the head of the Bundestag investigative committee, said he doubted MAD President Birkenheier's statement that the agency had not tried to recruit Mundlos as an informant. He said it was "unbelievable and insensitive, if not malicious" that the agency had kept quiet about the contact between the MAD and Mundlos for half a year. "I consider that a veritable scandal," he said.
The parliamentary groups of the Greens and the Left Party demanded that the MAD and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution be disbanded. Green Party floor leader Jürgen Tritten said that the "only way forward" was to "break up the agencies and start again from scratch with completely new employees." He said it was impossible to reform the intelligence agencies in their current form.
Defense Minister de Maizière admitted that mistakes had been made in his ministry, but said that fundamentally he still stood behind the MAD. From today's perspective, the MAD's behavior in the 1990s had been above board, he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that the circumstances of the NSU murder series would be cleared up. Referring to the MAD incident, she told the Bundestag on Wednesday that the government would do everything "to clear things up." In addition, she said, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich would change the security agency structures so that something like that could not happen again.
'It's Nice When Files Turn Up'
The revelations in Berlin also caused a fuss on the state level. Immediately after the news emerged on Tuesday, Dorothea Marx (SPD), the chairwoman of the NSU investigative committee in the Thuringia state parliament, and her fellow committee members began examining their files for new information. The state Interior Ministry had recently provided them with 600 new documents. "It's nice when files suddenly turn up," said Marx ironically. She added that she had, however, constant doubts that "someone somewhere" might be "deliberately shredding" important material.
The authorities were the target of intense criticism from the members of the Thuringia committee. "The information gaffe once again refutes the authorities' claims that they want transparency and clarification regarding the origin and acts of the NSU," said committee member Katharina König, a Thuringian parliamentarian for the left-wing Left Party.
The trio that made up the NSU, aided by a web of helpers, are believed to have shot dead nine small businessmen of Turkish and Greek origin and one German policewoman in a killing spree that began in 2000. They also apparently injured more than 20 people in two bomb attacks on people of Turkish descent and committed over a dozen bank robberies.
The group came to light by chance last November following a botched bank robbery, after which two of the three founding members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, committed suicide together. The group's only alleged surviving member Beate Zschäpe awaits trial. The case shocked Germany and sparked an intense debate on the dangers of right-wing extremism.
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