Photo Gallery: Questions Raised by a Neo-Nazi Mole

Foto: Oliver Berg/ picture alliance / dpa

Neo-Nazi Mole Could the NSU Murders Have Been Prevented?

For years, Michael von Dolsperg provided German intelligence with information from the neo-Nazi scene. But when the NSU terror trio came to light, his file was shredded. Why? Could details he provided have prevented the murder spree?

The sprawling wooden house, surrounded by a few out-buildings, stands out vividly against the snowy landscape. It is called "Snaret" -- in English: "Grove." Michael von Dolsperg moved to this remote corner of Sweden's Värmland County from Lower Saxony 12 years ago. The mailbox on the main road is three and half kilometers (2.2 miles) away and the nearest bakery is in Filipstad, 25 kilometers distant. At night, wolves sometimes prowl cross the yard. For someone looking to turn their back on the past, it is a perfect spot.

For many years, Snaret was Dolsperg's own patch of wilderness paradise. Young people from all over Europe came to camp on his property. But last October, he was rudely awoken from his dream of a quiet life in the country.

Now, he keeps a wooden club next to his bed. Not because of the wolves, but because of German neo-Nazis out for revenge. Before Michael von Dolsperg, 39, moved to the Swedish outback, he was an informant for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency. His alias was Tarif.

Blonde and bearded, Dolsperg stands next to his cast-iron stove and lights a cigarette. He gazes out through the kitchen window at the forest. One evening, his phone rang. "We're coming soon," breathed a voice down the line. Dolsperg immediately took down the signpost to his house on the main road, but the phone call left him shaken. "I know from the past that the neo-Nazi scene is well-networked in Sweden," he says. "They know exactly where I am."

The fact that Dolsperg's informant past has now been exposed is a disaster for German intelligence as well. Tarif wasn't just a run-of-the-mill mole in the neo-Nazi scene. His case raises a number of questions about the investigation into the NSU neo-Nazi terrorist group, which murdered 10 people between 2000 and 2006. One question stands out above all: Why did Tarif's file mysteriously disappear from the BfV archive?

At 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, a head of unit in the department dedicated to far-right extremism, logged into the BfV's computer system. The man code-named "Lothar Lingen" selected seven files from a total of 37 dossiers on "Research and Recruitment" and marked them for shredding.

Highly Fraught Cooperation

It was the same day, NSU member Beate Zschäpe turned herself into the police. Four days earlier, the other two members of the trio had committed suicide, with Uwe Mundlos shooting Uwe Böhnhardt before turning his Winchester on himself. It was the moment when Germans began to realize that a right-wing extremist group existed in their midst -- one that had, unnoticed by security officials, murdered nine people with immigrant backgrounds and a policewoman.

Seven months later, the shredding of this and other vitally important files came to the attention of the public. Heinz Fromm, the head of the BfV, was forced to resign. The shredded dossiers all involved informants in the neo-Nazi scene -- spies engaged in a highly fraught cooperation between domestic intelligence, the Military Counterintelligence Service and Thuringian state intelligence. This collaborative effort, geared toward collecting information about the cell and its associates, was named "Operation Rennsteig."

Even though Tarif (Dolsperg) was not part of Operation Rennsteig, his file was also destroyed by Lothar Lingen on that afternoon in November. It included reports on the informant's meetings with his handler at the BfV. Just how important a source Tarif was is illustrated by the fees he was paid for his services between late 1994 and 2001: 66,000 deutschmarks (approx. €34,000), a significant sum for informants.

It is standard practice at the BfV to get rid of files deemed "no longer relevant" after specific time periods. There is a five year term and a 10 year term. But exactly which files remain "relevant" and which do not is a discretionary matter. Neither Hans-Georg Engelke, the special investigator appointed by the Interior Ministry, nor the NSU parliamentary investigation committee, ever found out why the files were destroyed. Lothar Lingen from the department for far-right extremism invoked the right to remain silent. The shredding of the files is particularly baffling in the light of Heinz Fromm's appeal three days earlier that files be re-examined for references to the NSU.

With the Tarif file apparently lost for good, much of what Michael von Dolsperg has to say about his past as an informant is all the more extraordinary. If his account is to be believed, the BfV had good reason to destroy the paper trail.

When Dolsperg was recruited by the BfV, he was deeply involved in the militant, far-right scene. Born in Leinefelde in Thuringia to a mother who was a teacher and a father who was a telecommunications engineer, he had first joined the ranks of neo-Nazi groups as a young man in communist East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he moved to Lower Saxony and hooked up with the Free German Workers' Party (FAP), which was banned in 1995. Pictures from this period show him sporting a brown shirt, red armband and short hair. He was even photographed in an SS uniform. He organized events with World War II veterans, preferably former SS and SA officers.

Hero's Welcome

Violence and agitation against his political opponents was as much part of his life as bomber jackets and jackboots. In November 1991, he and two other assailants attacked a man and his son so brutally outside a discotheque in Nordhausen that both victims had to be admitted to hospital in life-threatening condition. He was sentenced to three and half years behind bars but was released early.

He was given a hero's welcome in jail, recalls Dolsperg, and met met many like-minded people inside. Seventeen at the time, he was looked after by nationalist prisoner aid organizations and became a member of the International Aid Committee for the Politically Persecuted (IHV).

The next phase of Dolsperg's radicalization took place in jail, and saw him become one of the strategic masterminds of the neo-Nazi scene -- and landed him on the radar of the BfV's "Research and Recruitment" department. Upon his release from prison, he organized Rudolf Hess marches and became the leader of the local chapter of "Aktion sauberes Deutschland" (the Clean Up Germany initiative) and of the IHV. Thorsten Heise, head of the FAP in Lower Saxony and a leading figure in the neo-Nazi scene, became one of his closest confidantes. Heise's hobby was to go hunting for treasure with a metal detector, and Dolsperg began accompanying him. "Once we found a headscarf decorated with swastikas and Nazi party symbols," he remembers. Slowly, Dolsperg gained entry into the inner circle of the German neo-Nazi scene, building up a network that extended far beyond the borders of Lower Saxony.

He says that he came to his senses in 1994, when he was detained by police so as to prevent his participation in a demonstration. "I wanted to get a job and get out," he recalls. In a letter to the Interior Ministry he asked for help in leaving the neo-Nazi scene and offered his services as an informant.

Shortly thereafter, Dolsperg met BfV officer "Alex," who later became his buddy and his handler. One evening in November 1994, he says, two men showed up in front of him outside a store in Heiligenstadt and invited him to dinner. Over a meal, they asked him if he could imagine working for the BfV. "They didn't want me to leave the scene, but to stay put," says Dolsperg. "At first, I couldn't believe what they were saying."

"What happens if my cover's blown?" he asked them.

"We protect our sources and we have a duty to look after them," replied Alex. "You would get a new name and a new identity." Alex also told him he should carry on publishing the Sonnenbanner Neo-Nazi pamphlet. It would help him maintain his cover, he said.

Other than Dolsperg's testimony, no evidence of this conversation exists. The BfV refused to comment on Dolsperg's version of events.

What is clear, however, is that the young man remained active in the neo-Nazi scene and published a further 19 editions of Sonnenbanner, most of which he insists appeared under the watchful eyes of the BfV. He ended up under investigation for circulating hate propaganda after the last edition, published in 2001.

"The BfV got to see every edition before it went to press," he says, and insists he was never asked to make any changes. Only once did Alex, whom he describes as a slim, reddish blonde type not much older than himself, express reservations about the cover of the double issue 14/15 in 1998 showing a man hanging at the gallows. "He had a sign hanging round his neck with the word 'pedophile' on it, and in front of him was a man with a red armband crossing a name off a list," says Dolsperg. Alex allegedly told him that he should change the cover to avoid trouble, and he took his advice. He says that he paid for the pamphlet with his earnings as an informant, which amounted to between 500 and 600 deutschmarks a month.

'Strategies for the Future'

For the BfV, Dolsperg's allegations are profound. Did the domestic intelligence office really help him publish a far-right propaganda pamphlet, and give it its blessing? Appearing three to four times a year at irregular intervals, the Sonnenbanner was a highly influential publication in the neo-Nazi milieu.

These days, the BfV would never stand by and allow one of its informants to feed the scene with propaganda material. After the NSU debacle, such a state of affairs would be "unthinkable," according to insider sources.

Its readership included Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. In 1998, police seized a copy of issue #2 in the garage in Jena where the two terrorists had hidden their pipe bombs. The edition included an article on "Strategies for the Future." "It must be obvious to all of you that we are instantly identifiable if we go around in uniforms and skinhead cuts," wrote Dolsperg. "The logical consequence should be to keep the way we dress as neutral as possible." He also exhorted readers to refrain from making political statements in public on "topics the media can seize upon and distort" and advised them to "form cells by joining forces with small groups of others." In retrospect, the article reads like an instruction manual for the life in the underground that Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe led for almost 14 years. They dressed inconspicuously, never expressed extremist views and formed a cell.

Michael von Dolsperg has spread out a series of photographs on his kitchen table. They were taken at "song evenings" he organized in 1996 and 1997. One of them was held at the "zum Grünen Wald" pub in Weilrode, with Oliver P. from the skinhead band "Hauptkampflinie" putting in a special appearance. Dolsperg is scouring the pictures for Böhnhardt and Mundlos, who were supposed to have visited the pub on at least one occasion. He fails to find them, but lingers over one photograph of André K., a close friend of his at the time. A chubby man, he was an activist with the Thuringian Homeland Protection (THS) and the organizer of the Nazi pow wow, the Festival of Nations.

"We talked on the phone a lot and spent time at each other's houses," remembers Dolsperg. "I would got to Thuringia for demonstrations and events and he would come to my song evenings with a few friends."

In 1998, just after Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe had gone underground, André K. allegedly asked Dolsperg if he would consider hiding the wanted neo-Nazis. "I told him I needed a bit of time to think about it and called my handler, says Dolsperg. Alex told him he would discuss the matter with his superiors.

If Dolsperg is telling the truth, the BfV could have made a decision that would have delayed, if not prevented, the NSU's murderous campaign.

It is a plausible account. As early as 1996, the state police in Thuringia described Uwe Mundlos and André K. in an internal memo as leading members of Jena's far-right scene. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office investigation, André K. later raised money for the fugitives and discussed their situation with Ralf Wohlleben, who would later become a NPD official and come under suspicion of having assisted the cell.

Blown Cover

"Had I found the cell somewhere to stay and an arrest had ensued, may cover would have been blown," says Dolsperg today. "And domestic intelligence would have lost one of their sources." This appears to have been how the BfV saw it. Alex called Dolsperg and told him to say no to André K.'s request.

K. denies ever having asked Dolsperg for help hiding the members of the cell, maintaining that he had long since lost touch with him by then. The photograph of him at the "zum Grünen Wald" pub casts doubt on his testimony, however, since it was taken only a few months before the trio went underground.

The BfV says there is no evidence supporting Dolsperg's account. The intelligence office has reconstructed 280 pages of the shredded file on Tarif by drawing on summaries created by the analysis department. Members of the NSU investigative committee were allowed to see the material and found a note indicating that Tarif had been asked to keep an eye out for the cell members -- but nothing whatsoever that gives weight to Dolsperg's statement.

Officially, the BfV refused to comment on its former informant's version of events and said it would only issue a rebuttal after SPIEGEL published it. On Sunday, after the magazine hit the newsstands, the BfV reitereated to Die Welt that "according to the files available," Tarif's version of events is unsubstantiated.

Ultimately, it is one man's claim against the BfV's quasi-denial. But Dolsperg's account raises more than one question.

When the Bundestag's investigative committee sought to clarify how Lothar Lingen came across the file on Tarif, it was told that he used search terms such as "Thuringia," "Thuringian Homeland Protection" and "THS" because this was the NSU cell's stomping ground. But when special investigator Engelke repeated the search, he found 33 search results, but the Tarif file was not among them. What prompted Lothar Lingen to destroy the file? Engelke believes that he must have had a vague recollection of Tarif.

Up for Sale

Michael von Dolsperg has sorted out his photographs from the 1990s. He says that he deeply regrets his past as a neo-Nazi, especially the life-threatening beating he gave the two men outside the club in Nordhausen. Today he rejects violence. His move to the Swedish outback 12 years ago was a way of distancing himself from the far-right scene. He says that he fed domestic intelligence information about demonstrations and events organized by "dangerous and aggressive" neo-Nazis for his country. The pathos in that statement is difficult to ignore.

So how credible is this former informant, whose statements add another layer of complexity to the NSU puzzle? He has reason enough to avenge himself against the BfV. When SPIEGEL called him at home in Sweden in September 2012 to talk to him about his days as an informant, he asked for a day to consider. He says that, after the call, he contacted Alex for the first time in 10 years. Alex called back immediately and told him that he should on no account agree to the interview. Dolsperg followed his advice.

A few weeks later, the erstwhile mole traveled to Bavaria to meet Alex. The BfV had rented a conference room in a hotel and Alex was accompanied by two officers from the agency. They promised that he would be put in a witness protection program were SPIEGEL to report on his story. Dolsperg also maintains that they discussed André K.'s request all those years ago that he hide the NSU cell members. He says that his impression was that all three of the men present were aware of it.

At the time, SPIEGEL chose not to run the story. A year later, public broadcaster ARD aired a report about Dolsperg. "It was a blow," he says. Again, he got in touch with the BfZ and met up with agency officers on the beach in the Baltic Sea resort of Warnemünde. On a ferry ride, they told him what would happen next: There would be more meetings, he would be issued with papers and he would have to break off all contact with his girlfriend and family. He would have to go temporarily abroad and would then be able to begin a new life in either Germany or Sweden. Dolsperg maintains he agreed to everything.

But in November, the intelligence agency made an abrupt about-face, apparently on orders from the very top.

These days, Dolsperg rarely stays the night at home in Snaret and when he does, he keeps his wooden club at arm's length. He's put his property up for sale.

Translated from the German by Jane Paulick