Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country's domestic intelligence agency, has admitted to destroying additional files related to investigations on the right-wing extremist scene. A new agency report discloses that six files from secret wiretapping operations were destroyed in response to a Nov. 14, 2011 order from the Federal Interior Ministry in Berlin. The order came just days after revelations that the right-wing terror cell known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was responsible for the murders of nine small businessmen of Turkish and Greek origin.
The new incident once again exposes the seemingly chaotic state of the investigation into the murderous right-wing trio. For weeks, the BfV has been under public scrutiny after it became known that a senior agency official had shredded several files on his own initiative relating to informants in the right-wing scene just days after the NSU cell was discovered. The episode, referred to in the German press as the "Confetti Affair," has cost agency head Heinz Fromm his job.
The BfV says that the two incidents are unrelated and that the deleted files were of no great importance. According to three agency reports, all of which have been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, none of the lost data contained information relating to the NSU trio. The reports say that the files concerned separate investigations into the right-wing scene. Still, the admission and the timing of the deletions are likely to raise new questions about the agency's professionalism and the effectiveness of its leaders.
Germany's Interior Ministry, which oversees the BfV, claims that the destructions of the files were routine and justified the act as being in adherence to rules governing the length of time that surveillance files are allowed to be kept. That the files were destroyed so soon after the NSU trio was uncovered, the Ministry says, is mere coincidence -- a claim seemingly substantiated by the fact that the Interior Ministry informed the parliamentary committee investigating the Confetti Affair about the deletions of its own accord at the beginning of this week.
Deepest Crisis in its History
The new agency reports are to be discussed at a special session of the parliamentary committee on Thursday morning. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich is scheduled to brief the committee on the destroyed files. Friedrich repeated on Wednesday his commitment to an extensive investigation into the BfV's handling of the right-wing terror case. Months of revelations uncovering serious BfV errors during its investigation of the murder spree -- which lasted from 2000 to 2007 -- have plunged the agency into the deepest crisis in its history.
According to agency documents, the destroyed files related to six surveillance operations in the right-wing scene. One had to do with the formation of a right-wing group to target political opponents in the eastern state of Brandenburg. Another focused on a separate group established to distribute right-wing propaganda. And still another related to a possible presentation by right-wing extremist talking head Horst Mahler, who planned to read from a manifesto at the former concentration camp in Auschwitz in the summer of 2003. The NSU trio did not play a part in any of the surveillance operations.
BfV research also sheds light on the circumstances surrounding last week's sudden resignation of Reinhard Boos, head of domestic intelligence in the eastern state of Saxony. Boos had asked to be replaced by August 1 after it emerged that transcripts of telephone conversations within the right-wing scene wiretapped by his agency in 1998 had recently come to light. The transcripts put enormous pressure on Boos, who had previously guaranteed Saxony's state parliament that the responsible state investigative committee had been provided with all relevant documents.
The documents in Saxony include 163 pages of transcripts from BfV wiretaps of conversations between suspected members of the neo-Nazi rock bank "Landser," the first band to ever be classified as a criminal organization by Germany's Federal Court of Justice. The conversations were recorded between June 1998 and April 1999. But, for six months, surveillance activities also focused on Jan W., who was briefly suspected of having provided the terror trio with weapons. However, BfV officials said that they hadn't found any evidence pointing toward involvement with the NSU and that they were only able to determine that W. had been selling outlawed Landser CDs.
As part of their eavesdropping operations, investigators were interested in gathering information on the underground NSU trio, which would later go on its murder spree across Germany. After receiving an informant's tip from their intelligence colleagues in the state of Brandenburg that Jan W., a Chemnitz-based neo-Nazi, might be in contact with the three extremists who had slipped off the radar, officials in Saxony decided they wanted to eavesdrop on W. as well.
Then, however, they learned from BfV officials that W. was already under surveillance because of his affiliation with Landser as part of an operation known as "AO 774." Federal officials supplied their colleagues in Saxony with several transcripts of their eavesdropping activities.
For intelligence officials, investigations into the files have become increasingly embarrassing. The documents make clear just how chaotic the situation related to purging and exchanging files had become. This has resulted, for example, in discrepancies between the list of files that BfV officials sent to Saxony and the list of those that have now turned up there.
These new reports might very well lead the parliamentarians on the investigative committee to wonder whether additional files with possible relevance to the NSU trio have also been destroyed. One list itemizing the deleted files indicates that a comparatively large number of dossiers related to right-wing extremism were destroyed after the terror cell had resurfaced. The itemization says that there were seven cases of document destruction in November 2011, 12 for December and seven more in early 2012.
For its own part, the BfV doesn't view these newly discovered cases of document destruction as mistakes. Instead, it presents them as completely routine instances of file purging. In a document signed by Fromm, the outgoing head of the BfV, the organization points out that, given Jan W.'s potential tie to the NSU trio, it had sent two additional unredacted transcriptions to the state of Thuringia with hints pointing toward a possible secret hideout for the trio. The document gives no indication as to how or whether these potentially significant clues were followed up on.
For the time being, the BfV has put a halt to destroying any more files relating to similar surveillance operations. In his brief on the new findings, Fromm writes that, on July 4, 2012 and "on its own initiative," his office ordered a halt to the destruction of any dossiers related to investigations into right-wing extremists.