Sunday, February 12, 2012
Germany: Spies target left-wing party
Germany’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), has been exposed for spying on left-wing MPs.
German magazine Der Spiegel said on January 23 that the BfV spied on MPs from Germany's biggest left-wing party, the socialist Die Linke ("The Left").
Der Spiegel said the intelligence agency had 27 of Die Linke's members in the Bundestag - more than one third of its federal MPs - and a further 11 members of state parliaments, under surveillance, costing 390,000 euros a year.
The BfV spends about 590,000 euros a year on surveillance of the neo-Nazi German National Party (NPD), linked to violent racist terror groups.
Unlike the marginal NPD, Die Linke is Germany's fifth largest party, with representation in almost every state parliament and in the national Bundestag.
The individuals being spied on weren't "fringe" members either, but leading party members and MPs ― many are in the party’s “moderate” wing.
They include Die Linke's parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi, national co-leader Gesine Lötsch, deputy leader Sahra Wagenknecht, Bundestag vice-president Petra Pau and parliamentary committee members Dietmar Bartsch and Jan Korte.
The biggest surprise, however, was that Steffan Bockhahn was also being spied on. The Die Linke MP sits on the very parliamentary committee designated with overseeing the BfV's funding,
Die Linke has responded to the revelations by calling for the BFV to be disbanded, describing it as a threat to German democracy.
Die Linke spokesperson Gregor Gysi also disputed BfV claims to have used only media coverage for spying.
"They lie", Gysi said, claiming that secret informants were employed to spy on MPs.
Recent events have revived accusations that German security agencies are turning a blind eye to right-wing violence in order to spy on peaceful left wing organisations and activists.
The so-called “Zwickau terror cell” of the neo-Nazi group “National Socialist Underground” (which has close links to the NPD) committed a series of terror attacks between 2000 and 2004 and murdered at least 10 people ― nine Turkish migrants and a police officer ― between 2000 and 2006.
In November 2011 it was revealed that BfV informants and agents had been in close contact with the cell, yet had failed to prevent the murders, or to capture the perpetrators.
A BfV agent was even present during one of the murders, yet the official line was that the murders were being carried out by Turkish gangs.
In fact, German police and security agencies have a long history of associations with the far right.
When the BfV was set up in 1950, many members of the Gestapo and other Nazi secret services were drafted into its ranks, and it continued to work closely with members of the SS, Gestapo and suspected war criminals until the 1970s.
It is a similar story with Germany’s other intelligence and security organisations. In 2007, the Bundeskriminalamt – the Federal Criminal Police – admitted that almost all of its top leaders immediately after WWII were former Nazis and SS members.
Police regularly turn out in force at neo-Nazi marches each February in Dresden and other cities in eastern Germany to “protect” the Nazis from the overwhelmingly peaceful public opposition that outnumbers their marches.
In January 2010, police and security agencies raided Die Linke’s Dresden offices, confiscating computers and all material related to the upcoming anti-Nazi marches being organised out of that office.
Also in 2010, to the German Administrative Court ruled that the BfV spying on Bodo Ramelow – Die Linke leader in the state of Thüringen – was constitutional, overturning the decision of a lower court.
Ramelow has appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court, and the judgment is due later this year.
While the spying scandal has brought condemnation from across the political spectrum – even from members of the governing centre-right Christian Democratic Union – there have been exceptions
The CDU’s arch-conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has defended the actions of the BfV.
German Interior Minister, and CSU member, Hans-Peter Friedrich – responsible for overseeing the BfV’s activities – vehemently defended the spying, accusing Die Linke of being an “unconstitutional” organisation.
In CSU-run Bavaria, calls have also been made to "ban" Die Link on similar grounds, and on January 31 the Mitteldeutscher Zeitung revealed that having a “connection” with Die Linke is currently grounds to bar entry to the Bavarian public service.
Die Linke’s co-leader – the Bavarian unionist Klaus Ernst – criticised the rule, calling for it be overturned and suggesting that the CSU was itself in breach of the constitution.