Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution
|Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV)|
Emblem of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution
|Formed||7 November 1950|
|Jurisdiction||Government of Germany|
|Annual budget||€467 million (2020)|
|Parent agency||Federal Ministry of the Interior|
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (German: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz or BfV, often Bundesverfassungsschutz) is the Federal Republic of Germany's domestic security agency. Together with the Landesämter für Verfassungsschutz (LfV) at the state level, it is tasked with intelligence-gathering on threats concerning the democratic order, the existence and security of the federation or one of its states, and the peaceful coexistence of peoples; with counter-intelligence; and with protective security and counter-sabotage. The BfV reports to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The current President Thomas Haldenwang was appointed in 2018.
The BfV is overseen by the Federal Ministry of the Interior as well as the Bundestag, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information and other federal institutions. The Federal Minister of the Interior has administrative and functional control of the BfV. Parliamentary control is exercised by the Bundestag in general debate, question times and urgent inquires, as well as by its committees, most notably the Parliamentary Control Committee and the G10 Commission. The BfV is also under judicial control and all its activities can be legally challenged in court. Based on the right of information, the general public can direct inquiries and petitions at the BfV.
Unlike some intelligence agencies of other countries, the agents of the German intelligence services, including the BfV, have no police authority. This is due to the history of abusive police power in previous regimes. In particular, they are not allowed to arrest people and do not carry weapons.
- Department Z: Central Services
- Department IT: IT and operational intelligence technology
- Department 1: Basic Issues
- Department 2: Right-wing extremism/Terrorism
- Department 3: Central Operational Support
- Department 4: Counter-espionage, Personnel/Physical Security, Counter-sabotage and Protection Against Industrial Espionage
- Department 5: Extremism of foreigners and Left-wing extremism
- Department 6: Islamic extremism and terrorism
Activities and operations
While the BfV uses all kinds of surveillance technology and infiltration, they mostly use open sources. The BfV publishes a yearly report (Verfassungsschutzbericht) which is intended to raise awareness about anti-constitutional activities.
Main concerns of the BfV are:
- Left-wing political extremists, platforms, movements and parties, notably certain factions within Die Linke, as well as other smaller parties and groups preaching communism
- Right-wing political extremists (mainly Neo-Nazis, including the NPD, DVU political parties, factions within Alternative für Deutschland, and smaller groups preaching Nazism, fascism, racism and xenophobia).
- Extremist organisations of foreigners living in Germany (most prominently Islamist terrorists).
- Cults (Sekten) such as Scientology (considered by the German government an authoritarian, anti-democratic commercial organisation rather than a religion).
- Organised crime is also mentioned as a threat to democracy, law and order, and free enterprise in the country's business economic system. However, organized crime is only marginally, if at all, actively combated by the BfV, as it falls into the responsibility of the normal police, especially the BKA.
In the course of drafting the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany the military governors of the Trizone outlined the competences of federal police and intelligence (Polizeibrief of 14 April 1949). In accordance with this outline the BfV was established on 7 November 1950. At first the BfV was mostly concerned with Neo-Nazism and communist revolutionary activities. Soon the BfV also became involved in counter-espionage.
From the beginning, the BfV was troubled by a number of affairs. First, in the Vulkan affair in April 1953, 44 suspects were arrested and charged with spying on behalf of East Germany (GDR), but were later released as the information provided by the BfV was insufficient to obtain court verdicts. Then, in 1954 the first president of the BfV, Otto John, fled to the GDR. Shortly after that it became public that a number of employees of the BfV had been with the Gestapo during the Third Reich. Nevertheless, material on the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was essential for banning the party by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in August 1956. Over the years, a number of associations and political groups were banned on the basis of materials provided by the BfV.
Since 1972 the BfV is also concerned with activities of foreign nationals in Germany, especially extremists and terrorists who operate in the country or plan their activities there, such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party. One of the major intelligence failures in this field were the riots by supporters of the PKK in 1998, which the BfV missed due to the Cologne carnival.
The counter-intelligence activities of the BfV were mostly directed against the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi), another employer of ex-Gestapo agents. The MfS successfully penetrated the BfV and in a number of affairs destroyed its reputation as a counter-intelligence service by the early 1980s. In this, the MfS profited from the West German border regime which allowed any GDR citizen into the Federal Republic without restrictions.
The failure to detect the activities of the 9/11 conspirators in Germany raised questions about the BfV's capability. The rise of right-wing extremism in Germany, especially in the former GDR, was also partly blamed on the failure to establish working structures there.
The agency was heavily criticised for the destruction of files related to the National Socialist Underground, a Neo-Nazi terror group which led to the resignation of its president Heinz Fromm in 2012.
- Otto John (1 December 1950 – 20 July 1954)
- Hanns Jess (Acting) (26 July 1954 – 31 July 1955)
- Hubert Schrübbers (1 August 1955 – 30 April 1972)
- Günther Nollau (1 May 1972 – 31 August 1975)
- Richard Meier (1 September 1975 – 26 April 1982)
- Heribert Hellenbroich (13 May 1983 – 31 July 1985)
- Ludwig-Holger Pfahls (1 August 1985 – 1 April 1987)
- Gerhard Boeden (9 April 1987 – 28 February 1991)
- Eckart Werthebach (28 February 1991 – 27 July 1995)
- Hansjörg Geiger (1 August 1995 – 15 May 1996)
- Peter Frisch (15 May 1996 – 10 April 2000)
- Heinz Fromm (1 June 2000 – 31 July 2012)
- Hans-Georg Maaßen (1 August 2012 – 8 November 2018)
- Thomas Haldenwang (November 2018 – present)
- "Bundeshaushalt". www.bundeshaushalt.de. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
- "Tasks". Cologne: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- President Thomas Haldenwang
- "Control". Cologne: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- "Organisation". Cologne: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- Friedrich discusses Reform of Constitutional Protection, Text Archive of the German Bundestag from 13 September 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "2011 Annual report on the Protection of the Constitution" (PDF). Berlin: Federal Ministry of the Interior. 2011. p. 13. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "2011 Annual report on the Protection of the Constitution" (PDF). Berlin: Federal Ministry of the Interior. 2011. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Helmut Roewer; Stefan Schäfer; Matthias Uhl, eds. (2003), Lexikon der Geheimdienste im 20. Jahrhundert [Secret Service in the 20th Century Encyclopedia] (in German), Munich: Herbig, pp. 60–63
- Uwe Andersen; Wichard Woyke, eds. (1997), Handwörterbuch des politischen Systems der Bundesrepublik Deutschland [Handbook on the Political System of the Federal Republic of Germany] (in German), Opladen: Leske+Budrich, p. 371
- German Spy Chief Quits over Botched Terror Probe Der Spiegel. Last accessed 12 November 2013.
- Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution
- Heinz Fromm – The Fighter Against Terrorists, Extremists and Russian Spies