Newsletter June 14, 2018

CIA Spying on Germany

The CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community have been actively conducting so-called ‘unilateral’ intelligence collection operations inside the Germany since the end of World War II.

The CIA’s huge ‘German Station’, which was headquartered for most of the 1950s in the massive I.G. Farben Building in downtown Frankfurt, closely monitored every move of the hundreds of Soviet and Eastern European diplomats, as well as activities of the German Communist Party, which CIA analysts believed took its marching orders from Moscow.

These clandestine operations by the CIA were conducted with the knowledge and consent of the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrictendienst (BND), and/or the country’s internal security service, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV). This practice was codified in a secret document called the Contractual Agreement, signed on April 5, 1955 by the chief of the CIA’s German Station, retired U.S. Army Lt. General Lucian K. Truscott, and by Dr. Hans Glöbke, the special assistant for security matters to German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The agreement clearly defined and delineated what sorts of activities the U.S., British and French intelligence services could, and could not, do on German soil.

In reality, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies treated the terms of the Contractual Agreement more as a series of general guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules of behavior. Even after the signing of the Contractual Agreement in 1955, the CIA continued to secretly conduct clandestine intelligence collection and covert action operations inside Germany that were deliberately not disclosed to the German government because these operations were directed at Germany itself and involved knowledge of German intelligence activities as well as a plethora of other information on German business and banking activities.

These operations included the covert suborning of German intelligence, governmental and business entities spying on nearly all aspects of German business and political activities.

The CIA was also conducting a series of highly sensitive unilateral spying targeting the embassies and trade missions of a number of hostile targets, such as the Cuban embassy in Bonn and Iran’s large trade mission in Frankfurt. And the listening posts of the NSA quietly intercepted and decoded much of the diplomatic communications of the West German government right up until the present day

In West Berlin, where the BND never had a presence during most of the Cold War, the CIA’s Berlin Operations Base and a unit of U.S. Army intelligence monitored the activities of all local German politicians. They also tapped the local telephone and telegraph lines and opened all German mail going to and from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as well as all internal governmental and business messaging.

But the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the reunification of Germany in October 1990, and collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 all had a tremendous impact on U.S.-German intelligence relations. Literally overnight, the ties that had closely bound the U.S. and German intelligence communities together throughout the Cold War were dissolved.

The U.S. intelligence community reduced the relatively small amount of data that it shared with the BND, and severely trimmed the financial subsidies that formerly had comprised a significant amount of the German intelligence budget. And in Washington political circles, a unified Germany was now viewed not only as a competitor to U.S. dominance in Europe, but also as an economic rival in global trade markets.

For these reasons, CIA spying inside Germany intensified significantly in the years immediately after the end of the Cold War, with much of the Agency’s focus shifting to German diplomatic, financial and trade relations with countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The CIA’s intensified espionage activities inside Germany did not go unnoticed by the German internal security service, the BfV, which kept a watching eye on CIA case officers based in Germany, quietly noting which German government officials the Agency officers were talking to or had suborned to work for them.

Then an event occurred which changed the way the German viewed the CIA’s espionage activities inside their country. In January 1995, the French government publicly declared persona non grata the CIA station chief in Paris, Richard L. “Dick” Holm, his deputy, and three other CIA case officers, including a female CIA officer who was trying to collect sensitive economic data from a French government official.

France’s move convinced a number of senior German government and intelligence officials that perhaps the time had come to put a stop to the lay down CIA’s comparable economic espionage activities in Germany.

According to a former CIA official, in late 1996 the BfV caught a CIA officer attached to the U.S. embassy in Berlin trying to surreptitiously obtain confidential information about German equipment sales to Iran’s nuclear industry.

The intelligence came from Klaus Dieter von Horn, a high-ranking official with the German Economics Ministry who headed the office in charge of trade relations with Iran. The BfV informed the German government, and Berlin demanded that the CIA officer be expelled from the country for “activities incompatible with his diplomatic post.” This is termed ‘persona non grata.”

A very public diplomatic fracas ensued in March 1997, when the German Foreign Ministry leaked to the German press that they had declared the CIA officer persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country.

Furious efforts by the CIA station chief in Berlin at the time, Floyd L. Paseman, to convince the German government to rescind the expulsion order failed to achieve the desired result, and the CIA was forced to put the officer on a plane back to Washington.

Following this debacle, two years later in September 1999, the CIA was forced to recall three of its undercover case officers stationed at the U.S. consulate in Munich who were caught by the BfV.

The American spies had been trying to recruit another German government official with access to sensitive economic information.

According to a former German security official, two of the CIA officers were what are referred to within the CIA as NOCs (non-official cover agents), posing as a husband-wife team of American businessmen trying to collect information about German high-tech companies based in and around Munich.

The German Foreign Ministry wanted the CIA’s Chief of Station in Berlin, David Edgar, declared persona non grata and expelled from the country in order to send a sharp message to Washington that Berlin would not tolerate any more unauthorized behavior by the CIA. But the German Foreign Ministry was overruled, and Edgar was allowed to remain at his post until he rotated back to the U.S. in 2001.

In spite of these actions on the part of an angered German government, it is clear that the CIA’s clandestine operations have not been curtailed in any meaningful way, despite American governmental repeated public pledges to impose restrictions on these sorts of activities.

And perhaps more importantly, given the massive amount of publicity given to the recent revelations about NSA spying inside Germany, why was this particular operation authorized in the first place? Is finding out what the German parliament is doing behind closed doors about the Snowden revelations worth the price of causing irreparable harm to U.S. diplomatic, economic and intelligence relations with Germany?

In the summer of 2011, the CIA station chief in Berlin asked one of the most powerful intelligence officials in Germany to go on a private walk with him, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reports. The American spy had an important message to convey: one of Germany’s own senior officials was leaking information to the press.

The suspected leaker, Hans Josef Vorbeck, had been in contact with Spiegel, the station chief told the German official, Günter Heiss. Head of Division 6, Heiss is responsible for coordinating Germany’s intelligence services. Vorbeck was his deputy.

In late 2010, Spiegel magazine became target of CIA anger by publishing thousands of classified cables provided by WikiLeaks. The cables detailed evidence of potential war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Iraq and revealed the grinding day-to-day toll of the United States’ war in Afghanistan. The U.S. government responded to the leaks by launching a Department of Justice investigation.

Several months later, in the summer of 2011, the CIA apparently identified an alleged source of leaks within the German government and tried to shut it down. Citing CIA and NSA documents, as well as three independent government sources in both Berlin and Washington D.C., the CIA station chief specifically identified the magazine as the center of the alleged leaking.

The Obama administration developed a reputation for aggressively investigating journalists and their confidential sources in cases involved leaked national security information — serving subpoenas for phone records linked to reporters at major news organizations investigating sensitive CIA stories, dragging a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist through a multi-year legal battle in an effort to reveal an alleged government source, and applying the Espionage Act to target whistleblowers leaking to journalists more times than every previous administration combined.

At Ramstein Air Base — one of the largest U.S. military intelligence installations abroad — Germany has played a crucial supporting role in the United States’ ‘global war on terror’. It has been publicly confirmed that Ramstein serves as a key element in Washington’s controversial targeted killing operations against Syrian civilians.

And this role continued, in spite of the revelation that in 2013, leaked NSA documents indicating that the U.S. intelligence agency had eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone strained relations between the countries. Leaked NSA documents published by WikiLeaks and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, included a list of nearly 70 phone and fax numbers purporting to show that U.S. surveillance of its purported ally has in fact included a broad circle of German officials beyond the chancellor.


US linked domestic intelligence in Germany   after 1945

BGS   Bundesgrenzschutz

Federal Border Guard of (West) Germany after WWII. Renamed in July 2005 to Bundespolizei (Federal Police) or BPOL.

BKA   Bundeskriminalamt

Federal Criminal Police Office.

BND   Bundesnachrichtendienst

The BND is the German Foreign Intelligence Agency, established in 1956 as the successor to Organisation Gehlen (OG). The BND is known within the CIA by its code name CASCOPE.

BPOL   Bundespolizei

Federal Police force of Germany, after renaming the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS) to Bundespolizei (BPOL).

BSI   Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik

Federal Office for Information Security.

BfV  Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz

Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution

LfV   Landesämter für Verfassungsschutz (16 units)

State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (one in each of the federal states). The activities are coordinated by the BfV.

MAD   Militärischer Abschirmdienst

Military Counter-intelligence Service (Military Screening Service).

OG   Organisation Gehlen

Also known as ORG. West-German secret intelligence agency, established in June 1946 by US occupation authorities in the US Zone of Germany. The agency consisted of former members of the 12th Department of the German Army General Staff (Foreign Armies East) and carried the name of Wehrmacht major Reinhard Gehlen, who had been head of German military intelligence in the Eastern section during WWII. After much criticism for hiring former Nazis, the organization was dissolved into the current Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) on 1 April 1956. Reinhard Gehlen stayed on as president of the organisation until his retirement in 1968.

ORG   Organisation Gehlen OG