Israel leaked video that brought down Austrian government, says German ex-spy chief

Strache GudenusIsraeli intelligence was likely behind the leaked video that brought down the far-right governing coalition in Austria on Monday, according to the former deputy director of Germany’s spy agency. The surreptitiously recorded video was leaked to two German media outlets on May 17, days before Austrian voters participated in the continent-wide elections for the European Union. In the video, two senior members of Austria’s governing far-right Freedom Party are seen conversing with an unnamed woman posing as a Russian investor. The two men in the video were Heinz-Christian Strache, the the Freedom Party’s leader and until recently Austria’s Vice Chancellor, and Johannes Gudenus, the party’s deputy leader and a member of parliament. In the video, Gudenus and Strache promise to award the woman’s firm state contracts if her uncle —a Russian oligarch— purchases an Austrian newspaper and uses it to support the Freedom Party. The video threw Austria’s political system into disarray and prompted the resignations of both Strache and Gudenus. On Monday, Austria’s Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was removed from power during a special parliamentary session in Vienna.

But the question is who leaked the video, and why? In an article in the Cicero, a monthly political magazine based in Berlin, a former senior official in Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) argues that Israeli intelligence was probably behind the leak. The article’s author is Rudolf Adam, who served as deputy director of the BND from 2001 to 2004, before serving as president of the Federal Academy for Security Policy of the German Ministry of Defense. Adam argues that the actions of Strache and Gudenus, as shown in the leaked video, seem “half mafia-like and half-treasonable”, and that the two should face legal consequences. But he goes on to ask “a far more interesting question”, namely “who is behind this intrigue [and] what were the intentions of its initiators?”. Adam points out that nothing is known about the woman in the video; she reportedly met Gudenus several months before the video was filmed. She posed as the Latvian niece of a Russian oligarch with ties to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. In exchanges that lasted for several months, the woman told Gudenus that she planned to move with her daughter to Vienna and was interested in investment opportunities. She eventually invited him and Strache to a meeting in a villa in the Spanish resort island of Ibiza. It was there where the video was recorded. Read more of this post

German chancellor inaugurates world’s largest spy agency headquarters in Berlin

BND GermanyThe chancellor of Germany has officially inaugurated the largest headquarters of any spy agency in the world. Last Friday, Angela Merkel led the public ceremony that marked the opening of the Zentrale des Bundesnachrichtendienstes, which is the new headquarters of the German Federal Intelligence Service. Known by the initials BND, the agency operates as Germany’s primary foreign intelligence service. It employs close to 7,000 people in more than 300 locations around the world, and its annual budget is approximately €1 billion ($1.13 billion).

Until recently, the BND was headquartered in the outskirts Munich, in the southern German state of Bavaria. But as of last week, the spy agency has officially moved to its new headquarters in downtown Berlin. The massive new complex is located in the German capital’s affluent Mitte district, just a stone’s throw from a section of what used to be the Berlin War —a major symbol of the Cold War. The new complex spans 3 million sq. ft., making it the largest headquarters of any intelligence agency in the world. The United States Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters at Langley, Virginia, comes a close second. Construction on the site in Mitte began in 2006 and was initially scheduled for completion in 2011, but was finally finished in 2017, 12 years after it began. It cost approximately €1 billion ($1.13 billion). British newspaper The Guardian reports that the new complex consists of 20,000 tons of steel and has 14,000 windows and 12,000 doors. The land on which the new BND headquarters is built used to be the site of police barracks, until it was heavily damaged by bombing carried out by the Allied forces in 1945. Following the partition of Germany, East German authorities built a sports complex and stadium on the site, which was demolished in 1999, in preparation for Germany’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.

According to reports in the German media, just over 3,000 BND employees have already relocated from Munich to the new BND headquarters, while another 800 are expected to relocate there in the coming year. During her speech on Friday, Chancellor Merkel said that the world was becoming “increasingly confusing”, which made the need for a “strong and efficient [German] foreign intelligence service […] more urgent than ever”. Interestingly, the new complex features a sizeable visitor’s center that is open to the public, making the BND the world’s first foreign intelligence agency with a public-access visitors’ facility.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 February 2019 | Permalink

Nazi official Heinrich Himmler’s daughter worked for West German intelligence

Heinrich Himmler Gudrun BurwitzThe daughter of Heinrich Himmler, who was second in command in the German Nazi Party until the end of World War II, worked for West German intelligence in the 1960s, it has been confirmed. Gudrun Burwitz was born Gudrun Himmler in 1929. During the reign of Adolf Hitler, her father, Heinrich Himmler, commanded the feared Schutzstaffel, known more commonly as the SS. Under his command, the SS played a central part in administering the Holocaust, and carried out a systematic campaign of extermination of millions of civilians in Nazi-occupied Europe. But the Nazi regime collapsed under the weight of the Allied military advance, and on May 20, 1945, Himmler was captured alive by Soviet troops. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to a British-administered prison, where, just days later, he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule that he had with him. Gudrun, who by that time was nearly 16 years old, managed to escape to Italy with her mother, where she was captured by American forces. She testified in the Nuremberg Trials and was eventually released in 1948. She settled with her mother in northern West Germany and lived away from the limelight of publicity until her death on May 24 of this year, aged 88.

Late last Thursday, an article in the German tabloid newspaper Bild revealed for the first time that Burwitz worked for West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in the early 1960s. The BND continues to operate today as reunited Germany’s main external intelligence agency. According to Bild, Himmler’s daughter had a secretarial post at the BND’s headquarters in Pullach, where the spy agency was headquartered for most of its existence. The paper said that Burwitz managed to be hired by the BND by using an assumed name. In a rare public statement, the BND’s chief archivist, Bodo Hechelhammer, confirmed Bild’s allegations. The archivist, who serves as one of the BND’s official historians, told the newspaper that Burwitz “was an employee of the BND for a number of years, until 1963”, working “under an assumed name”. She was dismissed once the BND began to purge former Nazis from its staff, toward the end of the tenure of its first director, Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen was a former general and military intelligence officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht, who had considerable experience in anti-Soviet and anti-communist operations. In 1956, in the context of the Cold War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which acted as the BND’s parent organization, appointed him as head of the organization, a post which he held from until 1968.

It is believed that Burwitz remained a committed Nazi until the end of her life. She doggedly defended her father’s name and insisted that the Holocaust was an Allied propaganda ploy. It is also believed that she was a prominent member of Stille Hilfe (Silent Help), an underground group of leading former Nazis, which was established in 1945 to help SS officers and other Nazi officials escape prosecution for war crimes. Several German experts on neo-Nazi groups have alleged that Burwitz continued to attend neo-Nazi events and SS reunions throughout Europe, some as recently as 2014. Burwitz is believed to have died in Munich.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 July 2018 | Permalink

NATO obtained Soviet Novichok nerve agents through German intelligence in 1990s

Sergei SkripalSome North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states obtained access to the Soviet Union’s so-called ‘Novichok’ nerve agents in the 1990s, through an informant recruited by German intelligence, according to reports. NATO countries refer to ‘Novichok-class’ nerve agents to describe a series of weaponized substances that were developed by the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia from the early 1970s to at least 1993. They are believed to be the deadliest nerve agents ever produced, but Moscow denies their very existence. A type of Novichok agent, described by British scientists as A234, is said to have been used in March of this year by the person or persons who tried to kill Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s and has been living in England ever since he was released from a Russian prison in 2010.

On Thursday, two German newspapers, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, and two regional public radio broadcasters, WDR and NDR, said that the NATO alliance has had access to the chemical composition of Novichok nerve agents since the period immediately following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Specifically, the reports claimed that the access was gained through a Russian scientist who became an informant for the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND. The scientist struck a deal with the BND: he provided the spy agency with technical information about the Novichok agents in exchange for safe passage to the West for him and his immediate family. Initially, the German government was reluctant to get its hands on material that was —and remains— classified as a weapon of mass destruction by international agencies. But eventually it asked for the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agents and even acquired samples from the Russian informant.

According to media reports, the BND proceeded to share information about the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agents with key NATO allies, including Sweden, France, Britain and the United States. The sharing of such a sensitive substance was approved by the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, said the reports. In the following years, a handful of NATO countries proceeded to produce what media reports described as “limited quantities” of Novichok agents, reportedly in order to experiment with various defense measures against them and to produce antidotes. Russia has denied accusations that it was implicated in Skripal’s poisoning and has argued that other countries, some of them NATO members, have the capacity to produce Novichok agents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2018 | Permalink

German spy officials dismiss calls to create European intelligence agency

European UnionGermany’s two most senior intelligence officials have dismissed suggestions by European officials and leaders, including the president of France, to create a Europe-wide intelligence agency. The numerous deadly attacks carried out by Islamic State supporters across Europe in recent years have given rise to calls from various quarters for the establishment of a new intelligence service that would combine resources from every member-state of the European Union. Last month, the European Union’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that the time had come for Europe to be “ambitious and bold, to overcome the security taboos of the past and finally work in order to build a European intelligence system”. He went on to say that, had there been sufficient “cooperation, information sharing and exchanging” between the various European intelligence services, “maybe some of these tragic events could have been predicted and prevented”. Avramopoulos’ remarks were echoed last week by France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron. Speaking at Sorbonne University in Paris, France’s head of state said that the creation of a European Intelligence Agency would “strengthen links between our countries” and prevent emerging security threats.

But these calls were rebuffed this week in Berlin, where Germany’s two most senior intelligence officials rejected any and all calls for the creation of a European intelligence service. The officials are Bruno Kahl, director of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, and Hans-Georg Maaßen, who heads the country’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, known as the BfV. The two men spoke before a special session of the Intelligence Oversight Committee of the German Federal Parliament, known as the Bundestag. The BND’s Kahl said Europe already had an intelligence-based early-warning center, known as the European Union Intelligence and Situation Center (EU INTCEN). He argued that there was “no need for a European intelligence agency or any other supplemental Europe-wide intelligence organization” and added that “intelligence is better organized on the national level”. He was backed by BfV’s Maaßen, who warned that the creation of a European intelligence service would “create additional bureaucratic structures, both on the European and domestic levels”, which would “profoundly lower our efficiency”.

The two German intelligence officials said that cooperation between European Union member-states had improved substantially in the past few years, and that the current model of bilateral exchange was “the most efficient […] and quickest way to share information”. The current system of inter-agency coordination would be weakened if a European intelligence service was created, according to the two men.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October | Permalink

Germany’s celebrity spy Werner Mauss on trial for multi-million dollar tax evasion

Werner MaussGermany’s most famous living spy is on trial this week for hiding assets totaling $50 million in offshore bank accounts. He claims the money was given to him by unspecified “Western intelligence agencies” for his services. Werner Mauss became widely known in 1997, when he was arrested in Colombia for using a forged passport. He had traveled to the Latin American country to secure the release of a German woman who had been kidnapped by leftist guerrillas. The Colombian authorities eventually released him, following heavy diplomatic pressure from the German government. But the German media began investigating his background, and it soon became apparent that he was working for the German Federal Intelligence Service.

Following his unmasking in 1997, Mauss enjoyed celebrity status in Germany. Published accounts of his exploits claim that he was directly involved in neutralizing over 100 criminal gangs and that his work led to the capture of 2,000 criminals and spies. Mauss also claims to have helped prevent dangerous chemical substances from falling into the hands of terrorist groups, and that he stopped the Italian Mafia from killing Pope Benedict. Last year, however, Mauss saw his celebrity status diminish after the German government charged him with tax evasion. German prosecutors uncovered several overseas bank accounts belonging to him, which they said contained tens of millions of dollars in hidden income. They alleged that Mauss used the funds to finance a luxurious lifestyle centered on expensive overseas holidays, luxury cars, expensive gifts to women, as well as a private jet.

On Monday, the 77-year-old Mauss made his final plea in a lengthy court case concerning two of his off-shore accounts, located in UBS bank branches in the Bahamas and Luxembourg. The prosecution alleges that he failed to pay tax on assets totaling in excess of $50 million in the decade between 2002 and 2012 alone. Additionally, it is claimed that Mauss traveled from Germany to Luxembourg several times a year, to withdraw approximately $330,000 in cash per month from his secret accounts. But the accused former spy claims that the money was given to him by “Western intelligence agencies” in return for his services against international crime and terrorism, and that he should not have to pay taxes on it. In previous court appearances, he claimed that the money was not his, but belonged to various Western intelligence agencies and he simply used it to carry out intelligence operations.

The trial continues. If Mauss is convicted, he could spend nearly seven years in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 September 2017 | Permalink

German intelligence agency spied on thousands of targets in the United States

BND GermanyThe foreign intelligence service of Germany spied on at least 4,000 targets in the United States from 1998 until 2006, according to a leaked document published yesterday by leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. The German investigative weekly said that the surveillance was carried out by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND. The Hamburg-based magazine claimed to have in its possession a list of approximately 4,000 “selector keywords”, unique distinguishing terms, addresses or numbers that identify individual targets for surveillance. The list allegedly includes names, telephone or fax numbers, and email addresses of people that the BND had identified as worthy of individual attention between 1998 and 2006.

According to Der Spiegel, the list of targets in the United States includes officials in the White House, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State. Their work and private phone numbers, and often emails, are listed in the BND document. The latter also focuses on the American military sector, paying particular attention to the US Air Force and the Marine Coprs. Other targets include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Pentagon’s intelligence organization. In addition to US government targets, the BND exercised surveillance on American companies with ties to the state, such as Lockheed Martin, as well as state-owned universities. The leaked list also includes targets in international organizations that have an institutional presence in the US, such as the International Monetary Fund and the Arab League, which has an office in Washington. Hundreds of foreign embassies and consulates in the US were also targeted, said Der Spiegel.

German-American relations suffered a major setback in 2013, when it was revealed that Washington had spied on the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In response to the revelations, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency’s station chief in Berlin —the most senior American intelligence officer in the country. It remains to be seen whether Thursday’s revelations will affect the current relations between the two transatlantic allies. Neither the BND nor the US embassy in Berlin responded to questions about Der Spiegel‘s report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2017 | Permalink