A scandal about the involvement of Germany’s intelligence service in the Iraq War erupted in Germany several days ago. Agents of the German intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) were reported to have helped U.S. Air Force carry out air strikes by picking targets. The New York Times fueled the controversy by running an article about the German intelligence agents handing over the Baghdad defenses plan to the U.S. intelligence. Saddam Hussein failed to keep the plan secret; the German spies got hold of a copy of the classified document a few weeks prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The document was eventually forwarded to the Pentagon, which took full advantage of it during the invasion.
The article caused shock in Berlin. According to Max Schadler, one of the leading politicians at the Free Democratic Party in opposition, “the situation is much more critical than previously thought if the contents of the article are true.” The authors of the article cite a classified Pentagon study, which suggests that combat cooperation between BND and U.S. troops in Iraq was a lot more active than previously believed.
The reports alleging that two BND agents in Iraq forwarded intelligence reports American counterparts were leaked to the media last December. Nobody was able to elaborate as to the amount or importance of those reports. But some politicians voiced strong discontent and urged a full and immediate inquiry into the violation of the official antiwar stance of Gerhard Schroeder’s government on the war in Iraq.
In the autumn of 2002, the then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder won the second term in office largely because of his consistent antiwar position. However, close cooperation between the BND and the American indicates that the peaceable chancellor was double-dealing not even at the domestic scene but also with regard to a hastily-arranged antiwar “axis” Paris-Berlin-Moscow. There is yet another rather upsetting version of the events. It suggests that the intelligence service staged a “quiet coup d’etat” against the federal government by sabotaging the official antiwar position.
The allegations published by the U.S. newspaper may be an embarrassment to the current German coalition government too. Last week saw the publication of excerpts from a classified report prepared by the government for the consideration of a parliamentary committee. The section Germany and the war in Iraq concerns a detailed analysis of the actions of two BND agents (referred to as the “special purpose team”) in Iraq in the period before and during the U.S. military operation in Iraq in the spring of 2003. According to the document, the agents’ mission was to identify non-targets i.e. buildings such as embassies, schools and hospitals that should not be bombed. The agents actually prevented air strikes against a Baghdad hotel used by foreign journalists. The authors of the reports maintained that the agency was in full control over the agents’ activities in Iraq.
The coalition government of Angela Merkel is criticized by the opposition, which is not happy about the placating conclusions of the report. The opposition reproaches the new chancellor for covering for Schroeder and his team. Earlier on Monday, a mere two minutes before starting a regular press conference, the official representative of the German government Ulrich Wilhelm denied the allegations published by The New York Times. Wilhelm cited a letter he just received from the BND’s director Ernest Urlau. “The contents of the article in the U.S. newspaper took the German government by surprise,” said Wilhelm. Referring to the alleged secret transfer of the secret Iraqi plan to the Americans by the German intelligence service, Welhelm said that “it would be wrong to portray the events in such a way.”
He pointed out that that the German government had not been aware of the plan. According to him, Chancellor Merkel learned about the controversial publication in the morning of the previous day and “took it into account.”