|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||EUR422 million (2019)|
|Parent agency||Federal Ministry of the Interior|
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (German: Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz or BfV) 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.
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.
An indirect predecessor of the federal office existed already in the Weimar Republic from 1920 to 1929, the Federal Commissioner for Monitoring of the Public Order.
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 came under fire regarding 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.