Ger­man spy scan­dal ex­poses deep di­vi­sions in Merkel gov­ern­ment

Tehran Times - - WORLD IN FOCUS -

A scan­dal over mi­grants be­ing chased through the streets has ex­posed a rift be­tween An­gela Merkel and Ger­many’s se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment that is di­vid­ing her coali­tion and hin­der­ing ef­forts to con­tain the fall-out from her “open door” refugee pol­icy.

The cri­sis blew up when Hans-Georg Maassen, chief of the BfV in­tel­li­gence agency, said he was not con­vinced far-right ex­trem­ists had at­tacked mi­grants in the eastern city of Chem­nitz last month and a video said to show the vi­o­lence may be fake.

That put Maassen at odds with Merkel, who said the pic­tures “very clearly re­vealed hate” which could not be tol­er­ated.

“For a more de­ci­sive chan­cel­lor, this would have been enough to fire him,” said Carsten Nickel at po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tancy Te­neo In­tel­li­gence, adding that sup­port for Maassen from Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive Bavar­ian al­lies was stay­ing her hand.

Now, Merkel is caught be­tween her Bavar­ian sis­ter party, the Chris­tian So­cial Union (CSU), which backs Maassen, and her other coali­tion part­ner, the left-lean­ing So­cial Democrats (SPD), who say he has lost cred­i­bil­ity and must go.

The up­shot is that the chan­cel­lor looks weak, her coali­tion is in cri­sis and she is less able to deal with press­ing is­sues such as Brexit, Euro­pean Union re­form and trade prob­lems with the United States.

“The mi­gra­tion is­sue will cer­tainly con­tinue to haunt Merkel un­til the end of her term,” said Nickel.

The Maassen row has its roots in Merkel’s 2015 de­ci­sion to open Ger­many’s bor­ders to refugees flee­ing war in the Mid­dle East. More than one mil­lion came in to­tal.

“Maassen is not an iso­lated case. Maassen is part of the se­cu­rity com­mu­nity,” said Robin Alexan­der, au­thor of ‘Die Getriebe­nen, or ‘Those Driven by Events’, an ac­count of how Merkel and her lieu­tenants han­dled the refugee cri­sis.

“For this se­cu­rity com­mu­nity, au­tumn 2015 was a dis­as­ter - not just for Maassen, but for all of them,” he added. “There is a deep alien­ation of the whole se­cu­rity com­mu­nity from the chan­cel­lor, and that was not the case in Ger­many pre­vi­ously.”

Frus­trated spies

The rift opened up in Oc­to­ber 2015, when Merkel put her chief of staff, Peter Alt­maier, in charge of Ger­many’s re­sponse to the refugee cri­sis, with Emily Haber - a diplo­mat - act­ing as point per­son in the In­te­rior Min­istry.

That chain of com­mand ef­fec­tively shut out the se­cu­rity ser­vices, which couldn’t get face time with Merkel.

“That to­tally frus­trated th­ese peo­ple ... they were hor­ri­fied,” said Alexan­der. In pri­vate, Maassen com­plained about the dif­fi­culty of keep­ing tabs on the refugees and as­sess­ing whether they posed a se­cu­rity risk.

His cause got a boost with the 2017 elec­tion, when the anti-im­mi­gra­tion Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) surged into par­lia­ment for the first time and Merkel had to reshuf­fle her gov­ern­ment.

CSU leader Horst See­hofer, who had called Merkel’s han­dling of the refugee cri­sis a “reign of in­jus­tice”, was made in­te­rior min­is­ter. He gave Maassen po­lit­i­cal cover to push his se­cu­rity agenda, which he duly did.

In an in­ter­view with Reuters in Jan­uary, Maassen, 55, called for a re­view of laws re­strict­ing the sur­veil­lance of mi­nors to guard against the chil­dren of Is­lamist fight­ers re­turn­ing to Ger­many as “sleeper agents” who could carry out at­tacks.

Maassen also clashed with other more cir­cum­spect gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials when he said Rus­sia was the likely cul­prit be­hind cyber at­tacks on Ger­many.

Spoke too soon

Then came Chem­nitz. This time, Maassen pub­licly ques­tioned the au­then­tic­ity of the video be­fore his agency had fin­ished its work on the in­ci­dent.

“The bot­tom line is that he spoke be­fore the agency fin­ished its as­sess­ment,” said one source fa­mil­iar with the is­sue.

In a Sept. 10 let­ter to the In­te­rior Min­istry, seen by Reuters, in which he ex­plained his com­ments on Chem­nitz, Maassen said he wanted to shed light on events af­ter the state premier of Sax­ony, where the city is lo­cated, de­nied mi­grants had been hounded.

But the let­ter failed to draw a line un­der a scan­dal that has also re­vived ques­tions about Maassen’s ties to the far-right AfD.

A for­mer leader of the AfD’s youth wing, Franziska Schreiber, wrote in a book she pub­lished this year - “In­side AfD: The re­port of a drop-out” - that Maassen had ad­vised ex-AfD leader Frauke Petry on how the party could avoid be­ing put un­der sur­veil­lance by his agency. He has de­nied giv­ing such coun­sel.

Fresh al­le­ga­tions arose on Thurs­day, when the BfV was forced to deny a re­port by pub­lic broad­caster ARD that Maassen had told an AfD law­maker about parts of a re­port from his agency be­fore it was pub­lished.

But Maassen has the back­ing of See­hofer, who said the in­tel­li­gence chief “gave a con­vinc­ing ex­pla­na­tion of his ac­tions” to a com­mit­tee of law­mak­ers on Wed­nes­day.

The SPD none­the­less called a cri­sis meet­ing of gov­ern­ing party lead­ers on Thurs­day.

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