German Interior Minister on Anti-Islam Film
'They Are Recklessly Pouring Oil on the Fire'
SPIEGEL: Minister, do you still trust Germany's intelligence agencies?
Friedrich: I don't mistrust the staff of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). But it is also clear to me that we need to change structures and procedures at the BfV.
SPIEGEL: Then you can guarantee that no additional files will surface and, of the 13 individuals suspected of aiding the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the neo-Nazi cell which is believed to have killed at least 10 people between 2000 and 2007, none worked as an informant for the intelligence agency?
Friedrich: We have kilometers of files and have made enormous efforts to sift through these documents to find any possible contact between the BfV and one of the 13 suspects. Nothing in our current findings indicates that one of the suspects was an informant.
SPIEGEL: It has now come out that Thomas S., the man who supplied explosives to the NSU trio, worked for years as an informant for the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation. Doesn't that make you speechless?
Friedrich: Running informants is the security agencies' job. You will have to ask the Berlin agency for details on this.
SPIEGEL: Last week, even more files surfaced that were believed to have disappeared, including a dossier on NSU trio member Uwe Mundlos that was compiled by the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD), one of Germany's three federal intelligence agencies.
Friedrich: It is not surprising that there was a file on Mundlos, who was doing his military service. The MAD had questioned him concerning his political beliefs, which had come to their attention. Our laws stipulate that such files eventually have to be destroyed (ed's note: for data protection reasons).
SPIEGEL: Can you understand why people in Germany no longer trust the intelligence agencies?
Friedrich: Yes, I can understand that to some extent, and I find it incredibly upsetting, even though much of it is just a blanket judgement. I speak with many voters, and not just in my own constituency. People there have no fundamental distrust of the intelligence agencies. Errors have occurred, which we have to correct for future investigations. At the same time, it is our job to win back the trust that has been lost. When an employee of an agency such as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution destroys files during a phase in which we are looking for precisely such information, this of course opens the door to all manner of conspiracy theories. But this doesn't mean that I assume that the staff member in question destroyed these files with any malicious intentions.
SPIEGEL: One is left with the impression that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution was primarily concerned with protecting itself, rather than the constitution.
Friedrich: Trust in the agencies has been damaged, and mistakes were made by the intelligence agencies. But this in no way justifies such conclusions. Allow me to remind you, for example, that we exposed the Sauerland Cell (ed's note: an Islamist terrorist group whose members were arrested in the fall of 2007).
SPIEGEL: Are the intelligence agencies facing their most serious crisis in decades?
Friedrich: I see an opportunity here to reposition the intelligence services as a whole, re-coordinate them and ensure greater transparency. In this sense, this is an opportunity to reform our security architecture.
SPIEGEL: You wanted a few minor reforms, without making major changes, such as consolidating smaller state-level agencies or moving the headquarters of the federal agency, the BfV, from Cologne to Berlin. And even here you've failed, due to resistance from the interior ministers of the federal states.
Friedrich: I am very clearly sticking to my demands and making no compromises on my key position. The BfV in Cologne has to be given greater power. In important cases, it must be able to assume leadership and take control of investigations. At the conference with the state interior ministers, I had the impression that my colleagues share this opinion. Comprehensive reforms are already in preparation within the BfV: focusing on groups that are prepared to resort to violence, creating a security center where all federal and state agencies exchange updates on a daily basis, and establishing clear guidelines for dealing with files and information.
SPIEGEL: When you made this proposal in August, your counterparts on the state level gave you an icy response. Why should they now relinquish responsibilities to the federal government?
Friedrich: Because the state ministers also want us to succeed together. When a number of states are pursuing an investigation independently of each other, the BfV has to coordinate this. And if there is anything that we have learned from the NSU cell, it is the need for a far more intensive exchange of information.
SPIEGEL: The Office for the Protection of the Constitution fails massively, and the response is ultimately just a few new guidelines. Is that all you intend to do?
Friedrich: If I may, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution does its job on the federal and state level and makes a decisive contribution to the security of our country, and we will make Germany's intelligence network more effective. There will be a joint security center that deals with all issues: right-wing extremism as well as left-wing extremism, crimes committed by foreigners, sabotage, espionage and cyber defense. This platform will be established by the BfV and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation. I warmly invite the states to take part in this endeavor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have the courage to say right here and now that the far-left Left Party is no longer under surveillance?
Friedrich: The Left Party continues to be relevant for the BfV because it includes anti-constitutional sub-organizations, such as the Marxist Forum and the Communist Platform, and maintains close links to violence-prone "black bloc" radical leftists.
SPIEGEL: Do you seriously see the Left Party as violence-prone or dangerous?
Friedrich: We have to differentiate here: Members of parliament for the Left Party are not being monitored using intelligence-gathering methods such as surveillance or the use of informants. But we also have to recognize that some segments of the Left Party are deliberately questioning our constitutional order.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Friedrich, we would like to know what demeanor characterizes a good interior minister during a crisis.
Friedrich: The interior minister must always ensure our citizens' safety and security.
SPIEGEL: Dieter WiefelspŁtz of the opposition center-left Social Democrats claims that you have "no enthusiasm, no qualifications and no creative drive."
Friedrich: The Social Democrats think that I should rush around and bark orders. I don't have to do that. Instead, I make the right decisions: creating a joint defense center against right-wing extremism, this week the launch of the right-wing extremist database, extending the anti-terror laws and now reforming the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
SPIEGEL: Even the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper writes that you carry out your duties "with a mixture of friendly disinterest and congenial restraint." Does that fit?
Friedrich: I am not here to win a popularity contest.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps your restrained demeanor has to do with the fact that the chancellor is primarily interested in keeping things calm and composed?
Friedrich: The chancellor knows that I take a level-headed approach to my work. That is one area where Angela Merkel and I have a very similar understanding of politics. Ultimately, domestic policy should not be loud, but efficient.
SPIEGEL: You will soon have to make another important decision: whether you are for or against a new attempt to ban Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). Have you already read the roughly 1,200 pages of evidence that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has compiled in an attempt to prove that the NPD is anti-democratic?
Friedrich: Yes, although after reading SPIEGEL, I am reassured to say that, even though you have seen a great deal, you are not familiar with all the material (laughs). We are in the process of selecting the most blatant examples and compiling a roughly 100-page summary that will form the basis for our decision.
SPIEGEL: In 2003, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court rejected an initial attempt to ban the NPD because a large number of informants were active within the party leadership. If a new attempt is made, will you recommend that it not be based on any material from informants?
Friedrich: It does me no good to have material that proves the aggressive and militant stance of the NPD if the relevant state interior minister cannot confirm that no informant was involved. We can only introduce material from informants into the evidence if the ministers are fully prepared to disclose the real names of their sources. As far as I can tell, most of them are not prepared to do this.
SPIEGEL: Some state governors called for a ban before the evidence was even presented. Don't such statements create a momentum that virtually forces you to attempt to ban the party?
Friedrich: Such momentum is created for instance when debates like this take place shortly before an election. (Ed's note: Germany will hold national elections in autumn 2013.) Consequently, I think it is necessary for us to act very quickly. The state interior ministers will meet on Dec. 5, and one day later the state governors will convene with the chancellor. In any case, the issue does not belong in a German general election campaign.