The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been removed from his post in a move described by observers as surprising. Gerhard Schindler, 63, had led Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, since 2012. Founded 60 years ago with direct input from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the BND is today responsible for collecting intelligence abroad in the service of German national interests. Headquartered in the southern German city of Pullach, near Munich, the BND is directly subordinate to the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On Tuesday, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said that Chancellor Merkel had ordered Schindler’s removal from the BND. Several regional television stations followed with similar reports. The Süddeutsche Zeitung cited unnamed government sources as saying that Schindler’s sudden removal from his post was unexpected, as the career intelligence officer was scheduled to retire in two years.
However, intelNews readers will recall that last year Schindler was severely criticized in Germany, after the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as French-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities.
In the months that followed the revelations, Schindler appeared to have convinced the Chancellery that he was not personally responsible for the BND-NSA collaboration, which many political figures in Germany said had subverted Germany’s national interest. In response to criticism, Schindler said that some departments inside the BND had taken on “a life of their own” and promised to reform the agency. On Tuesday, however, his tenure came to an end. It is believed that he will be replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior civil servant in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance, who is a close associate of the country’s Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble.