Wolfgang Buschfort. Geheime Hüter der Verfassung: Von der Düsseldorfer Informationsstelle zum ersten Verfassungsschutz der Bundesrepublik (1947-1961). Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, 2004. 327 pp. EUR 39.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-506-71728-3.
Reviewed by Nicholas J. Steneck (Department of History, Florida Southern College)
Published on H-German (September, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Proto-"V-Männer" in a German Federal State
The whole-scale release of records from the former East Germany's Ministry for State Security archives notwithstanding, German intelligence agencies such as the Bundesnachrichtendienst and Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz are, like their counterparts elsewhere, notoriously closemouthed about their activities and histories. As result, extant histories of the Federal Republic's "shadow warriors" tend to fall into one of three categories: accounts written by outsiders, usually journalists, such as Udo Ulfkotte's Verschlußsache BND (1997); official histories published by the organizations themselves; or monographs in which the organizations' activities are examined within larger domestic or foreign policy contexts. All contain weaknesses: outsider accounts too often are mired in sensationalism; official histories gloss over or ignore "inconvenient" facts; broader histories can be sketchy on detail. Wolfgang Buschfort's Geheime Hüter der Verfassung (the title pays homage to Carl Schmitt's Der Hüter der Verfassung ), which traces the early history of the North Rhine-Westphalian Interior Ministry's Informationstelle, or I-Stelle, is a notable exception to this trend. Granted unprecedented access to the organization's records, Buschfort delivers a study that makes a detailed, insightful addition to our understanding of the early Federal Republic's intelligence community.
Buschfort, a reporter by profession, is best known for his work on the Ostbüros of West Germany's political parties. In this work, he turns his attention to the Federal Republic's efforts to protect and strengthen the constitutional system put into place after the Third Reich's demise, focusing on activities in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The study is divided into eight parts. Buschfort begins with an overview of German national security policy since the Wilhelmine empire, tracing its transformations through the Weimar Republic and National Socialist regime, and the immediate postwar activities of communists and the extreme Right in North Rhine-Westphalia. After this initial overview, Buschfort turns his attention to the activities and decisions that resulted in the founding of the I-Stelle in Düsseldorf. In the book's third, fourth, and fifth sections, Buschfort details the I-Stelle's organization and staffers, and examines its interactions with law enforcement organizations and the state- and federal-level agencies established in 1950 to safeguard the country's parliamentary institutions. Buschfort then turns to a detailed discussion of the country's extremist political parties and organizations, and the actions taken by the I-Stelle in monitoring, influencing, and curtailing their activities. The book ends with a brief section on the I-Stelle's reorganization in the late 1950s and early 60s, concluding in 1961 with the administrative reorganization and mass retirement of its founding members.
From this organizational history, several interesting points emerge about the Federal Republic's early history. For example, Buschfort shows that planning and preparations for the Düsseldorf-based I-Stelle began as early as 1947, and were kept secret from British occupation authorities, whose policies categorically forbade such activities. Buschfort also reveals that I-Stelle personnel focused their attention on former Nazis, communists, and the FDP. Although the first two targets are self-explanatory, readers might question why intelligence coverage was thought necessary for the third. Buschfort makes clear that the I-Stelle's interest in the FDP was eminently logical because of that party's sympathetic support of former Nazis, and due to episodes such as the 1953 Werner Naumann Affair, during which the party swung dangerously close to extreme right radicalism (Buschfort's research confirms that the Naumann affair was not a high point of the I-Stelle's activities, for British intelligence first identified and ultimately disbanded the group). Rather more controversially, Buschfort's account also includes some information that may have the effect of dispelling persistent commonplaces about intelligence in the early Federal Republic, such as its alleged institutional bias against left-wing parties and their supporters. In the case of I-Stelle activities, at least, the number of communists under surveillance was small. Finally, the work confirms that the I-Stelle was not immune to questionable practices in its attempts to defend the state's nascent constitutional institutions. While outright illegal activity was rare, I-Stelle personnel were not above harassing groups and persons deemed dangerous, as its actions in the case of Otto Strasser and the Deutsch-Soziale Union illustrate.
The book is not without problems. Buschfort's unwillingness to gloss over minor persons and offices in his narrative sometimes confuses what is otherwise an excellent organizational history. The index of key names is curiously incomplete and too often references incorrect page numbers. Also, readers hoping for a useful bibliography of German-language (much less English-language) sources will come away disappointed. Overall, though, Buschfort's Geheime Hüter der Verfassung is a solid work of historical research. Through its detailed examination of one component of the Federal Republic's early intelligence community, Buschfort's study illustrates how conceptions about national security and the proper role of secret intelligence agencies in a democracy changed during the critical years of the early Cold War. The questions it examines and the actions taken by West Germans during this period have not lost their relevance in a new era characterized by international anxiety and instability.
. Recent organizational histories include the Bundernachrichtendienst's 50 Jahre Bundesnachrichtendienst (Berlin: Bundesnachrichtendienst, Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, 2006) and the Bundesamt für Verfassungschutz's Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz: 50 Jahre im Dienst der inneren Sicherheit (Cologne: Heymann, 2000). Examples of the final category include Peter Müller and Michael Mueller's Gegen Freund und Feind: Der BND, geheime Politik und schmutziger Geschäfte (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2002); and Richard Meier's Geheimdienst ohne Maske: Der ehemalige Präsident des Bundesverfassungsschutzes über Agenten, Spione und einen gewissen Herrn Wolf (Bergisch Gladbach: Lübbe, 1992).
. Wolfgang Buschfort, Parteien im Kalten Krieg: Die Ostbüros von SPD, CDU und FDP (Berlin: Ch. Links, 2000).
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Nicholas J. Steneck. Review of Buschfort, Wolfgang, Geheime Hüter der Verfassung: Von der Düsseldorfer Informationsstelle zum ersten Verfassungsschutz der Bundesrepublik (1947-1961).
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