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Right-Wing Extremism

Right-wing terror expert Funke: 'No appropriate response to NSU failures'

A German parliamentary committee tasked with evaluating the authorities' failure in the neo-Nazi killing spree has issued its final report. Right-wing terror expert Hajo Funke says right-wing danger had been trivialized.

A court in Munich will address charges against members and supporters of the right-wing terrorism group National Socialist Underground (NSU), which is believed to have been responsible for 10 murders, several bomb attacks and bank robberies. Parliamentary committees in the German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, and three state parliaments were tasked with examining the political scope of the terror attacks.

In addition to these committees, interior ministers also tasked experts with examining cooperation among German security authorities - ultimately, the experts should come up with ideas on how to improve cooperation in the future. Berlin-based political scientist and right-wing terrorism expert Hajo Funke closely followed the different committees and took part as an expert himself. 

DW: Police and secret service didn't manage to solve NSU terrorism acts for years. When the expert commission's final report was published, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the commission had not described a "general systemic failure of German security architecture." Primarily, the authorities' cooperation will need to improve, as well as Germany's domestic intelligence agency which will need to become more powerful. What would you say are the most important conclusions of the report?

Hajo Funke: The most important conclusions can be derived from cause analysis based on data provided by the parliamentary committees. Among the causes was that Germany's domestic intelligence agency had a considerable amount of information about the terror group. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the respective state authorities knew about this group and its supporters in April 2000, before the first murder case. They did not act appropriately - they should have drastically increased their investigations; that's what they are to blame for.

The reasons for that have not been sufficiently explained. That the significance of this right-wing danger had been trivialized and partly denied by federal and subordinated authorities certainly plays a role. That's because of the mentality, the bureaucratic routine and certainly because of a quasi absolute protection provided for state-sponsored informants. These reasons are not properly reflected in the interim as well as in the final report of the joint federal-state commission. With this in mind and according to the information currently available to me, it has not been an appropriate response to the failures in the NSU murder series.

You see structural problems that need to be dealt with more thoroughly?

I see this mentality and deficits in personnel; especially in the federal office, which now is set to be given more power without these corrections being made - that's the absurd part of this final report. The need for a realignment of the security architecture has also been repeatedly expressed by interior ministers who now have to assess this report. I don't see an architect who was involved in this final report - that's why it's inappropriate.

There are 17 different authorities in Germany that are responsible for the protection of the constitution. Can this work at all?

It can only work if three things are changed: Mentality, personnel and cooperation. But it doesn't look like such a fundamental reform is being implemented. The only thing that has been resolutely carried out - and that's largely a matter of the German Federal Office for Criminal Investigation - are centers of defense on both federal level as well as in individual states - which communicate, cooperate and have the desire to curtail everyday terrorism.

A common database on terrorism may be of use. Otherwise there's just little changes towards increasing transparency, but it's still holding on to the system of state-sponsored informants as it is today - with all those dangers that had been discussed before - just with a plea for more control. But even the proposed ideas for improving controls are insufficient from my point of view.

Neo-Nazi Uwe Böhnhardt (center) and supporters (photo: privat/dapd)

Authorities had information on the NSU groupand their supporters early on

According to the parliamentary committees, informants were in touch with the NSU group and informed federal agents to some extent, but it wasn't passed on to the police. What went wrong when dealing with informants and what needs to be changed?

Those who used to be in charge have said in front of the parliamentary committees that the protection of their right-wing sources, even violent criminals or neo-Nazis, was absolute. That's a verbatim statement by a deputy chief from Thuringia. That means they had created - via their sources - a shadowy realm without sufficient control. That raises the question of why they didn't look into this issue with the help of the federal authorities.

That didn't happen, so I can't see at all how some legal changes here and there will lead to the domestic security services fundamentally changing their attitude towards their informants. That might be the biggest problem within the agencies - that some form of complicity developed instead of treating informants as a means of getting more information, which is what should have been done. I can't see how these small legal changes in technical terms will be successful. Until this has been resolved, I would opt for abolishing state-sponsored informants altogether.

Political scientist Hajo Funke is an emeritus professor at Freie Universität Berlin's Department of Political and Social Sciences. He specializes in investigating right-wing terrorism in Germany. He observed the NSU investigative commission in German parliament and consulted on state parliamentary inquires in Thuringia and Bavaria.

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