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The History of the West-German Intelligence Service (BND) between 1945 and 1968

Financial Support: BND/ Office of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

In the past decade and a half, there has been growing awareness that many institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany have their roots in the “Third Reich.” After the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, many individuals with a Nazi past (including those having committed crimes) were able to continue their careers in these institutions. In order to lay open this problematic past the Federal government decided to appoint independent commissions of historians. The first institution to be thus analysed was the Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), while the largest and most controversially perceived investigation dealt with the German Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) Numerous other institutions, both ministries and security services are presently under investigation. The project here under description focuses on the West German Foreign Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND). The UHK was appointed in 2011. Dr. Tilman Lüdke from the ABI began working for it in 2013, concentrating on the activities of the BND in the Near and Middle East. The period under investigation covers the years between 1945, when Gen. Reinhard Gehlen first managed to set up his “Organisation Gehlen” as an US-American intelligence service operating out of the Federal Republic, and 1968, when Gehlen was forced to resign due to an espionage scandal. In 1956 the BND had become a West German institution; after 1968 the service was extensively re-designed under the new social democratic government and the new director Gerhard Wessel.

Research Design

Instead of focusing exclusively on the issue of “Nazis” in the BND after World War II, the members of the UHK decided to create a comprehensive history of the service. To that extent, further members were added to the UHK, including doctoral students and contractual researchers like Dr. Lüdke. There are three main fields of investigation:

  1. The presence of individuals with a Nazi past among the service personnel, and how the BND dealt with them.
  2. The BND as part of the emerging institutional structure of the Federal Republic of Germany, its contacts with the Federal government (Chancellors Adenauer and Erhardt), its interaction with other West German security services (Internal Security Service/ Office for the Protection of the Constitution, “Verfassungsschutz”), and its – illegal – intelligence activities within the boundaries of the Federal Republic.
  3. The Activities of the BND as a foreign intelligence service in three regions of the world: first, the “SBZ (Soviet Zone of Occupation)”, i.e. the GDR, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, second, Latin America, and third, the Near and Middle East.

Preliminary Results

The arrangement between the UHK and the BND allows the researching historians full and unlimited access to all BND documents from the period under investigation. However, texts produced by the UHK and its members have to undergo a vetting process by the BND in order to prevent potential infringements on personality rights as prescribed by German law. It is therefore not permissible to give details of the results of research until this process has been completed. The project is nearing completion: a first batch of publications will be published in Summer 2016, and introduced to the public at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October of that year. A second series of publications will follow in the summer of 2017. 


Members of the UHK and other researchers already have produced numerous shorter publications dealing with selective topics and crises. The UHK publishes its own series “Mitteilungen der Unabhängigen Historikerkommission zur Geschichte des BND.“ Individual titles can be found on the homepage oft he UHK (http://www.uhk-bnd.de).

Period (Involvement of Dr. Lüdke): 2013 – 2017

Externe Projektbearbeiter*innen:
Independent Commission of Historians (Unabhängige Historiker-Kommission): Prof.Dr. Rolf-Dieter Müller (Potsdam), Prof.Dr. Klaus-Dietmar Henke (Dresden), Prof.Dr. Jost Dülffer (Cologne), Prof.Dr. Wolfgang Krieger (Marburg)
2013 - 2017