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Weilheim is a cozy Bavarian village, where geraniums drip from window boxes and onion-domed churches and Alpine chateaus line the cobbled streets. Journalist Erich Schmidt-Eenboom lives in this sleepy town, and he was there sifting through files on a warm day in May when his doorbell rang. On his stoop stood a graying man with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. Schmidt-Eenboom was used to people with secrets knocking on his door.
He had spent more than a decade reporting on intelligence matters, and had written a tell-all book on the BND called Sleuthhound Without a Nose. By now, he was the go-to man for people with dirt on the agency. They stood for a moment soaking up the scenery — the thick meadows, the craggy Alps hovering in the distance.
Then the stranger dropped his bomb. A chill crept over the author as he listened to the man describe the lengths the BND had gone to during the three years it spied on him in the s.
At times, a shadow entourage of up to fifteen agents had tailed him and his secretary. Family outings, trips to the sauna — nothing was off-limits. The agency had even parked a white VW Golf with a camera in its visor outside his office in downtown Weilheim, and installed cameras in the attic of an old building across the street. The aim of the program, called Operation Emporio, was to find out who at the BND was giving the author information.
But the stranger knew things only a spy could: The hodgepodge of papers and clothes the author used to keep in his trunk; the way his secretary would buy pork cutlets at the market across the street, and then wolf them down as she walked back to the office. And if they had, I might as well retire.
So he set out on a quest to discover what exactly the agency knew. In the process he uncovered a scandal that, though it has been little covered in the U. Schmidt-Eenboom is a lanky man with a thick patch of whiskers and the quiet, determined air of someone on a mission.
For more than a decade, that mission has been shedding light on the darkest secrets of the BND. He tracked down two agents who had spied on him and staked out their homes and private retreats, and they eventually spilled what they knew.
Armed with this information he confronted the BND in July of that year, demanding it turn over his file. But he kept going. The topic du jour was nuclear proliferation, but the reporters who turned out only wanted to know why the BND would spy on journalists. Meanwhile, Schmidt-Eenboom kept feeding his colleagues exclusive scoops. The Parliamentary committee that oversees the BND operations responded to the firestorm by ordering the agency to conduct an investigation.
Hundreds of dark suits packed into an old Prussian arsenal in central Berlin on May 12 to hear a battery of obligatory speeches. And they were chilling. Not only was spying on journalists more widespread than anyone had thought, but many of the informants and snoops were themselves reporters.
For example:. From to , three cars loaded with BND agents followed him to work each day. Spies posing as lovers also roamed the quiet hamlet where he lived. On weekends, when he trolled the aisles of a local Turkish market with his wife and son, as many as eight agents hovered around them.
In return, Decker got story leads. At the same time he wrote about the agency for leading news magazines, like Focus and Stern. Besides informing on other journalists Hufelschulte among them Dietl collected information on other sensitive matters, like the U.
All told, he delivered reports and received , deutsche marks, the pre-euro unit of currency. It began doing so after the magazine reported that the agency helped smuggle Russian plutonium to Munich on a passenger plane. Other Focus reporters also fed the BND dirt on their older and more venerable competitor, Der Spiegel , and in return, the agency gave them information on the stories Der Spiegel was planning.
These revelations were a political bombshell. Within hours of the first news reports, politicians were lining up to proclaim their outrage. The BND tried initially to defend itself. But justifications soon gave way to apologies and finger pointing. No one seemed to have issued the order to spy on journalists, and Parliament had, of course, known nothing about the program.
But as the din faded, some politicians changed their tune. This past September, police raided the offices of Cicero , a political monthly, after it published a story on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with scraps it gleaned from intelligence sources. Schirra and a Cicero editor are now under investigation for aiding and abetting the betrayal of state secrets. The organization also estimates that hundreds of reporters have had their lines tapped or phone records scoured.
And these measures have taken a toll on investigative reporting. After all, journalists were party to the intrigue. And this includes Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, the man who exposed the scandal. At first the author simply helped root out corruption and treachery within the agency, just as he aimed to do with his reporting.
This triggered a string of internal investigations and a criminal probe. Among the details Schmidt-Eenboom shared with Bessel was the name of a source who had slipped him a secret letter from the BND chief to the Chancellery.
He also provided information about stories Der Spiegel and other outlets were planning. Bessel later enlisted Schmidt-Eenboom to travel to Hamburg with instructions to offer 10, euros for some sensitive papers. With this token sum, it seems, the agency hoped to answer the key question: Could he be bought? I think a lot of my colleagues in other places — France, Great Britain, the United States — are doing the same.
He informed on other journalists. And he was supposed to be the hero of this story. In July of that year Bessel visited the author at his home on the quiet Weilheim cul-de-sac. When he arrived, Schmidt-Eenboom handed him a scrap of paper describing a top-secret operation. Its name: Operation Emporio. Then he asked the author to finger the culprit.
Mariah Blake, a former assistant editor at CJR , reports regularly on Germany and transatlantic affairs. Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today. In the age of the relentless media fact-check, reading the news often feels like hearing a punch-line deflated before you catch the body of the joke. Free-floating fact-checking initiatives have lately become big non-profit business.
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Weilheim is a cozy Bavarian village, where geraniums drip from window boxes and onion-domed churches and Alpine chateaus line the cobbled streets. Journalist Erich Schmidt-Eenboom lives in this sleepy town, and he was there sifting through files on a warm day in May when his doorbell rang. On his stoop stood a graying man with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. Schmidt-Eenboom was used to people with secrets knocking on his door. He had spent more than a decade reporting on intelligence matters, and had written a tell-all book on the BND called Sleuthhound Without a Nose. By now, he was the go-to man for people with dirt on the agency.
The Reporter Who Came In From the Cold
Intelligence expert Schmidt-Eenboom: 'It's a huge scandal'
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