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Profile: Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV)
a.k.a. Office for the Protection of the Constitution
Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Source: Knut Mueller]Turkish intelligence informs Germany’s domestic intelligence service that Mohammed Haydar Zammar is a radical militant who has been traveling to trouble spots around the world. Zammar has already made more than 40 journeys to places like Bosnia and Chechnya, and in 1996 he pledges his allegiance to al-Qaeda during a trip to Afghanistan (see 1991-1996). Turkey explains that Zammar is running a dubious travel agency in Hamburg, organizing flights for radical militants to Afghanistan. As a result, by early 1997, German intelligence will launch Operation Zartheit (Operation Tenderness), an investigation of Islamic militants in the Hamburg area. The Germans will use a full range of intelligence techniques, including wiretaps and informants. [Stern, 8/13/2003; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Operation Zartheit will run for at least three years and connect Zammar to many of the 9/11 plotters (see March 1997-Early 2000).
Ziad Jarrah on a plane. [Source: NDRTV]Within a few months of arriving in Germany, hijacker Ziad Jarrah begins to associate with Abdulrahman al-Makhadi, a local hardline Muslim who raises money for the militant Palestinian group Hamas and is monitored by the German intelligence service BfV. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will say that al-Makhadi, also known as Abu Mohammed, is “known to the [German security service] BfV as a Hamas activist and ‘instigator,’” and that, “It is therefore difficult to imagine that the 26 year old Lebanese [Jarrah] was not also registered by the machinery of the intelligence services.” Jarrah later travels around Germany with al-Makhadi and meets other radicals. Al-Makhadi runs the local mosque and makes money by selling special Arab food he purchases in Hamburg there. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003; McDermott, 2005, pp. 51]
German intelligence unsuccessfully attempts to turn Mohammed Haydar Zammar into an informant. In 1996, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service, learned that Zammar had extensive Islamist militant ties (see 1996). In 1997, the BfV starts an investigation into Islamist militants in Hamburg that is centered on Zammar (see March 1997-Early 2000). Apparently, as part of this investigation, two BfV officials meet with him twice and attempt to get him to become an informant. However, Zammar strongly rejects the proposal. He says he will not serve the West, but will only serve Allah and jihad. However, he is careful to note that he is only interested in jihad outside of Germany, because under German law at this time it is not illegal to be a member of a violent militant group as long as all the violence takes place outside of Germany. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005] German intelligence will continue monitoring Zammar and many of his associates in Hamburg (see for instance March 1997-Early 2000, October 2, 1998, and July 2001).
The arrest of al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) points US and German investigators to Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Salim is arrested on September 16, 1998, in Munich, Germany (see September 16, 1998). He is believed to be al-Qaeda’s financial chief, and is one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988). After Salim’s arrest, both German and US intelligence investigate his contacts in Germany and discover a link to Zammar. Zammar is already being investigated and monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service (see March 1997-Early 2000). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] Presumably, the link between Zammar and Salim should increase the urgency of the German investigation. It is unknown when US intelligence begins monitoring Zammar, but the US will discover important links between Zammar and al-Qaeda in the summer of 1999 (see Summer 1999). US and German investigators also discover a link between Salim and Mamoun Darkazanli, a Hamburg associate of Zammar’s, and they monitor him as well (see Late 1998).
The Marienstrasse building. [Source: Associated Press]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda operatives Said Bahaji and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and others in the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell move into a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany, and some of them stay there until February 2001. Investigators will later believe this move marks the formation of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2002; New York Times, 9/10/2002] Up to six men at a time live at the apartment, including, at times, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and cell member Zakariya Essabar. Alshehhi moves out after the first month; it is unclear why. [New York Times, 9/15/2001] During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address.
Surveillance of Bahaji - From the very beginning, the apartment is under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Bahaji. [Washington Post, 10/23/2001] The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji is directly monitored for at least part of 1998, but German officials will not disclose when the probe began or ends. This investigation is dropped for lack of evidence (see (Late 1998)). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji moves out in July 1999 and gets married a few months later (see October 9, 1999). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Surveillance of El Motassadeq - German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who will later be convicted for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently it does not find any indication of suspicious activity (see August 29, 1998). [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002]
Surveillance of Zammar - Zammar, a talkative man who has trouble keeping secrets, does not live at the apartment, but he is a frequent visitor to the many late night meetings there. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 259-60; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] He even lives in the apartment for a time in February 1999 (see February 1999). Zammar is the focus of an investigation that began in 1997 and continues until early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Interest in monitoring him increases in late 1998 (see October 2, 1998).
Surveillance of Atta - The CIA also allegedly starts monitoring Atta in early 2000 while he is living at the apartment, and does not tell Germany of the surveillance (see January-May 2000). Atta leaves Germany to live in the US in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000).
No Direct German Surveillance of the Apartment? - Yet, even though people like Zammar who frequently phone and visit the apartment are monitored, German officials will later claim that the apartment itself is never bugged. An unnamed senior German security official will later say that some surveillance of associated people gives “the impression that the people living there were fanatical believers. At the BfV [Germany’s domestic intelligence agency], we had to decide whether to ask permission to place a wiretap on the line at 54 Marienstrasse itself. We discussed this every day.” But he will claim that they ultimately decide they will not be able to get legal permission for a wiretap because there is no evidence that the apartment’s occupants are breaking any laws. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] This claim that the apartment was not directly monitored seems contradicted by reports that Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation when he was living in the Marienstrasse apartment in late 1998 (see (Late 1998)).
What Would More Surveillance Have Uncovered? - It will later be clear that investigators could have found evidence if they looked more thoroughly. For instance, one visitor will recall Atta and others discussing attacking the US. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in Hamburg several times in 1999 and comes to the apartment. However, although there is a $2 million reward for Mohammed since 1998, the US apparently fails to tell Germany what it knows about him (see 1999). [Newsweek, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 11/4/2002] 9/11 Hijacker Waleed Alshehri also apparently stays at the apartment “at times.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Remarkably, shortly after 9/11, the German government will claim it knew little about the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell before 9/11, and nothing directed it towards the Marienstrasse apartment. [Daily Telegraph, 11/24/2001]
Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Said Bahaji, Marwan Alshehhi, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohamed Atta, Mounir El Motassadeq, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Zakariya Essabar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
German intelligence investigates al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji. The investigation stems from an investigation into cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar, which started in 1997 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Many contacts are noticed between Zammar and Bahaji. According to the Los Angeles Times: “In part because of the acquaintance, German police in 1998 performed what they describe as limited surveillance on Bahaji. Bahaji at the time was living with [future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed] Atta and [hijacker associate Ramzi] bin al-Shibh. Nothing came of the surveillance and it was discontinued.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] However, German officials will not say when exactly the surveillance stops. [Associated Press, 6/22/2002] Bahaji lives with Atta and bin al-Shibh at the Marienstrasse apartment starting in November 1998 (see November 1, 1998-February 2001), so the surveillance of him probably starts in late 1998. However, it is likely that interest in and possibly surveillance of Bahaji continues after this time. Bahaji will be watchlisted in March 2000 (see March 2000). Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the difficulty of being put on a watch list: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state.” McDermott will further note that being placed on this list would be an indication the person has been under surveillance for a long time. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 297]
Marwan Alshehhi. This picture is taken from his US visa. [Source: FBI]German intelligence is tapping the telephone of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar, and on this date, Zammar gets a call from a “Marwan.” This is later found to be future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Marwan talks about mundane things, like his studies in Bonn, Germany, and promises to come to Hamburg in a few months. German investigators trace the telephone number and determine the call came from a mobile phone registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 8/13/2003; New York Times, 2/24/2004] Although the call is short and seemingly innocuous, according to Vanity Fair, some “parts of the conversation seemed redolent of some kind of conspiratorial code.” For instance, at one point, Alshehhi says, “I’ve heard your mother died.” Zammar replies: “Yes, she passed on. She left me alone.” Alshehhi then asks: “But your father didn’t travel with you? I’ve seen him here.” Zammar answers, “No, my father is here.” Regarding whether or not it actually is code, a senior German official will later say: “Our desk officer had a certain feeling about that call.… You can say it was his nose—not that there was any single statement, but he had a feeling that there could be more behind it.” The desk officer writes a report about the call. Then, about a month later, the BfV (German domestic intelligence) will contact the CIA and ask for more information about men from the UAE named Marwan, and for help in tracing the phone number (see March 1999). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Monitored al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar temporarily lives with future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and 9/11 hijacker associates Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They live in a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). This is according to a September 2001 memo from the BfV (Germany’s domestic intelligence agency), so it may come from surveillance conducted before 9/11. It is not known why Zammar lives here at this time, since he has his own wife and family in Hamburg; nor is it known how many days he stays at the apartment. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Zammar is under surveillance by the BfV at this time (see March 1997-Early 2000), and he is likely under surveillance by the CIA as well (see Shortly After September 16, 1998 and Summer 1999).
Said Bahaji, computer expert for the Hamburg cell. [Source: German Bavarian Police]German intelligence monitors a phone call in which the names of key members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell are mentioned. Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s full name and telephone number are even mentioned. German domestic intelligence (BfV) has been monitoring al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s telephone (see March 1997-Early 2000). On this day, Zammar is not home, but his parents speak to each other on the phone and are trying to figure out where he is. One of them suggests that Zammar is at a meeting with “Mohamed, Ramzi, and Said,” and can be reached at the phone number of the Marienstrasse apartment where all three of them live. This refers to cell members Atta, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Said Bahaji. “Mounir”—cell member Mounir El Motassadeq—is mentioned as well. However, apparently German intelligence fails to grasp the importance of these names, even though Bahaji and El Motassadeq are also under investigation at this time (see August 29, 1998). The Marienstrasse apartment is the center of the cell’s activity (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; New York Times, 1/18/2003; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003] Atta’s first and last name are mentioned in the phone call between Zammar’s parents. Agents check the Marienstrasse phone number, which they find is registered to Bahaji. They also confirm the street address, but it is not known what they make of the information. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003]
Said Bahaji in 1995. [Source: Public domain]German intelligence places two members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, Mounir El Motassadeq and Said Bahaji, on a German watch list. The two men, associates of future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, had come to the Germans’ attention because of their association with al-Qaeda recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who they meet regularly. The watchlisting means that their arrivals and departures to and from Germany will be reported immediately. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is also placed on a watch list at some point before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). El Motassadeq was first investigated by German authorities in 1998 (see August 29, 1998). Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation starting in 1998 as well (see (Late 1998)). Bahaji may have recently traveled to Afghanistan with some associates using a route monitored by European intelligence agencies (see Late November-Early December 1999).
El Motassadeq's Travels Will Be Noticed Three Times - Because he is watchlisted, German intelligence will keep track when El Motassadeq goes to Denmark twice, and when he flies to Istanbul on his way to a training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22, 2000). [New York Times, 1/18/2003]
Importance of Watchlisting - Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the watchlisting of El Motassadeq: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state. Being placed on the list indicated that El Motassadeq had been under investigation for some time. In that he was an integral part of the group that included [Atta], [Ramzi bin al-Shibh], and Alshehhi, this at the least implies that they were being watched too.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 297]
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq leaves Germany for Afghanistan and his travel is immediately reported to the German authorities because he is on a watch list (see March 2000). El Motassadeq flies from Hamburg to Karachi, Pakistan, via Istanbul. At least two of the future 9/11 hijackers have previously traveled this route to Afghanistan (see Late November-Early December 1999). Although Turkish intelligence is aware that radicals from Germany travel to Afghanistan via Turkey, it is unclear whether they pick up the travel by El Motassadeq (see 1996). There are two versions of German intelligence’s reaction to this trip. An early 2003 article in Der Speigel will say that the intelligence report only gives El Motassadeq’s destination as Istanbul, so there are no consequences for him. However, a later article in Stern magazine will say, “Naturally, the officials know that Istanbul is not his real destination but only the usual stopover on his way to Afghanistan, to the camps of Osama bin Laden.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003; Stern, 8/13/2003] Indeed, El Motassadeq goes to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000).
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji leaves Germany for Pakistan, and travels under his own name (see September 3-5, 2001), but German authorities apparently fail to notice his departure. In March 2000, Bahaji’s name was placed on a German watch list, and his name has remained on that list (see March 2000). So, according to normal procedures, his name should have been flagged when his flight information was recorded on a computer. Then a fax should have been sent from German immigration authorities to the BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence service. But in 2003, a BfV official will claim that the BfV was never informed about Bahaji’s departure. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will be extremely skeptical that the BfV is being honest about this. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003]
Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence. [Source: Agence France-Presse]German intelligence officials are able to interview Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg with some of the 9/11 hijackers, while he is being secretly held in a Syrian prison. Zammar was born and raised in Syria but later became a German citizen. He was arrested in Morocco in late 2001 and sent by the US to Syria for torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001).
Secret Deal between Syria and Germany - In July 2002, German officials met with Syrian officials at the German Federal Chancellery in Berlin. The Syrians were led by Assef Shawkat, a trusted associate and relative of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Germans included the heads of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The Syrians wanted the Germans to call off a German legal case that had charged two Syrians, one of them an employee at the Syrian embassy, with espionage. The Syrians also wanted Germany to call off an investigation into President Assad’s uncle, Faisal Sammak, for storing explosives at a diplomatic residence, which resulted in a 1983 bombing in Berlin that killed one person. The Germans in return wanted the Syrians to disband their network of spies in Germany, and they wanted access to Zammar. The Germans and Syrians struck a deal based on these demands. Shortly thereafter, German prosecutors dropped the charges against the two Syrians accused of espionage. In return, German officials are allowed to meet with Zammar as long as the meeting and all information from it remain secret.
Meeting with Zammar - On November 20, 2002, six German intelligence officials, including those from the BND and BKA, plus those from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), go to Damascus, Syria, to see Zammar. The prison is notorious for frequently using torture, and the German officials cannot miss that Zammar has been ill-treated and tortured. In fact, Zammar used to weigh about 300 pounds, and he has lost around 100 pounds. Zammar speaks with surprising candor, perhaps feeling confident that the Germans will never be able to use his confession in any criminal case because he has been so clearly tortured by the Syrians. Zammar admits that he attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He attended another Afghan camp in 1994, where he learned how to use poison and various weapons. In the summer of 1995, he fought with the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. In September 2000, he says he brought money to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda and even had a face-to-face meeting with Osama bin Laden (see September-October 2000).
Zammar's Link to the 9/11 Plotters - Zammar claims that he met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg in 1996, and met hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh soon thereafter. He met hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in 1998, and had more contact with him. Zammar claims he helped Atta, bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and hijacker Ziad Jarrah get to Afghanistan in late 1999. However, when they returned, he only heard a general account of their training and he was not told anything about the 9/11 plot. Zammar had a sense that something big was happening, because in early September 2001, many of the members of the Hamburg cell left Germany for Afghanistan around the same time. For instance, when cell member Said Bahaji left Germany (see September 3-5, 2001), Zammar and some other friends (including Mounir El Motassadeq and Abdelghani Mzoudi) accompanied him to the airport to say goodbye. The German officials realize that Zammar may not be as honest about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot as he is with other details, but they are fairly certain from their intelligence investigation that he supported the hijackers in a general way without having detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005] However, in 2003 it will emerge that another al-Qaeda operative told investigators that Zammar told him in August 2001 to leave Germany very soon because something big was about to happen (see August 2001). So Zammar may not have been honest on his knowledge of the 9/11 plot. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003]
Intelligence Cannot Be Used - The German officials show Zammar a series of photographs of suspected German militants and ask him to identify them. He does identify and discuss some of them, including German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli. Discussions with Zammar continue for three days. However, none of his confession will subsequently be used in any court cases. Der Spiegel will later comment, “The six officials [who questioned Zammar] and their agencies know full well that no court operating under the rule of law would ever accept an interrogation conducted in a Damascus prison notorious for its torture practices.”
Secret Deal Falls Apart - German officials plan to return to Syria and question Zammar some more. However, this never happens because the Syrians renege on their part of the deal, after they fail to cut back on their spying efforts in Germany. One anonymous German official will later say, “The [deal] was an attempt, but we now know that it was a mistake.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariyya, Osama bin Laden, Ziad Jarrah, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Mounir El Motassadeq, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Al-Qaeda, Assef Shawkat, Bashar Assad, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mohamed Atta, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Marwan Alshehhi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Faisal Sammak, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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