Schäuble’s words aren’t just idle talk. 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. They also rummaged through the home of the story’s author, Bruno Schirra, seizing fifteen cartons of notes and tapes. Schirra and a Cicero editor are now under investigation for aiding and abetting the betrayal of state secrets. And this is just one of the more than 200 government raids on journalists’ homes and offices since 1990, according to the German journalists association, DJV. 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. “Informants think twice before getting in contact with journalists,” explains DJV president Michael Konken.
Yet it’s hard to detect much sympathy among the German public for this abuse of the press. In fact, the BND affair will likely only deepen the public ambivalence to the media’s plight. After all, journalists were party to the intrigue. And this includes Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, the man who exposed the scandal. According to the Schäfer report, he was acting as a BND informant even as its agents were rifling through his trash.
Schmidt-Eenboom’s meetings with the BND agent, identified only as “Bessel” in Schäfer’s report, began in 1997, just months after spies quit tailing him. At first the author simply helped root out corruption and treachery within the agency, just as he aimed to do with his reporting. He handed over a pile of documents belonging to a retired BND turncoat, for example, and invited Bessel to thumb through secret papers from the agency’s former vice president, Dieter Blötz. This triggered a string of internal investigations and a criminal probe.
Schmidt-Eenboom’s relationship with the BND took a more sinister turn in mid-2002, when he began feeding Bessel information on other journalists and his own sources under the code name “März.” It was also around this time that talk of money first arose.
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. And he told Bessel about a circle of former BND agents who supposedly swapped sensitive documents at Munich’s Arabella Hotel, and sometimes sold them to reporters. Schmidt-Eenboom was obviously worried that his other BND sources would discover what he was up to, and at some point changed his codename to “Gladiator,” in case anyone had found out who “März” was.
Bessel later enlisted Schmidt-Eenboom to travel to Hamburg with instructions to offer 10,000 euros for some sensitive papers. This, according to Schäfer, is when Schmidt-Eenboom crossed the line from mere informant to spy. Following the operation, the BND made three “donations” totaling 1,000 euros, or approximately $900, to a foundation that Schmidt-Eenboom ran.
The author’s BND dossier makes much of the fact that he was having money troubles. With this token sum, it seems, the agency hoped to answer the key question: Could he be bought?
Schmidt-Eenboom admits, “It would have been better to send back the money.” But beyond that he denies any wrongdoing. He claims the facts he fed the BND weren’t facts at all, but “disinformation.” “It was a cat-and-mouse game,” he argues. “The goal was to get information without giving any away. I think a lot of my colleagues in other places — France, Great Britain, the United States — are doing the same.”
But some of his German colleagues aren’t so sure. “It’s a tragedy,” says Wolfgang Krach, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s managing editor. “He betrayed sources. He informed on other journalists. And he was supposed to be the hero of this story. He’s the one who revealed that the rest of us were under observation.”
The BND kept mining Schmidt-Eenboom for information until well into 2005. 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.
Word of Schmidt-Eenboom’s discovery touched off a panic inside the BND. Then-president August Hanning sent a memo ordering staff to “use any means necessary to track down the source of the leak.” Bessel did his best to comply. He met Schmidt-Eenboom at a Munich café on August 12 and shoved a sheet with twenty-some color passport photos on it across the table. Then he asked the author to finger the culprit. But this time, Gladiator wouldn’t play along.