Controversial German Spy Chief Ousted Over Speech Questioning neo-Nazi Attack

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Hans-Georg Maassen, the former head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, July 2018.
Hans-Georg Maassen, the former head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, July 2018.Credit: \ Hannibal Hanschke/ REUTERS

Germany’s former domestic spy chief has been ousted after criticizing the government and doubling-down on questioning whether neo-Nazis attacked refugees in an east German city.

Hans-Georg Maassen is being forced to retire, effective immediately, after his boss at Germany’s Interior Ministry said a trusting relationship was now “impossible.”

The controversial intelligence officer is best known for criticizing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, a move that saw him attain hero status among Germany’s far right.

He had already been demoted from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Germany’s internal security service) after controversial comments he made to the press in September.

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2018 photo protesters light fireworks during a far-right demonstration in Chemnitz, Germany. Credit: Jens Meyer,AP

Maassen’s comments came after a mob of neo-Nazis allegedly chased refugees through the streets of Chemnitz on August 26, following the stabbing of a German citizen. Maassen was quoted in German daily Bild as questioning the authenticity of an online video documenting the incident. “I share the skepticism toward media reports of right-wing extremists chasing down [foreigners] in Chemnitz,” he told the daily – a highly unusual comment for a top agency official to make.

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At the time, the spy chief’s quotes almost caused the governing coalition to break up as the centrist Social Democrats called for his dismissal. In a compromise move, it was decided to move Maassen into another position in the Interior Ministry.

Maassen also insisted there was no evidence of “hunts“ in Chemnitz – even though the city has a history of anti-Semitic attacks, including one on a Jewish restaurant. His comments also contradicted previous statements by Merkel and large sections of the German media.

The debate over Maassen was reignited on Sunday when a transcript surfaced of a speech he gave to international intelligence officials in Warsaw, in mid-October.

In the speech, Maassen not only reaffirmed his stance on the Chemnitz attacks, but also saw him speculating about parts of the Social Democratic party being “left-wing radicals.” He also framed his removal from his spy chief post as part of a conspiracy against him.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer delivering a statement in Berlin, November 5, 2018, on the controversy surrounding former domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen. Credit: \ FABRIZIO BENSCH/ REUTERS

After learning of the speech, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer effectively dismissed Maassen on Monday afternoon, saying that “a remark in his statement was unacceptable.”

According to the BBC, Seehofer told reporters: “I have asked the president to place the head of the domestic security service in early retirement.” The minister also stated his own personal disappointment in Maassen’s actions.

The controversy comes at a time when there has been an increase in attacks on immigrants in Germany. As head of the domestic intelligence agency, Maassen was directly responsible for tracking and fighting right-wing extremism.

The rise of the far-right, populist party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) has also changed the domestic political map in recent years. There have been calls for the domestic intelligence agency to monitor the group’s activities, due to alleged extremism. But despite these calls, Maassen reportedly met with AfD party leaders several times.

A former party member even claimed that Maassen gave former AfD leader Frauke Petry advice on how to avoid monitoring by his agency. Maassen denied the allegation.

The former spy chief had previously called himself a critic of a “naive and leftist migration and security policy” – a message seemingly directed at Merkel, whose administration has done more than most Western governments to accept refugees.

Following Maassen’s ouster on Monday, AfD leader Jörg Meuthen defended the former spy chief. “We have an excellent opinion of Mr. Maassen. He is an exemplary official, who is speaking the truth,” Meuthen said.

Maassen’s removal from office may now hasten his move into politics, something he has previously hinted at. Meuthen has already issued an invitation for Maassen to work with the AfD, saying his party would “welcome” him.

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