Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer: Who should be at the top of the MAD?
Photo: Torsten Kraatz / dpa
When an intelligence chief is fired, honesty tends to fall by the wayside.
Instead of clearly saying that the top official or his agency has failed to uncover terrorist attacks or hunt right-wing extremists, phrases are used instead.
Instead of objective criticism or a halfway honest testimony, the victim prefers poisoned praise.
So it went on Thursday afternoon.
It was a good hour since the news of the dismissal of Christof Gramm as President of the Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD) by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, when her ministry sent a press release.
It read that Gramm had achieved a lot in reforming the troubled military intelligence service.
But now it is time for a fresh start, everyone has agreed on that.
Gramm himself was not surprised by his resignation.
At the latest when Kramp-Karrenbauer spontaneously invited himself to the MAD headquarters in Cologne in the middle of the week, the by no means naive Gramm suspected that his time as MAD boss was over.
In the past few months he had often pondered a retreat of his own accord.
Now the boss made the decision for him.
There are many reasons for Gramm's resignation, even if most of them have little to do with himself.
The MAD, the smallest of the three German secret services, had simply not gotten out of the negative headlines in the past few months.
Roughly speaking, the head of the ministry no longer trusted Gramm to properly set up the MAD for the efficient search for right-wing extremist soldiers in the Bundeswehr.
There were plenty of scandals.
Just two years after Gramm began in 2015, the extreme right-wing Lieutenant Franco A., who had acquired a second identity as a Syrian refugee during his military service, was found out.
For the MAD the revelation was a shock, because A. had never been noticed by the service before, nobody had reported him and his colleagues.
In fact, the MAD was clueless, a worst-case scenario for every intelligence chief.
Gramm cheated with his agent troop until the end
The misery continued.
Journalists often found out details about right-wing extremist soldiers and their networks in the Bundeswehr faster than the MAD.
When, in the end, overly exaggerated reports appeared about an alleged shadow army of Bundeswehr soldiers who were allegedly planning a violent overthrow of the government, the MAD, and with it Gramm, finally fell on the defensive.
Even under ex-Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the service including grams was tied tighter to the ministry because of the Franco A. case.
At von der Leyen, the suspicion had crept in that the many ex-soldiers at the MAD were overly indulgent to right-wing extremist comrades in the troops.
Von der Leyen ordered the MAD to cooperate more closely with the civil protection of the constitution, which was supposed to control the MAD.
Christof Gramm: Head of the MAD since 2015
Photo: Jens Schicke / imago images / Jens Schicke
The MAD's reputation has never been good.
For years, the secret service, with its more than a thousand employees, considered it its most important task to "prevent bad news about the Bundeswehr instead of exposing right-wing extremist structures," says a senior general mockingly.
Gramm, the now dismissed president, cheated until the end with his troops of agents, whom he could never really trust.
But this year it got worse.
It emerged that, despite all their lip service to cooperation, Gramm's agents had not informed the civil protection of the Constitution about an upcoming raid on a right-wing extremist elite fighter from the Special Forces Command (KSK), during which a huge arsenal was discovered.
Then DER SPIEGEL revealed that a high-ranking MAD investigator had passed on secret investigative material to comrades of the main suspect.
The focus is now on the minister
Gramm, an inconspicuous officer straight out of a picture book, looked overwhelmed.
He regularly had to report to State Secretary Gerd Hoofe and then to the secret service control committee.
For a man like Gramm, who had worked on legal issues in the Defense Department for years, the appearances were a horror.
For a secret service chief he probably lacked the toughness, but also the callousness that is needed in the tough industry of services.
Over the past few months it has become more and more lonely for grams.
He himself thought of a voluntary retreat, as he noticed that both the State Secretary and the head of the legal department in the ministry were no longer behind him.
Last week he is said to have offered his retirement semi-officially for the first time.
Only a few days later, the minister contacted Gramm and announced her spontaneous visit to Cologne.
For Kramp-Karrenbauer, castling at the top of the MAD is risky, and the ministry is already talking about the minister's first pawn sacrifice.
Since taking office, Kramp-Karrenbauer has been brisk in the fight against right-wing extremists.
After the replacement of Gramm, however, the focus is now more than ever on herself. Announcements such as the one about the "iron broom" with which she wants to sweep out sound good.
But now it will be measured against specific results.
The first important question is with whom she will refill the MAD post.
Hardly any of the officials from the ministry want to go to the military intelligence service.
The MAD job has been considered a career killer and ejected seat not just since Gramm's resignation.
Nevertheless, the minister must find a suitable person who is familiar with the subject of right-wing extremism and whom she can trust one hundred percent.
She doesn't have much time for it.
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