Prussian military doctrine emphasized the necessity of collecting good intelligence, and in 1866 Wilhelm Stieber, then editor of the Prussian Police Journal, was appointed Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm’s chief spymaster; he undertook a secret mission to London to investigate the activities of émigré radicals, among them Karl Marx. His request for assistance from Scotland Yard was met with a horrified rejection.
It was the kaiser’s spymaster Walther Nicolai who is often credited with having established the first modern European intelligence agency, and it was certainly as a consequence of concerns about the activities of his agents that Great Britain and France established counterespionage departments. He and Gustav Steinhauer, a former Pinkerton detective, pioneered modern intelligence collection techniques and gained considerable notoriety following the publication of numerous books in the interwar period describing their exploits.
Following the Treaty of Versailles, Germany’s intelligence activities were restricted to counterespionage conducted by the Abwehr, but following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Capt. Konrad Patzig and his successor, Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, supervised the development of a decentralized collection agency based on Germany’s military districts, each assigned overseas targets; Hamburg concentrated on Great Britain and the United States. However, the Abwehr became a refuge for anti-Nazis and in February 1944, following a series of embarrassing high-level defections, Canaris was placed on permanent leave and the Abwehr was absorbed into the Reich Security Agency, which included the parallel Nazi intelligence service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Following the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler, Canaris was arrested, along with several of his Abwehr subordinates and later he was executed, most probably at Flossenburg in February 1945.
After the German surrender, the Allies expressed considerable interest in maintaining the German military intelligence networks in Eastern Europe, managed by Gen. Reinhard Gehlen; his offer to continue his organization’s operations under American sponsorship was eagerly accepted and led to the establishment of the Federal German Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) at Pullach, outside Munich, in April 1956. The BND is presently headed by Dr. August Hanning, who replaced Dr. Hans-Georg Geiger in 1998. A corresponding internal security apparatus, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), had been established in Cologne in December 1950 under Dr. Otto John, and both organizations remain in existence despite having experienced significant hostile penetration from the KGB and the East German Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung. The BfV is headed by Heinz Fromm, who replaced Peter Frisch in June 2000.