The history of the Bundesnachrichtendienst
(Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service)

Following a decision of the Federal Cabinet, West Germany’s own foreign intelligence service was founded on April 1st, 1956. The decision also included a decree for the incorporation into the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, of the “Organisation Gehlen” which up to then had been run by the USA – namely by the CIA, since 1949.

The Organisation Gehlen

After the end of World War II, former General of the Wehrmacht Reinhard Gehlen, who had been head of the department “Fremde Heere Ost“ (FHO, foreign armies east) in the German army’s High Command, had brought his former colleagues as well as the FHO’s documents into the service of the United States. Working for the US, they were to gather intelligence concerning the USSR’s Red Army and its allies, as well as about the military and political situation in the Soviet Occupation Zone – the future GDR. Since 1946, the clandestine organisation, which was financed and run by the US, operated from the territory of the American occupation zone. At first, its headquarters were located at Oberursel in the Taunus. In December 1947, they were relocated to Pullach which is south of Munich.

The motive for the relocation was the idea of being able to concentrate the constantly growing number of employees in a “headquarters”. It was also intended to house the employees, with their families, in a compound that was as removed from the outside world as possible. An almost completely self-sufficient settlement offering comprehensive facilities was required because the official procedure of registration of residence, and the enrolment of the children in state schools, was dispensed with because the other Allies were not supposed to become aware of the existence of the secret organisation. During a reconnaissance trip around the American occupation zone, employees of the organisation and American liaison officers inspected various properties, e.g. in Esslingen and Murnau, before finally coming to Pullach. In 1947, they found a compound there that served as the headquarters of the Civilian Censorship Division. In the years 1936 to 1938, the part of the compound to the west of what today is the Heilmannstrasse had been built as the “Reichssiedlung Rudolf Hess” (Reich estate Rudolf Hess) for the employees of the party chancellery of the NSDAP. During the Second World War, buildings of various kinds had been built in the area east of Heilmannstrasse which was called “Führerhauptquartier Siegfried“.

The representatives of the Gehlen organisation found the site suitable primarily because of its social facilities: there was an “eating hall“, various workshops and service enterprises such as a shoemaker’s shop, a tailor’s shop and a hairdresser. This made it easier to accommodate the families, too. It was, as an eyewitness recalls, the perfect site to establish an “autocratic realm of the Organisation Gehlen“.

In December of 1947, substantial parts of the organisation moved to the Pullach “camp“. The hermetic isolation from the other residential areas of Pullach was ensured by fences, by walls furnished with barbed wire as well as by blocking the connecting road that ran through the area. For reasons of security and secrecy, contact with the local population was not wanted; a kindergarten and a school were set up for the children of the employees. The key factor for deciding in favour of Pullach may have been the fact that an undestroyed, intact infrastructure of 30 one- and two-family homes of the Reichssiedlung could be used which offered first-rate conditions for housing employees and their families.

The “Reichssiedlung Rudolf Hess“

Several building projects that had been carried out in the course of the re-establishment of the NSDAP 1925 in Munich constituted the basis for the use of the 68-hectare area in Pullach by the “Organisation Gehlen“. The purchase of a centrally located representative party building was among the demonstrative actions with which the party was able to establish itself. After several relocations, the Reichsleitung of the Party, the Party Directorate of the NSDAP, moved into its new home in the Palais Barlow, the so-called “Brown House“ in Brienner Strasse. It was altered according to plans by Ludwig Troost and in 1931, the Reichsleitung moved into the building. When the NSDAP came into power in 1933, the party organisation had already found the structure it was to maintain unchanged almost until the end of the Third Reich. It was headed by the “Führer’s deputy“ and future Minister of the Reich without Portfolio, Rudolf Hess.

Establishing the most important offices of the Reichsleitung in Munich was a part of the organisational structure. This included an extensive building project in Munich’s Max-Vorstadt, namely the construction of the administration building of the NSDAP, and of the Führerbau in Arcisstrasse, the erection of the Ehrentempel and the transformation of the Königplatz into a gigantic parade ground. Finally, in 1939, 50 buildings in the vicinity of the Königsplatz were occupied by offices of the Reichsleitung and associated organisations.

The building programme was tied to the search for a suitable place for housing the party elite of the NSDAP in a separate area. An area on the outskirts of the municipality of Pullach, outside of Munich, which was close enough to the city centre and thus easily reached was chosen. Martin Bormann, who was one of the Reichsleiter (Member of the Party Direcorate) and secretary of Rudolf Hess’ department, had purchased several private properties there using party moneys and was entered personally in the land register. The Starnberg architect and boat builder Roderich Fick (1886–1955) was commissioned to plan and execute the building project in recognition of his design for the “Haus der Deutschen Ärzte“ (“House of German Physicians”) in Brienner Strasse. Martin Bormann, who at that time was the “Head of Staff of the Führer’s Deputy“, appeared as the contractor and developer.

The architect’s design concept provided for spacious grounds in a symmetrical layout that were to be conducive to producing a community spirit. The one- and two-family homes that were situated around a rectangular green, were lined up to face the central staff building and were made accessible from today’s Heilmannstrasse via a loop called Sonnenweg. The project of the estate “Im Sonnenwinkel“ included a large gardener’s shop with greenhouses, a car yard with workshops and garages and various houses for drivers and domestics. Despite the fact that the estate, which had been completed in 1938 and had been in use since, was openly accessible to everyone, the individual houses were shielded from the public roads by head-high walls so that the privacy desired was maintained. Irrespective of the different sizes of the building types, there were recurring design elements in all the houses. They were simple, well-proportioned structures with steep hipped roofs, strictly sectionalised facades with lattice windows that were let in flush with the external rendering and had folding shutters inside. It was characteristic that a uniform selection of simple materials was joined with a high quality of craftsmanship in the buildings of the estate. In their architectural type, they referred to a well-known antecedent from 18th-century architecture, namely to Goethe’s Gartenhaus in Weimar. The Stabsleiterhaus (Residence of the Head of Staff) lay at the centre of the estate. It was a representative villa which, on the ground floor, sported conference rooms as well as a music room, a dining room and a library, while the living quarters of the Stabsleiter Martin Bormann and his family was on the first floor. Bronze statues of the artists Josef Thorak and Fritz Klimsch, whom the Nazi regime patronised, were set up in the garden parterre which adjoined the south of the house and could be accessed through the large fireplace hall. The wing that had been added to the main building served as a maintenance building. The design of the garden had come from the landscape architect Alwin Seifert, who was responsible for planning all the open spaces and gardens of the estate.
In 1939, the newly appointed Generalbaurat (General Building Surveyor), Hermann Giesler, took over the responsibilities of the architect Roderich Fick who had been appointed Professor of Design at Munich Technical University in 1936 and who was to become Reichsbaurat (Building Surveyor for the Reich) for the city of Linz later on. In 1943, he built the nursery school on the northern side of the communal green to form a counterpart to the Stabsleiterhaus. It was a building that was bound to the “Heimatschutzstil“ (“Style of Homeland Protection“, an architectural style favoured by the Nazis) in its architectural characteristics. The basement of the building was already converted into a shelter for the families living on the estate. After Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland in 1941, Martin Bormann, the “Führer’s Secretary“ took over the office which had been renamed into “Party Chancellery“.

The Führerhauptquartier Siegfried (“Führer’s Headquarters Siegfried“)

During the Second World War, the Organisation Todt built a total of 16 Führerhauptquartiere all over the entire territory of the Reich and the occupied areas from where the Command of the Wehrmacht were to run wartime operations close to the front. One of the last complexes for the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht was built in the years from 1943 to 1944 in the wooded area adjacent to the estate, to the east of the Heilmannstrasse. Used as a recreation area, it already belonged to the party, and was earmarked for the future development of the estate in the long term. Bormann presumably wanted to keep the place ready for “his Führer“ as alternative quarters in the event that the Obersalzberg compound was bombed. However, Hitler never came to this headquarter. The Führerhauptquartier “Siegfried“ comprised the large command bunker “Hagen“ which was dominated by a tower for close defence, and also administration buildings that were protected against shrapnel and spread all over the woods, as well as numerous “RAD barracks“ (Reichsarbeitsdienst barracks) which were wooden constructions for the guards and personnel. A separate heating building was constructed which could also supply the bunker. Measuring around 70 x 20 metres, the bunker compound had its own emergency power supply with diesel engines that were to ensure lighting and the operation of the self-contained ventilating systems and the waste water pumps. Ceilings of a thickness of three metres and three-and-a-half-metre exterior walls enclosed more than 30 rooms, a third of which were set up as working spaces.

The compound was accessed from the north via the Promenadenweg. The area was connected with the railway network of the Reich by a railway siding. By a point, two tracks were connected that were routed parallel to the edge of the slope, which ran in a direction from north to south, and ended near what today is called Emil-Riedl-Weg. The special trains of the Führer or of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht could be parked here. At the same time as these construction works were carried out, another bunker complex for the Stabsleiter’s personal use was built right next to the Stabsleiterhaus. Additional accommodation facilities for the drivers of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht) and the escorts were erected in the area of the estate’s vehicle maintenance building and shelter, and a hut that housed the kitchen and dining-hall next to it. The central office of Professor Hermann Giesler (1898-1987), who, as “Generalbaurat für die Hauptstadt der Bewegung München” (“General Building Surveyor for the Capital of the Movement Munich“) reported directly to Hitler from 1939 onwards, was responsible for the planning of the OKW buildings.

Despite the fact that the Führerhauptquartier had never been used as intended, it nevertheless remained “in operation“ until the end of the war. The communications centre in the bunker was operated by signal soldiers and operators delegated from the Reichspost. At the end of March 1945, the families of the party leaders left the estate, at the end of April, American soldiers occupied the area. The total damage caused to the compound by aerial warfare was limited. Thus, the bunker compound did not sustain any damage from the war, were however ravaged by looters. A fact-finding commission of the US Army that was there in May of 1945 rated the compound “modern and first class“. At first, the undestroyed buildings were used as accommodations for troops passing through and as a prison camp, and for a short while also served for sheltering “displaced persons”. In the autumn of 1945, the Civil Censor Division was established, an institution for censoring letters. The division existed until 1947 and then made room for the “Organisation Gehlen“ in December. Because of the Control Council Directive No. 50 of April 29th, 1947, the freehold property was retroactively transferred to the Free State of Bavaria in 1949, which in turn sold the entire property to the Federation in 1962.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst

After the conclusion of many years of negotiations about taking the “Organisation Gehlen“ into Federal Service as well as about financing the follow-up costs, the foundation of the Bundesnachrichtendienst showed that the infant Federal Republic now set its sights confidently on foreign and security policy. The abolition of the occupation statute, the state sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany, the foundation of the European Defence Community and the establishment of the Bundeswehr (Federal German Army) formed the historical and political framework of this step. Following the re-establishment of German armed forces, the Cabinet’s decision of 1955 was based on the commitment of wanting to maintain an intelligence service that was responsible for gathering foreign intelligence on Germany’s own behalf. With this decision, the Federal Government set a clear example which also strengthened the Republic’s orientation towards the West.

Right from the beginning, the activities of the Bundesnachrichtendienst were characterized by a close cooperation of the departments that were concerned with analysis and interpretation with the branches that were responsible for both technical as well as traditional intelligence gathering that operated based on sources. Those had already been the strengths of the “Organisation Gehlen“, and now became the hallmarks of the Bundesnachrichtendienst and its way of working. Therefore, April 1st, 1956 did not signify a complete new start for the Bundesnachrichtendienst; rather , continuity prevailed: the old files and card indexes were kept, the work was continued as before. From the foundation of the “Organisation Gehlen” up to the year 1990, the Warsaw Pact countries were considered the focal points of the intelligence-gathering activities, with the Soviet Occupation Zone (and from 1949, the German Democratic Republic) being regarded foreign territory. The focus, which at first lay on military matters, was broadened since the 1950s – political, technical and economic analysis was increased.

Several changes in the organisation that were motivated, in part, by shifts in the perception of the objectives and, in part, by the desire to obfuscate the organisational structure, characterised the structure of the Bundesnachrichtendienst and its predecessor since the foundation of the “Organisation Gehlen“. It was only in 1968 under its second president, Gerhard Kessel, that the organisational structure of the Bundesnachrichtendienst was made more stable due to the foundation of, at first, four departments. By 2005, this structure had been expanded to include a total of eight departments. They essentially represent the areas of responsibility of operational and technical intelligence, analysis, administration, technical support, security, and training.

The utilisation of the premises in Pullach had been limited exclusively to the existing buildings of the Reichssiedlung and to the OKW buildings until the Bundesnachrichtendienst was founded. New building projects were not carried out. The increased demand for space caused by the steadily growing number of employees could be met by not using the residential buildings for their original purpose anymore, and by converting them into office buildings with little effort. Since 1956, numerous residential houses of the party estate were remodelled to form a continuous office block by erecting connecting buildings, and new buildings were added. Since 1961, the area east of Heilmannstrasse was also systematically developed for new buildings. Thus, Wehrmacht buildings that were above ground were knocked down to make room for office buildings and technical buildings. Corresponding with the slowly growing demand, a total of a dozen office buildings were erected in the span of 35 years, the last and largest of which was opened in 1996. Numerous workshops, storehouses and central buildings for power supply as well as a group of residential buildings for employees on Emil-Riedl-Weg completed the building project. An extensive refurbishment of the infrastructure was begun at the end of the 1990s. The heating system and transfer stations, the entire sewage system, the emergency power supply which covered the whole area, and the medium-voltage network were modernised; streets, roads and parking lots were repaired. The growing need for security had already been addressed at the end of the 1970s by building a central access road and an underpass connecting the two parts of the area. The final large building project, the installation of a central management system for controlling the power consumption of the systems for the operation of the buildings, was completed in 2004.

For the Bundesnachrichtendienst, the end of the East-West conflict brought with it the challenge of working with new subject-matters and in new fields of activity. Supporting the liberation of German citizens that were taken hostage in foreign countries, gathering intelligence on the often interconnected networks of the international arms trade, of drug trafficking and of organised crime are increasingly becoming the focus of attention. Furthermore, intelligence about the international structures of terrorism and the protection of the Bundeswehr on its foreign assignments are among the most important tasks the Bundesnachrichtendienst is given by the Federal Government. 

In the course of the relocation of the Federal Government from Bonn to Berlin, a department of the intelligence service and various central offices were moved from Pullach to Berlin in 2003. About 1,000 employees moved into a refurbished building complex in a listed former barracks in Berlin-Lichterfelde. On April 10th, 2003, the security cabinet headed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder decided to also relocate the headquarters of the Bundesnachrichtendienst from Pullach to Berlin. Following a restricted competition in the autumn of 2004, the Berlin architects Kleihues & Kleihues were commissioned to develop the plans. Construction is scheduled to start in 2007. The relocation from around 100 individual buildings in Pullach and various branch offices into a contiguous building complex in Berlin is to be completed by 2011 at the latest. A decision about the future use of the premises in Pullach has not yet been made.

With kind permission of the Bundesnachrichtendienst