Contrary to previous government statements, the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) Thomas Haldenwang may have passed on information to journalists about the authority’s findings regarding the Potsdam “secret meeting” of right-wing extremists and AfD politicians.

This emerges from answers from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which the office reported to the Cologne Administrative Court after a lawsuit by the Tagesspiegel based on the right to information under press law (case number: 6 L 565/24). The information also makes it more likely that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution knew about the meeting in advance.

At the beginning of the year, the research platform “Correctiv” revealed that plans for the “remigration” of migrants had been presented in a Potsdam hotel. There were then nationwide demonstrations directed against right-wing extremism and the rise of the right-wing populist AfD.

According to media reports, Haldenwang said in confidential conversations with journalists almost two weeks after the revelations that the BfV had already been informed about the Potsdam event in advance. This was initially denied by the federal government. In response to a parliamentary question from the AfD, the Federal Ministry of the Interior stated in February that Haldenwang had “not disclosed any information” with regard to the meeting at the appointment in question with journalists.

However, the BfV now apparently believes it is possible that at least general information about the authority’s level of knowledge about the “secret meeting” was passed on at the time. The meeting could have been “the subject of abstractly formulated questions” from the journalists present. “Such questions, if they were asked at all, would have been answered as abstractly as possible,” says the authority in the information provided to the Tagesspiegel. It is ruled out that Haldenwang gave “details” about operational activities or findings of the BfV in this context.

The BfV employees who were present at the time were also interviewed for the information provided, including Haldenwang himself. Since the conversations with journalists were not recorded, their content “could not be completely reconstructed,” it is said. In other words: Haldenwang can no longer remember exactly what he said at the Potsdam meeting. It is possible, however, that he reported “abstractly” about knowledge that the BfV had in advance of the meeting.

The BfV initially refused to provide the requested information, citing the agreed confidentiality as the “basis of existence” of the group of journalists. However, according to several rulings by the Federal Administrative Court, authorities are obliged to ensure transparency about this form of their official media work. During the course of the process, the BfV changed its position, released the information and now has to bear the costs of the procedure.

The AfD suspects that federal and state constitutional protection authorities could provide the media with information in confidential background sessions in order to put the party in a bad light. Both in the Bundestag and in various state parliaments, AfD representatives therefore make parliamentary inquiries about such meetings, especially with journalists from public broadcasting.

In fact, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has so far been easy to approach for the confidential exchange of information, while publicly holding back from making media statements. According to Tagesspiegel research, in January 2024 alone, the month of the “Correctiv” unveiling, Haldenwang took part in three press background sessions in Berlin, always at the invitation of media representatives. The BfV itself also organized three rounds of discussions last year.

Haldenwang is personally “available for background discussions to all media whose interest in dealing with topics related to the activities of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is considered by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution to be proven and which, in its opinion, have sufficient reach,” the agency says . Since the beginning of 2023, ARD, Deutschlandradio, rbb, “Spiegel”, “Bild” and “Zeit”, among others, have been involved. Occasionally there were also cancellations. Why remains unclear.

In total, the authority was active in more than 90 confidential individual meetings with other representatives at the Berlin and Cologne locations as well as at the Munich Security Conference during the same period. The “Spiegel” newspaper is at the top with 13 meetings, followed by the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (8) and “Welt” (7).

It remains unclear whether the AfD observation was a topic in the confidential contacts. Initially it was said that no information could be provided due to a lack of minutes. It was later said that this “could not be found out” even after the official knowledge of BfV employees was queried.

By Jost Müller-Neuhof

The original for this article “Who knew about right-wing secret meetings? Constitutional protection boss makes mysterious statement” comes from Tagesspiegel.