The Consortium

German Intelligence Suspected of Planting Plutonium

WASHINGTON -- Not only was it supposedly a great "intelligence coup," but the news from Germany in August 1994 was downright scary. German police had arrested three plutonium smugglers at the airport in Munich. The nuclear bandits, on a Lufthansa flight from Moscow, were carrying 364 grams (13 ounces) of the highly poisonous bomb material.

The news flashed around the world and got big play in the American media. Western intelligence agencies said the arrest justified fears about Russians selling bomb-grade nuclear material. But now, evidence is growing that the German intelligence service, BND, instigated the plutonium smuggling to create a dramatic international incident.

Special parliamentary committees in Bonn as well as in Bavaria's provincial government are examining what has become known as "the BND plutonium affair." A BND contract agent named "Rafa" told the Bonn committee that the plutonium deal was a "set-up" from the start. According to Rafa, the BND was part of the plot and lied to Bavarian police.

BND director Konrad Porzner and Bernd Schmidbauer, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's assistant for intelligence matters, are in danger of losing their jobs over the controversy, which has reportedly caused an upheaval inside the Germany intelligence community. The opposition Greens and Social Democrats suspect that the BND wanted to hype its own importance -- and exacerbate Western fears -- with the bogus plutonium arrest.

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