Gaby Weber
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Auskunftsbegehren an das Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz bezüglich Argentinien (1975-83)

In July 2014, I requested all records of the Federal Office for (Internal) Intelligence (BfV) referring to Argentina during the years 1975 to 1983. I am interested in all reports, memos, etc. of the employees of the BfV working inside the German Embassy in Buenos Aires and the reports of the so-called "friendly services", i.e. the Argentine police and military security offices during the dictatorship. Numerous German citizens are among the disappeared; in 1975, a manager of Mercedes-Benz Argentina, Heinrich Metz, was kidnapped by guerillas.  In Germany, armed groups such as the RAF had repeatedly referred to the liberation movements in the Third World, and Argentine refugees in Europe were watched by German security authorities. Therefore,  documentary material must exist in abundance.
I am basing my request on the German Constitution, the Federal Archives Act and the Freedom of Information Act (IFG). The article 3, no. 8 of the IFG (excluding the intelligence services from their obligation to give information) is in my view not constitutional.
The BfV does not deny my right to see these records; it says that it could not find any relevant information. My request to grant me access to the finding aids – in order to search myself - was not answered. This is the way that the intelligence offices want to eliminate the Freedom of Information Act, by simply saying that they have do not have any files on the desired topic. Other public offices have opened their libraries and reading rooms to researchers and finding aids are available. This must also apply to the intelligence services. On the 3rd of December 2014, my attorneys filed a lawsuit against BfV.

On 15 December 2016, oral proceedings took place before the Cologne Administrative Court. The representatives of the BfV again claimed that they could not find in their digitized search file which contains the subject and the case number any files on the mentioned cases (Käsemann, Zieschank, Metz etc.) or referring to Argentina. Only one record was located, a record about the ERP-guerilla, but it had already been destroyed in 1990, they said. The judges asked whether the Office had at that time a liaison officer in Argentina but they got no answer, and the judges were satisfied with it. The BfV admitted that they still own thousands of non-digitized files that may contain information about the Argentine dictatorship. However, checking these files would constitute an "unreasonable administrative burden".

With this argument - of an "unacceptable administrative burden" – bureaucrats once had tried to impede the German Freedom of Information Act (2005). They claimed that citizens could paralyze the public institutions with their requests for information. However, the IFG has been working for more than 10 years, and public offices have suffered no negative consequences. In fact, the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt), whose old files are also not digitized, did the work and released some archives referring to the Argentine dictatorship, including a letter of Klaus Zieschank, who was secretly arrested at the time and later murdered in Argentina. This work was not an "unreasonable administrative burden" for the Federal Chancellery.

Not so for the intelligence agency BfV, the Cologne judges found. Even though they said in the hearing that "many things remain to be clarified juristically", they rejected my complaint with the argument of an "unacceptable administrative burden". It was already ten minutes past 1:00 p.m., and they wanted to go to lunch. I appealed. In February 2020, I presented the case to the European Human Rights Court.