domestic intelligence brazil style?

Terry Gilliam in Brazil, 1985

Heinz Fromm, since June 2000 head of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz [“Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution,” Germany’s domestic intelligence agency] voiced some notable statements during the last days, from which—quite inexplicably—it was deduced that Fromm is perfectly at ease with his service using information stemming from torture-interrogations: “Für die Aufklärungsarbeit der Nachrichtendienste muss gelten, dass allen Gefährdungshinweisen, die wir bekommen, auch nachgegangen wird. […] Man sieht den Informationen im Übrigen nicht an, woher sie stammen, und wie sie gewonnen wurden. Die Möglichkeit, dass sie nicht nach unseren rechtstaatlichen Grundsätzen erlangt worden sein könnten, darf nicht dazu führen, dass wir sie ignorieren. Schließlich geht es darum, Terroranschläge zu verhindern.” [“For the reconnaisance work of the intelligence services it must be true, that every hint at potential danger is followed. […] By the way, you can not know from where the information stems and how it was acquired. The possibility, that they were not acquired in accordance with the rule of our law, must not lead to our ignoring them. In the end, everything is about preventing terrorist attacks.”—my translation] This is downright scandalous. I mean, “you can not know from where the information stems and how it was acquired”? What kind of work ethic is that? Ever heard about the art of critically shedding light upon your sources? Ever heard about context? What is an information worth, if you do not know how it was generated, and where it came from? You not only have to know if information was harvested by means of torture, but exactly by what kind of torture, in order to sort this information correctly, and to bring its potential to full bloom. This is an intelligence service we are talking about, for hell’s sake! Where have this people learned their trade, where have they studied? Surely not at a department for sociocultural anthropology. ‘Cause, if they had, they would know how to correctly deal with information from the field. And then the usual flock of nay-sayers does not cease to tell me, that there are no jobs for trained anthropologists. Boy, oh boy, our intelligence services seem to be in dire need of anthropological expertise wholesale.

By the way, just as a sidenote, the first sentence of the first article of the German Constitution—the very compendium the above named service was created to protect—reads: “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar.” [“Human dignity is sacrosanct.”—my translation] Not important, though.

Screen capture from Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil (1985)