Security Service (SD)

Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), which included the Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence agency of the SS. German military intelligence gathering suffered from inter-service rivalries and internal politics. The Abwehr disliked the SD, considering them bullyboys in uniform and non-professional, while the SD considered the Abwehr as old fashioned and out of touch with reality and modern warfare intelligence gathering techniques.

A second foreign intelligence and espionage service existed independently from the German military or OKW, the Security Service (SD). Originally introduced into operation as a security organ of the National Social German Workers Party, it ascended to perform a dominant and overbearing role as an intelligence department of the Third Reich. Structurally, the SD existed as a subsidiary division of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler’s powerful RSHA and emerged in greater importance under management and ceaseless applications to expand jurisdictions of Reinhard Heydrich. Unlike the Abwehr, the SD was not exclusively limited to military intelligence, focusing their attentions on diverse political and ideological functions in Germany and the occupied territories. SD Section VI was constituted as the Nazi Party’s official foreign intelligence capability entirely independent of the Abwehr. It was the obligation within the RSHA framework to compile identities and background information on anti- Nazis to be summarily arrested and executed after occupation by the Wehrmacht. Individuals could be identified through the simplistic methods of analyzing media and newspapers or through pro-Nazi informants.

By March 1939 Heydrich had constructed a powerful and feared domestic spy service. He pulled minimal punches in capriciously resorting to blackmail and extortion to influence decisions by other Reich administrations. In 1935 Himmler first engaged the SD VI to assemble an international faculty to challenge the Abwehr. The premeditated objective was political intelligence, but as the war continued and the SS grew in prominence and standing, the SD acquired both economic and military intelligence functions. By the beginnings of European conflict in September 1939 the agency coordinated espionage systems in multiple international territories including South America, North Africa, Spain and Portugal. General Walter Schellenberg, who had attracted admirers due to a perceived expertise in counterintelligence operations, was recruited by Reinhard Heydrich and instated as VI commandant. He developed his profile sufficiently to become personal confidant to Reichsführer SS Himmler and deputy director of the Main Reich Security Office (RSHA). Schellenberg was immersed in many elaborate and notable German intelligence operations; for instance, he personally commanded the Venlo Incident on the ground.

Colonel Walter Schellenberg

One of Schellenberg’s wartime obligations was the masterminding of an occupation strategy for German police and administrative officials after the productive execution of Operation “Sea Lion,” the planned invasion of Britain. As instructed, Schellenberg accumulated the Sonderfahndungsliste GB, or special list. This directory of British citizens was a guidebook of individuals considered generally ideologically unsound or classified as security concerns who would be incarcerated and executed after the invasion. The SS traditionally concentrated its attention on eliminating any opposition, existing or imagined, to the Third Reich. This function permeated and endured as a consideration within its entire intelligence structure, and Schellenberg ensured that the SD infiltrated other agencies wherever possible. In the late 1930s the Third Reich secret intelligence services were not legally authorized to undertake operations against Wehrmacht or other intelligence agencies. Regardless of that fact, Heydrich persevered in investigating and collecting surveillance evidence on the German officer core for detecting suspicious activity or simply to gather bargainable information on senior personnel.

In September 1939, within a brief matter of weeks of the hostilities commencing, the SD was reconfigured and combined with other state policing authorities inside the RSHA. This centralization of state security departments under the SS and Himmler’s personal dominion blurred the boundaries dividing the Nazi Party and the central government. This powerful agency officially comprised the SD, Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo (Criminal Police), and Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo). Local independent state police forces disappeared as separate institutions and were relocated under the RSHA’s auspices. Himmler and the RSHA connived to mandate that all Fatherland intelligence and police departments were jurisdictionally qualified for combating the national socialist enemies. Reinhard Heydrich later became Himmler’s most powerful subordinate; with a standing admission to the Führer, he assumed presiding control over the new security service landscape. Institutional rivalries inside the German intelligence community dated back to 1934 when Heydrich and SD officials pronounced personally to Himmler their inventory of complaints and obstructive examples concerning Admiral Patzig. The Abwehr chief was accused of deliberately encumbering communication between military intelligence and SS security departments. In April 1934, Hermann Göring was forced to relinquish control of police as provincial police forces were classified as subject to centralization.

Many senior Abwehr commanders consequently recognized the SD irrefutably as a potential adversary detrimental to Germany’s long-term interests. Colonel Piekenbrock and the future Supreme Command chief, Wilhelm Keitel, developed a distaste for the SD and perceived imminent friction and dissonance that threatened their own departments. In 1934, in conditions of ascendant internal Nazi Party opposition Hitler ordered a liquidation of prominent sections of the Sturmabteilung (SA) branch. Minimal moderation was displayed for former comrades as the SS commenced the “night of the long knives” massacres. This campaign of detentions and assassinations appalled many in traditional inner recesses of Germany’s intelligence community, a definite contrast to Abwehr officers’ reputation of pragmatic diplomacy and subverting agendas. Army and Abwehr officials eliminated in the purges included the former Abwehr chief Bredow, shot and killed at his home. Doubts about SS and negative institutional distrust fermented in the aftermath of the `”night of the long knives.” Regular battles with Abwehr commanders and Canaris between 1937 and 1944 had critically incapacitated relations.

Heydrich and Canaris, taken at Horcher’s restaurant on 17 January 1935. Horcher’s was a favorite of bigwigs such as Hermann Goering, who even had them cater affairs at his Carinhall estate. Heydrich had met Canaris in July 1923 whilst stationed together on the Cruiser “Berlin,” and Canaris mentored him (both Heydrich and Canaris’ wife Erika played the violin) until Heydrich eventually became a party favorite.

An attempt at triggering greater collaboration, the “Ten Commandments” agreement in March 1942, confirmed by the Abwehr and SS commanders, briefly soothed mounting tensions. The Ten Commandments defined foreign espionage as the Abwehr’s jurisdiction, a provisional and impermanent reprieve preventing Nazi elements from muscling overtly into military intelligence territory. SD Department VI of the RSHA could be classified somewhat reservedly as a marginal foreign service division before 1942. By spring 1940 Himmler had adamantly conveyed orders that the fascist revolution demanded a foreign intelligence service attached to the Nazi Party while a framework existed the department was merely beginning to recruit highly skilled and appropriate personnel for overseas intelligence work. Schellenberg ensured that the SD oriented recruitment policies to select officers with experience of residing or working abroad, increasing population numbers from diverse national backgrounds and reprioritizing the selection of agents possessing multilingual skills. Other factors determined a progressive influence over international matters. The character of RSHA changed after the assassination of Heydrich, the irreversible accumulation of the security and police departments intensified and heightening national socialist paranoia reached a peak. Kaltenbrunner later succeeded Reinhard Heydrich as the security services chief. The von Stauffenberg plot and other conspiracies convinced senior SS officials of the essential necessity to unmask concealed enemies from inside.


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