BERLIN — After a series of scandals involving far-right extremists in the German military, the government on Thursday dismissed the head of its military counterintelligence service, the body tasked with monitoring extremism inside the armed forces.
Christof Gramm, who has led the agency since 2015, will take early retirement next month, according to a statement by the defense ministry. A successor has yet to be named.
It is the latest sign that after years of neglect, political leaders are moving to confront an issue that has become too dangerous to ignore.
During Mr. Gramm’s five years at the helm of the service, the number of cases of far-right extremists inside the military, some hoarding weapons and explosives, has multiplied alarmingly.
Thursday’s announcement came three months after Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer disbanded one of four fighting companies in Germany’s elite special forces, the KSK, because it was considered to be riddled with extremists.
Investigators had discovered a trove of Nazi memorabilia and an extensive arsenal of stolen ammunition and explosives on the property of a sergeant major who had served in the KSK since 2001. Several soldiers in his company had flashed Hitler salutes and sang Nazi rock at a party, according to a witness statement.
Over all, the military counterintelligence service, known widely by the acronym MAD, is investigating more than 600 soldiers for far-right extremism. Some 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62 kilograms, or about 137 pounds, of explosives have disappeared from the KSK.
Officials familiar with his departure said that Mr. Gramm’s personal integrity was not in doubt. But on his watch — and despite a series of internal reforms — the military counterintelligence service failed in its mission to monitor and detect extremism.
Concerns about far-right infiltration even turned to the agency itself: A high-ranking investigator in its extremism unit was suspended in June after sharing confidential material from an investigation about a KSK soldier with a contact inside the KSK.
“The work of the MAD was not satisfactory,” Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer said in July after the latest KSK scandal. “It’s still not enough.”
Thursday’s statement acknowledged that Mr. Gramm had initiated some changes that led to “a tangible improvement” in how the service operated. But there was a need for “additional efforts and dynamism” that should be reflected by a change in personnel, the defense ministry statement read.
The aim now is to tie the agency’s work more closely to the far bigger domestic intelligence agency, whose leader has identified far-right extremism and terrorism as the “biggest danger to German democracy today.”