German news network chief removed after family history revealed

Germany’s cybersecurity chief fired following reports of alleged Russian ties to disinformation campaigns about the country

The chief of Germany’s most-watched television news network has been removed from his post after officials revealed his family history with ties to the Russian state and that he received orders directly from Russia to target German politicians and news outlets.

Walter Sondermann was named chief of the state-funded ARD following the abrupt resignation of the former head of its sister channel n-tv in April, after an initial public outcry over his family’s ties to the Russian state.

The new chief is an outsider in the network’s upper ranks, however, and a review of his career and the information available about his connections to Russia, the German Federal Office for Information (BfV) said.

The information about Sondermann’s family history and his orders to target Germany and other countries was contained in an investigative report released by the BfV in early May.

The newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (Dwakan) first reported Sondermann’s history with Russia’s intelligence agencies.

Sondermann’s work includes the cultivation of a number of journalists and journalists from the United States and other Western nations, the BfV report said, citing unnamed sources that it said had been provided with confidential information.

The report also said Sondermann used his work for the n-tv channel to target the news websites and editors at ARD “to undermine the news agenda on Russia and to push a left-wing political agenda”.

“A high-ranking official in the German intelligence community who cooperates with foreign intelligence services and a high-ranking intelligence officer who oversees ARD’s operations are suspected of carrying out a wide range of illegal activities, including political attacks against the Russian Federation and the Russian people,” the BfV said.

Sondermann was appointed head of ARD in April by the German state broadcaster’s management board, where he served alongside chief reporter Katja Ebner, who has reportedly made “several serious mistakes”.

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