The Russian war against Ukraine “also means a turning point for internal security,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in June 2023, warning of a new wave of disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and espionage by foreign intelligence services.
At the beginning of August, there was another case in point: Thomas H.* was arrested Wednesday (August 9) in the western city of Koblenz, when the federal prosecutor’s office accused the Bundeswehr officer of having betrayed information about military details to Russian intelligence.
The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel reported that Thomas H. had already come to the attention of his colleagues because of his sympathy for the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). Some parts of the party is considered far-right extremist and very critical of the NATO alliance’s attempts to help Ukraine against Russian aggression.
At the end of 2022, a similar case made headlines. Carsten L., head of a unit of Germany’s foreign intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), where he was responsible for “personnel security,” was accused of working as a double agent for the Russian secret service FSB and of having betrayed state secrets.
According to media reports, the FSB is said to have been particularly interested in data on air defense positions supplied to Ukraine by Western states. However, it is unclear whether Carsten L. had access to this information. He was arrested on December 21, 2022, and is being tried for treason along with a suspected accomplice.
Mr & Mrs Anschlag
But it is not only since the Russian invasion of Ukraine that spies in Germany have been reporting to Moscow. Beginning sometime in the 1980s, two Russian agents led a middle-class life under the names of Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag, he posing as an engineer, she as a housewife.
They spied on NATO and the European Union first for the Soviet Union, then for the Russian secret service, receiving their orders via encrypted radio messages on shortwave, at a time when espionage was not yet a predominantly digital business. It was not until 2011 that their cover was blown — probably thanks to a tip-off from US intelligence services. In 2013, they were sentenced to several years in prison and eventually deported to Russia.
The communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) referred to their agents as “scouts of peace.” An estimated 12,000 of them are believed to have been deployed by the East German secret service, the Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi, to West Germany during the Cold War.
Among them was Gabriele Gast, a West German who was recruited by a Stasi officer in 1968 while on a research trip to East Germany for her dissertation entitled: “The Political Role of Women in the GDR.” From then on, Gast reported to the intelligence service in East Germany — while also making a career for herself at the Western intelligence service BND under a false name. She was only exposed after the collapse of the GDR in 1989, shortly before the reunification of Germany. She is still considered to have been one of the GDR’s top spies in the West.
Gabriele Gast was one of the GDR’s most high profile spies (photo from 1995)Image: Michael Jung/dpa/picture alliance
Alfred Spuhler may have been a similarly good source for the Stasi. As a high-ranking BND official, he unmasked hundreds of Western agents working in the GDR. He was arrested in November 1989.
Heinz Felfe, the longtime head of the BND’s “Counterintelligence Soviet Union” unit, was also a double agent. He was a member of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s police unit, Schutzstaffel (SS), then reported to the KGB in Moscow until 1961. Over the years, Felfe is believed to have worked for seven different intelligence services, including the British MI6.
Probably the most sensational espionage case from the Cold War period in Germany is that of Günter Guillaume.
Posing as refugees from East Germany, he and his wife Christel came to West Germany in 1956. Their mission was to provide the Stasi with internal information about the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Guillaume worked his way up, eventually becoming personal advisor to Chancellor Willy Brandt when the SPD came to power.
When Guillaume’s cover was blown, Brandt was forced to resign as chancellor on May 6, 1974. Guillaume was sentenced to 13 years in prison and his wife to eight years. Both were released in 1981 in exchange for West German agents.
Günter Guillaume (r.) was the assistant of Chancellor Willy Brandt (l.)Image: picture-alliance / akg-images
Elli Barczatis and Karl Laurenz
A particularly large number of Stasi spies were exposed after the fall of the Wall. Not much is known about Western agents in the GDR, with the notable exception of Elli Barczatis and Karl Laurenz, who smuggled GDR documents to the West at the beginning of the Cold War in the early 1950s.
Barczatis worked as chief secretary to GDR Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl. She obtained rather banal government papers that she passed to her lover Karl Laurenz, who handed them over to West German authorities. When this was discovered, both Barczatis and Laurenz were sentenced to death in East Germany and executed by guillotine in 1955.
This article was originally written in German.
*Editor’s note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.
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