Legendary East German spymaster, denied asylum, turns self in

September 25, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- Markus Wolf -- "the man without a face," once regarded as the Communist world's most brilliant spy -- came in from the cold yesterday.

The man who headed East Germany's intelligence service for 30years during the Cold War crossed the border voluntarily from Austria to Germany, where he is to stand trial on espionage charges. At first he was released on $30,000 bail after convincing a federal judge that he would not flee the country again. But later he was ordered back to jail pending the outcome of an appeal by prosecutors.

Just days before Germany was reunited last year, the 68-year-old spymaster fled to the Soviet Union and then to Austria to escape prosecution. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

One of the most colorful figures in East Germany's 40-year history, Mr.Wolf founded and oversaw a network of up to 4,000 agents, confounding the West with astonishing, and embarrassing, successes.

He became known as the "man without a face," because he was never photographed until 1978, when he went out shopping with his wife in Stockholm after a meeting there.

He is said to have served as the model for the cunning East German intelligence chief depicted in John le Carre's novel "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold."

At the height of Mr. Wolf's Cold War career, the tentacles of his Central Administration for Intelligence reached into the inner sanctums of governments as close as West Germany and as far away as Libya. His payroll included insignificant clerks and the most highly placed officials.

Some of his coups included bribing a West German parliamentarian during a motion of no confidence against then-West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

Mr. Brandt, whom the East Germans favored over his more conservative rivals, survived the motion by the one vote. But he resigned in 1974 when his personal secretary, Guenther Guillaume, was exposed as an East German agent.

In 1985, the head of West Germany's counterespionage operations, Hans Joachim Tiedge, turned out to be a double agent working for East Germany. He fled to the East before West German authorities could nab him.

German officials say as many as 400 of Mr. Wolf's agents may still be in Germany's ministries.

Two years after retiring in 1987 to become an author, Mr. Wolf turned against his hard-line East German bosses and threw his support behind Soviet-style glasnost.

His book "Die Troika" described his hopes for internal reform, and for a few months he became the leading inside proponent of East German political liberalization.

But when East Germany collapsed in 1990 and was united with West Germany, Mr. Wolf fled back to the Soviet Union, where he had spent his youth in hiding from the Nazis with his father, a prominent Communist, and his brother, who later became a leading East German film director.

Mr. Wolf appeared safe until the recent thwarted coup against SovietPresident Mikhail S. Gorbachev. He turned up in Vienna last week and applied for political asylum but was rejected.

Mr. Wolf returned freely, however, apparently sure that the charges against him will not hold up. He maintains that his activities were no different from those of Western spy chiefs.

A legal dispute persists here about whether former East German officials like Mr. Wolf actually may be tried. Mr. Wolf himself has indicated the former West Germans might feel more comfortable not putting him on trial.

In an interview with Bunte magazine, Mr. Wolf said he knew things that "politicians and authorities in Germany would not necessarily be interested in seeing publicized."

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