Atrophying KGB keeps flexing muscles in Berlin Ex-East Germans swell agency's ranks

November 23, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to the Sun

BERLIN -- The KGB, the once dreaded Soviet secret police and espionage agency, may be disintegrating in Moscow, but it is still very much alive in Germany.

That is illustrated by a recent incident, German counterespionage sources say.

Shortly after the Soviet consul general in Hamburg failed to persuade a Soviet soldier to give up his application for political asylum in Germany and return home, they say, the KGB stepped in.

While the man was window shopping in Heide, in northern Germany, a rental car drove up, and two men stepped out and shoved the protesting man into the back seat.

He hasn't been heard from since, and German intelligence officials think he has been smuggled back to the Soviet Union by the KGB.

Although the kidnapping was unusual, officials here point to it as a sign that the KGB is up to its old ways in Germany.

Western intelligence agencies have been leaving Berlin, the former spy capital, now that the city is no longer under Allied control, but the KGB is expanding there.

Bolstered by the addition of up to 5,000 East German agents in search of a new employer, the KGB is firmly entrenched in what used to be East Berlin and is resisting attempts to restrict its activities, the German intelligence experts say.

"We are still hoping to see a reduction in their activities in view of the improved relations between Germany and the Soviet Union, but for now the game is still on," said Hans-Gerdt Lange, an official with the Office for Protecting the Constitution, Germany's counterespionage and counterterrorism agency.

Intelligence experts say the KGB's Berlin offices, where up to 500 officials still work, maintains its unique status in the agency. Other KGBoverseas offices must obtain permission from Moscow before undertaking a major operation, but the Berlin center is allowed to act independently.

German efforts to clear the KGB out of its 300 buildings in eastern Berlin have run up against the German-Soviet treaty regulating the Soviet military's phased withdrawal from Germany, which is to be completed by 1994. Soviet officials say the buildings are used only by the military, Mr. Lange said, and therefore do not have to be vacated for three years.

Soviet officials refused to comment on KGB operations in Germany, but an East German list of property in Berlin shows that many of the houses in the Karlshorst district are occupied by the KGB and not the military.

Experts are not surprised that the KGB operates out of Karlshorst. In 1945, the German military unconditionally surrendered in a Karlshorst villa, and the area has been the home of top Soviet military officers and their families ever since. Many of its streets are still off-limits to the public, and military vehicles dominate the traffic.

Because Soviet military activity is winding down, officials think the KGB is trying to recruit as many local employees as possible before having to retreat to the Soviet Embassy. Of the 5,000 picked up from the Stasi, as the East German secret police was known, about 700 are thought to have become top agents for the KGB.

German counterespionage officials say they have information on only 1,700 of the new KGB employees, including 180 of the top-level agents, some of whom are active in industrial espionage.

Top Stasi officers, however, deny that they have made deals with the KGB. Gen. Werner Grossmann, head of the Stasi's intelligence division from 1986 to its disbanding in 1990, said agents might have made individual decisions to work for the KGB but that they were not part of an official decision to transfer to the KGB.

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