East German double agent trades his spy gear for a broker's briefcase

July 12, 1992|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Contributing Writer

Berlin -- On the noontime television news, the well-dressed brokerage executive gave his cool analysis of the stock market's secrets. Few viewers realized he also was clearing up one of the Cold War's big mysteries.

The investment expert, it turns out, was the celebrated East German double agent Werner Stiller, whose 1979 defection dealt his bosses at the Stasi intelligence agency a blow from which they never recovered.

After disappearing from view for 13 years and setting off wild speculation over his fate, Mr. Stiller is back. His new identity: supercapitalist Klaus-Peter Fischer, who drives a Porsche 911, favors portable telephones and works for the Lehman Brothers investment house.

Mr. Stiller/Fischer's television appearance in March --ed the more dramatic rumors about his fate. Contrary to numerous reports, he had not been assassinated, had plastic surgery or had his vocal cords modified to hide his distinctive Saxon-accented German.

The real story, though less spectacular, is equally surprising: The Communist spy had acquired a new identity, received a master of business administration degree from Washington University in Louis and started a new life as a well-heeled investment specialist.

And, with the Cold War over, he is ready to lay his colorful past to rest. "After all the political changes in Eastern Europe and East Germany, it's important for me to settle with the past. I also want to correct all the nonsense that's been said about me," says the 44-year-old one-time spy, a calm speaker with a winning smile.

His tale began in 1970 when he was young physics student who disliked the communist system but lacked the courage to join the opposition. When he was approached by the Stasi to join, he was blinded by promises of a chance to study in Italy, he says. Seeing no other way to leave East Germany, he signed up.

The semester in Italy never materialized, but he continued to work for the Stasi and in just nine years became party secretary of Stasi Division 13, which was responsible for science and technology. He supervised 50 agents who kept tabs on domestic scientific research and stole research from West German institutes. His specialty was infiltrating the West's nuclear research program.

A spy's life: guns, miniature cameras, lovers

At some point in the mid-1970s -- Mr. Stiller/Fischer says he is still bound by the German intelligence service, BND, not to say exactly when -- he contacted the West in hopes of leaving East Germany.

He began to pass on information about scientists and clerks in West German research institutes who were working for the Stasi. As his connections with the BND grew, he was given a shortwave radio and regularly dropped off valuable lists of photocopied documents in luggage lockers for BND agents.

His love of risks made the West German intelligence agency nervous, though. Through his carelessness, for example, a woman he was flirting with discovered that his cigarette lighter was a miniature camera.

That time his luck held, and he struck up a partnership with the woman. Helga, as she was known to the BND, helped him drop off packets and send radio messages. In return, Mr. Stiller/Fischer promised to take her and her son to the West.

The agency sent fake East German passports and exit visas for the three, but their escape was aborted when Helga's car broke down. Four weeks later, on Jan. 18, 1979, they tried again. Helga, her son and the spy walked through the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint and boarded a subway to freedom.

The defection was a propaganda coup for the beleaguered BND, which had often come up wanting in comparisons with the Stasi. For the first time since the founding of Stasi 25 years earlier, its chief, Markus Wolf, was identified. The defector also fingered nearly 100 agents, including 17 who served time in prison.

The spy finally got his trip to Italy, where he promptly sent his BND handlers into a panic by disappearing for two days with an Italian mistress. Fearing that their prize defector would fall to one of the Stasi's killer commandos, the BND sent him to the United States, where he unloaded his knowledge to the CIA.

While the West German media went crazy speculating over his exploits -- and East German officers assured his former neighbors and colleagues that he had been executed in Argentina -- he adopted a new identity. Physicist Klaus-Peter rTC Fischer began to think of his future.

"The CIA Resettlement Group put a pile of color brochures in front of me and told me to choose a city. I'd always wanted to see the Mississippi so I chose St. Louis," he recalls. (The CIA will not comment on the case.)

Mr. Stiller/Fischer says he received $100,000 for his services, gambled on stocks and lost badly. So he decided to improve his capitalist skills. Within two years, he had his MBA and, with the help of a professor, a job on Wall Street with Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Later he moved to Lehman Brothers and opened the firm's Frankfurt, Germany, office.

Today, Mr. Stiller/Fischer heads the firm's the capital-markets business in Germany. In his office stands a reminder of the old days: a small bust of Lenin.

His links to the past are limited, though. Patricia Hemzahee of Lehman Brothers' London office says the company appreciates his interest in explaining his fate but would prefer that people ask him about his knowledge of capital markets.

"We want to look forward," Mrs. Hemzahee said. "This isn't something our customers in Germany should associate us with."

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