Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The lives of West German spies in the East

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Have you seen The Lives of Others? Arguably -- and I will make the argument -- the best film of 2006, it is a quiet, reflective masterpiece, a brilliantly humane, if harrowing, look at the ruthless Orwellianism of the former East Germany.

What is presented so intimately in that film is what has been known for so long, if not in such human terms, namely, that the East German Communist regime subjected its oppressed citizens to seemingly ubiquitous surveillance, that the country itself was a state of seemingly universal intelligence-gathering.

What is not known nearly as well is that many in the East were not spying for the East but for the West -- and a fascinating new study reveals the massive extent of that espionage:

It's a well-known fact that East Germany had agents crawling all over West Germany during the Cold War. Up to 6,000 of them, some in high places, were regularly passing information eastwards across the wall.

According to a new study published on Friday, though, when it came to recruiting spooks, the West Germans were even better. Fully 10,000 citizens of Germany's communist half were spying for Bonn. Not only that, but West Germany's intelligence agency the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) had a pretty good idea about the plans to build the Berlin Wall, but their bosses in Bonn simply didn't want to believe them.

German historians Armin Wagner and Matthias Uhl have pored over files released by Germany foreign intelligence agency (BND) covering the period between the formation of the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In their book "BND Against the Soviet Army," they reveal that the agency managed to recruit thousands of people from all sections of East German society for military espionage.

Of course, the East was doing the same thing, with spies all over the West, and, indeed, "the [East's] spies were significantly more successful at the espionage game". One East German agent was even "a top aide to Chancellor Willy Brandt" -- a disturbing development that "led to Brandt's resignation" in 1974 (for more see here.)

Interesting stuff.

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  • As we have seen with Iraq, when people are living under occupation the situation is ripe for resistance and insurgency.

    By Blogger Fixer, at 5:51 PM  

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