West German Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann held an emergency series of meetings Saturday to try to assess the damage caused to the nation's security services by the defection of a top counterintelligence officer.
The West German press and television networks were terming the loss of Hans Tiedge to East Germany the worst security blow since the Federal Republic was founded in 1949. And politicians of all parties called Saturday for a full investigation into the scandal, an uproar that caused Zimmermann to cut short a Mediterranean vacation and return to Bonn.
Field experts in intelligence said that it could take the West German security apparatus years to recover from Tiedge's defection. He headed the department that deals with apprehending East German spies in West Germany, one of the most sensitive posts within the entire intelligence apparatus.
He failed to report for work Monday at the headquarters of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, West Germany's counterintelligence organization based in Cologne, and on Friday, the East German news agency announced that he had crossed the frontier and was seeking asylum.
Analysts with sources close to West German intelligence agencies said Tiedge was in a position to expose the whole counterspy operation and to jeopardize the lives of agents inside East Germany. And the Cologne newspaper Express reported that Bonn's agents in the East were recalled as soon as Tiedge's disappearance became known.
Federal prosecutor Kurt Rebmann said that because Tiedge had access to all areas of German intelligence work, his defection amounts to "an extremely serious case of treason."
It is still not known with certainty whether Tiedge decided on a sudden basis to defect to the East because of drinking and debt problems, or whether he was a longtime undercover agent for the East Germans--perhaps throughout his 19-year-career with the counterintelligence agency.
Some experts have noted that few prominent East German spies have been apprehended in West Germany in the last four or five years, a period that coincides with the 48-year-old Tiedge's command of the East German division in the agency.
Tiedge's wife died in an accident three years ago, and neighbors in Cologne said he appeared to be drinking heavily since then. When he defected, he left behind three teen-age daughters.
Some informed sources speculated that Tiedge may have alerted three other government employees who are missing and are suspected of having spied for East Germany. They are Sonia Lueneburg, 61, the secretary for 12 years to Martin Bangemann, who is economics minister in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government and parliamentary head of the Free Democratic Party; Ursula Richter, 52, a secretary in the office that deals with the issue of Germans expelled from Soviet Bloc countries, and Lorenz Betzing, a messenger for the army and a former worker at an underground bunker in the mountains west of Bonn that serves as a government command post in time of war.
Kohl, Mitterrand Confer
Chancellor Kohl himself spent Saturday in southern France, meeting at Fort de Bregancon with French President Francois Mitterrand, who has problems with his own security service. A French couple, believed to be either military or intelligence agents, have been charged in New Zealand with blowing up the flagship of the Greenpeace environmental protest group.
Kohl was reported to be furious about the spy scandal--particularly with the counterespionage office for allowing Tiedge to remain in charge of East German activities despite erratic behavior in recent months.
Western intelligence experts, including those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, were said to be upset about the damage that Tiedge's revelations to the East Germans could do to the security apparatus of all West European countries.
Moreover, the West Germans, under pressure to make drastic improvements, have reportedly embarked on a high-level review and overhaul of their intelligence operations, according to the Washington Post.
Although Tiedge was a specialist in counterintelligence, informed sources said, in the nature of things he would have an insider's knowledge of the identities of spies, of the techniques used by the West in tracking down agents and how well Western agencies have been able to penetrate East Bloc governments.
Only a month ago, the head of the counterintelligence agency, Heribert Hellenbroich, moved over to take command of the BND, West Germany's foreign intelligence gatherer and the equivalent of the CIA. The shift indicates how closely the two agencies work together, particularly in matters concerning East Germany, the prime target and opponent in the field of espionage and counterintelligence.
Hellenbroich will now undergo close questioning by members of Parliament, who will be eager to know how the new chief, in his previous capacity as head of counterintelligence, allowed a top assistant to remain in a most sensitive job despite warning signs.
Cabinet Minister at Risk
Some observers predicted that Zimmermann might have to resign as interior minister if the uproar continues, since he has supervision over the counterintelligence agency.
But what might allow the government to weather the storm is the opposition's own record in office. Under the former governments of Social Democratic Chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, West Germany's record for security was less than spectacular. Brandt himself quit the chancellorship in 1974 after a close aide was arrested and charged with spying.
Leftists in the Social Democratic Party have opposed tighter security investigations of government employees in sensitive posts on the ground that their personal rights and freedom might be violated.
On Saturday, Social Democratic leader Hans Jochen Vogel said in a radio interview that Bonn should not let the affair wreck relations with East Germany.