Chancellor Helmut Kohl, facing the gravest spy scandal of his administration, today rejected demands for the ouster of his interior minister despite opposition claims that the minister bungled the affair from the start.
During debate in Parliament, Kohl defended Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann’s actions concerning the Aug. 19 defection of counterspy Hans Joachim Tiedge to East Germany. Zimmermann did not blunder either in the months before the defection or after the counterspy defected, Kohl said.
“No one can seriously demand that every spy case lead to the resignation of the affected minister,” the chancellor said. “That would mean the secret services of other lands could decide over the time in office of ministers of the Federal (West German) Republic,” Kohl said.
Zimmermann is a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian arm of Kohl’s Christian Democrats. As interior minister, he oversees the Cologne-based Office for Protection of the Constitution, the counterespionage agency where Tiedge worked.
Espionage Chief Fired
Opposition Social Democrats and Greens had demanded Zimmermann’s resignation, saying he must take responsibility for what they say is West Germany’s worst espionage affair ever. Five suspected spies have either been arrested, disappeared or defected in the last month.
West Germany’s espionage chief, Heribert Hellenbroich, was fired last week for knowing Tiedge had serious financial, family and health problems but leaving him in a top security post.
Tiedge, who was in charge of tracking East German spies, drank heavily and reportedly had up to $110,000 in debts. His wife died in a mysterious accident in 1982.
Hellenbroich has acknowledged that he did not tell Zimmermann about Tiedge’s problems. He said he did not demote Tiedge because he feared that would make him an even greater security risk.
Didn’t Take Initiative
Social Democrat leader Hans-Jochen Vogel said Zimmermann should be ousted because he did not take the initiative to find out about Tiedge until it was too late.
“Was it really unknown to you that Mr. Tiedge had his driver’s license taken away because of drunkenness?” Vogel asked Zimmermann during today’s debate.
Zimmermann responded that he had not known of Tiedge’s difficulties until Aug. 21, two days after the 48-year-old counterspy left the country in circumstances that are still unclear.
Defector cites “hopeless” plight. Page 8.