West Germany’s widening spy scandal rocked Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s office directly for the first time today with the defection of a husband-wife espionage team to East Germany despite Kohl’s personal order to put the two under surveillance.
West German radio, citing Bonn security sources, said the wife, Herta-Astrid Willner, may have had access through her job as a secretary in Kohl’s office to secret information about “Star Wars,” the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, and about a French-led high-technology project.
Government officials, however, said the 45-year-old secretary, who had worked in the chancellor’s office for nearly 12 years, had no access to material about the two projects.
Husband in Research
The husband, Herbert Adolf Willner, 59, worked as a researcher at the Naumann Foundation, a political think tank, and was a former member of Hitler’s Waffen SS.
The furor rekindled demands for Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann to quit amid leaks to the media from government sources that on Aug. 28 Kohl had told him to keep watch on Herta-Astrid Willner after learning that her husband was suspected of being an East German spy.
Security sources said they could not explain why no moves were made against the couple after Kohl issued his instructions.
They added that there was a firm link between the Willners and the defection of top spy hunter Hans Joachim Tiedge to East Germany on Aug. 19.
Since Tiedge had personally led investigations into Herbert Willner’s case, it seemed evident that the Willners had been tipped off that they were in danger after Tiedge fled to East Germany, they said.
Kohl’s spokesman Friedhelm Ost said Herta-Astrid Willner had been due back at work Monday after a vacation. Officials began an investigation after the Naumann Institute said it had learned that the Willners disappeared 10 days ago while on vacation in Spain.
But neighbors of the Willners said the husband had been seen at the house last Saturday and had put two suitcases into his car before driving off. Officials in Bonn refused to comment.
A government spokesman said an investigation on suspicion of espionage had now been opened against both the secretary and her husband, a senior official at the institute linked to the liberal Free Democratic Party, a junior partner in Kohl’s center-right coalition.
Ost said the Willners sent messages to their employers saying they were in East Berlin.
Feared Being Arrested
In his letter to the Naumann Institute, Herbert Willner said he had gone over to the East because he feared arrest for an offense against West German security, an apparent admission that he had been a spy.
A government spokesman said the woman’s letter announced she was quitting her job to follow her husband to East Berlin, but gave no hint of earlier spying work.
Government sources said Herta-Astrid Willner had had access to sensitive documents on West Germany’s nuclear program and high-technology projects, including the European Eureka program.
Willner served in Hitler’s Waffen SS in World War II and was a Soviet prisoner until 1949, when he settled in East Germany and joined the ruling Communist Party.
He emigrated to the West in 1961 and for years worked as a senior adviser on security and foreign affairs at the Free Democratic Party’s headquarters before moving to the Naumann Institute in 1979.
The couple were married in 1974. She had then been working in the chancellery for a year after transferring from the Defense Ministry.