East Germany is closing its foreign espionage service, responsible for some of the greatest spying coups of the Cold War, and recalling its agents, the government said today.
Werner Fischer, part of the government commission that is disbanding the old Ministry for State Security, told reporters the espionage section would be cut from 4,000 to 250 officials by June.
"Those 250 will be responsible for the orderly withdrawal of our agents. This is a great problem because only a small number of them are GDR (East German) citizens," Fischer said.
Fischer said the Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung (HVA) intelligence service is shifting from the sprawling former security headquarters in East Berlin to a smaller building. It is being dismantled as a last stage in the break-up of the entire Stasi state security apparatus.
"We have already started with the destruction of electronic computer banks," he said.
Western intelligence officials believe the HVA records would almost certainly have been copied before destruction for use by the Soviet KGB intelligence agency in Moscow.
West German security sources have said that files and technical equipment were being turned over to the Soviet Union and that specialists in electronic intelligence would now work at Soviet military bases in East Germany.
The sources believed the KGB would take over East German intelligence staff because East Germany was in charge of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact's spying on West Germany.
An end to East German spying would create a sensitive gap in Soviet intelligence.
East German intelligence, led for decades by Soviet-trained Markus Wolf, was arguably the most successful East Bloc espionage service in the Cold War. It infiltrated dozens of agents into top positions in West German political parties, industry and armed forces.
The HVA achieved its most spectacular success by infiltrating an agent into the inner office of then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in the late 1960s. In the 1950s, Guenter Guillaume was sent into West Germany where he worked his way through the Social Democratic Party to become Brandt's personal aide. He then fed invaluable secrets to East Berlin until the early 1970s.
Other prominent agents have served the HVA inside NATO, the defense industry and West German intelligence.