It did not end like cloak-and-dagger stories are supposed to, with briefcases exchanged on foggy bridges or midnight dashes across nameless borders.
Instead, one of the most thrilling chapters in Cold War espionage closed with a German nursery rhyme sung by a lonely, drunken spy:
“All my little duckies, swimming on the pond . . . heads deep in water, tails to the sky.”
The bizarre shortwave broadcast from East Germany to its legion of spies around the globe that evening last May 23 hid a sobering message.
The game-- their game--was over.
And just how well they played it is only now coming to light.
Just over two months into unity, the Bonn government is discovering to its amazement and embarrassment that all three West German intelligence agencies harbored double-agents at high levels, and that this rampant treachery for decades provided the East Bloc a treasure trove of Western secrets.
Intelligence analysts say the damage is impossible to assess, and defense attorneys for the alleged spies being arrested on an almost daily basis argue that German unification makes it all moot, anyway.
Virtually every niche of the West German civil service apparently had moles on the payroll of Communist East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, whose lust for information was so consuming that the agency even bugged the church confessionals of its own countrymen.
“We now figure they recruited 5,000 to 6,000 agents in West Germany. We thought they only had 3,000,” said Peter Frisch, vice president of the country’s internal security agency, the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution.
The real surprise, though, was that so many West Germans turned traitor.
Recruitment techniques varied. During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, for example, East Germany planted handsome young men in West Germany to woo unwed secretaries in ministries. At one point, the so-called Romeo escapade included four secretaries working in the office of the West German chancellor.
On other cases, West Germans, such as senior counterintelligence official Klaus Kuron, approached the East Germans and spied for money. Kuron doubled his income during the eight years he admittedly worked as a double-agent for East Germany.
Still others spied for ideological reasons. Diplomat Hagen Blau told investigators he had been an impassioned leftist since his student days in Berlin, where a friend who joined in the cafe debates confided to Blau that he was a Stasi member.
The “friend” waited two years before turning Blau, who was then embarking on his foreign service career. Blau would spend the next 30 years supplying the East Germans with West German documents and information concerning foreign policy, purportedly rebuffing all offers of payment until the very end.
A common language and culture, as well as West Germany’s open-door policy for East German refugees, gave East Germany a unique advantage in espionage, intelligence experts say.
And although West Germany also had no language or cultural barriers to cross, the closed society and iron-fisted Communist rule made it far more difficult for West Germans to plant their own spies in the East, and far more dangerous for East Germans to turn traitor.
Meanwhile, in West Germany, the infiltration was so thorough, according to Frisch, that even the home telephones of at least one-third of his agency’s 2,500 employees proved to be tapped by the East Germans.
“They also had the capability of listening in on all telephone traffic between West Berlin and East Germany,” Frisch said, adding that about 25,000 telephones in West Germany could also be scanned by East German computers.
Federal prosecutors are now investigating hundreds of cases and have made more than 100 arrests so far, more than triple their usual caseload.
“It’s going to take years to unravel,” said an intelligence source speaking on condition of anonymity.
Intelligence officers say the KGB no doubt reaped a gold mine of information over the decades from its loyal East German ally.
“The East Germans were just about the KGB’s most reliable allies,” said Chris Andrew, a Cambridge professor who wrote, “KGB: The Inside Story.”
He described the scale of East German spying on West Germany as “simply astonishing.
“They were pretty blatant about it,” he added in a telephone interview. “East German Radio would nightly broadcast messages for ‘moles.’ The head of East German foreign intelligence, Markus Wolf, had the reputation of being the ablest foreign intelligence chief.”
Wolf, who has an arrest warrant pending against him in Germany, recently finished a book titled, “I’m No Spy.” He is said to be in exile in Moscow, hoping for amnesty from Bonn.
He has hinted in interviews published by the German press that some of his ex-agents still remain unexposed in Bonn government circles.
“Anybody who was familiar with the West German scene and the zeal with which the East Germans pursued their recruitment efforts had to realize that the West German government was very porous and easily penetrated,” said former CIA Director George Carver.
“With each wave of revelations, you had to realize there would be another one,” added Carver, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
He said Germany’s NATO allies were “very well aware of the German problems” in intelligence matters, and “you adjusted yourself accordingly.”
Lutz Stavenhagen, the junior minister in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government responsible for intelligence services, refused several requests by The Times for information about the growing spy scandal. The chancellor’s office and the government press office also refused to discuss the matter.
There has been no political fallout from the spy revelations, although the intelligence agencies themselves and many politicians readily acknowledge that the damage is more widespread than that from the notorious case of Guenther Guillaume, the East German mole planted in then-Chancellor Willy Brandt’s office. Guillaume’s unmasking in 1974 resulted in a scandal that forced Brandt to resign.
Intelligence sources say the fall of the Iron Curtain and loss of so many valuable East German agents is forcing the KGB to revamp its network.
“Of course they’re still spying,” one of the sources said of the Soviets. “But probably we’ll see their interests focus much more intensely on the industrial level. They’re generations behind in high technology and can’t afford the licenses and royalties to obtain such information legally.”
Bonn intelligence officials say the KGB already has taken over an undetermined number of the agents and the Stasi files. But the Bonn officials are concerned about the great numbers apparently left behind in hiding, seeing them as potential targets of KGB blackmail.
“They were only offering sanctuary to the very top agents,” a West German intelligence source said of the KGB. “What use would the others be to them now back in the Soviet Union? They can’t even feed and shelter their own people, let alone thousands of former German spies.”
According to Frisch, the Soviets had a plane waiting in East Berlin two days after German unification to whisk away the biggest double-agent unmasked so far, Kuron.
Kuron, who had been in charge of handling “turned” East German spies for West Germany, changed his mind at the last minute and called his employers at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution to confess.
The 54-year-old Cologne father told investigators he had dropped a letter in the mail slot of East Germany’s mission in Bonn eight years ago because he needed money to finance the education of his four sons. The East Germans paid him 500,000 marks (about $335,000) over the years.
Kuron claims the Communists agreed not to arrest any of the agents he identified, only to limit their access to secrets. But one of the East German double-agents did end up in jail after another high-ranking West German double-agent defected. The East German died in prison under mysterious circumstances. Communist authorities said he committed suicide. The West German traitor now lives in the Soviet Union.
German law limits access to criminal suspects, and attempts by The Times to interview any of the admitted spies awaiting trial were fruitless. Their defense attorneys for the most part argue that no damage was done, since the two Germanys are now united and the Cold War is over.
Still unresolved is just what should be done with a generation of crack spies who, thanks to German unification, have been left out in the cold.
Parliament is expected to debate soon about giving amnesty to East German spies, informants and Stasi members, but such clemency is unlikely to cover West Germans who worked for the very people winning pardon.
Among those charged so far are Kuron; Gabriele Gast, an officer with the German equivalent of the CIA who helped prepare weekly intelligence briefings for Chancellor Kohl and was caught trying to flee across the Austrian border, and Blau, a career diplomat who admitted he had been working for the East Germans for nearly 30 years while posted in London, Tokyo, Sri Lanka and the Bonn Foreign Ministry. Blau was recently sentenced to six years in prison.
Ex-Stasi agents also revealed that the deputy chief of the West German military intelligence agency, MAD, spied for the East Germans for at least 10 years before leaving the service in 1984. The man, Joachim Krase, has since died.
The Defense Ministry acknowledged in a statement that the damage was “critical” and effectively blocked the agency’s gathering of military intelligence.
“This is not a simple case of treason,” Gerd Komossa, former head of MAD, wrote in a commentary for the daily newspaper Die Welt. “Through him, the Stasi not only got a glimpse of our defense; our methods were betrayed here.”
The editorial page editor of Die Welt, Enno von Loewenstern, wrote recently that “it is a frightening phenomenon that men in high positions, apparently tried and tested, betrayed their country with apparently no more scruples than a traveling salesman switching to another brand.”
Kuron’s confession led to the immediate arrest of eight other suspected spies, and investigators say others are cooperating as well, including several ex-Stasi officers who have come forward to offer names and files in hopes of currying favor with their new government.
A special hot line exists for spies to turn in themselves or other agents.
“The flood is yet to come,” said Werner Hecker, the Koblenz attorney who defended Blau.
“I think it’s possible there are other big ones out there,” agreed Frisch, who also didn’t rule out the possibility that his own agency may still harbor “another Kuron.”
“Every area was hit in spectacular fashion--political, economic, military,” he said.
Werner Hecker, the attorney for diplomat Blau, said his client spied out of “pure ideology” and was personally thanked by Markus Wolf for his service. But the diplomat became disenchanted with East Germany’s hard-line Communism in the ‘70s and at some point did accept $10,000 for his work, Hecker said.
“He wanted to stop, but couldn’t. They were always pressuring him for more information, for better information. They wanted him to try to go here or there,” Hecker said.
Blau became an alcoholic, he said, and although his problem was well-known enough to prevent his promotion, it did not result in his dismissal.
He never spent the $10,000, tucking it instead amid the stacks of his 10,000-volume private library which included, according to Hecker, a number of volumes on Marxism and Leninism.
Kuron, on the other hand, was considered a model civil servant.
“He passed all security checks,” said Frisch. “He didn’t drink. His wife was faithful. He lived in an ordinary row house in Cologne and had a vacation condo in Spain just like plenty of other Germans. There was nothing remarkable about his lifestyle.”
Little is known about Gast, the alleged spy from the Federal Information Agency (BND), the equivalent of the CIA, who helped prepare weekly briefings for Kohl, which the East Germans apparently previewed.
All employees at the BND work under cover names and are discouraged from socializing with one another, a government source said.
“She would have been able to say what we knew, but not who told us,” the source said.
The Federal Criminal Office, which recently had an officer of its own arrested on espionage charges, has said that East Germany paid its West German agents going-out-of-business bonuses of up to $13,600 each.
Most of the traitors were low-ranking civil servants who supplemented their incomes as secretaries, clerks or computer operators with secret salaries paid by the East Germans for copied documents and computer discs, investigators say. But with the Berlin Wall now in ruins and East-West tensions eased, the secret life of thousands of outwardly ordinary people will simply disappear.
One spy who came in from the cold sees the era as over.
“Why spy? I ask myself that now,” mused Guenther Guillaume from the elegant living room of his luxurious home in what used to be East Germany. Guillaume, after serving 7 1/2 years in a West German prison, was released in a spy swap between the two Germanys a decade ago. “Satellites can get it all, anyway.”
Times staff writer Norman Kempster, in Washington, contributed to this story.