Markus Wolf

Stasi spymaster and 'man without a face' who boasted of his expertise in 'the use of sex in spying'
Click to follow

Markus Johannes Wolf, spymaster: born Hechingen, Germany 19 January 1923; married (three sons, one stepdaughter); died Berlin 9 November 2006.

Markus Wolf was a former head of the East German foreign intelligence division of the Ministry for State Security, the Stasi. As number two in the Stasi during most of the existence of the German Democratic Republic, he ran a network of several thousand spies across the world and was a master of "honey trap" recruitment of lonely government secretaries, pondering in his memoirs that "if I go down in espionage history, it may well be for perfecting the use of sex in spying".

Born in 1923, in Hechingen, in what is now Baden-Württemberg, in south-western Germany, Wolf was the son of the prominent Communist Jewish writer and physician Friedrich Wolf, and brother of the film director Konrad Wolf. After Hitler gained power in 1933, the family emigrated via Switzerland to France and then, in 1934, to the "Socialist Motherland", the Soviet Union.

Friedrich Wolf was sent on propaganda missions abroad and was arrested in France after the outbreak of war in 1939. In 1941, with the help of a fake Soviet passport, he was able to return to Moscow. At the end of the Second World War he had a leading role in the cultural life of the Soviet Zone of Germany, which became the GDR in 1949. Until his death in 1953 he was GDR ambassador to Poland.

After starting school in Stuttgart, Markus Wolf attended Karl Liebknecht Schule, for German émigrés, in Moscow from 1934 to 1937, and then a Russian school, where he was a member of the Communist youth, Komsomol. Between 1940 and 1942 he studied at the Moscow Institute of Aeronautical Engineering, which was evacuated to Alma Ata (now Almaty in Kazakhstan) after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union. There he joined the German Communist Party (KPD) and was sent, under an assumed name, to the school of the Communist International in Kuschnarenkowo. This led to his employment on a Moscow-based German-language radio station.

In May 1945, he was part of the Ulbricht-Gruppe, sent to Germany with the advancing Soviet forces. Headed by the Communist leader Walter Ulbricht, it had as its mission to re-start German institutions, including the media and parties, and see that they were put in reliable hands. As "Michael Storm", Wolf was put to work as a journalist for a radio station in the Soviet zone of occupation. He was among those journalists who observed the Nuremberg Trials against the main Nazi leaders from 1945 to 1946.

Wolf was sent to Moscow in 1949 as part of the GDR's first diplomatic mission. Back in Berlin two years later, he joined the newly formed intelligence service, which masqueraded as the Institute for Economic Research, as deputy head of counter intelligence. From 1953, he was head of the foreign intelligence service within the newly established Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or Stasi. From 1956 his department became the Hauptadministration Aufklärung (HVA, Main Administration Reconnaissance).

As intelligence chief, Wolf loved his work and was very successful at it. His main target was West Germany, which was a relatively easy one. Agents could be sent among the three million refugees who left the GDR for the West before the Berlin Wall was built in August 1961. As many documents had been lost in the wartime bombing and the invasion of Germany, CVs were difficult to check. There were any number of individuals who could be blackmailed because of their records in Hitler's Reich or for other reasons. There was no language or cultural problem, and, under West German law, all East Germans had the same rights as West Germans. West Germany was as vulnerable as any other "open" society.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that Wolf achieved great success in penetrating the government, political, military and business circles, and the peace movement, of West Germany with his own people. He perfected the art of using "Romeos" to seduce lonely secretaries who worked in government and party offices, and "false flag" recruitment.

The most influential case was that of Günter Guillaume, which led to the fall of Chancellor Willy Brandt, in 1974. Wolf later expressed some regret about this particular incident. Guillaume had gone to the West as a refugee and worked his way up in the Social Democratic Party (SPD). He became a close aide to Brandt, its leader, before being uncovered by the West German authorities. Guillaume's wife was also an agent and both were just two of the thousands of East German spies in the network run by Wolf.

Wolf was known as "the man without a face" for his ability to avoid photographers (it gave him the English title of his 1997 autobiography). After retiring in November 1986, he engaged in various literary ventures. He wrote Troika, a sanitised version of growing up in the Soviet Union, published in 1989, which caused some interest. Because of his fluent Russian and many contacts in the Soviet Communist party and security apparatus, he was more aware of Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika than many in the leading echelons of the GDR's ruling SED.

During die Wende ("the turn"), of 1989 to 1990, which led to the end of Communist rule in the GDR and then German reunification, Wolf sided with the reform elements in the SED of which he was a founding member. However, in October 1990, the month of German reunification, he fled the country, and sought "political asylum" in Russia and Austria.

When these applications were denied, he returned to Germany, in September 1991, and was arrested. In 1993 he was convicted of treason by a court in Düsseldorf and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. This was repealed, in 1995, by the Federal Criminal Court because he was acting from the territory of the then independent GDR and the oaths he had given were to that state.

He was convicted in 1997 of unlawful detention, coercion, and bodily harm, and was given a suspended sentence of two years' imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 German marks. Because he refused to testify in the case of the Social Democratic politician Paul Gerhard Flämig, he was sentenced to three days' jail.

In 1991, he published Im eigenen Auftrag: Bekenntnisse und Einsichten ("Under My Own Orders: confessions and views"). This title was somewhat misleading as Wolf was only ever deputy to the dreaded long-serving Stasi head, General Erich Mielke. Both were, in turn, under the eye of the KGB and the Politburo of the SED.

There followed Spionagechef im geheimen Krieg (1997 - Memoirs of a Spymaster), in which he presents himself as the proud champion of Cuba, Nicaragua and similar regimes. He also wrote a cookery book, Geheimnisse der russischen Küche ("Secrets of the Russian Kitchen", 1995), in which he compares culinary skills to those used in spying - both trades requiring craftsmanship and creative inspiration.

After reunification, Markus Wolf was often seen, a man of great charm, on German television, in documentaries and in chat shows.

David Childs