The spy who loved it ...

'It was like a drug. I was addicted.' Imre Karacs meets the German who spilt the beans to Saddam 'It was like a drug. I was addicted.' Imre Karacs meets Saddam's German spy - and finds out why
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The spy shivering outside the Green Leaf cafe at Dusseldorf railway station suggested Chinese. He checked that no one was following, and his eyes betrayed disappointment. In the restaurant, he ordered the first of many beers as soon as he sat down, and slurped it with evident delight. It was nice to be back in the Fatherland.

Seven years ago, as Iraqi troops tightened their grip on Kuwait, Jurgen Gietler's beer-drinking days came to an abrupt end. For six months the Foreign Ministry archivist had been passing military secrets to Iraq, including, in the month of the invasion of Kuwait, details of Western preparations for a counter-strike. "I was the best," he says, his chest swelling with pride. "I supplied only top-quality material."

At a secret trial in Dusseldorf a year later, Mr Gietler was sentenced to five years for espionage. He had caused immeasurable damage to the Western intelligence community, the court was told. He was freed in 1994, and has been living abroad ever since.

Now nostalgia has brought him home for a fleeting visit. He has been missing a lot - the "fine company" of prison, the urbane Iraqi gentleman who was his controller, but especially the thrill of the chase. "It was like a drug," he says, recalling the rush of adrenalin that pumped through his veins every time he ripped a secret document off the ministry's teletype machines and bundled it into his briefcase. "I was addicted."

A lowly bureaucrat with a tedious desk job, Mr Gietler would rise at 4am every day so that could be the first to enter the room into which all dispatches poured. In August 1990, after the invasion of Kuwait, the machines went mad, spewing out reams of military documents circulated by the Pentagon among America's closest allies. "I felt like a child in a toy shop," he said. Deliveries had to be stepped up, from once or twice a week to every day. "I was having so much fun."

Mr Gietler feels fortunate to have had such a glamorous career. If he has any regrets, it is that he has never met his idol; his inspiration. "I owe it all to John Le Carre. He is unwittingly responsible for my becoming involved in espionage. He is my favourite author."

Like all ambitious professionals, Mr Gietler spent many years struggling for recognition before his big break finally came. In 1978 he fell in love with the desert and the Egyptian woman who was later to become his wife. In 1983 he converted to Islam, and took up Mohammed as his middle name. Around this time he started passing secrets to Egypt.

But the Egyptians did not appreciate him enough. He looked for a new outlet for his talent, and eventually found it in a pub in Bonn in February 1990. Sipping whisky next to him at the bar one fine day was Brigadier- General Osmat Judi Mohammed, the Iraqi military attache and spymaster. They met again a few days later in a cafe in Bad Godesberg, and within a week Mr Gietler made his first delivery.

"It was never ideological," he explains. "Iraq appealed to me, Saddam Hussein appealed to me." But above all, Mr Gietler was very impressed with his contact. "Rarely have I met such a charming man as this brigadier- general. He was a fine fellow." Another point in the general's favour was that he always had Mr Gietler's favourite beer ready whenever they met.

And the fringe benefits were outstanding. "We have many problems here in Germany," the general said, "but getting hold of money isn't one of them." Mr Gietler had expensive tastes, a penchant for travel, antiques and a passion for collecting swords.

Baghdad understood his needs. "I was paid regularly - cash in envelopes." How much? Now that would be telling. At the trial, Mr Gietler "confessed" to $10,000 (pounds 6,000), to the prosecution's outrage. Under German law, convicted spies' ill-gotten gains are confiscated by the state. Agents of the Stasi, the former East German secret service, usually have to cough up hundreds of thousands of Deutschmarks.

But there were no records of Mr Gietler's transactions, so he ended up paying just DM20,000 (around pounds 7,000). "The Stasi were idiots," he says. "They did everything by the book - you had to sign receipts. Typically German ... I had a different arrangement: envelope, kiss on the left cheek, on the right, on the left; out."

Pressed on his total earnings, he smiles broadly. "You know I can't say... But you should be aware that generosity and hospitality in the Arab world is much more extensive than in our Western culture. Osmat Judi Mohammed would have considered $10,000 an insult to Arab generosity. It was more... Let's put it this way: I don't go hungry."

He certainly doesn't give that impression. Silk suit, hand-made shoes, his 12-year-old son studying at Egypt's top German private school: unless appearances are deceptive, Mr Gietler is rolling in it. His property, including the antique collection, was registered in his wife's name. When Mr Gietler was arrested at the end of August 1990, all their worldly possessions were repatriated to Egypt, where the family now lives.

The ex-spy claims to be working as a businessman in Africa, importing German goods mainly into Ghana. It keeps him away from home a lot, but it beats a desk job. Still, he yearns for something more. He worries about being forgotten, and regrets not being able to travel to Baghdad to see his mentor one more time. Two or three years ago he heard that the brigadier-general had been promoted to deputy defence minister. Since then, he has heard nothing.

But what Mr Gietler yearns for above all else is a career challenge. In prison he was kept together with top Stasi agents. "It was like a spy academy," he says. "I learned so much." All this knowledge and nowhere to use it - what a terrible waste. Prospective employers can contact him on his telephone number in Dusseldorf.