US will return spy files to Germany

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THE UNITED States is to return to Germany a vast collection of Cold War intelligence files it snatched nearly 10 years ago, the German government announced yesterday.

The files are the main archive and registry of the HVA, the former East Germany's overseas intelligence agency, which was headed by Markus Wolf. The Central Intelligence Agency bought them in 1990 for an undisclosed sum - probably between $1m and $1.5m - and they have since been held at the agency's Virginia headquarters, despite calls from Germany for their return.

Operation Rosewood was one of the CIA's greatest post-Cold War coups, giving it the details of virtually every spy operated by East Germany outside its borders. It has led to the arrest and prosecution of several people in the US, and the unmasking of former East German agents elsewhere.

America has resisted handing back the files because it believes the contents might threaten some of its own agents, and it wanted to make sure that those named were not rehired by other nations' intelligence services. It has also had concerns about the security of Germany's secret services.