Bonn's top spy defies critics

Number 008 did not look comfortable in his unaccustomed role as public servant. Standing before the German parliament to answer questions about a mission gone wrong, Bernd Schmidbauer, controller of secret services, concentrated on damage limitation.

No, Werner Mauss, the "private agent" arrested in Colombia last month for paying ransom to kidnappers, had not acted under orders. Yes, it was true he had met Mr Mauss six times in three months, and knew of his "humanitarian mission". Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in whose office Mr Schmidbauer - codemane 008 - works, was aware of the Mauss escapade only in "general terms".

Apart from that, the government knew nothing of Mr Mauss's activities. It had merely issued two German passports to "Mr and Mrs Mollner", which were then handed over to Mr and Mrs Mauss, together with a letter from the consulate in Bogota certifying that the holders were on official business. The gun the agent was carrying as he was apprehended in Medellin on 17 November was apparently his own, as was the satellite phone and four forged passports.

Mr Mauss had been paid by German companies to negotiate the release of senior staff kidnapped in Colombia. On his last outing, he was about to fly the wife of a BASF executive out of the country, having just bought her freedom for a sum in the region of $2m. Paying ransom is a crime in Colombia, as is travelling with false papers - the charges upon which he was indicted yesterday.

The affair has provoked opposition calls for Mr Schmidbauer's resignation. But the man who once ordered plutonium to be smuggled into Germany will not be dislodged by the capture of just one of his private army.

"I expect no gratitude," he told MPs, "but nor do I expect to be judged."

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