'Spymaster' Wolf punctures the myth

Where's the blood? asks Imre Karacs, as prosecutors try to nail the former East German intelligence chief

The public prosecutor mustered his sternest voice for the occasion. "The accused held conspiratorial meetings in Sweden and Yugoslavia," he intoned gravely. "He controlled between 500 and 600 agents in the Federal Republic." Some people had even been abducted and beaten up on his orders.

"No kidding," murmured the retired Fifth Columnists who had infiltrated the Dusseldorf courtroom to catch a glimpse of their former boss. The black American man in the public gallery, representing the barely reconstructed communists of East Germany, took copious notes. They know a lot about show trials at party headquarters on Berlin's Rosa Luxemburgplatz, and are convinced this one fits the bill.

Except that the defendant, Markus Wolf, is not following the script. Instead of entering the well-rehearsed plea of "guilty, comrade", the former head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service, the HVA, is taunting his accusers. "You seem to be bad losers," he tells them, slamming the charges as "pure invention". "There was neither a death commando nor a hit squad within the HVA."

Could this be the end of a myth? Mr Wolf is said to have been the inspiration for John Le Carre's Karla, arch-nemesis of George Smiley and the Circus - though all the author would admit is that he got the name from a lawn- mower lying in his garden shed. Karla or not, the wily, suave spymaster of East Germany appeared the closest thing in real life to his fictional alter ego. Like Le Carre's anti-hero, he was never seen or heard, not until 1979, when Western agents took their first picture of him by accident. He was good at his job - perhaps the best in the intelligence business - and never got caught.

It is somewhat disappointing, therefore, to find him in the dock, charged with nothing worse than three cases of abduction, one case of false arrest and a bit of brutality administered on his orders. Where is all the blood? As Mr Wolf pointed out with glee, all the German authorities have to show for six years of painstaking research is proof that the HVA had resorted to the same methods as its Western rivals. The prosecution have even failed to persuade one of the victims, a secretary kidnapped for a day from West Berlin in 1955, to testify.

They have until the end of March, when the trial is due to end, to persuade the court that he is guilty of... something. Last time they managed to get a conviction for treason in the same courtroom three years ago, the Constitutional Court overturned the verdict, on the grounds that Mr Wolf, an East German citizen, had not betrayed his country. They very nearly gave him a medal. Now they are throwing the East German penal code at him, citing communist justice chapter and verse. Thuggery, it seems, was a criminal offence in the German Democratic Republic too.

If there is not much violence in evidence, that is not the fault of the investigators, who have been sifting through mountains of captured Stasi files. Mr Wolf was far too smooth an operator to apply coercion when more subtle means were available. His stock in trade was the "Romeo method", stealing the hearts of lonely women working at Western embassies and military installations, and persuading them to steal secrets for their "fiances". Operators were often coached personally by Mr Wolf, who had a reputation as something of a ladies' man, a trait he doubtless inherited from his notoriously philandering father. The lovers camouflaged their actions so well that many of the Juliets never had an inkling that they were working for the other side.

Most of his Western moles enlisted voluntarily, because they believed in the East German brand of "socialism". "We all knew what we were doing," says Herbert Kloss, who, unlike his controller, was not able to escape jail, yet has no regrets. "Most East German spies worked out of political conviction. Most of us were left-wing students when we were recruited, and knew that what we were doing was illegal."

Mr Wolf was also a believer. A fine specimen of Homo Sovieticus, he was brought up in the Soviet Union, where his parents, communist Jews, had fled in 1933. He was raised on Stalinist dogma, and educated to become a leader of Moscow's German colony. He excelled in every job handed to him, until he was appointed the head of East Germany's fledgling secret service in 1953. He retired in 1986 with nothing more to show for years of devotion than a rented flat in East Berlin, a summer house and a collection of fine suits.

Now aged 73 and into his third marriage, Mr Wolf's faith is unbroken. He still believes, like many of his moles, that communist rule could have been reformed and East Germany should have been allowed to survive. He supplements his reduced pension these days by television appearances and writing. His last book, Secrets of Russian Cuisine, was a moderate success, earning DM5,000 (around pounds 2,000). The next, a history of the Cold War, should be out about the time the court announces its verdict.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?