Reviews by Alec Chambers

Colitt, Spy Master

Colitt, Leslie. Spy Master: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police, New York: Addison-Wesley, 1995.

The dust-jacket bills this book as "the definitive story of Markus Wolf." Whether such a slim volume can actually be the definitive story of a man like Wolf remains to be seen. In the meantime Colitt, formerly Berlin correspondent of the respected London broadsheet Financial Times has written an interesting contribution to the Wolf story. He spent twenty-five years in Berlin and was the only Western correspondent to report on the first Leipzig demonstration that was the beginning of the end for the Honecker regime.

The book has three threads. The first and dominant one is the life and career of Markus Wolf and the rise and fall of the Stasi. The two subsidiary threads cover Colitt's own experiences of the Stasi, as a Western journalist he was closely surveilled when he visited East Germany, and the career of a Stasi informer whose path repeatedly crossed Colitt's during twenty-five years in Berlin.

Born in Hechingen in south-western Germany in 1923, Wolf came by his commitment to left-wing ideologies the honest way: through his parents. His father was a deeply committed radical leftist. As a doctor the father often treated the poor and indigent for free as a matter of principle. The family were assimilated Jews who fled to the Soviet Union as the threat to Jews increased in Hitler's Germany. Wolf received much of his education, including a grounding in intelligence or "konspiratsya," in a Stalinist Soviet Union and this served to harden his commitment to communism. This commitment survived World War II and even the most lunatic periods of Stalin's reign. The Wolfs became Soviet citizens but Markus and his first wife surrendered their citizenships when he became an East German diplomat.

Moscow sent Wolf to Berlin within weeks of the German surrender. His first task was as a pro-Soviet columnist for Radio Berlin. After a brief stint as a diplomat, he was picked to develop East German foreign intelligence capabilities. He was to fill the post as director of the Main Intelligence Directorate (Hauptverwaltung Aufklarung or HVA) with extraordinary competence until the collapse of East Germany.

The geopolitical oddity that was the post-war division of Germany greatly simplified the job of the HVA. It was very easy for East Germans to mingle with West Germans for recruiting. Great play was made of the psychological damage that the division of Germany had caused. In addition to being able to recruit agents by playing on this weakness, it also stimulated a number of West German intelligence officers to become walk-in agents for the East.

Colitt catalogs a number of cases, starting with the dispatched agent Gunther Guillaume in 1956, Colitt's acquaintance Armin, and working through to the walk-ins Hansjoachim Tiedge and Klaus Kuron in the 1980s. There is also an interesting description of the use of Romeo agents. This is a reverse honey-trap in which attractive and personable men were used to recruit single, and often lonely, women, especially secretaries in the West German intelligence agencies.

Coupled with the blanket counterintelligence effort mounted in East Germany by Erich Mielke, the HVA was able to work with confidence in a very secure environment. Colitt uses his own experiences in East Germany, including excerpts from his extensive Stasi file, to outline some of these counterintelligence practices. He also manages to point out that the system must have been close to drowning in the sea of paperwork it generated. The final HVA operation to be described is the KoKo or Commercial Coordination operations used to obtain Western capital and technology for East German industry.

The HVA record was not unblemished, Wolf had to survive a number of penetrations and defections. His immense personal charm and political savvy allowed him to escape anything more than a mild rebuke on several occasions.

With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Wolf lost power and influence and became vulnerable to prosecution for masterminding actions against West Germany and its allies. His prosecution could have been politically explosive, but West German judges ruled that he could not be prosecuted for something that was legal in East Germany when he ordered it.

Wolf is a man of great personal charm and sexual magnetism and one has the impression that Colitt fell for the charm when he interviewed him for the book. The book has a perceptible pro-Wolf slant. This manifests itself early with a fairly atrocious description of the origins of the Gehlen Organization that may have been the standard East German version. Colitt would have done well to consult Mary Ellen Reese's General Reinhard Gehlen: The CIA Connection. The lack of a bibliography and of evidence for Colitt having checked his facts against other sources are worrisome. There is a careless mistake where he says that a bombing in West Berlin in late 1983 was of a French Consulate. It was in fact the French Cultural Center and although he claims that Carlos was responsible, he doesn't mention that the Armenian group ASALA was the only one that claimed responsibility. His arguments against the prosecution of former HVA officers are rather shallow and he ignores the possible counter arguments to his own position.

The biography of Wolf is interesting and well done, and the description of a number of operations and cases, including a number about which very little has been heard in the US, is informative. There is also comparatively little about the Stasi itself, only a few references to specific sections and occasionally some mention of the political infighting between Wolf and his superior (Erich Mielke).

Those looking for a comprehensive description of the Stasi may want to look at Werner Stiller's Beyond the Wall or wait for the translation of a number of excellent German books on the Stasi. In addition, the intertwining of the three strands does not always run smoothly and as a result some sections are amorphous. Despite the dust-jacket claims, this book is probably not the last word on Wolf, but one has to wonder if there ever will be a last word on him.

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