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Markus Wolf, 83, East German Espionage Chief

Markus Wolf, who had famously avoided being photographed during his years as director of East Germany's foreign espionage service, posed near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in 1995.
Markus Wolf, who had famously avoided being photographed during his years as director of East Germany's foreign espionage service, posed near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in 1995. (By Jan Bauer -- Associated Press)

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006

Markus Wolf, 83, who helped to oversee the growth of East Germany's espionage network and once wrote that he wanted to be remembered for "perfecting the use of sex in spying," died of undisclosed causes Nov. 9 at his apartment in Berlin.

Mr. Wolf led the foreign intelligence division of the East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, during much of the Cold War.

"Misha" Wolf's impact was undeniable. He was said to have been remarkably effective in stealing West Germany's weekly intelligence reports and was credited with planting thousands of moles in Western capitals, NATO headquarters and essential industries in science and technology.

One operative, Günter Guillaume, helped to topple the Social Democratic government of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974. Another agent, Mr. Wolf said, became a secretary in the office of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and provided details of communications between Schmidt and then-President Jimmy Carter.

Among Mr. Wolf's favorite spying methods was a forgery technique he called "seamless penetration," involving the reuse of passports confiscated from West Germans emigrating to the East.

Yet Mr. Wolf said he was likely to be remembered for his prolific use of sex to gain secrets, whether in the form of brothels to trap Westerners or by procuring wives and mistresses for loyal soldiers or by cultivating "Romeo spies" to target the lonely office secretaries and bureaucrats who had access to important, restricted documents. The intention was to steal hearts and then secrets.

He had sympathy for agents who fell in love while on the job, later writing in a memoir that he "had to develop my qualities as an agony uncle."

Mr. Wolf's avuncular manner was different from most Eastern bloc spymasters, such as his superior, the much-despised Stasi chieftain Erich Mielke. In retirement, Mr. Wolf made an attempt to redefine himself as a Gorbachev-style reformist by denouncing Mielke's methods and the reign of East German leader Erich Honecker.

However, this effort was widely regarded by his Stasi colleagues as an act more of expediency than of conviction.

Seeking political asylum, Mr. Wolf fled Germany before reunification in 1990, first to Russia and then Austria.

In 1993, a German court convicted him of treason and sentenced him to six years in prison, but the ruling was reversed by the country's high court on the grounds that Mr. Wolf could not be prosecuted for actions on behalf of what was a sovereign country. A later finding of guilt on kidnapping charges, related to his Stasi work, led to a two-year suspended sentence.

The publicity was ideal to help him sell his memoir, which was called "Man Without a Face" because of his reputation for avoiding being photographed for much of his life. He was eager to explain his career to Western reporters, telling one, "The morality of the intelligence world can never be compared with the normal moral thinking of normal people."


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