A Style article yesterday misstated the relationship between alleged KGB spy Stephen Laufer and the daughter of the former U.S. commander in West Berlin, Gen. James Boatner. The two knew each other and dated for about a year but were never married. (Published 1/12/91)
BERLIN, JAN. 10 -- For American news correspondents here, Stephen Laufer was a godsend. He was a pal, a world-class gossip, a raconteur, an almanac, the Shell Answer Man. As deputy press officer at the U.S. Mission in West Berlin, Laufer was the "U.S. source" with the inside dope, the "knowledgeable observer" with the pithy remark.
But Mr. Deep Background is suddenly in deep doo-doo, accused by the German government of being a KGB spy.
Laufer, 36, was arrested earlier this week and remains in custody while German authorities investigate allegations that he fed information to the Soviet intelligence agency through contact agents he met an average of five or six times a year from 1977 to early 1990.
Laufer, a native South African who went through the arduous process of adopting German citizenship, has worked at the U.S. Mission since 1988 and before that was a speech writer for former Berlin mayor Eberhard Diepgen, and a reporter for a West Berlin newspaper. From 1981 to 1984 he was married to the daughter of the commander of U.S. military forces in West Berlin, Gen. James Boatner.
Hans-Juergen Foerster, spokesman for the German prosecutor's office, said in an interview today that Laufer provided the KGB with information about his employers and an insider's view of the Berlin government and journalism scene.
Laufer, who faces a five-year prison term if convicted of espionage, is seeking to be released on bail, but prosecutors want him held throughout the pretrial period, which can go on for a year or more.
The German newspaper Bild said an unidentified defector turned Laufer's name over to Western intelligence agencies. Foerster refused to identify the source or nature of the evidence. But in an earlier interview, he said German prosecutors are offering former agents of Stasi, the East German secret police, reduced sentences if they name spies still working in the West.
Laufer's attorney has refused to comment on the case.
Stunned U.S. diplomats and American journalists based in Germany spent much of today trading stories about their contacts with Laufer, a short, gregarious man who broke the diplomatic mold with his bow ties, red socks and informal manner.
"Steve was good at everything he did -- in both jobs, I guess," said a diplomat who knows him well. "Everybody's sitting around today trying to think about every conversation they ever had with him. What did we tell him? What did he ask us?"
The U.S. Embassy in Bonn refused to comment on the case.
As a U.S. press officer in West Berlin, Laufer escorted congressional delegations around the city, helped organize former president Ronald Reagan's visit last fall and was privy to details of cooperation among the United States and the other Allied nations that had official control over the city until German reunification.
For the dozen or so American journalists who set up bureaus in Berlin after the opening of the Berlin Wall, Laufer was also something of a group leader, an informal and energetic organizer of dinners, evenings with German colleagues and weekend excursions. He is a frequent traveler, a lover of exotic places and unusual foods.
"He is a brilliant, lost soul," said one U.S. correspondent who relied on Laufer for information on everything from German-U.S. relations to the best new bars in town. "He knew everyone, but somehow he still seemed alone."
Through his brief marriage to Gen. Boatner's daughter Lynne and his many friendships with U.S. and German officials, Laufer maintained a busy social schedule, attending the Marine Ball and numerous other diplomatic and military functions.
As one of many local nationals working for the U.S. government here, Laufer did not have diplomatic status and his job did not entail any access to intelligence information. But he often sat in on or was briefed on high-level meetings so he could pass public information on to reporters.
When Laufer worked for the West Berlin mayor, he had access to the inner workings of the U.S.-British-French command that had legal control over the divided city. Laufer often sat in on the mayor's morning situation report.
As a journalist at the splashy BZ newspaper in the early 1980s, he allegedly gave the Soviets reports on the political mood and scene in West Berlin, Foerster said. In later years, according to Foerster, Laufer is believed to have given the KGB information about the operations of the Berlin mayor's office, the Allied command and the U.S. Mission.
Espionage experts in Germany said tonight that the jealousy and mistrust between the Soviet Union and East Germany prompted Moscow to look for its own sources of information in West Berlin, which was normally the turf of East German agents.
Laufer is the first U.S. government employee to be arrested on spy charges in the wave of espionage cases that has swept through Germany in the months since the East German intelligence network began to dissolve. More than 100 suspected spies -- nearly all of them German -- have been arrested based on information turned over to Bonn authorities by former employees of East Germany's disbanded Stasi.
The German weekly magazine Stern, quoting former East German spies, reported this week that 10,000 KGB agents remain posted in Germany. The Stasi agents told Stern that the East Germans worked closely with the Soviet intelligence agency, keeping a close watch not only on the West German government, but on the NATO facilities based in Germany.
The KGB retains offices just outside Berlin as part of the large Soviet military presence that will continue in eastern Germany through 1994.