IN TODAY'S united Germany, a heated debate persists over whether to grant unconditional amnesty to former East German intelligence agents who worked for the Stasi -- the all-powerful state security service that for 40 years controlled the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Those who oppose general amnesty unless it is accompanied by public confessions argue that such a policy would allow Stasi agents to emerge unpunished, and perhaps unidentified, in powerful new posts; or even to work for the Soviets, undetected by the West.

Revelations about Stasi activities are the stuff of John LeCarre novels. Last week, in an extensive interview, a former high-ranking East German intelligence official, who recently fled to the West, offered details on how his country became a central base for international terrorism. Many of the details given by the defector cannot be verified, but West German officials, familiar with his background, consider him to be one of the most important Eastern Bloc intelligence agents to have emigrated.

The defector, who insisted on anonymity, described a GDR that has been a haven for terrorists of all kinds. "Carlos" (Illich Ramirez Sanchez), an international terror chieftain, was welcomed to East Berlin, as were George Habash, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Abu Nidal, the ultra-radical Palestinian, and Abu Daoud, who organized the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team at Munich in 1972. Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, was a frequent visitor. In East German training camps, terrorists and would-be terrorists were taught sabotage and related arts -- some of the "students" were Sandinistas, others were Chilean "dissidents."

The defector also revealed that East German intelligence received advance word that Libyan agents were planning to blow up La Belle Discotheque in April 1986 -- an incident in which two U.S. servicemen died and 64 Americans were injured. The East Germans, the defector said, even notified their Soviet mentors in advance. The attack, which led directly to the Amer-ican bombing of Libya, took place 13 months after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. The high-ranking defector who granted the interview was one of about 100,000 full time employees of East German State Security. His specialty was dealing with Arab intelligence services and Palestinian terrorist groups.

The terror network, the defector said, was enormous: as many as 1 million East Germans served as informers, full or part time. A West German intelligence official said, "It was virtually impossible to make a career in any agency {in East Germany} without becoming an MFS {Ministry for State Security} employee." Recruiting for Stasi positions, according to West German officials, began as early as secondary school: "Young people were recruited to become informers against their own families."

Stasi informers were present in every walk of life -- from the police, to the army, to opposition political groups, the defector said. He warned, ominously, that many of Eastern Europe's new leaders will turn out to have worked for the various East Bloc intelligence services.

Until 1986, the legendary spy chief Markus Wolf, who was both a Soviet and an East German citizen, headed the East German intelligence service. "He had responsibility for Department III, which was most strongly connected with Arab terrorism," the defector said. "All the information on terrorism went to Wolf personally."

The East German defector provided details concerning the Stasi-KGB relationship. Until 1958, he said, KGB advisers were in charge of each Stasi unit. By the 1970s, things had changed: "Many of the KGB's results were obtained from {us}. We no longer were subordinate partners but equals." West German intelligence officials confirm this claim.

The defector said that there was a common electronic data storage center in Moscow for all the Eastern European services. "This is where all information of all security services on international terrorism was brought together," he said.

The top priority of the Stasi and the KGB, he said, was to work against the intelligence services of the West. "We worked especially jointly against foreign intelligence services, including the CIA and the Israeli intelligence service {the Mossad}."

One operation Stasi conducted in concert with the KGB took place in 1987 when they jointly tried to recruit a female CIA staffer, attached to the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin. "We tapped her private apartment because she talked too much and revealed a lot about the CIA station," said the defector. "Because of that, we were able to identify U.S. agents in Eastern Europe."

The defector says that by operating Arabs as double agents against the Mossad, "we learned about the modus operandi of Mossad, its objectives, missions and staff in Europe." Yet, he observed, both the Stasi and the KGB admired the Mossad: "It was the best intelligence service globally and the most dangerous because of its ruthlessness in neutralizing opponents . . . The KGB was not satisfied with the result of its activities against the Mossad."

Among the Arab countries that sponsored global terrorism were several close allies of the GDR -- Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. "We were working in the struggle against imperialism. {East German President Erich} Honecker believed that whatever was detrimental to imperialism was to our benefit."

The defector said that many Arab embassies in East Berlin were filled not with diplomats but with intelligence operatives. In the embassies of these Arab states, he said, were "huge arms depots, containing large quantities of explosives." These arms and explosives were channeled from the embassies to various Arab terrorist groups based in the GDR. They were then, he said, used to strike at targets in Western Europe: From his base in East Berlin, the defector said, "Carlos" organized the attack on the French culture center in West Berlin in 1983 in which one civilian was killed. The GDR, the defector said, allowed the Syrian government to supply Carlos with explosives via Syria's embassy.

The defector described the training camps that served PLO terror factions based in the GDR. "All component organizations of the PLO could send cadres for training to the GDR," he said. Special attention was given to the PLO's security brigade trained by the Stasi in counterintelligence.

East German intelligence, the defector said, gave the PLO trainees information it had collected concerning U.S. intelligence services. The GDR did Arab terrorists another favor: It warned them if and when the Stasi learned that a western intelligence service was on alert to arrest a terrorist.

The defector was reluctant to address the Stasi's widely acknowledged role in orchestrating terrorist attacks against the Federal Republic and against the West. He did acknowledge that "the GDR had a vital interest in destabilizing the Federal Republic." According to West German intelligence officials, East Germany and the other Eastern Bloc countries offered "genuine, active support measures for international terrorism."

Stasi agents, the defector said, learned about the Libyan plan to bomb the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin at least four weeks in advance. He said that Honecker and Stasi chief Erich Mielke were given detailed operational plans of the terrorist attack before it took place.

The defector said he informed the Soviets that an attack was planned: "I personally told my counterparts in the KGB," he said. "I know for sure that this went to Moscow immediately." Even if the Stasi didn't participate in the planning of the terrorist action (as has been reported), the fact remains that if the East German and Soviet leadership knew of the murderous plot, they did nothing to thwart it.

As for the Red Army Faction (the RAF), whose specialty was killing and kidnapping West German businessmen and politicians, the defector claimed to have only peripheral knowledge gleaned through Arab terrorists. After PLO officials had been trained by the Stasi, he said, they took their newly gained expertise and passed it on to the RAF in training camps in Libya, Syria and Yemen. The defector also acknowledged that East Germany offered shelter to leading RAF terrorists.

Four years ago, the defector said, the GDR played host to Najibullah, the Soviet-backed leader of Afghanistan. For about four weeks, Najibullah stayed in the GDR.

Afghanistan, according to the defector, was such a sensitive subject for the Soviets that the KGB didn't trust the Stasi to operate independently. From East Berlin, Najibullah "with high ranking KGB officers was controlling operations against mujaheddin centers in the Federal Republic," according to the defector. All mujaheddin organizations in the Federal Republic had been infiltrated, he said. Moreover, the GDR had about 1,000 Afghans in its training camps.

The Soviet Union assigned tasks to each of the Eastern European intelligence services. The GDR assignment was to train the intelligence services of Yemen, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola and Nicaragua, said the defector. In South Yemen, for example, "every desk and piece of typewriter paper came from the GDR. The Yeminites couldn't do anything without getting in touch with us."

The KGB watched closely over Stasi's efforts, the defector says: "Even in those countries which were the GDR's main responsibility, the GDR could do nothing without coordination with the Soviets." The defector said that "the first thing I did on Yemenite soil was to meet the KGB resident. We could do little in that area without the approval of the KGB."

The relationship between the Stasi and the KGB changed once again when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Gorbachev's relationship with Honecker was strained and thus, according to the defector, "our practice was to some extent to work against the KGB." Between 1985 and 1988, "we thought cows reigned in Moscow while we were successful," said the high ranking defector. "We felt Honecker was superior to the Soviets."

Glasnost and perestroika didn't slow down the Stasi's intelligence operations, said the defector -- indeed, "there has never been a restriction on offensive intelligence work since Gorbachev came to power." The defector added his opinion that espionage has never been more important to the Soviet Union than it is today.

By 1988, he said, the Soviets decided they could no longer work with Honecker, and their strategy was to remove him from office without destabilizing the GDR. Intelligence chief Mielke was chosen to coordinate the overthrow of Honecker and the installation of deputy chief of state Egon Krenz as secretary-general and to keep the KGB informed, said the defector. In a secret meeting in early October 1989, Mielke decided to use force if necessary to achieve the transition, the defector said: "There were clear-cut plans to take action against what were called counter-revolutionaries . . . precise lists of persons to be arrested and interned." But the Soviets ruined Mielke's plan and changed history when they decided not to go along with the use of force, he said.

Krenz's ouster was negotiated in a second secret conference on Nov. 12, 1989, in the Soviet Embassy in East Berlin. The defector said that present at this select meeting were Valentin Falin, chief of the International Department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, Markus Wolf, Egon Krenz and Hans Modrow. Modrow, who had close ties to Moscow, according to the defector, was designated as Krenz's successor.

Is the terror network still intact or has it collapsed along with communism? "The net has been broken up," says the defector. But, he warns, some former Stasi agents now work for the KGB, and "I think under certain conditions, parts of the net could be reactivated." The Soviets, he says, have the lists of Stasi agents and informers. Moreover, he personally was approached last year by the KGB and asked to become an undercover agent: "Much to my surprise, the KGB knew better about my most valuable sources than I."

If unconditional amnesty without full and public confession is granted to former Stasi agents, the defector argued, many of them will remain undiscovered, and "nobody in the West has any guarantee as to whether some of these agents will be reactivated by the KGB." Only public confession precludes the chance that undiscovered agents can be blackmailed, he said, either by Soviet or Arab intelligence services.

But there is a conundrum. As one West German official notes, "We face a wall of silence." The reason? Any former Stasi agent who acknowledges personal involvement in terrorist activity can expect to land in court -- and even, ultimately, in jail. To breach the wall of silence, it is in Washington's interest to enter this debate -- on the side of full and public confession.

Lally Weymouth writes frequently on foreign affairs for The Washington Post.