In the next few weeks, the United States will give Germany thousands of files that could be used to identify West Germans who spied for the German Democratic Republic, or GDR, during the communist era. But German agents say it is unlikely that many of them will be publicly exposed or placed on trial. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports.
Munich, 20 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The names of the communist agents are contained on 1,000 computer discs that until now have been stored in Washington under the code name "Rosewood."
They carry the real names of hundreds or thousands of agents whom Germany has previously known only under code names such as "Akker" or "Zeitz."
Germany believes that many of the alleged agents were probably high-ranking officials in politics, industry and business, and in international organizations such as NATO or the United Nations. Some of them may still hold senior positions. For example, Akker was -- and perhaps still is -- a member of the staff of the national executive of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which now leads the German government. He or she had access to important documents on security policy and passed them along to the GDR intelligence organization, the Stasi.
German investigators believe that the Stasi had 14 agents in official posts in the SPD, including Akker. Only nine of them have been exposed.
The situation in other political parties is similar. There is evidence that there were at least seven East German agents in the Christian Democratic Union, which led the government for 14 years until 1998 -- but only one of them has been identified. Investigators believe there were five agents inside the Free Democratic Party, but none has been identified.
Zeitz is believed to have been a high-ranking member of the Greens political party who gave the Stasi details of a joint demonstration planned by western and eastern peace groups in east Berlin in October 1983. The East German organizers were arrested a few days before the planned protest.
Based on information in other files, German investigators believe that Zeitz was probably a professor at the Free University in West Berlin with close contacts to the governing committees within the Green party. He is known to have filed at least 270 reports to the Stasi.
There is enough information already in German hands to narrow the field, and one man has been identified as the probable informer. But there is not enough evidence to identify him publicly.
Joachim Gauck, who heads the organization seeking to identify the agents, says the key to the identity of these and thousands of other GDR agents lies in the Rosewood files soon to be delivered from the United States. He says: "We suspect we know many of them. But without the U.S. files our beliefs remain no more than suspicions. They can disclose whether former East German agents are still occupying high positions in our new society."
Until now, most German investigations of possible GDR agents have been based on computer tapes found in East Berlin after the collapse of the communist regime. These files, known as SIRA, provide the code names of all agents operating in west Germany and lists the material they delivered. But the SIRA files do not reveal the agents' real names.
Gauck will not discuss why the Rosewood files are being provided only now, 10 years after the collapse of the GDR. It is a controversial subject because Germany has been seeking them for many years. Officials complain that because of the delay many agents will escape prosecution because the time limit for starting proceedings has expired.
The year 1995 was the last in which investigators could have begun a prosecution for the crime of being a secret agent for a foreign country. Now the investigators may prosecute only those cases in which the evidence goes beyond being a secret agent to include the much more serious offense of treason.
The United States has never publicly disclosed how it obtained the Rosewood files in the first place. German prosecutors say they understand that the files, with their incriminating names, were given to the Soviet KGB in Berlin in 1989 as the East German communist state was collapsing. According to this version, they were taken to Moscow, where an unidentified official sold them to the CIA in 1991 for a large sum.
The United States provided some excerpts from the files in 1993. This information helped uncover a number of former spies, including Rainer Rupp, a West German who was a senior economic analyst at NATO headquarters from 1977 to 1989. Rupp, who used the codename "Topaz," was released two months ago after serving seven years of a 12-year sentence for espionage.
Ernst Uhrlau, who is the intelligence coordinator in the office of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, says Germany still does not have a free hand to make use of the Rosewood files. Under an agreement with Washington, the information in the files is classified as secret and may be released only if the United States agrees.
Some German officials have suggested using the existing files and the new information from Rosewood to work up a complete picture of the Stasi network, including names. They argue this could be used to provide information to employers either to confirm or refute suspicions about individuals -- such as the mysterious Akker, who may still be employed by the Social Democratic Party.
It is unclear whether this will ever happen. Some German officials say the United States has indicated that it might be willing to permit publication of Rosewood information if there was a direct request from the German government. Uhrlau says Berlin might talk to the United States about specific cases, but adds that no one has yet asked for government action.
Still, many Germans may be sleeping uncomfortably these days because they know the Rosewood archive is on its way to Berlin.