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Germany: Government Wants U.S. To Lift Ban On Opening Spy Files

  • Roland Eggleston

Last month, the United States gave the German government secret files containing the names of hundreds of West Germans who had provided information to communist East Germany during the Cold War. The United States still classifies this information as secret, but Germany wants to lift the restrictions in some cases.

Munich, 5 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The German government says it should be able to use secret files provided by the United States to take legal action against former East German spies who are still in important positions in the Federal Republic. It also argues that some of the information should be open to historians and researchers.

A German Interior Ministry spokesman, Rainer Lingenthal, said this week the United States wants the files to be treated as normal intelligence documents and therefore remain secret. But Germany, he said, has what Lingenthal called a "political interest in public accessibility" and is asking that the ban be lifted at least in some cases.

Lingenthal said negotiations on lifting the U.S. ban began several days ago but neither he nor German and U.S. diplomats are willing to say whether they have made any progress. The German parliament's Committee on Internal Affairs has also urged the United States to lift the ban on publication, arguing that Germans have the right to know who spied on them.

The U.S. files, known as the "Rosewood archive," have been stored in Washington since 1991. They were taken from East Berlin to Moscow in 1989 as the East German communist state was collapsing. There they came into U.S. hands and were transferred to Washington.

The importance of the Rosewood Archive is that it gives the real names of hundreds of people who the Federal Republic has so far been unable to identify. German investigators were limited largely to another archive found in East Berlin after the communist collapse. These files, known as SIRA, provide only the codenames of former East German agents who operated in West Germany and lists the material they delivered. The SIRA files do not reveal the real names of agents.

Germany's Gauck organization, in charge of files used by the East German intelligence organization, the Stasi, argues Germany needs to know the names in the Rosewood Archive. Gauck spokeswoman Cornelia Klimt says:

"These files contain the real names of hundreds of people who delivered information to the Stasi. At present, we only know their codenames. The U.S. files will help us to identify them."

German officials believe the files contain the names of Stasi informers in politics, industry and business, and in international organizations such as NATO and the United Nations. Some may have taught at German universities and had contacts with East German student groups.

Previous information provided by the United States disclosed the identity of some Stasi agents. Among them was Rainer Rupp, a West German who was a senior economic analyst at NATO headquarters in Belgium for 12 years until East Germany collapsed in 1989. In 1993, Rupp was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but he was released earlier this year.

Stasi agents are also known to have been active in Germany's main political parties, the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats and the Green environmental party. Some have been identified, but others are still under cover. Among them is an agent, known only by the code name "Akker," who 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.

Klimt says: "We know that the Stasi had agents in all West German political parties. It is possible that some of them still occupy responsible positions, but we do not know for sure."

Some German officials who do not want their names used say they believe there were 14 Stasi agents in official positions in the SPD, of whom only nine have been exposed. There is evidence, the officials say, that seven Stasi agents operated in the inner circles of the Christian Democratic Union that led the government for 16 years until 1998, but only one of them is said to have been identified.

Johannes Gauck, who retired this week as chief of the organization in charge of the Stasi files, said he believes around 30,000 West Germans may have worked for East German intelligence. His group's basic task was to allow ordinary East Germans to inspect the files which the Stasi kept on them.

In a retirement statement, Gauck said more than 10,000 people still apply to look at their personal files every month: "I believe the organization will continue for at least 20 years -- possibly longer, but certainly at least 20 years. Other research archives are already overloaded [and it makes sense to keep these files with one organization]."

Gauck has been succeeded by a former East German human rights activist, Marianne Birthler, who is now a member of the Green party. Like Gauck, Birthler supports the opening of the Rosewood files. She agrees with those who believe that making the files public would allow German institutions to remove people who acted against their own country in the past.