Munich, 12 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A new book by a German political researcher discloses -- apparently for the first time -- that the United States had an active spy ring inside communist party headquarters in East Berlin from 1959 until 1966.
According to the book, the ring was led by a widow, Getrud Liebing, who was considered by the authorities to be a model communist. Working as a technician in the telephone communications center at Central Committee headquarters in East Berlin, she was able to collect information about top party and government decisions and pass them on to the U.S. intelligence agency, CIA, in West Berlin.
One of her friends was responsible for making official tape recording of the meetings of the central committee. Another placed a bug in the telephone of a residence used by the GDR security service. A third was a driver for central committee officials.
The author, Jochen Staadt, said he considers Mrs. Liebing to be "possibly the most successful female agent" the CIA had in East Germany. However, he believes her story has never been told until now. Mrs. Liebing was eventually arrested in September 1966 and sentenced to twelve years imprisonment under strict conditions. She already had a terminal illness and died two months later. Most of her companions were arrested at the same time and given long prison sentences.
Staadt, who is a researcher at the Berlin university, came across reports of the interrogation of Mrs. Liebing and her five colleagues two years ago while combing through the archives of the East German regime. He said he spent months checking the information. The result is the book "Code Name Markus", which he wrote together with Reinhard Borgmann.
Gertrud Liebing was born in Berlin in 1911 in a poor family and eventually became a technician in a recording works. She joined the communist party in 1928 and took part in underground activities against the Nazis. After the war her first job was as a cleaner at the Soviet control commission in Karlshorst. In 1950 she was briefly suspected of espionage but released because of lack of evidence. Staadt believes it was the weeks in Soviet detention along with a turn towards Stalinist extremism in the party which changed her views. But her beliefs were apparently never challenged and she rose in local party politics. She had no problems August 1959 in getting a post as a technician in the telephone communications center of the East German Central Committee.
According to interrogation records she had already been an agent of U.S. intelligence for four years. She used the code name "Markus" and met her CIA contact in West Berlin every two weeks. Her work as a technician at that time had taken her into the Interior Ministry, the Central Committee, into various military offices and other Government and party offices. Before the Berlin Wall was erected she traveled to West Berlin to her CIA contact in a villa in the suburb of Dahlem. After the Wall went up in 1961, the CIA maintained contact through radio messages.
Her new job in the headquarters of the Central Committee gave her better opportunities. According to Staadt she was able to give the CIA a "deep insight" into the power center of the communist party dictatorship.
She was able to pass on information about telephone calls made by Politburo member Hermann Matern as well as information about Central Committee members and details of how the building itself was guarded --- the alarms, the guard posts and other information.
Soon after she took the job at the Central Committee building, Gertrud Liebing began a relationship with Georg Misterfeld, who was one of the film projectionists at the Politburo. He told her about members of the Politburo and their private life. He was also called to the homes of top communists, including Walter Ulbricht, Erich Honecker, Hermann Matern and others to install television sets and adjust antennas. These visits also provided him with much to tell Gertrud Liebing.
However when the spy ring was eventually broken up -- in 1966 --Misterfeld told his interrogators that he never knew that his mistress was passing his gossip to the CIA. He received a sentence of only five years -- the lowest of them all.
Gertrud Liebing's spy ring included Arno Heine, one of the technicians responsible for taping sessions of the Central Committee. According to the records of his interrogation, he copied the tapes of all important meetings of the central committee, the party Control Commission and discussions with members of the Politburo and passed them on to the CIA.
According to the interrogation reports, he said he had been recruited by U.S. intelligence while a prisoner-of-war. Somehow Heine escaped the first round of arrests and was not detained until 1969. In 1973 he was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in prison in 1980.
Gertrud Liebing's closest female friend, Erika Lokenvitz, a short-hand typist was also a member of the ring. She was able to "decipher" the shorthand notebooks which Getrud Liebing picked up from the desks of secretaries who worked for central committee officials. Erika, born in 1921, was also considered to be a committed communist and above suspicion. She had been a member of the party since 1953. She was sentenced to ten years imprisonment but released after five. According to Staadt's book she died in East Germany in 1982
Erika Lokenvitz brought into the spy ring her nephew, who was a lieutenant in the security ministry. Through him, a room in her apartment was used by the East German security service for meeting with informants. A microphone was installed in the telephone and the information gathered was passed on U.S. intelligence. Staadt says he was sentenced to several years imprisonment but survived and still lives in Berlin.
The final member of the ring was Harry Wierschke, a driver for Central Committee officials, who was able to provide information about them. Wierschke, born in 1924, was also considered by the authorities to be a convinced communist. He was imprisoned from 1944 until the end of the war for refusing to serve in the armed forces and joined the communist party immediately after his release. Wierschke was sentenced in 1966 to life imprisonment.
Mrs. Liebing's spy ring was broken up in 1966 when East German security officials found a hidden message with information about the Central Committee in a letter sent to West Berlin. The postmark led to the seizure of other ciphered letters which indicated that the agent was a woman employee of the Central Committee who had recently been ill. In fact, when the police first came to arrest Liebing she was in hospital. The records show that the doctors told them she was terminally ill. She died two months after her conviction later that year. Apart from her espionage activities, Staadt believes that Mrs. Liebing was also responsible for the downfall of the notorious East German justice minister Hilde Benjamin in 1967. Apparently during her interrogation she disclosed that Benjamin had a lesbian relationship and had taken part in lesbian parties.