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Germany: Government Agency Conducts New Checks For Possible Former Stasi Agents

Germany is making new checks on certain senior officials and parliamentarians to see if they ever worked for the secret police in the former communist East Germany.

Munich, 8 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The new search was prompted by the return to Germany of thousands of files created by the feared East German security organization, the Stasi. They were taken to Washington after the fall of communism and returned to Berlin last month.

The archive, known colloquially as the "Rosewood" files, contains 320,000 files on individual agents used by the Stasi in West Germany and another 57,400 files giving the details of East German intelligence operations.

Marianne Birthler, who heads the government agency investigating the Stasi, said the Rosewood archive is being checked against Germany's own files. She said it is unlikely that any major surprises will surface because most East German agents were unmasked in previous investigations. However, she said it is possible the files will uncover a few agents who have evaded detection in the 13 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

"We don't expect many surprises. But it makes sense to check whether any former Stasi agents are still in important positions or working for the government," Birthler said.

Previous investigations have shown that about 3,500 people were still working in West Germany for the Stasi when the communist regime collapsed in 1989. In East Germany itself, the Stasi had about 10,000 agents, most of whom have long been revealed.

Berlin has reason to be wary of what could still come to light. The East German intelligence service infiltrated all levels of West German society and earlier investigations produced several unpleasant surprises.

Among them was Gabriele Gast, the chief analyst in the Soviet and Eastern Europe department of the West German intelligence organization (BND). She sent material to East Germany from the time she joined the Western intelligence service in 1973 until her arrest in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She was released in 1994 after serving most of her seven-year sentence and wrote a book about her life.

Another agent for East German intelligence was Karl Wienand, a senior official of the Socialist Party (SPD), who began supplying information in 1970. In 1996 he was sentenced to 30 months in jail.

The importance of the Rosewood archive is that it gives both the real names of Stasi agents as well as their code names and other details. In the past, German investigators had to rely on a less detailed archive known as SIRA.

More than 50 analysts are now reviewing the Rosewood archive in Berlin. Marianne Birthler said she expects it will take about six months to check all the material. She declined to speculate on what action may be taken but pointed out that most former agents have little to fear because the time for prosecution has expired under Germany's statute of limitations.

"Most of the possible offenses can no longer be prosecuted. The legal limit to do so expired nearly three years ago -- in October 2000. Only cases of murder or manslaughter can still be prosecuted," she said.

Only one name has been publicly disclosed since the Rosewood archive returned to Germany. It is Lothar Bisky, the chairman of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor party to the East German Communist Party. He is not identified as a real agent but only as an "unofficial informer." German intelligence officials say the Stasi listed about 173,000 people as "unofficial informers" who sometimes passed on information but were not agents.

According to the Rosewood archive, Bisky was recruited in 1966 but released from duty in 1979. It says he was reactivated in 1986 when he became director of the film and television school in Potsdam.

Bisky took the unusual step of appearing on German television to acknowledge that his job as director of the film and television school brought him into contact with the Stasi. He said that like any other East German official traveling abroad, he was required to make reports on his foreign contacts. Bisky said the authorities had known about this since 1995.

Bisky vigorously denied that he could be considered an "unofficial informer" and said that in fact he had protected students and lecturers from the secret police and did not submit reports on them.