Man Without A Face

The Autobiography Of Communism's Greatest Spymaster


By Markus Wolf

By Anne McElvoy

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For decades, Markus Wolf was known to Western intelligence officers only as “the man without a face.” Now the legendary spymaster has emerged from the shadows to reveal his remarkable life of secrets, lies, and betrayals as head of the world’s most formidable and effective foreign service ever. Wolf was undoubtedly the greatest spymaster of our century. A shadowy Cold War legend who kept his own past locked up as tightly as the state secrets with which he was entrusted, Wolf finally broke his silence in 1997. Man Without a Face is the result. It details all of Wolf’s major successes and failures and illuminates the reality of espionage operations as few nonfiction works before it. Wolf tells the real story of Gunter Guillaume, the East German spy who brought down Willy Brandt. He reveals the truth behind East Germany’s involvment with terrorism. He takes us inside the bowels of the Stasi headquarters and inside the minds of Eastern Bloc leaders. With its high-speed chases, hidden cameras, phony brothels, secret codes, false identities, and triple agents, Man Without a Face reads like a classic spy thriller—except this time the action is real.


For Andrea

Without a maximum of knowledge, you are unable
To put spies successfully in place.
Without humanity and justice you are unable
To send scouts ahead.
Without sure instincts and a penetrating mind you are unable
To judge the authenticity of a report.
Sensitivity! Sensitivity!
Sun-tzu, Chinese general, fourth century B.C.
The Art of War

For thirty-four years I served as chief of the foreign intelligence service of the Ministry of State Security of the German Democratic Republic. As even my bitter foes would acknowledge, it was probably the most efficient and effective such service on the European continent. We gathered many of the strategic and technical secrets of the mighty armies arrayed against us and passed them via Soviet intelligence to the command centers of the Warsaw Pact in Moscow. It was widely believed that I knew more about the secrets of the Federal Republic of Germany than the chancellor in Bonn himself. Indeed, we placed agents in the private office of two chancellors, among the thousand or so we had infiltrated into all sectors of West German political life, business, and other areas of society. Many of these agents were West Germans who served us purely out of conviction.
I saw my personal and professional life as one long arc that began with what was a grand goal by any objective standard. We East German Socialists tried to create a new kind of society that would never repeat the German crimes of the past. Most of all, we were determined that war should never again originate on German soil.
Our sins and our mistakes were those of every other intelligence agency. If we had shortcomings, and we certainly did, they were those of too much professionalism untempered by the raw edge of ordinary life. Like most Germans, we were disciplined to a fault. Our methods worked so well that we unwittingly helped to destroy the career of the most farsighted of modern German statesmen, Willy Brandt. The integration of the foreign intelligence service into the Ministry of State Security meant that the service and I were charged with responsibility for both internal repression in the German Democratic Republic and cooperation with international terrorists.
It is not easy to tell the story of this intelligence war from what was our side of the vanished Iron Curtain so that it will be understood by those who have spent their lives on the other. In recounting my story of a unique battle in the Cold War, I seek no pardon as a representative of the losers. Our side fought against the revival of fascism. We fought for a combination of socialism and freedom, a noble objective that failed utterly but which I still believe is possible. I hold to my beliefs, although they have been tempered now by time and experience. But I am no defector, and this memoir is not a confessional bid for redemption.
From the time I took over East German foreign intelligence in the 1950s until my photograph was surreptitiously snapped in 1979 and identified by a defector, the West had no idea what I looked like. They called me "the man without a face," a nickname that almost makes our espionage activities and the intelligence war between the East and West sound romantic. It was not. People suffered. Life was hard. Often no quarter was asked or given in the war between the two ideologies that dominated the second half of our century and paradoxically gave Europe its longest era of peace since the fall of the Roman Empire. Crimes were committed by both sides in the global struggle. Like most people in this world, I feel remorse.
In this memoir I have attempted to recount from my side the facts in full as I know them. Readers, reviewers, and historical specialists may examine them, credit them, and challenge them. But I reject the accusations of some of my countrymen that I have no right to recount and examine in detail the successes and failures of my career. In Germany there has been an attempt, through the courts and elsewhere, at a settling of accounts to ensure that only one version of history prevails. I seek neither moral justification nor forgiveness, but after a great struggle it is time for both sides to take stock.
Any history worthy of the name cannot be written only by the winners.

By Craig R. Whitney
When a country is its own worst enemy, having the world's best foreign spy service can't help, as the leaders of East Germany discovered when that Communist country collapsed like a house of cards in 1989.
The irony does not escape Markus Wolf, the man who built the East German espionage agency and led it for thirty-four remarkably successful years. East Germany needed spies, its insecure Communist leaders thought in the early days of the Cold War, because West German economic superiority, coupled with NATO military might, threatened to overwhelm it. But despite 4,000 espionage agents and 109,000 secret police informers in the huge State Security Service, which had one informant for every 150 East German citizens, the Communists did not recognize until too late that it was their own internal flaws, the fatal fault lines of any system built on repression and coercion, that would bring them down.
For personal reasons, Wolf retired at his own request in 1986 and moved to a sixth-floor apartment overlooking the Spree River in the center of what used to be East Berlin. It was a choice location in the Communist scheme of things, in a neighborhood restored by the regime to recall the atmosphere of prewar Berlin; cobbled pedestrian streets and craftsmen's shops tucked into buildings whose bright pastel colors were meant to evoke an eighteenth-century past. After the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, tabloid newspapers called Wolf's apartment a luxury penthouse, typical of what the masters of the State Security Service—the dreaded "Stasi," as Germans called it—allowed themselves but denied all ordinary East Germans. The descriptions were always overdrawn.
There are ninety-nine steps to the sixth floor and the building has no elevator. Even in his mid-seventies, Wolf is still fit enough to negotiate the stairs. In the dingy entryway, someone has scrawled "Stasi pig" on Wolf's aluminum mailbox, an act that would have meant immediate imprisonment in the Communist days. A few blocks away his son from a previous marriage now earns pocket money in a pizzeria under the railroad tracks of the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station, the primary border crossing for visitors between east and west used during the Cold War days. Wolf is a man who has fallen a long way.
Unlike some of his Stasi colleagues, Wolf never saw the intelligence business as a way to enrich himself. Wolf is a compelling presence, well over six feet tall, trim and gray-haired with an interesting, elongated face, penetrating brown eyes, and the long-fingered, delicate hands of an intellectual. His German is elegant and expressive. He chats about Goethe and Brecht or Tolstoy and Mayakovski with equal ease, and he has a sense of humor. To while away the time during a brief forced exile (his second) to Moscow after German unification in 1990, he put together a book called Secrets of Russian Cooking (Geheimnisse der russischen Kü̈che), a charming mix of recipes for beef Stroganoff, blini, and piroshki with cartoons and clever anecdotes from the spy business.
But seeing him today, one can't help but wonder what Wolf would have been as a West German: a general, perhaps, or foreign minister, or the head of some great German enterprise. He would have been successful, no doubt, prosperous and proud, perhaps with a few more pounds around his middle and a Mercedes in his driveway. But instead he lives in the petit bourgeois way of East Germany's Communist leadership, a collection of aging mediocrities to whom he feels loyalty but also intellectual superiority. In one of the harshest and most repressive political environments in Europe, he succeeded and survived by his wits, using his education and his charm to persuade Westerners to betray their own country for the Communist cause. Given how pitiful that cause was in East Germany, the real question is how so brilliant and intelligent a man could squander such great gifts on so wretched a system.
Ironically, Markus Wolf did begin his life in West Germany. Born in 1923 in Hechingen, a small town in Württemberg in southwestern Germany, he was the first son of the well-known dramatist, author, and homeopathic physician Friedrich Wolf, a Jew and a Marxist. Like her husband, Wolf's mother, Else, was an active member of the German Communist Party. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 the Wolfs were marked for arrest, and Markus's father fled to France. Else, Markus, and his younger brother, Konrad, soon followed, and in 1934 the family found political asylum in Moscow.
There, for the next ten years, the boys underwent the educational, cultural, and political conditioning of Communist Russia. Konrad returned to Germany in 1944 as a soldier in the Red Army. Markus studied aeronautical engineering in Russia and, in 1945, at the age of twenty-two, was sent to Germany on German Communist Party orders to help build a propaganda radio station in the ruins of Berlin.
Wolf's fluent Russian and his exposure to Communist ideals from the cradle onward put him at ease with the Red Army authorities in the Russian occupation zone of eastern Germany and with the other German exiles and survivors who were placed at the head of the German Democratic Republic in 1949. Whatever else he might have done, Stalin had saved the Wolf family from the Holocaust, and that fact, plus the heady sense of power that came from suddenly being put in charge in the first Communist state on German soil, always outweighed whatever Markus Wolf would later discover about the dark, repressive side of communism.
It did not take long for Wolf's talents to become evident to his elders, who sent him to Moscow as an East German diplomat for a few years and then brought him into East Germany's budding foreign intelligence agency, making him its chief in 1952, when he was not quite thirty. A year later, the agency merged foreign intelligence into the State Security Service, making Wolf a quasi-autonomous deputy chief of the Stasi as head of its Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung, or "Main Intelligence Directorate," where he eventually acquired the rank of general.
In the precarious first days of East Germany's existence, there were plenty of foreign threats to worry about. West Germany's Federal Republic, by far the larger of the two successor states to the defunct German Reich, asserted sole claim to historical legitimacy and would not have diplomatic relations with any country that recognized its eastern neighbor. To Western eyes, there was little that seemed democratic about the German Democratic Republic, and most of the countries that risked West German ire by establishing relations with the east were either Soviet satellites or fellow travelers.
During these early, volatile years, the East German minister for state security was Erich Mielke, a thuggish veteran of Communist intrigue from another generation sixteen years Wolf's senior. A more complete contrast between two individuals is hard to imagine. Mielke was born into a working-class family in Berlin at the end of 1907, grew up in a hardscrabble milieu, and joined the Communist Party in 1930. Imprisoned after murdering two Berlin policemen in 1931, he escaped and fled to Moscow. Sixty-two years later, he was convicted of the crime on evidence he had locked away in his Stasi safe. But as head of the GDR's secret police machine, Mielke, obsessed with the threat of internal subversion, turned East Germany into the most ruthlessly efficient police state in Eastern Europe.
When communism collapsed, Mielke became an object of universal loathing. Wolf, too, spares him little sympathy. He portrays Mielke as a tyrant, a boss against whom he fought a constant bureaucratic struggle to preserve the independence and autonomy of his espionage domain. But at the same time, Wolf also denies responsibility for many Stasi activities that seem closely related to foreign espionage, such as the "shoot to kill" orders given to the border guards who manned the Berlin Wall. He denies ordering the death of foreign moles. He denies any connection to the Stasi's Section XXII, which granted temporary asylum to terrorists and used them as agents of subversion against the West.
Section XXII kept track of such radicals as West Germany's violent Red Army Faction, whose members murdered a dozen industrialists and high government officials in the 1970s; Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez, the international terrorist who called himself "Carlos"; and various members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Stasi occasionally used these terrorists as agents of subversion in the West, granting them temporary asylum in East Germany. It was a Stasi colonel who released more than fifty pounds of high explosives to Carlos's German deputy in 1983 before the bombing of the French consulate in West Berlin. As Wolf relates here, other Stasi officers in Section XXII knew of the plan by Libyan diplomats to bomb a West Berlin nightclub frequented by GIs, an explosion that killed four people and wounded more than two hundred in 1986 a few months before Wolf's retirement. But the East Germans did nothing to stop them.
From the start in the 1950s, Wolf's main assignment was ferreting out what West Germany's leaders had in mind for the vastly smaller East Germany. Under his leadership, East Berlin practically pitched one long no-hitter in the spy game with West Germany. Wolf's service "turned" West German agents, sending them back across the Wall to spy for the Communists instead. It recruited businessmen and legislators of both the left and right wings and probed them for information about West German economic and political policies. It sent "Romeos," attractive single men, to woo the many frustrated single women unhappily wedded to their jobs as secretaries to Bonn politicians. Wolf's service lured defectors to the Communist cause so often that it became an embarrassment. These defectors included West German intelligence and counterintelligence officials who had problems with alcohol, financial worries, or doubts about devoting their lives to the cause of a U.S.-led alliance in their divided country: "Probst," "Günter," "Kohle," "Komtess," "Mauerer," and finally "Topaz"—Rainer Rupp, Wolf's top spy in NATO's Brussels headquarters, who was not detected until after the Cold War was over. (After his release from prison in December 1998, the neo-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism caucus in the German Parliament wanted to hire Rupp as a consultant, but backed down under heavy fire.)
Wolf endured setbacks, to be sure: defectors from communism like Werner Stiller, who brought West German intelligence 20,000 pages' worth of microfilmed documents that enabled West Germany to uncover a score of undercover agents and, incidentally, the first picture in three decades of Wolf, until then a "man without a face" in their files. But these setbacks were outnumbered by his triumphs.
Wolf's service sent "moles" by the dozens burrowing into West German society on a bet that, given enough time and luck, some would work their way up close to the top of West German political parties and provide valuable information about German planning for military contingencies and, even more important for East Germany's strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, U.S. military and strategic intentions in case the Cold War turned hot. Among the moles were Günter Guillaume and his wife Christel, who infiltrated into West Germany in the mid-1950s as "Hansen" and "Heinze" to try to work their way up the Social Democratic Party hierarchy in Frankfurt. They succeeded beyond Wolf's wildest dreams when Guillaume became an aide to Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1972.
When he was unveiled as a spy, Guillaume brought Brandt down in 1974. This was arguably the worst defeat East Germany ever inflicted on itself before its collapse fifteen years later. Brandt's "Ostpolitik" had improved relations between the estranged countries. Bonn had finally stopped fighting the Communists and begun making diplomatic approaches instead. But the Communist leader, Erich Honecker, mistrusted Brandt's Ostpolitik, seeing West Germany's relationship with Moscow as a threat to East Germany's legitimacy. So in East Berlin, Wolf escaped retribution for bringing about the chancellor's fall.
A list identifying all of Wolf's agents would fill many volumes. Wolf has identified only those who died or were caught and tried. Despite his vast network of moles and agents, Wolf often felt frustrated by the results of his spy game. What did these agents accomplish in the grand scheme of things? "Almost all the papers that NATO produces, stamped 'secret' and 'cosmic,' that we go to great lengths to obtain are on closer inspection not even good for use as toilet paper," he wrote in his private diary in late 1974. It was the same on the Communist side, he mused–vast, swollen bureaucracies producing mounds of useless paper. In Moscow, in Warsaw, in East Berlin, the machinery ground on, trying to protect, defend, and perpetuate an indefensible system whose fundamental flaw was the belief that human happiness and prosperity could be forced onto people by an all-powerful Communist bureaucracy.
On both sides of the ideological divide, the bureaucrats whom John Le Carré dubbed "espiocrats" tunneled deep into opposing territory, infiltrated their moles, plotted and schemed, but in the end, they accomplished little that fundamentally changed life for people on either side. In Afghanistan, the CIA made life miserable for the Red Army, armed the mujahideen with air-to-air Stinger missiles, and eventually drove the Russians out. But what replaced them was an Islamic fundamentalist tyranny even more repressive than Communist rule, and soon there were worries that the Stingers would find their way into fundamentalist terrorist hands. In Eastern Europe, it was not the CIA or its West German equivalent, the BND, that caused the collapse of communism and the Warsaw Pact, but the accumulated frustrations and inherent political, economic, and social contradictions of Communist society.
Wolf would not begin to ruminate publicly about the flaws in the Communist system until it was too late, in a memoir of youth and Communist idealism published in East Germany only months before the Berlin Wall came crumbling down in 1989. The memoir, Die Troika, a continuation of a project begun by Wolf's brother, Konrad, before his death in 1982, was one of the few attempts ever made in East Germany to explore, even timidly, the mistakes made by Communist leaders in Moscow and elsewhere in the name of Stalinism. Despite Nikita Khrushchev's earlier efforts, such criticism had become possible in the Soviet Union only after Mikhail Gorbachev became leader in 1985 and introduced perestroika, an effort to reform communism that undid it instead, just as Khrushchev had feared loosening all the restraints would do. Honecker was having none of it in East Germany, and there Wolf's book caused a sensation.
But where Wolf actually stood in the eyes of his compatriots did not become clear until after the people of East Germany finally took to the streets that autumn to demand freedom. In a speech in Berlin in October 1989, Gorbachev made it clear that the half million Red Army troops in East Germany would not use guns or tanks to beat them down. That speech numbered communism's days in East Germany. The demonstrations soon swelled beyond control in Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin, and when Wolf appeared and offered his services in the cause of reform, he was booed off the stage. East Germans wanted freedom to travel, deutschmarks, Mercedeses and BMWs, and all the rest of the material wealth West Germans had, not warmed-over reform communism. Plans for reunification were moving forward like a juggernaut.
On October 3, 1990, East Germany would cease to exist, absorbed lock, stock, and barrel into the Federal Republic of Germany. The reunified Germany had scores to settle with Markus Wolf. When the clock struck midnight on the long-awaited day, Wolf knew he would go to jail. Quietly, he began sounding out friends in the KGB about the prospects for asylum in Moscow.
It was not only the West German authorities who had scores to settle with Wolf. The CIA had plenty of them, too. By 1990, the U.S. agency was in deep trouble. Its main enemy and raison d'être over the years, the Soviet Union, was in the process of collapse. But a dozen or so of the Soviet agents the CIA had recruited and nurtured with immense difficulty had been discovered and executed, betrayed by a U.S. citizen whose treason would not be unmasked until his arrest four years later, in 1994—Aldrich Ames. In 1990, all the CIA knew was that somebody was selling its innermost secrets, with lethal results. The CIA may well have thought that Wolf could help lead it to the traitor.
On May 22, Gardner A. Hathaway, recently retired as the CIA's assistant director for counterintelligence, appeared at Wolf's dacha, a log cabin under the pines on the northeast outskirts of Berlin, with a bouquet and a box of chocolates for Wolf's wife, Andrea, in hand. He had an extraordinary proposition. Help us, Hathaway urged, and we'll get you out of Germany to the United States before they come to arrest you in October.
Take me to the United States first and we'll talk there, Wolf says he counter-offered, but Hathaway insisted: no agreement to cooperate, no ticket. Wolf admits that he was tempted by the offer, though he could only speculate about what kind of help the CIA wanted from him. It already had a microfilmed list of all of his agents, he was sure, a list covertly acquired from disaffected or greedy HVA officers (the CIA eventually confirmed that it had such information but in early 1999 refused official demands by the German government for its return), but perhaps the CIA wanted additional information that went beyond the list. It may also have wanted to tap Wolf's knowledge of Soviet operating methods to enable the counterspies in Langley, Virginia, to track down Moscow's agents, too.
By deciding not to tell what he knew, Wolf angered Washington, and with Bonn breathing down his neck, he saw no choice but to flee Germany yet again, like his father before him. He still had help in high places in Moscow, friends like Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, his Russian counterpart, who had become the head of the KGB. Six days before October 3, Wolf and Andrea, thirty years his junior, slipped out of East Berlin, escaped across the border to Austria, and a few weeks later exfiltrated themselves—Wolf knew the technique well enough, after all—through Hungary and Ukraine to Russia.
But the world Wolf had known in Russia was fast disappearing. For Gorbachev, the key to Russia's future was not the KGB but good relations with Germany and its chancellor, Helmut Kohl. Wolf was a symbol of the discredited past, and when Wolf's friend Kryuchkov joined an unsavory attempted coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, Wolf knew Russia would not shelter him much longer. A month later, he headed back to Germany.
Wolf turned himself in at the Austrian border and was immediately arrested, then freed on bail provided by friends and former associates in East Berlin. To his astonishment, he learned that the Federal Republic of Germany intended to charge him with treason. Since he had been leading a spy service against the Federal Republic from Berlin and Berlin was now once again the capital of Germany, the prosecutors charged, Wolf was to be tried not as a foreign spy, but as a German traitor. His case looked grim. Klaus Kinkel, a former chief of the Federal Republic's intelligence service, was serving as the German justice minister and by bizarre coincidence had also been born in Hechingen.
Wolf's trial in Düsseldorf, in the same fortified basement courtroom where Günter Guillaume had been convicted almost two decades earlier, began in the spring of 1993 and concluded that December with a guilty verdict and a six-year sentence. It took the German equivalent of the Supreme Court until mid-1995 to set aside his conviction and point out the absurdity of the logic behind it. Wolf could not possibly have committed treason when he was running East Germany's spy service, the high court ruled, because East Germany had been a sovereign state recognized by Bonn for nearly two decades of that time. Besides, Wolf had never set foot on West German soil to do any spying himself. He was no more guilty of treason than was Yevgeny Primakov, then head of the successor to the KGB in Moscow.
So prosecutors tried another tack, indicting Wolf again in 1997 on more ordinary criminal grounds—charges that he had ordered kidnappings and coercions of people from across the East German border in the 1950s and 1960s, crimes that had also been illegal under East German law at the time they were committed. In May 1997, again in Düsseldorf, Wolf was convicted on three of those counts and given a two-year suspended sentence instead of a jail term. Running short of money to pay his mounting legal bills, Wolf decided to claim moral victory and forgo an appeal.
But the authorities were not finished with him yet. In January 1998, they tried again, calling Wolf as a witness in the trial of Gerhard Flämig, a West German legislator charged with spying for East Germany during the Cold War. Wolf refused to answer key questions and, with his seventy-fifth birthday approaching, was jailed three days for contempt of court. His seven-year-old grandchild sent him a drawing of a birthday cake with a file glued onto it, as if he could somehow saw his way out of jail, but Wolf's lawyers eventually got a higher court to dismiss the contempt citation. Wolf was once again free, but his freedom grated on his many former enemies in Germany who were determined to make him squeal.
The United States, either for its own reasons or at the request of the Germans (Klaus Kinkel had become the German foreign minister in 1992), was playing the same game. Though Israel, long known for its fear of potential terrorists, welcomed Wolf on a 1996 visit, the United States refused to grant him entry. When Wolf's publishers asked him to come to the United States to help with the final editing of the first edition of this book, U.S. authorities used his alleged terrorist connections as a pretext for denying him permission to set foot on U.S. shores.
The letter Wolf received on March 12, 1996, from the U.S. consulate-general in Berlin accused him of a crime even the West German authorities had not laid to his charge:
Dear Mr. Wolf,


On Sale
Jun 4, 1999
Page Count
460 pages

Markus Wolf

About the Author

Markus Wolf was the head of East Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service. Born in rural Western Germany in 1923, Wolf fled from the Nazis to the Soviet Union. He came of age in Moscow in the 1940s and was picked out by the Party to be returned to the war-ravaged Germany for its political restructuring. Wolf quickly rose through the ranks of East Germany’s foreign intelligence operations. He left the Stasi in 1986, three years before its collapse. He passed away in 2006.

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