WashPost Obit Recalls 'Charming' E. German Spymaster, Ignores Support of Terrorism
A few weeks ago, Amy Ridenour decried the Washington Post obituary writers for writing a bitter obituary for ex-Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, a "militia-friendly" and "extremist" conservative from Idaho who arrived in Washington with Newt Gingrich's new majority in 1994. She noted a communist spy from Vietnam drew a kinder obituary. That happened again Friday with the death of "charming" and "avuncular" East German spymaster Markus Wolf.
Markus Wolf, 83, who helped to oversee the growth of East Germany's espionage network and once wrote that he wanted to be remembered for "perfecting the use of sex in spying," died of undisclosed causes Nov. 9 at his apartment in Berlin.
Mr. Wolf led the foreign intelligence division of the East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, during much of the Cold War.
"Misha" Wolf's impact was undeniable. He was said to have been remarkably effective in stealing West Germany's weekly intelligence reports and was credited with planting thousands of moles in Western capitals, NATO headquarters and essential industries in science and technology...
Among Mr. Wolf's favorite spying methods was a forgery technique he called "seamless penetration," involving the reuse of passports confiscated from West Germans emigrating to the East.
Yet Mr. Wolf said he was likely to be remembered for his prolific use of sex to gain secrets, whether in the form of brothels to trap Westerners or by procuring wives and mistresses for loyal soldiers or by cultivating "Romeo spies" to target the lonely office secretaries and bureaucrats who had access to important, restricted documents. The intention was to steal hearts and then secrets.
He had sympathy for agents who fell in love while on the job, later writing in a memoir that he "had to develop my qualities as an agony uncle."
Mr. Wolf's avuncular manner was different from most Eastern bloc spymasters, such as his superior, the much-despised Stasi chieftain Erich Mielke. In retirement, Mr. Wolf made an attempt to redefine himself as a Gorbachev-style reformist by denouncing Mielke's methods and the reign of East German leader Erich Honecker.
However, this effort was widely regarded by his Stasi colleagues as an act more of expediency than of conviction.
Like the other communist-spy obituary Amy noted, the writer seems to be chronicling Wolf's life from the spy's viewpoint, admiring his skill and publicizing his self-promoting arguments:
Despite his public transformation, he was barred from entering the United States, which he found hypocritical, considering that Yasser Arafat and Gerry Adams, leaders aligned with violent political groups, were embraced by the White House. Partly to blame, he said, was his refusal to work for the CIA with the promise of a seven-figure salary, a home in California and a fresh identity.
Recounting his career in later years, Mr. Wolf could be charming and self-effacing. He noted that his best-known operative, Guillaume, was supposed to target only a West German labor leader but inadvertently took down Brandt's government.
At least the Los Angeles Times gave its readers a better flavor of Wolf's less-than-charming work spreading terrorism and murder in the West:
The exploits of his agents slipping through the Berlin Wall and penetrating the West had a romantic cachet abroad, especially with the popularity of novels by John le Carre. But at home in communist East Germany, Wolf's foreign intelligence service was connected to the Stasi — the reviled secret police responsible for the imprisonment, deaths and disappearances of thousands. Wolf also later admitted that his office aided militant groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the West German Red Army faction. [Also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.]
Marianne Birthler, director of the Stasi record office, told the German media: "I'm sorry that he left this world without taking the chance to face his past and to declare himself responsible."
All this underlines that anti-communists still have a role in the post-Cold War era in chronicling and reminding people of what happened. Liberals still can't come to see the communists in less than romantic terms, and documentations of their crimes remains important, lest we forget.