Bonn — In two quite different ways, West Germany fights on the front line of Western Europe's spy wars. First, this nation of 60 million people undoubtedly has to cope with more spies per square mile than any other major European nation -- or, for that matter, any other major nation in the world.
Second, the West German government must pursue a rear-guard battle for public support from a skeptical press and parliament.
The fight against East German spies is, in its intensity, reminiscent of the cold war. But spies who are caught in the act are not liquidated. They are often simply exchanged. Sometimes the West Germans trade an East German spy for an East German dissident. Sometimes they pay cash to get an agent back.
Because of East-West German detente, little cold-war rhetoric can be heard these days. Soviet-bloc attempts to discredit West Germany through "disinformation" and propaganda campaigns have been muted.
It can all be quite civilized.
And many West German citizens have grown so accustomed to spy stories that, as the writer John Dornberg once put it in the Paris daily, the International Herald Tribune, disclosures of espionage scandals usually cause about as much of a sensation as the weather report.
But it is serious business, indeed. In recent years, East German agents have succeeded in seducing more than half a dozen West German secretaries with access to defense secrets in both the NATO alliance and the West German government. A retired, high-ranking NATO officer told this reported recently he thought there were few NATO secrets left.
The East Germans have also perfected the art of stealing West Germany's industrial and technological secrets. An entire section of East Germany's foreign intelligence agency, consisting of four departments, is devoted to this task. Since West Germany is ahead of its neighbor in some aspects of industrial and high technological development, such as computers and electronics, this makes for savings, for the East Germans, of millions of dollars each year. Of the more than 40 Soviet-bloc spies uncovered in 1979, three-quarters were engaged in this type of "business-suit espionage." Some of them specialized in one thing only -- the growing field of computer espionage.
West German sources say that East German spies can be found at all levels of West German industry. They have also made attempts to infiltrate West German churches, and, not surprisingly, quite a few of them have been found in the government and Army.
"We must just assume that there is no place that doesn't have its agent from the other side," said Karl Kaiser, a prominent West German scholar who directs an institute for foreign affairs in Bonn.
West Germany's equivalent of the FBI, the Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV) estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 East German spies are operating in West Germany. Their easiest "target" has been single women working as secretaries for the West German government.
As far as is publicly known, their most highly placed agent has been Gunther Guillaume, political aide to former Chancellor Willy Brandt. Some West German officials say that Guillaume's importance has been exaggerated. The agent, they say, almost never dealt with defense matters and was only one of several special assistants to Brandt. But he was important enough to bring the downfall of Willy Brandt, a pioneer in East-West detente.
West Germany epitomizes all of the problems a relatively open society confronts in the face of highly disciplined spies. But in addition to those problems, it has some special ones of its own. Sending a spy into West Germany has been a relatively easy matter for the East Germans.
In some cases it has been as easy as putting a man on the S-bahn train at East Berlin's Friedrichstrasse station. Within 10 minutes, the agent can travel from austere East Berlin into rollicking West Berlin. He can be relatively certain that no questions will be asked upon his arrival. A West German spy trying to make the reverse trip would have to face a phalanx of police.
Sensitive to any suggestion that it might be reviving repressive measures such as existed in Germany's Nazi past, West Germany has adopted a system of relatively lenient prison sentences for spies.
On top of all this, the East Germans have the advantage of speaking the same language as the people whom they are spying on. Some of the "escapees" who have come from East Germany to the West have turned out to be spies.
The West German government some years ago undertook programs aimed at educating West German government employees to the dangers of espionage directed against them. Posters were placed in government ministries to warn secretaries, that, among other things, "during your vacation, there are [East German] agents whom you should be careful about." One West German secretary had, indeed, met her East German Lothario at the beach.
The secretary problem is still a difficult one to cope with. For one thing, Bonn is one of the world's dullest capitals. On the weekends, many of its political appointees and civil servants flee to other cities. Many of the secretaries are obliged to stay.
"We don't want to forbid love," says Manfred Schuler, state secretary in the chancellor's office, who is the coordinator and supervisor for West Germany's secret services.
Love, according to Dr. Schuler, is the most frequent motive for which a person will agree to spy for East Germany. Next comes that age-old motive, greed. Then comes the person who is unhappy with his or her work or social standing and is flattered to be asked to do dangerous work, said Dr. Schuler.
But the government has tightened its security checks.
And it has had several victories, including a major intelligence coup last year: Werner Stiller, a defector from the East German foreign intelligence service, brought along a suitcase full of secret documents. It turned out that he had been collecting the contents of that suitcase for several months, apparently guided in part by helpful suggestions from the West Germans.When he turned the suitcase over to the West Germans, several of East Germany's specialists in industrial and technological espionage who were working under cover in West Germany packed their own suitcases -- and three-piece suits -- and fled to the East.
The West Germans claim that Mr. Stiller, while holding a relatively low-seeming rank in the East German service, was in some ways as big a fish as Guillaume had been. He had apparently been a key link in the East German paper flow.
According to one high-ranking West German official, the East Germans have a death warrant out for Stiller and have formed a special commando group to go after him if and when the opportunity arises. The West Germans have not allowed Stiller to make any public appearances, for fear that his life might be in danger.
West Germany's internal security agency, the BfV, is headed by Richard Meier, a handsome, blue-eyed, no-nonsense lawyer, who looks as if he came out of Germany's central casting to play his watchdog role.
Several years ago, Dr. Meier instituted a computerized system for checking identity papers that has led to the capture of a number of East German spies.
At the head of West Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the other major security agency and the equivalent of the CIA, is Klaus Kinkel, an energetic man with a political background. He contends that while East Germany might appear to be ahead in the war of human spies, West Germany holds a lead in spy technology over the East that more than restores the balance.
Recruitment for the West German spy agencies is a problem. With an eye to the past, many West Germans want nothing to do with spy, or police work. And once a young man or woman joins the BfV or the BND, it is a one-way street. Other government offices or agencies will have nothing to do with someone who wants to transfer out of spy work.
Some intelligence officials would like to see the consolidation of the two spy agencies. But memories of the Nazi era and fears of another Gestapo make this inconceivable.
Both Dr. Kinkel and Dr. Meier believe that coordination between their two agencies has improved. If, indeed, this is the case, it is an improvement over the past.
A number of years ago West German security agents in Dusseldorf got a tip about the suspicious comings and goings of unidentified men at what was purported to be an export- import firm. After deciding that the firm was a front for spies, staking it out, and planning how to make their kill, the security agents discovered that the firm was, indeed, a front. A front for West Germany's other spy agency, the BND.
A Western diplomat who has had glimpses of both the Soviet and East German secret services considers the East Germans as superior.
The difference shows, according to the diplomat, in the way in which the East Germans follow a man and search his room.
"I've seen them use 10 or 12 people and four different cars with radios, with the cars trading off as they tail you," the diplomat said, describing the movement of East German agents as a veritable symphony of spying.
"In Moscow or Leningrad, the Soviets will sometimes leave a mess in your room , partly to advertise their power over you," he said. "The East Germans would never do that. . . . They're compulsively neat.
"Their only mistake is they sometimes leave things a little neater than when they found them -- books in a perfect row, for instance," the diplomat said.
"They do have a corps of bully boys," he continued."The men in hooded parkas and polyester slacks whom you can spot about 200 yards aways. But they never physically abuse you the way the Soviets sometimes do. . . . You're dealing with a more subtle, more sophisticated, more refined secret police. . . . And sometimes people relax around them and say things they shouldn't say."
The diplomat's comments were one of many signs that East Germany's secret police and intelligence services now rank among the world's top spy agencies.
But another, more significant sign of the East Germans' effectiveness can be found in half a dozen of the developing nations of the Middle East and Africa. Many of the East Germans stationed in those countries are specialists in the training of foreign intelligence officers and secret police forces. No one does it better.
Under the guidance of the Soviet Union, most of the East European intelligence services have developed specialties. The Czechs, for instance, have long excelled in the game of deception and black propaganda known as "disinformation." But there can be no more sensitive and important an assignment than the one that thas been given to the East Germans in places such as Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and South Yemen.
East Germany is a nation of only 17 million people, so it is hardly likely to become a truly global intelligence power. But where the East Germans specialize , they do so with an imagination and meticulousness that impresses others in the intelligence business.
The man at the head of the effort at East Germany's Ministry for State Security in East Berlin is the athletic and dapper Markus (Mischa) Wolf. He took over his important position at the age of only 28 and now has run the East German secret service for nearly 30 years -- the longest-serving intelligence chief in the East bloc. Diplomats say that while much has been written about Wolf, little reliable information is available about this superspy. It is agreed, however, that he was the son of Freidrich Wolf, a physician, writer, and diplomat, and that he got much of his education in the Soviet Union.
Wolf seldom appears in public. He was detected and photographed in 1978 on a secret mission to Sweden using an assumed name. He was seen this year in Belgrade at the funeral of Marshal Tito.
Wolf was once described by one of his agents as "one of those very smart, quiet functionaries who stands in the background. . . . What his colleagues take seriously, what they fight for, what they are enthusiastic about, he sees only as a great game of chess."
Markus wolf commands an estimated 2,000 intelligence officers, and, according to West German officials, the quality of those officers has improved markedly over the past 10 to 15 years. They are described as a privileged elite, often ideologically motivated, and often, when arrested, tough and tight-lipped.
"Before, the first thing some of their officers did was turn themselves in to us," said one West German official. "Now we're dealing with a new generation. . . . They're proud of their country. They've been educated from childhood to believe in what they're doing."
"They're usually recruited as students and trained for at least five years," said another official. "They're better than the Poles and the Czechs. . . . They're better than the KGB."
The East germans have been given the title of "Fighters for PEace on the Invisible Front."
In contrast, the BfV, West Germany's internal security agency charged with detecting the spies being handled by these East German officers, has to fight against a poor image as well as against difficulties in recruiting persons qualified for counterespionage service.
To work against the East Germans, said one West German official, "You don't need dark glasses or a slouch hat. You need a good car and a good radio -- and an ability not to talk too much. . . . But most of all, it's card-index work, the work of an archivist -- putting together a mosaic one piece at a time."
Unfortunately for counterespionage men on both sides, spies from the East and West niow use onetime, unbreakable codes. Each agent has his own code on a strip of film and changes that code will each transmission. Even when a number of computers are used against such a code, it is apparently impossible to break.