West Germany's 'Kiessling affair' puts its Defense Ministry under a spotlight
West Germany's Kiessling affair has become the Worner affair. On Jan. 26 the special parliamentary inquiry committee opened hearings into Defense Minister Manfred Worner's controversial firing of four-star Gen. Gunter Kiessling - and a storm erupted over the defense minister's personal meeting with a militant homosexual in his extraordinary effort to get ex post facto evidence against the general.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Worner's resignation is now widely expected.
The ever-escalating scandal highlights:
* The expendability of defense ministers in West Germany.
* The growing self-confidence and self-awareness of the country's professional military officers after three decades of a very low profile in post-Hitler Germany.
* The vigor of the West German press.
* The apparent inability of ''MAD'' - the Militarische Abschirmdienst, or military counterintelligence service - to distinguish between intelligence and gossip.
* The lengths to which power-holders will go - and the fair play they will sacrifice - to justify themselves.
But first, the cast of characters:
Dr. Worner: an ex-Luftwaffe pilot, a longtime defense theorist, a man who gets on well with his American colleagues in the Pentagon and Congress, a man who until the Kiessling affair got on well with the West German brass.
Dr. Gunter Kiessling: one of two deputies of NATO commander Bernard Rogers. General Kiessling was the third-ranking West German general until Dr. Worner retired him prematurely Dec. 31. Grounds for the sacking were suspicions that Kiessling was frequenting homosexual bars and therefore constituted a security risk.
Gen. Wolfgang Altenburg: the Bundeswehr inspector general (chief of staff) since last year; a symbol of the new Germany as the first officer to assume the top Bundeswehr command who did not begin his career as a soldier in Hitler's Wehrmacht.
The drama began last September, when MAD told Worner that Kiessling had been visiting homosexual bars in Cologne, and in the milieu of male prostitutes was therefore subject to blackmail. Worner - without challenging MAD's evidence - called in Kiessling, a professional and personal friend, who emphatically denied the allegation.
The two men, who wanted to avoid a public scandal, agreed that Kiessling would retire early, in March of 1984, with full honors - and would not have access to classified information in the interim.
The expectation of Kiessling in taking this step, as he has explained since the matter became public knowledge, was that a quiet internal investigation would be carried out and that it would clear his name.
The interpretation of MAD, however, was that Kiessling's protestations of innocence just meant he was all the more subject to blackmail and therefore a real security risk.
In early December Worner got worried about the deal and advanced Kiessling's retirement date to Dec. 31, without full honors. Worner himself told inquisitive reporters nothing about the reasons for this unusual treatment, but ministry officials leaked suspicions about Kiessling having homosexual tendencies to the press.
The resulting furor was everything the principals had feared. And as Worner was forced by the press and opposition politicians to reveal the evidence for his decision, it turned out to be very flimsy. No agent of MAD itself had ever seen Kiessling in a homosexual bar. Nor had members of the Cologne police, who had simply shown bartenders a retouched portrait photo of Kiessling (which has since mysteriously disappeared) and been told by the bartenders that they had seen that man.
Furthermore, a look-alike habitue of Cologne homosexual clubs who may have been mistaken for Kiessling was interrogated by police at night, then spirited away - apparently on orders of the Defense Ministry - to a secret location to get away from reporters who had gotten wind of a ''doppelganger'' (look-alike).
After a week of maintaining that it could not reveal its evidence without compromising intelligence sources, the Defense Ministry finally said it had four witnesses ready to confront Kiessling.
Kiessling asked for their names (information that would routinely be given to a defendant in court proceedings). When the names were withheld, he refused to meet them and alluded to a famous frame-up of a Hitler-era general by anonymous witnesses on charges of homosexuality.