West Germans quarrel over who to blame for spy scandal

As new spy cases keep turning up with monotonous regularity, Bonn's political parties are already fighting over which heads will roll -- and what the longer-term policy consequences will be. The disputes pit the opposition Social Democrats against the center-right coalition. They also pit the three coalition parties against each other.

In order of primacy, the chief candidates for resignation in what the Social Democrats are terming the worst spy disaster in West German history, are:

Heribert Hellenbroich, head of the Federal Intelligence Service (the equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency) and a Christian Democrat;

Chancellery intelligence overseer Waldemar Schreckenberger, also a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU); and

Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).

Much more muted calls for the acceptance of ``political responsibility'' by Christian Democratic Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Liberal Party leader and Economics Minister Martin Bangemann have also been made in some quarters.

Dr. Bangemann's long-time secretary Sonja L"uneburg vanished in mid-August as the first of four suspected spies who have fled. One suspect has been arrested, and authorities have said they are about to arrest another. The most damaging defector of the lot was West Germany's top counterspy, Hans-Joachim Tiedge, who turned up in East Germany last Friday. The DPA West German news agency is now reporting that there are 8,000 spies active in West Germany.

The policy disputes in the wake of Mr. Tiedge's defection focus on East-West German relations and the balancing of the right of privacy against the need to ferret out spies.

The chief candidate for resignation, Heribert Hellenbroich, was, until his promotion on Aug. 1, head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz), West Germany's counterintelligence agency.

In a major misjudgment, Mr. Hellenbroich kept his old friend Tiedge on as head of the Verfassungsschutz's operations branch in the past three years despite the obvious security risk in Tiedge's well-known problems of drinking and debts. Hellenbroich reasoned that demoting him to a less sensitive position would be even riskier and might in fact push the unstable Tiedge into defecting.

But Hellenbroich never passed on information about this problem to Chancellor Kohl or Interior Minister Zimmermann. Both men were caught by surprise on their vacations last week by the news of this blow to Bonn's whole counterespionage effort. Zimmermann gave a first report on the affair to Kohl yesterday and will give a second one later this week; Kohl will then see what ``personnel, organizational, or other consequences'' should be drawn, said the government press spokesman.

The Bonn government is trying to see Tiedge in East Germany this week, so far without success. Because of neighbors' recent allegations that in the early 1980s Tiedge's wife showed signs of being beaten, prosecutors are also reopening an investigation of her death in a home accident three years ago.

Initially Christian Democrats defended Hellenbroich somewhat, pointing out that he acted humanely in trying to help Tiedge out of his difficulties. Conservatives even made one short-lived effort to deflect responsibility for Tiedge's retention from Hellenbroich to the Verfassungsschutz's second in command, a Social Democrat. By now conservative defense of Hellenbroich has evaporated, however, and few observers think he can remain in office.

Interior Minister Zimmermann has also been urged to resign by one member of the third and most junior party in the Bonn coalition, Liberal State Secretary J"urgen M"ollemann in the Foreign Ministry. This reflex of perennial Liberal-CSU strife has not been echoed by other Liberals, though -- if only because Liberal Chairman Bangemann is himself so vulnerable.

For his part CSU leader and Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss has been asserting that the Tiedge fiasco could have been avoided. He has not named names, but the general assumption is that he is once again needling his old-time rival Kohl by implying that Kohl's man, Mr. Schreckenberger, has not been doing his duty in monitoring the intelligence agencies. The implicit contrast is with former Strauss aide Holger Pfahls, who succeeded Hellenbroich this month and ordered a check on Tiedge's financial sit uation just before Tiedge fled.

In policy matters, the Tiedge affair has also revived the old liberal-conservative feud over civil rights versus law-and-order. The CDU and CSU both want to weaken data protection laws so that police and security officials can inspect personal records held by private and public agencies -- especially in the case of East German immigrants, all of whom have the right to immediate citizenship in West Germany with few questions asked. The conservatives argue that such checks would speed up the unmasking of East German ``moles'' who assume the identity of other persons -- as allegedly happened with ``L"uneburg.'' So far the Liberals have opposed such legislation.

Coalition infighting over the impact that the current spy affair should now have on East-West German relations is just as fierce as the infighting over resignations. Kohl's right wing would gladly put a freeze on East-West German relations to show Bonn's displeasure with East German espionage. And centrist Chancellor Kohl himself warned East Berlin of this possible consequence a few hours before Tiedge's defection was confirmed.

Minister for Inner-German Relations Heinrich Windelen, a member of the CSU but an opponent of d'etente with East Germany before he became minister, has this time urged Bonn not to go overboard in sacrificing East-West relations to the current spy scandal.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK