August 19, 1985 – Important West German Spy Defects to East Germany

On this day in history, Hans-Joachim Tiedge defected to the security services run by the infamous East German spymaster Markus Wolf. East German authorities also announced that they had arrested 168 West German agents in East Germany pursuant to information provided by Tiedge. The West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, described the former spy chief’s defection as “catastrophic”.

Hans-Joachim Tiedge

Hans-Joachim Tiedge

Tiedge had been a head of West Germany’s counter-intelligence in the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne. Questions were later raised as to how Tiedge managed to hold on to his position despite serious debts, family issues and a drinking problem. Herbert Hellenbroich, his immediate boss, claimed that he “was loth to fire Tiedge or move him on to less sensitive work, for fear of ‘tipping him over the edge’.” Hellenbroich resigned within weeks of the defection.

According to the UK Telegraph, Tiedge was supposed to have been leading the hunt for East German and Soviet spies in West Germany. It seemed that instead, he was protecting them. The Telegraph reports: “In the weeks before he defected, for example, three women thought to have been East German spies fled to the safety of the GDR.”

After his defection Tiedge lived in East Berlin under the name Helmut Fischer, taking a degree at the Humboldt University (where his dissertation was on West German intelligence). On August 23 1990, with German reunification underway, he moved to Moscow.

It was then the plot thickened. With the oncoming reunificaiton, Tiedge’s deputy, Klaus Kuron, confessed that he too had been a double agent, having received almost half a million dollars from Markus Wolf. [Markus Johannes “Mischa” Wolf was head of the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung), the foreign intelligence division of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (MfS, commonly known as the Stasi).

Markus Wolf, regarded by many intelligence experts as one of the greatest spymasters of all time

Markus Wolf, regarded by many intelligence experts as one of the greatest spymasters of all time

Interestingly, John le Carré’s fictional spymaster Karla, a Russian, was believed by some readers to be modeled on Wolf, an idea repeatedly denied by the author. Le Carré has also stated that it is sheer nonsense that Markus Wolf was the inspiration for the character Fiedler in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. But Wolf himself stated he had read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and was surprised how accurately the book presented the reality within the East German security services.]

Tiedge’s defection allowed Kuron to remain undetected by leading West Germany to think that its intelligence leak had been plugged. In fact, the Telegraph reports, Kuron was the real source of information. It is still not clear who was working for whom.

Tiedge died in Moscow in 2011 at age 73.

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