Markus Wolf, spy chief dubbed The Man Without a Face, dies at 83
· Former Stasi head dies on Berlin wall anniversary
· Agent he planted led to Willy Brandt resignation
The former East German spy chief, Markus Wolf, also known as the The Man Without a Face, at the 1991
Markus Wolf, the east German spymaster who outfoxed western agents for three decades, died yesterday on the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
Wolf, who earned himself the label The Man Without a Face for his ability to elude being photographed, died in his sleep in his Berlin apartment early yesterday. He was 83.
During his 34 years as a spy, Wolf pulled off some of the cold war’s best known plots, not least planting his agent, Günter Guillaume, as a top aide to west Germany’s chancellor, Willy Brandt. The unmasking of his agent triggered Mr Brandt’s resignation in 1974.
Wolf rapidly climbed the ranks of the GDR’s secret police, the Stasi, to head its elite foreign intelligence division. He was internationally famed for leading a troop of well-placed agents who, among other coups, managed to tap into Nato secrets.
“He will go down in history for being one of the most successful espionage chiefs of the cold war,” said Jochen Staadt, a professor at the Otto-Suhr-Insitut, in Berlin, who specialises in the history of the Stasi. “But the negative side of his work won’t be forgotten either – for instance, his department for disinformation about west Germany, which manufactured gossip and lies to defame western politicians.”
Wolf was also notorious for his strategy of using seductive “Romeo” agents to lure government secretaries in the west. In his memoirs he predicted that his tactic of using sex in spying would go down in espionage history.
Rumours have swirled that John le Carré took Wolf as the inspiration for the character of Karla, the shadowy Soviet spymaster of his cold-war sagas – though the bestselling author strongly denied it. “The only Wolf I was familiar with, when I wrote the books in which he apparently claimed to have appeared, was a lawnmower. I repeatedly refused to appear on public platforms with him, and I have no admiration for his achievements.”
When Germany was reunified in 1990 Wolf fled to Moscow. He eventually surrendered to his former foes at a rural border crossing in Bavaria.
In 1993 he was charged with treason and given a six-year sentence, which was later suspended on grounds that his activities had been legal in communist east Germany.
But Wolf stood by his work for the GDR. It would have been “victors’ justice” to have punished him for the same practices used by his western enemies, he argued during a four-year appeal.
In recent years he shunned the limelight – behaviour befitting a man who avoided revealing his face to western agencies until 1978 and then ceded his first interview more than a decade later.
After the collapse of communism he wrote books, including his memoirs and a book on Russian cookery – a taste acquired during work-related trips to Russia during the cold war.
He will go down in history as a key player in the Stasi, a notoriously thorough organisation that infiltrated almost every aspect of daily life. Just before the communist regime collapsed, as many as one in 50 east Germans collaborated with the secret police service, divulging information about neighbours, close friends and even spouses.
From Italy to Sweden, Hungary to France, the far right is once again a force to be reckoned with. Its hostility towards immigrants encourages xenophobes everywhere, including in Italy. Its social conservatism threatens hard-won LGBTQ+ rights. Its euroscepticism has already upset the dynamics of the EU.
The normalisation of far right rhetoric has gone far enough. For decades, Guardian journalism has challenged populists like this, and the divisions that they sow. Fiercely independent, we are able to confront without holding back because of the interests of shareholders or a billionaire owner. Our journalism is always free from commercial or political influence. Reporting like this is vital for democracy, for fairness and to demand better from the powerful.
And we provide all this for free, for everyone to read. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of the events shaping our world, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action. Millions can benefit from open access to quality, truthful news, regardless of their ability to pay for it.
Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. S