Klaus Kinkel West Germany's foreign intelligence chief
Pullach, West Germany For an entire year, Klaus Kinkel was one of only four persons in the West German government who knew that a man close to the nation's chancellor might be a spy. Dr. Kinkel and the others were sworn to secrecy while West Germany's counterespionage men did their work. All four, including Chancellor Willy Brandt himself, tried to carry on with business as usual, as if nothing was afoot. When Gunter Guillaume, special assistant to Willy Brandt, was finally exposed as an East German spy, the disclosure brought the chancellor down.It was later learned that Guillaume had suspected he was being watched, but his orders were to stay put. Learning to keep secrets has proven to be an everyday necessity for Klaus Kinkel. As the head of West Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), he knows more secrets than most men. After the CIA, the BND is the largest intelligence agency in the West. With a staff of nearly 10,000 it handles all of West Germany's foreign agents and all of its military signals and communications intelligence work. The BND apparently has been expanding its intelligence- gathering role around the world in recent years, but the process has been a cautious one. For one thing, West Germany has its hands full coping with East Germany. Manfred Schuler, state secretary in the chancellor's office, who is the coordinator and supervisor for West Germany's secret services, said that West German intelligence had "too many blank spots on the map," and that the blank spots must be filled in the coming years. Only in this manner, he said, would West Germany be able to do its part in the intelligence sharing among the secret services of the allied nations. As he explained it, this is a process of give-and-take. In order to receive, West Germany must have something to give. But Klaus Kinkel, president of the BND, is cautious when it comes to elaborating on the concept of expanded intelligence gathering. He makes it clear, in his candid way, that while West Germany may be a strong and prosperous country, he thinks it is already stretched too thin. In his previous job as chief of the planning staff in the West German Foreign Ministry, Dr. Kinkel was already convinced that West Germany was trying to do too much in the way of assistance to other countries. Dr. Kinkel talked about his work and his view of the world with this reporter recently in a three-hour interview at his headquarters at the village of Pullach not far from Munich. The only condition was that his words not be taped or reported in direct quotation. In that way, he explained, he could speak more freely. The West German intelligence chief has inherited from his predecessors an office in the midst of a low-lying compound that was once part of the Nazi establishment. It escaped bombing during the war. Martin Bormann, Hitler's personal secretary, had his offices here, and one can see three statues of Third Reich maidens in the garden outside Dr. Kinkel's window. The West Germany spy chief says that a Persian carpet on the floor was wrongly reported by a German magazine to be a gift from Savak, the Shah's secret police. On one wall there is a photograph of divided Berlin. The long wall of the office is covered top to bottom with a map, and Dr. Kinkel sweeps his hand from West Germany eastward to show where West Germany's main intelligence gathering effort is focused. In Western Europe, it is unusual for any foreign intelligence chief to talk with a reporter, but Klaus Kinkel is more open than most. To begin with, he is a politician and enjoys the give-and-take. West Germany's system requires that the head of the BND and other security officials meet periodically with eight members of a parliamentary control commission in which all political factions are represented. A separate three-man committee oversees BND finances. The parliamentarians are not told about intelligence operations until they are over. If necessary, an operation can be declared "covered" -- too sensitive to be discussed at all. But Dr. Kinkel adds that West Germany focuses mostly on intelligence gathering and does little in the way of secret operations aimed at influencing events. At any rate the West German parliamentarians are apparently told considerably more than their counterparts in most West European countries are told about their secret services. Dr. Kinkel jokingly protests that the head of the rival East German secret service, Markus Wolf, doesn't have to put up with all that he does in the way of parliamentary oversight or press exposes. Klaus Kinkel does not look like a man on whom the burdens of secrecy weigh heavily. He jobs every day.In order to identify with the many military men who work for his intelligence service, he has ridden in the back seat of a fighter plane and driven a tank during military exercises. He has an almost boyish face and talks with animation. In one burst of enthusiasm, he sideswipes a plateful of sweets with his hand, sending bonbons and cookies rolling across the table. The West German intelligence chief does not pretend that West GErmany did any better than the United States did in predicting the outcome of the past two years' major developments in Iran and Afghanistan (not just the CIA but also most of the US foreign policy establishment failed to detect and appreciate the growth of widespread opposition to the Shah of Iran in 1978 and continued to misjudge that opposition once it exploded into the open). Dr. Kinkel says he is impatient with critics who pass judgment on all this with benefit of hindsight. Making predictions in the intelligence business is the most difficult taks there is, he says. There are those who say that the Israelis saw clearly what was heppening in Iran, but he is not convinced that that is true. He declines to agree with those who say that the quality of CIA intelligence has declined in recent years. In Dr. Kinkel's view the West as a whole didn't take Ayatollah Khomeini seriously enough, early enough. It did not pay adequate attention to Islam. He fears that there will be more surprises. West Germany's relations with the United States have been strained, in his view, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought differences between the Americans and their European allies into the open. But the basic interests and friendship that are shared by the United States and West Germany remain unshaken. Regardless of talk about West Germany drifting away from the US, it will always side with the Americans when the chips are down. One problem, however, is that the Americans got used to West Germany agreeing with the US. Now that West Germany has recovered from World War II and is asserting itself, it is a bit hard for the Americans to take. Germany was a good boy in the allied ranks for so long that the Americans are now having trouble grasping that this child has suddenly got ideas of its own. One of those ideas, which he holds, he says, is that it was wrong for the US to try to impose trade and credit restrictions on the Soviets as a result of their invasion of Afghanistan. He felt all along that such action would be ineffective, and he seems to have been proven right. The American-initiated Olympic boycott, on the other hand, was a good idea, as he sees it. The West Europeans tend to see a mixture of offensive and defensive motivating factors behind the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but they tend to place more emphasis on the defensive elements than the Americans do. for all practical purposes, Afghanistan was Soviet to begin with. The Soviets will never withdraw from Afghanistan, Kinkel says, but he does not think they have a long-term master plan to take over the world. Having made its protest over the invasion, the world is going back to business as usual, and the Soviets must sense this, he says. They must also be happy with an important side effect of the invasion -- division among the Western allies. While President Carter was protesting the invasion, Soviet leader Brezhnev calmly went off on a vacation in the Crimea. That tended to leave the impression, Dr. Kinkel said, that the Soviets were calm, while the West was panicking. Unfortunately, much of the world's diplomacy revolves around such impressions. Dr. Kinkel conteds that one positive side effect of Afghanistan for West Germany is that the members of the West German Bundestag, the parliament, are now more understanding of the need for a strong national defense and strong intelligence.
Next: Political intelligence in the Middle East.