My Stasi File: Tattered Cloak, Not Much Dagger
A lot was going on when I was CIA chief in West Berlin in 1975 to 1978: the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, four Allied armies - and the security services of East Germany.
What were these Commie intelligence fellows doing about Our Man in West Berlin, namely me, when I came over to East Berlin?
Now, I know. I've got my files.
Getting them wasn't hard, but it was Teutonic. I had to prove I was I. In Germany you're not you without a paper that says so. The demand to prove I was I came from today's West German office in charge of old East German intelligence documents. This office is Der Bundesbeauftragte fr die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemalige Deutschen Demo-kratischen Republik. (Life magazine once wrote, "this is why people speak French.") Their May 28, 1997 letter, "ZV6/1121/79," assigned me number 1121/97 on form number 2,92, which I had to fill out.
In the meantime, how about my FBI file? After four years in naval intelligence and 26 years with the clandestine services, including being assistant to four CIA directors, I'd been cleared and counter-cleared - Secret, Top Secret, Eyes Only/Top Secret, and beyond. I asked to see my file and the FBI sent me a form asking for particulars. I was assigned number 430352 on Form OPCA-7, and told the large number of requests caused delays, but they'd process mine "in due course."
Meanwhile, Der Bundesbeauftragte ... etc. said I had become No. 021850/97Z, and answering my query would "take some time."
"AU 1.5-05-21850/97 Z Fr. Stegemann" wrote: as soon as any possible data were available...in short, don't call me, I'll call you. She closed: "With Friendly Greetings, By Direction, Stegemann."
Eventually, Friendly Greetings Stegemann sent me surveillance reports from the old Stasi - the East German State Security
They came in a conspicuously inconspicuous unmarked brown paper envelope, only it was gray. Four pages of today's West German analysis accompanied fuzzy copies of 18 pages of East German tailing reports.
Today's German comment said that dealing with me fell under the Stasi counter-intelligence mission, confirmed by one of the fuzzy photocopies that said my "contacts" were to be identified, and the spy "meet" photographed. But the 18 pages held nothing really juicy. Was I that sly? Or were they that lousy?
The Stasi said I was the "Leader of the CIA Berlin Residentur." Sounds better than chief of base, actually. Their code name for me was "Palme": Palmtree.
One 1978 report:
"15:10 o'clock Palme's Volkswagen bus was sighted" in East Berlin. In it was "a female person, Blte, and Blatt, Krone, Wursel, Weddel, Rinde, Borke, Holz, and Senker."
These pseudonyms represented my wife and three children, plus a fianc, and their college chums, visiting us for Christmas. The words Blte (blossom) and Blatt (leaf or page), as well as other code names, seem pulled out of the air. They had, quite professionally, no discernable connection to the persons they represented.
The report continues: 15:45 we visited the Soviet War Memorial, "and then went down a one- way street, in the wrong direction, to the Pergamon Museum....
"16:57 left the museum, having shown special interest in the altar, went to the VW bus, and drove the wrong way down a one-way street, against the clearly marked direction of traffic."
One instruction to the East German surveillance said I was "suspected of using visits to the German Democratic Republic's capital for intelligence purposes." Now there was a keen analysis.
On April 7, 1978 at "18:39 Palme and Pinsel [A new pseudonym for my wife. Why?] went to the Hotel Berlin, 37th floor, where they met a male person who has the pseudonym Stamm and dined in the restaurant where reservations had been made." The "operational observation" continued after the three came out of the restaurant. Stamm now held an "object measuring 30 x 30 x 0.5 cm." (Was our tail close enough to measure it?) We returned to West Berlin, but Stamm went down to a "black Volga bearing cyrillic letters in which was a male person ... no further operational observation was made." (Oops! Did this car-and-driver belong to a Soviet intelligence "big brother?" Could get complicated. Better stay away.)
This is the evening the Soviet colonel I'd been assessing - and never succeeded in recruiting - took us to dinner. The Stasi fellow was sharp enough to estimate the size of the gift we'd brought, and sharp enough to knock it off when he noticed the Russian car.
In the meantime, I've not heard from the FBI. Yes, I'm sure there's a traffic jam in their files. If they're counting up the number of streets I've gone down the wrong way, maybe that's why 17 months have passed since I requested my files.
* Angus MacLean Thuermer is a retired CIA officer now living in Middleburg, Va.