Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police


In this penetrating look at the life and character of Markus Wolf, the most successful Communist spymaster of the Cold war, the author raises an intriguing question: Did this ruthless and charming man have to pay any price, morally or physically, for forty years as head of the East German Stasi's feared foreign intelligence network?The answer is, not really. As Wolf looks back on his life from his luxury high-rise apartment in East Berlin, he denies any direct responsibility for the human wreckage caused by his service and is unrepentant about his beliefs. In 1995 a high German court seemed to vindicate him, repealing a prison sentence for treason on the grounds that he was only doing his job for the now-vanished East German state. This first biography of Markus Wolf allows readers to judge for themselves, Leslie Colitt, a veteran Financial Times reporter, shows why Wolf was the perfect model for John Le Carré's superspy Karla. He details Wolf's dazzling exploits, such as his recruitment of mole Günter Guillaume, the ex-Nazi whose penetration of Chancellor Willy Brandt's inner circle caused such a scandal that it toppled Brandt's government. The author portrays Wolf as a charming chameleon, father figure, and ladies' man. His agents were fanatically loyal to him, and Wolf often slipped into other countries to wine and dine them personally. But if necessary, he ruthlessly betrayed them, as well as Western spies and targets, to get the secrets his government demanded. Markus was a teenager when the Nazis rose to power and his family fled Germany for the Soviet Union. There Wolf received his first lessons in clandestine activity from the Comintern. At the end of World War II, he returned to the ruins of Berlin, where he hoped to be part of a new Socialist utopia. Recruited by the Soviet-backed secret police, he quickly moved up the ladder until he had become the most powerful arbiter of secrets in all of Germany. This biography is the first reckoning of Markus Wolf, as well as an absorbing account of the cold war's most chillingly effective spy machine.


I first heard about General Markus Wolf, head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service, shortly after I came to Berlin in late 1959. Wolf was held by friend and foe to be the cold war's most successful espionage chief. But he was doubly intriguing to me because, although we were on opposite sides of the barricades, we shared a common uprooting experience. Both of us were the sons of German-Jewish fathers and had fled the Nazis with our families, he to Stalin's Soviet Union and I to America. Little did I imagine that in only a few years' time the Stasi, the secret police of which Wolf was deputy chief, would begin pursuing me.

Not long after arriving as a postgraduate student in Berlin, I struck up a friendship with Armin, a likable young East German refugee who had lost a leg and both his parents as a boy in Danzig (known also as Gdańsk) during the Second World War. Unknown to me, my new friend's destiny was already entwined with that of Markus Wolf. But whereas Wolf would soon achieve legendary fame as a spymaster, my friend Armin would be much less fortunate.

Armin knocked on the door of my room at the Student Village of Berlin's Free University in early 1960, only a few months after I had moved in.

"Armin is my name," he said offering his hand. "I've just arrived from the ddr."

He used the initials for Deutsche Demokratische Republik—East Germany. I was struck by his carefully articulated . . .

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