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Files Could Shed New Light on East German Spies

The CIA recently handed over sensitive files that name thousands of former East German secret service agents to Germany. The "Rosewood" files are expected to shed light on thousands of hitherto unexposed Stasi spies.


Just a number and a card -- the highly sensitive Rosewood files on former East German spies have arrived in Germany from the U.S.

It has all the makings of a classic Cold War drama -- intrigue, suspense, betrayal and the thrill of lurking danger.

In 1992 shortly after the collapse of the communist East German regime, the CIA managed to get hold of thousands of secret documents on East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, reportedly from a Russian KGB officer who had worked in East Berlin.

After years of wrangling between the German government and United States authorities, the U.S. finally agreed to hand over the so-called Rosewood files. Over the last three years, the highly sensitive material was copied onto 381 CD-ROMS and sent back to Germany.

Rosenwood files a crucial spoke in the wheel

Now, a week after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s office announced the data was declassified and could be used for research, intense media speculation over the potential significance of the Rosenwood files has been confirmed by the German authority in charge of Stasi records.

"This is the first time in the history of espionage that the intelligence agency of a dictatorship will be laid so bare," Helmut Müller-Enbergs from the research department told a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday. "Right from the source to the end user -- the Politburo, the industry, the military -- the information ring is now complete. And "Rosewood" is the central hinge between source, actual names and numbers."

Marianne Birthler, head of the Stasi archive, said in a statement: ''This will help the historical reappraisal of espionage against West Germany.''

The Rosewood files are indeed believed to fill in a crucial gap in the extensive investigations of Stasi activities carried out by German authorities so far. Most Stasi documents seized from East German authorities only refer to spies by their code names. For the first time the Rosewood files are expected to match real names to the code names.

West German spies also in the list

The authorities also said that of the some 200,000 names included on the microfilm copies of personal index cards, about 12,000 could be those of West Germans who spied for the Stasi between 1950 and 1989 and 40,000 agents who worked in the former East. The daily Berliner Zeitung reported that most of the East Germans had worked as informers and messengers in espionage operations against the West and had remained unexposed so far, while many of the West Germans participated either for the money or out of personal conviction.

However Marianne Birthler, the head of the Stasi archive told the paper on Monday that she did not expect the documents to yield any sensational discoveries. "In the future it will be easier to find out who worked with the Stasi in West Germany. Insight into the network of agents in East Germany is also possible. But I warn against exaggerated expectations," she said. Birthler also said many of those named on the cards were relatives, colleagues or friends of spies and only a small number actually worked as East German agents.

German parliamentarians could also be named

Birthler also said that the new information gleaned from the Rosewood files would be used to examine members of parliament or public servants including members of her own department if need be.

Several media reports had indicated last that members of parliament are among those listed in the files. MPs have been accused of spying in the past, but none of the charges have been proven. At the same time, Birthler said she did not expect a wave of new espionage trials, since hundreds of agents who spied on West Germany had already been investigated and pointed out that a ten-year statue of limitations on prosecuting spying activity had expired.

2.4 million people spied upon

The first Stasi files were opened in 1990 and led to bitter recriminations and separations after the discovery that family and neighbors were Stasi informers. It also drew attention to the draconian methods employed by the East German police in persuading or intimidating ordinary people to spy on their neighbors and friends. More than 2.4 million people are reported to have been placed under the Stasi’s observation during the communist era.

After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the East German secret police destroyed thousands of files detailing its huge network of spies and informers.

A working group of 50 researchers will now pore over the Rosewood files for at least six months, trying to unravel the maze of statistics, codes, abbreviations, short forms and key words marked on the thousands of personal index cards and filter out the relevant details.

Helmut Müller-Enbergs gave an example of the painstaking task lying ahead when he presented one of the grainy Stasi index cards with critical details blacked out. He said the document had helped archivists identify one particularly active spy in West Germany who was recruited in 1948 and who the Stasi had rewarded with a Volkswagen car worth 5,700 deutsche marks in 1952.

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