West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

After four years as head of West German counterintelligence, Hans-Joachim Tiedge defected to East Germany, beginning the most serious German spy scandal in more than a decade.

Summary of Event

Even with a serious drinking problem, a penchant for gambling, and the accumulation of almost a quarter million German marks in personal debt, Hans-Joachim Tiedge had worked sixteen years in West German intelligence without facing any of the background checks that were normally required every five years. He had become despondent over the recent loss of his wife and had even been the subject of a manslaughter investigation following her accidental death. All this notwithstanding, he had managed to hold onto his very sensitive job for four years as head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, West Germany’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. [kw]Defects to East Germany, West German Counterintelligence Chief (Aug. 19, 1985) Treason;Hans-Joachim Tiedge[Tiedge] Tiedge, Hans-Joachim Cold War;and Germany[Germany] Treason;Hans-Joachim Tiedge[Tiedge] Tiedge, Hans-Joachim Cold War;and Germany[Germany] [g]Europe;Aug. 19, 1985: West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany[02170] [g]Germany;Aug. 19, 1985: West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany[02170] [c]Espionage;Aug. 19, 1985: West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany[02170] [c]Corruption;Aug. 19, 1985: West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany[02170] [c]International relations;Aug. 19, 1985: West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany[02170] [c]Government;Aug. 19, 1985: West German Counterintelligence Chief Defects to East Germany[02170] Wolf, Markus Hellenbroich, Heribert

Feeling that his personal situation had become hopeless, on August 19, 1985, Tiedge approached East German guards at a crossing in the Magdeburg region and asked to speak with a representative of East German intelligence to arrange his defection to the East. Thus began the most serious spy scandal to rock West Germany in a decade.

Because of their common language and cultures, East and West Germany were ideal places for their spies to work during the Cold War. Both countries’ importance to the North Atlantic Treaty North Atlantic Treaty Organization Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact also provided motivation for a very aggressive espionage system between the two states. In the days leading up to Tiedge’s defection, the East had definitely held the advantage, having arrested almost two hundred West German agents during Tiedge’s tenure while during the same period, Tiedge and his West German agency had enjoyed very little success. In Tiedge’s defense, it should be noted that security was very lax for anyone who wanted to come into West Germany from the East, and was very strict for those going in the other direction.

Heribert Hellenbroich, Tiedge’s boss until four months prior to Tiedge’s defection, was also his good friend. Given Tiedge’s behavior since the death of his wife (even his neighbors had called Tiedge’s office to complain of his drunkenness), it is perhaps not a surprise that the friendship was a major reason Tiedge continued in his job. Only four months before the defection, Hellenbroich had been promoted to head of the Federal Intelligence Service. The loss of Hellenbroich as his immediate superior probably contributed to Tiedge’s despondence. In any case, Hellenbroich was forced to resign his post after the defection as a direct result of his relationship with Tiedge.

Tiedge’s principal adversary during this period was Markus Wolf, the head of the General Reconnaissance Administration, East Germany’s foreign intelligence service. The opposite of the overweight and alcoholic Tiedge, Wolf was a most effective spy. At the time of the defection, Wolf was suspected of recruiting Tiedge, but it was unclear whether Tiedge had already been working as a mole for Wolf before 1985. Wolf stated in his autobiography Man Without a Face (1997) that his first contact with Tiedge was on the day of his defection.

Whether Wolf was telling the truth or not, it is worth noting that in the weeks just before the Tiedge defection several longtime East German spies disappeared. One of them, Johanna Olbricht, had been living in West Germany under the false identity of Sonja Lüneburg for twenty years. She had served as secretary to the then-leader of the Free Democratic Party, Martin Bangemann. She was last seen in West Germany three weeks before Tiedge’s defection. One could speculate that Olbricht and the other fleeing spies might have been under Tiedge’s protection and had been warned that he was leaving.

Regardless of whether he was a mole or simply a defector, Tiedge still was a great prize for the East Germans, and they took great care of him. After he was in the hands of the Stasi, the East German secret police, he was placed in a hospital to recover from his alcohol addiction. The overweight spy was also diabetic and was placed on a stringent diet. Wolf commented on Tiedge’s appearance at the time of his defection by comparing him to a giant panda, bloated and pale with dark-rimmed eyes. Wolf also described him as very frank, noting that he did not try to justify his actions on idealistic grounds but instead described himself simply as a traitor.

When Tiedge was back on his feet, he was told to write a dissertation for a doctorate. The title would be “The Counterintelligence Task of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany.” He would detail in two-hundred-plus pages all the methods employed by his office, including its electronic surveillance techniques. In addition to providing operational details, he also provided names of agents from the West. The East Germans boasted at one point that they had arrested 170 West German agents in an eighteen-month period thanks to information provided by Tiedge.

Tiedge stopped drinking and lost thirty pounds within a month. According to Wolf’s autobiography, women who were loyal to the party were made available for Tiedge, and he eventually married one of them. The woman Tiedge married was a Stasi secretary.

In 1989, when the communist government in East Germany began to fall, Tiedge left for Moscow with his new wife and the equivalent of almost $100,000 in so-called severance pay. When interviewed by the magazine Spiegel, Der (magazine) Der Spiegel in 1993, he was still in Moscow, living under the name Hans Ottowitsch, on a pension and living well. Asked if he was a traitor, he replied that of course he was. He showed no remorse, choosing to blame his superiors for failing to come to his aid when he was in such need of help. He said that defection and suicide were his only choices but that he did not have the courage for the latter. He reportedly remained in Moscow even after the statute of limitations for treason expired in 2005.

Impact

The most obvious and most immediate impact of Tiedge’s defection was the complete disarray of West German intelligence. Its methods revealed and their agents compromised, they were faced with the task of reorganizing and restaffing their operations.

The initial bipartisanship among West German politicians in face of the scandal soon gave way to accusations, and there was much talk about how the scandal would or should affect relations between East and West Germany. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and there was little long-lasting or serious impact on the relations between the two countries. Negotiations continued for a cultural treaty, and an invitation for the leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, to visit West Germany was not hampered by the scandal.

Strengthened by the scandal was NATO’s feeling that, because of its cultural and historical ties to East Germany, West Germany was the weak sister in the alliance in terms of espionage. Undoubtedly, the scandal would give the Allies cause to consider even more carefully their intelligence and technological cooperation with the German Republic. Luckily, compartmentalization of intelligence operations for just such an occurrence prevented Tiedge from having very much useful information about NATO and its other members. The Allies had always understood that West Germany was exposed “in a special way” to attacks from East Germany.

The defection and the resulting confusion were not enough to stave off the collapse of the communist regime in East Germany. Within five years of the Tiedge scandal, the infamous Stasi and the East German communist state were matters of history, as the two German nations became one in 1990. Treason;Hans-Joachim Tiedge[Tiedge] Tiedge, Hans-Joachim Cold War;and Germany[Germany]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Koehler, John O. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999. An informative look at the East German Ministry for State Security, better known as Stasi. Includes details about Tiedge.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Minnick, Wendell L. Spies and Provocateurs: A Worldwide Encyclopedia of Persons Conducting Espionage and Covert Action, 1946-1991. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1992. An alphabetical who’s who of spies from the Cold War era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolf, Markus, with Anne McElvoy. Man Without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1997. An autobiography of the East German spy who recruited Tiedge.

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