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  NB. Skønt dette foredrag er af ældre dato, giver det et rammende billede af spionagens sjæl og vi har derfor valgt at bibeholde foredraget i sin helhed.  
  Helmut Mueller-Ensbergs   
  Visiting professor at University of Southern Denmark 2008/2009
Tuesday 24th march in auditorium 100 


B. 1960 in Haltern. 1985-1989 - studies of politology- sociology and philosophy in Münster and Berlin and in 1989 diploma-politology. 1989 – 1992 – researcher at  Zentralinstitut für sozialwissenschafliche Forschung der FU Berlin. Pressspokesman for Pressetalsmand for Fraktion. Bundnis 90 im Landtag Brandenburg und wissenschaflicher Mitarbeiter im Stolpe-Untersuchungsausschuss. After 1992 researcher at Die Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemalige Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (BStU).

HCA-guest lecturer at Centre for Cold War Studies 2008-2009.

Why espionage?


By Helmut Müller-Enbergs

Everybody does it. Everybody can do it, at times pretty well, at other times rather badly, in particular when they are caught at it. I am talking about espionage. Espionage is part of our lives and just as important as eating. Well, let us say at least as important as our mobiles. It does not just come across in culture, for instance in movies or novels, but is omnipresent in our everyday lives. Last but not least on our way to the lecture hall, or within the lecture hall, even at this very moment. Let us assume someone is listening - with purely professional intentions - in order to know, what is being said.

For that is the essence of espionage: Gathering information, particularly information nobody is supposed to know, at least nobody who is not authorised to. You want examples? Well, who would not want to know the topic of an upcoming exam? Or, which questions are going to be asked in the oral exam? Whether your boy- or girlfriend is actually faithful to you or not? We use these kinds of information in order to get an advantage. Or in order to safeguard ourselves, against disappointment or threats. This sounds rather potty, does not it?

Information is all about knowledge. It has to be recent and new. It must be relevant. A piece of information can be obsolete already by tomorrow. Information has direct practical effects, it helps us make decisions. All kinds of information make our daily lives and our surroundings more predictable. We can anticipate, what is ahead for us. Information does optimise. In this respect, any student is a spy on his or her own behalf, and studying is no more than the espionage of knowledge. Espionage optimises knowledge, enabling you to apply it, now or later.

Although some might reckon so, an academic study programme is hardly a real secret. For the information conveyed here is unclassified and can be obtained openly by anybody. Espionage however is exclusively interested in information which is being kept secret. After all, espionage is the art of gaining access to secret information unnoticed. A true spy will never be regarded as a spy. This is an art which has to be learned. At this point, we have run into the first major problem: For how long does a certain piece of information remain secret? We are unlikely to know people from our everyday lives who are able to keep secrets for a long time. And once you have told a secret to someone, you just have to look at your watch and start counting the minutes in order to find out when the secret starts to circulate, becoming known as a rumour - turning into the opposite of what it was supposed to be: That is to say not a secret anymore. Therefore, a piece of secret information is only secret for as long as no-one knows about it.



Now, if everybody spies in order to survive every day, we must assume that entire groups of people, societies, do so as well. If everyone does it, we all do it. And if a society sets up a political system on a clearly defined territory and lives under such a system, as we all know, we call it a state. The state's inhabitants want the state to be a permanent construction, provided they are satisfied with their state. Consequently, the state wants to protect its existence. This happens in various ways. It protects itself at least by establishing a monopoly on violence, officialdom and an administrative regime. All this sounds slightly lofty, nevertheless it is necessary, as any state aspires to being able to repel military assaults, not to fall behind economically, to protect its secrets and - last but not least - to inhibit any attempts of overthrowing the very system against its free will. In order to do so, it will assess its geo-strategic position and the risks that arise from it, as well as the economic, political and military strength of its neighbours, no matter if they are enemies or allies. Furthermore, it will seek to know and inhibit any factors that threaten its inner stability. This applies at peacetime and at wartime alike. For peace is by no means a natural state, but a state of war in which - even though no shot is fired - a latent threat to peace persists. Thus the state needs to obtain certain information which it tries to conceal from third parties. 'This is where espionage comes in. To put things clearly: The state is more or less forced to engage in espionage in order to secure its existence. For this purpose, the state willingly infringes the rules or laws of other countries. It maintains one or more secret services that enjoy this privilege, whereas those who gather information for foreign states without permission are punished. Therefore, we are safe to assume that secret services will fulfil this function for as long as national states exist.


Now, if espionage is indispensable for any state, one would assume that the art of espionage is also subject to academic research. However, this is the case in only few countries, for instance in the US, the UK or Austria. But even there, espionage studies are no more than research into the history of espionage. There is nearly no academic research whatsoever on the art of espionage itself, neither in Germany, nor in Denmark. This is due to the fact that the art of espionage, its successes and defeats, are secret, as any information on it would otherwise provide hostile states, institutions or groups with an advantage. Nearly every state operates its own special schools of espionage and the education there is secret - very secret. At least, considerable efforts are made in order to keep it so. Consequently, there ought to be no academic research on intelligence agencies, or even on intelligence psychology. And it must not exist for as long as states are directly threatened in their existence by espionage.

Now how come the University of Southern Denmark is the first one to let a visiting scholar analyse these issues, for instance issues from the field of intelligence history and -psychology? Is the state of Denmark not threatened anymore? Or does the University of Southern Denmark promote the betrayal of state secrets? Of course it does not! However, it has recognized the signs of the times by maintaining a Centre for Cold War Studies. Researchers agree that the Cold War - looked at from a retrospective angle at least - was a war exclusively fought by intelligence agencies. If the Cold War ended with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the secret war of the intelligence agencies should have ended with the same. As a matter of fact it has not. However, the end of the Cold War changed the methods, objectives and tasks of the intelligence agencies. At the same time, this means that the methods, objectives and tasks of the intelligence agencies of the Cold War era do not have to be kept secret anymore. The University of Southern Denmark has recognised this by establishing an interdisciplinary research centre, reaching from International Relations to Contemporary History and - to a certain extent - psychology that enables research concerned with the history of intelligence and with intelligence psychology - the Centre for Cold War Studies.

At this point, I would like to express my gratitude - not just for this clear-sightedness at the University of Southern Denmark, but also because here you still believe in academic freedom, and you are ready to defend it - as in connection with the conference about “Stasi” two years ago. This is the very attitude that nurtures modern research. I would like to thank you for having enjoyed the privilege of being part of it. It is a climate as that of Odense that enables research and leads to results, some of which I would like to present in the following.



So far we have mentioned that everybody spies, even if it is just in connection with personal affairs, and that every state engages in espionage. However, the most important player, the spy himself, faces another question. Why does he actually spy?

Let us admit it: Usually, we assume, a spy works for a hostile state for economic reasons. He betrays his country as Judas did, for a couple of pieces of silver. And if he does not do it for economic reasons, he does it because he is being blackmailed. Or he does it for love. These ideas have found their way into our collective memory and can even be found in serious academic literature and in good quality fiction. The exigencies of the spy are being stressed, as he is ready to take big risks, the punishment being prison sentences in most countries, sometimes life sentences. Are these ideas correct?

The Stasi files which have been handed down to us allow for an empiric study of the motives. If we look at the details on those spies, who obtained information abroad, we get a striking result: 54 to 68 percent of the Stasi spies had idealist motives. This means that they were positive about the hostile state, in this case bout the GDR, in one way or another. Economic interests were by far less important. They account for 17 to 28 percent. However, another differently-motivated group reached similar dimensions: that of personal affections. In other words: friendship without any political dimension. 12 to 17 percent of the Stasi spies can be assigned to this motif, Blackmail was almost negligible, just 0.3 percent were hired "under pressure". Some believed they were spying for France, America, England, or for a competing company instead of the GDR. Their share is four per cent. Finally, 7 percent represent a group of GDR spies which was infiltrated into the country that was to be spied upon from the GDR.

We can say: Fine, now we know more than we did before. We know that the majority of the Stasi spies had political motives. That is a step forward in research. But what does it say for today? The observations on the GDR spies at least allows us to make the assertion that states with strong ideological, nationalist or maybe also religious orientations employ a similarly high share of ideologically motivated spies. The studies also show that usually more of those spies are unmasked, who act for materialist motives mostly. Convinced spies are far more disciplined and are better at keeping up the conspiracy and the so-called rules of espionage. They also think of the possible damage for the country they are spying for in case they are caught. Furthermore, the willingness to perform of those spies, who are primarily interested in money, seems to be much weaker than it is with idealist spies. Idealist spies are also cheaper, as their conviction guides them.



What did they spy on? The classic areas of intelligence are generally known: political, military, economic, and counter espionage. Political espionage tends to draw the attention of the public eye. People of course have heard of military and economic espionage but the political espionage still counts as the most important area. That is a big mistake.

Using the Stasi-archives it is possible to get a much clearer picture. First of all it is necessary to look at the objectives of those spies who had obtained positions within important institutions or companies. These were the so-called "Objektquellen" or sources. About two out of five of these spies - or 39 percent - gathered information prototypes, patents and other information from industry and research. 19 percent of the sources dealt with political espionage. 8 percent were active within military intelligence and 5 were active within counter espionage. This profile is not only valid for the GDR but for all of the Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union. That is an interesting historical fact, but what does it tell the world of today? It tells us that there is a close correlation between the political interests of a state and the objective it points out to its spies. Therefore, a close analysis of the areas of interest of a country will lead to a profile of where it wants to place its spies. Hence you can already at your home office calculate the priorities of the opponent and estimate where spies must be located.

The value of intelligence is dependent on how information is processed. How this functions, is quite difficult to assess from the outside, because information gathering is the product of a great puzzle. During the Cold War a high ranking Soviet politician came to West Germany. He was well known as a dogmatic hardliner. It was of great importance to the intelligence service to know how long he was going to stay in office. One indicator was his health. To judge this properly it is helpful to have a sample of his faeces. Or to put it in other words: a good service can even turn shit into important valuable intelligence!

How important single pieces of intelligence can be, we can find in the Second World War. The Soviet Union was faced with the perspective of a two-front war with Germany and Japan. Yet, a spy was able to provide reliable information that Japan would not attack. Thus, the Soviet Union was able to focus her military might against Germany. This single piece of information had such an enormous value to the Soviet Union, that it justified all other intelligence - even if they had been utterly useless. The example goes to prove the most important motive for espionage: It is the most inexpensive way to fight a war.

It doesn’t necessarily lead to success, though. The US has learned that false intelligence on Iraq's military capacity led to a high price both political, economic, and in human lives. Then again, this intelligence failure was primarily caused by biased analysts and politicians. It can therefore hardly count as an argument against espionage per se.



How do you find a spy and how do you recruit him? Let us admit it: When we think of political top spies we always think of top politicians. These persons existed - also in Denmark. Nonetheless, the research of the Stasi archives shows that other groups were the preferred targets. Those were secretaries, students and journalists. Politicians often change their jobs and area of responsibility. The secretaries normally stay and thereby accumulate an incredible knowledge of how the system runs. Furthermore, they are usually in a position where a lot of information crosses and some are passed on. The documents of the archive show that women who spy for love are very rare.

Generally, journalists follow the political process quite close and are a good source for up to date information. Recruiting students was a long term strategy of the Stasi. By and large they were recruited young and accurately guided to their future career. They were already trained agents when they reached the wanted position. In this way it was possible to prepare them for action without attracting unwanted interest.

 As a rule, the Stasi found new spies through the recommendations of other spies. It was a kind of domino-effect. In rare cases parents suggested their kids, or fathers suggested their young adult children. A clear tendency - in about 80 percent of all cases - the spies were not recruited in their own home country but in the GDR. This general conclusion might also be useful, since this could turn out to be same today.



A special kind of spies was the so-called "Übersiedler"- East Germans who were placed in the West by the intelligence service. At the end of the GDR about seven percent of all spies came from the GDR to the West in this fashion. Most of them came directly to West Germany. Some also used Denmark as their residence or as a stepping stone. Some posed as refugees, but in other cases it was not possible to recognize them as East Germans. These spies operated under the cover of being West Germans. Sometimes even with the identity of actual and living citizens. In these cases two persons existed with the same identity. The intelligence services commonly lured the real West German to the GDR and tried to make him stay. Meanwhile, the false West German settled in a new town with his borrowed identity. The preparation of such spies was extensive and it could take years. Not only did they have to learn the "West German language" they also had to learn the numerous little things and routines of daily life in the West. The resource investment in such spies was overwhelming, but it paid off. They were generally convinced of the GDR ideology and mastered their spy craft to perfection. The risk for these spies was very high, and the security of the operations was constantly reviewed. The success, however, for the East German intelligence was considerable. In one case, the Stasi in this way over the course of a number of years succeeded in placing a secretary in the office of the chairman of a West German party. At the end of her term even as a secretary for a minister.

This method or operative strategy was highly evolved. It was almost impossible to uncover them as long as they did not make any major errors. In the case of the secretary she made a clumsy mistake. She forgot her false ID with a second identity in a taxi. Then she had to break off her spy career.

I guess you all expect one concrete example of such a case. Preferably one of the minimum twenty Danish Stasi-spies of the GDR foreign intelligence. But hardly any case is as complex as that of Eberhard Littich. He was an East German intelligence officer who himself had led agents in the West. Then he was expected to slip into the life of the West German, Hans. Hans had emigrated to the GDR for the love of his life. Littich now moved to Hamburg as Hans. This was in 1972. Seven years later he was arrested in Hamburg. The whole Littich operation was planned in advance. First he should get to know the world, then settled in West Germany and continued to the US where he would start operating as a spy. For three years he was trained for the operation. During this period, he learned how to operate his agent radio and dead letterboxes. He travelled to Zurich, Hamburg and Great Britain. In this way he was tuned in to Western life. The whole operation, though, had one major down side: Littich was an academic and the man he replaced only knew how to drive a crane. His first task in Hamburg was therefore to get an academic education once more. Thus he studied business. One year after he had been planted in the West, he started working at the logistics company Schenker. And here he made a career and got promoted to a job in New York. His objective was: To search for an American women in a good position and marry her. Five years after being planted in West Germany, he had successfully made it from clerk to Vice President at Schenker. Through his job he had an overview of Schenker’s transatlantic military transports. And he had gotten a girlfriend. Sadly, in the eyes of the East German intelligence, she was all wrong. He was going to marry a Cuban refugee, and he refused to obey the orders and discard her.

The real threat to the whole operation came from a different side. After ten years the real Hans wanted to leave the GDR. He tried to write to his mother for help, but every time his letters were intercepted by the secret police in the GDR. Every letter, but one. And of all letters this one fell into the hands of the West German counter intelligence service "Bundesverfassungsschutz" and they immediately found out that there were two Hanses - one in New York and one in Wismar. But only one of them could be real. During a business trip to Hamburg in 1979 Lfittich was arrested. He opened his heart and was shortly thereafter allowed to join his wife in the US. Here he got yet another identity and a new life. But did he really tell the West everything? Today we know from the Stasi records that he did not. The GDR intelligence continued their work with its former spies as if nothing had happened. In a way Lfittich had made a life insurance. He did not uncover all and as a quid pro quo the Stasi kept him untouched. And how did the East German intelligence know that he had not told everything? A journalist - who was working as a GDR spy on the side, got hold of information of Littich's debriefings.



'The more thorough and the more patiently a spy was trained, the more enduring and productive he tended to be. This is a clear conclusion of the research in the Stasi-archives. An analysis shows that three percent of all GDR spies were operative for more the 30 years, ten percent more the 20 years, and 24 percent more the ten years. This means that more than half of all spies were active for more then a decade. This observation is intriguing, since Western services generally work with a lower endurances rate.

The GDR-intelligence quite seldomly recruited women. Only 28 percent of the GDR spies are women. This percentage goes for the group of spies, who were active in 1988. If we look at other numbers we will see other figures. Among the spies who had been exposed before 1965 there were only 15 percent (van Bergh) women, and among the ex-spies convicted in the 1990's there were only 22 percent women (Herbstritt). This shows that the records of the known spies are only partially representative for the whole picture. Furthermore, it underline that women were not entitled to equality in the world of espionage.


“Why espionage?” - This question gets a whole new meaning when a spy is exposed and trailed. Of course he will serve time. But what does this mean to his job, to his partner and to their children? Generally, when a spy gets out of jail, he has to start from scratch. At least if he does not want to move to the country for which he had spied. It is not unusual that his wife knew of nothing and therefore felt disappointed and betrayed. Wrecked marriages were often the result. Research has shown that also the children are victims of the personal cost of espionage. The children were raised to be loyal citizen as part of the spies cover toward local society. The deceit is therefore personal also towards the nearest family.

Thus, many spies experienced that their life was ruined: no job, no marriage, and no children. Furthermore, they were usually in debt due to the cost of legal defence. On top comes the jail time. Political spies must also live with the dilemma that they have been supporting parties with whom they did not share persuasions. In the case of one particular GDR-agent who's inner persuasion was communist but had to work as a party functionary of the West German conservative party.

“Why espionage ?” - When the country which you spied for, failed or fell apart? Then you have to be a real strong believer still to have your life and your espionage makes sense. And what if the receiving state loves the information but does not like the spy himself?



This is not the only point where the backside and personal disadvantages of espionage clearly shows. Within the field of espionage there are no ethical boundaries like in normal areas of society. The spy is always working in a moral twilight zone. 

The information gathering of espionage usually aims to close a security or economic gap. However, in the Cold War it did not help the GDR, the Eastern European countries or the Soviet Union much. Despite of an abundance of intelligence they were unable to keep up with the West.

The Cold War was - as already mentioned - a conflict where intelligence played a big role. This means that it was not fought in the open. It was not always a question of political struggle and it was not something which could be resolved through diplomatic channels. The intelligence conflict was the extension of political, security or economic strategies, just on another level. This kind of espionage did not only have a defence dimension, it could certainly be offensive. It had the aim not only to strengthen your own state, but also to weaken the opponent. The intelligence services even actively prepared the outbreak of real war.

It was in the centre of attention to sap the foundation of the opponent's society, and to turn its citizen against the political order. True, halfway true, as well as false information was used to meet these ends. This is called disinformation. Sleaze on politicians found its way in to the media, dirty business or the like was used to discredit the state or a specific party. Distrust was poised between different groups. The aim was always the same: to weaken the opponent state and to pave the way for ones own. In order to reach this, a wide variety of media was activated: radio, television, flyers, magazines, congresses and books. In short: the whole packet.

Intelligence also involved training former citizens of the opponent's state in combat and politics, so they could be used at a future date. In the history of intelligence there are several examples how upraising have be instigated or politicians stripped of their powers. Intelligence also involves supporting states which are diplomatic pariahs. In conclusion, intelligence and espionage are ways to exert political influence. These methods are independent of the political system. However, what seems obvious to generals and officers may be rejected by civil society. Because of this, a number of European countries - including Germany - refrain from certain intelligence measures.



Let us conclude: Intelligence is a part of our lives and a part of states’ normal affairs. Even though spies can be inconvenient and espionage may be ugly business, it is still unavoidable. And it is an inexpensive way to wage war. Therefore, the study of intelligence is an absolute necessity and it is about time that it is treated as an academic discipline. Only this can bridge the gap between myth and reality of intelligence and espionage.

It is peculiar that we see a vivid public interest in espionage. It thrills millions in novels and films with images of intelligence which is nothing but myth. It is merely a good story, which is out of touch with reality. However, the real thrill and importance lies in the study of real world intelligence. The key to it is empirical research which should gain far more future interest.


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