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  • Rafał Barnaś, Jakub Krzemiński


Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Warsaw, August 29, 2020

Günter Guillaume did not stand out with anything special. Chubby man with glasses, he had an appearance of an official. His commitment and diligence allowed him to climb the ranks in the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The culmination of his career was the function of secretary to Chancellor Willy Brandt. He had access to the greatest state secrets and decisions that were made in Bonn. Guillaume was also the most valuable STASI secret agent in the Federal Republic of Germany. His reports were sent to the Ministry of State Security of the German Democratic Republic.

This espionage mission was one of the greatest successes of Markus Wolf, the head of the Central Intelligence Directorate (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung - HVA). The creation of Guillaume’s legend was a very complicated process. He was given a new identity as a South African citizen of German origin who wanted to return to the country of his ancestors. The legend prepared in this way practically excluded him from the interest of West German counterintelligence (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV). His espionage activity was practically undetectable as the transmission of information was carried out with the highest precautionary measures. One day, West German intelligence intercepted an encrypted message from the German Democratic Republic in which their agent was congratulated on the birth of a child. As a result, potential agents were identified. Among them was Gunter Guillaume. Over time, the group of suspects narrowed down to a few people. The then chief of counterintelligence, after a year of unsuccessful observation of Guillaume, had to explain himself to the head of STASI, Eric Mielke, as there was an accusation that the money for the entire operation had been wasted.

Risking a political scandal, the counterintelligence chiefs decided to officially search Guillaume's apartment. Then the most extraordinary thing happened. Most likely, under stress, Guillaume, not even asked by anyone, admitted that he was a STASI officer and asked to be treated accordingly (as an officer). The strangest thing here is that, if not for this confession, there would be no evidence of his espionage activity. The detection of a spy in the immediate vicinity of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Willy Brandt, led to his resignation in 1974. Guillaume was sentenced to 13 years in prison. In 1981, he was exchanged for several West German agents captured in the German Democratic Republic.

The case of Gunter Guillaume shows how important the human factor is in intelligence operations and what role the psyche and resistance to stress really play. It also shows the level of foreign intelligence operations performed by the German Democratic Republic under the leadership of Markus Wolf. Under his leadership, the STASI tentacles reached many countries including even the Vatican, which, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, was a crucial place on the espionage map of the world.

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