Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Victims of Cold War 'Romeo spies'

By Angus Crawford
BBC News

During the Cold War, the Stasi - East Germany's secret police - sent "Romeo" spies to the West.

Gabriele Kliem talking to the BBC
Gabriele Kliem hopes for forgiveness, but expects nothing

They seduced secretaries working in Bonn and tricked them into handing over secrets.

More than 30 of the women were later prosecuted for spying.

Now a former senior Stasi officer has told BBC News the women should be pardoned.

One of those targeted by the Stasi more than 30 years ago is Gabriele Kliem, who still suffers the consequences.

"It's like an invisible amputation of the soul," she says.

"I am totally alone, I don't have any family, I don't have any friends."

Now in her 60s, she lives in a village in the Netherlands with her 11 dogs. But in 1977, she was a translator at the US embassy in Bonn, West Germany.

She met a man called Frank Dietzel, whom she describes as looking like Robert Redford. She fell in love instantly.

He told her he worked for an international peace group and after several months together he asked to see some documents from her work.

"He said that he didn't read it himself, but that he would pass it on to his institute to preserve worldwide peace," she said.

She never suspected him; she said she loved him too much to think he would do any thing bad.

'False flag' project

Ms Kliem's Stasi file, obtained after an application to the authorities in Berlin, shows that she was watched for two years before Frank approached her.


Angus Crawford gives a tour of the Stasi's former remand centre

She handed over information for six years, including training plans for tanks and guns.

But the file also shows the Stasi was using her as part of a "false flag" project, meaning that she believed she was giving the information to a western agency.

In 1984 the relationship broke down and Gabriele went on to marry another man.

But in 1991, after the Berlin Wall came down, she was charged with espionage and found guilty. She was given a two-year suspended sentence and a large fine.

Dietzel was dead, but other former spies, granted immunity from prosecution, gave evidence against her.

"They didn't get any sentence, they were not accused of anything and they had committed the worst atrocities," she said.

Surviving members of the Stasi see it very differently.

Gotthold Schramm is now in his 70s but used to be a senior officer in the foreign arm of the Stasi. He believes his agents helped to prevent a nuclear war.

He admits the Romeo agents did bring in useful information but now describes the tactic as immoral.

When I ask him if women like Gabriele should now be pardoned he replied: "Definitely, it was unfair."

But he then adds that pardons should also be given to anyone who willingly worked for the spy agency, including his staff.

'Still among us'

Many East German victims of the former communist regime, though, believe their former persecutors have escaped punishment.

It would be fantastic, to say we are pardoned and not the enemy of the state. But of course it will never happen.
Gabriele Kliem

Dr Hubertus Knabe is director of the Hohenschoenhausen museum in Berlin. It used to be the main Stasi remand centre for the GDR.

The cell blocks have been preserved including those built underground with no natural daylight, where inmates were kept in freezing cold water.

"The victims and perpetrators are still among us, members of the staff still live around the prison," he said

A few former members of the communist regime were jailed after the Berlin wall fell, most still receive pensions for their service to the GDR, he says.

"The victims see that nothing happened with these people who did all these terrible things here."

As many as 300,000 were locked up in East Germany for their political beliefs. Now, Dr Knabe says, they are still suffering, unable to get good jobs often living on state benefits.

I ask him if he sees Gabriele Kliem as a victim too, whether she should be pardoned.

"No," he replied. "It's different, if you take secret papers from your office it's a crime".

More than 30 women like Ms Kliem became victims of the Romeo spies and were then prosecuted in West Germany.

She wonders if 20 years after the Berlin Wall came down they can at last be forgiven.

"It would be fantastic, to say we are pardoned and not the enemy of the state," she said. "But of course it will never happen."

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