The Local managed to track down one Swede who spent two decades in the service of the Stasi’s foreign subdivision, the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA), where he operated under the codename ‘König’ (‘King’).
As a journalist and lifelong member of the Social Democrats, König was perfectly placed to gather information on the Swedish government. By his own admission, he knew several government ministers and worked for newspapers with close connections to the party.
“His was a well-known face at party headquarters,” Tore Forsberg, a retired Säpo counterespionage expert, told The Local.
But did König spy on Sweden?
Not surprisingly, the now 84-year-old ex-journalist says that he didn’t. But German historian Christian Halbrock argues that König had few qualms about reporting on the internal affairs of the Swedish government and the Social Democratic party (SAP).
“He gave the HVA the internal phone list of the Swedish government for example. He must have been aware that he was in some way breaking Swedish information laws,” Halbrock tells The Local.
In an essay focussing on the HVA’s Swedish contacts, the Berlin-based historian lists some of the documents in König’s extensive Stasi file. For example: “The SAP’s election strategy and tactics and planned personnel changes in the Swedish government.”
Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun does not rule out the possibility of König having had access to plans for a ministerial reshuffle in 1985.
“That’s exactly the sort of gossip he could have picked up and passed on to the East Germans,” he says.
According to Christian Halbrock, the list of König’s alleged intelligence operations also included files with titles such as the following:
“SAP officials’ and members of parliaments’ assessments regarding the state of the SAP.”
“Inside information on Swedish domestic and foreign policy.”
“Assessment of the military-political situation from the point of view of the SAP.”
“Swedish trade unions’ connections with the Solidarity movement in Poland.”
“The SAP’s internal goals, planned content and organizational arrangements in anticipation of the Socialist International (SI) bureau meeting at Bommersvik, Sweden.”
“Internal disagreements within the SI and the SAP.”
As for the Socialist International, König tells The Local that Bernt Carlsson, who became the organization’s Secretary General in 1976, was his “best friend”.
When Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet went through the files in the summer of 2000, it found that König had informed the HVA of Carlsson’s criticism of Willy Brandt, then Chancellor of West Germany and President of SI.
Aftonbladet also reported that he supplied the spy agency with details about Sweden’s armed forces.
While denying that he ever spied on Sweden, König does admit that he kept a close watch on the Socialist International, an organization represented in Sweden by his own party, of which he still claims to be a member.
“I may have drawn a little dividing line between Sweden and the Socialist International,” he says.
Though reluctant at first to delve into the past, König leaps to his own defence at the mention of both Aftonbladet’s exposé and Christian Halbrock, who has said that König’s activities “definitely constitute treason”.
“Just like Aftonbladet, the German historian gets his facts completely wrong. I didn’t work for the GDR in Sweden – I was based in West Germany.”
König also has an explanation for the multiple references to Sweden in files attributed to him, claiming that Stasi functionaries would often ingratiate themselves with their bosses by exaggerating the importance of their sources.
Joakim von Braun agrees that ambitious Stasi officials “might sometimes have played up certain information”.
“But I really don’t think the information in these files is fabricated. It is more likely that he is trying to downplay his own role,” he says.
Säpo finally tracked down the elusive Swede in 1994. Having taken König in for questioning, the security service decided that there was not enough evidence to prove that König had spied on Sweden.
There were however suspicions that he had committed the lesser crime of illegal intelligence gathering. But since the deadline for prosecution had already elapsed he was never charged. It was for this reason that Säpo refused to reveal König’s identity.
According to König, “no intelligence organization of any worth will trust another agency’s archives”, Säpo being no exception.
The Swedish security service did however indicate at the time that it had enough evidence to charge König for spying on a foreign power – West Germany. Once more however the statute of limitations prevented a prosecution.
When Aftonbladet published its revelations in July 2000, Sweden’s current foreign minister Carl Bildt was furious that he, as leader of the opposition, had not been informed of Säpo’s suspicions by then foreign minister Laila Freivalds.
And why were König’s transgressions not being treated more seriously? Writing in his weekly newsletter Bildt speculated that either the information published by Aftonbladet was incorrect, ”or a decision was made, consciously or otherwise, to turn a blind eye and play down what is a clear case of espionage against Sweden”.
König’s case might not have become public knowledge at all, says Christian Halbrock, had not the CIA made an error when repatriating the so-called Rosenholz files, a list of names of HVA employees allegedly acquired by the American agency during the storming of the East German Ministry for State Security in January 1990.
In 1993 Säpo was reputedly given the names of all Swedish citizens included on the list, although the security service denies this.
“König’s name however was mistakenly handed over to the Germans,” says Halbrock.
Germany subsequently made its archives public and König’s secrets were safe no more.
While many other Swedes are also thought to have collaborated with the East Germans, their stories have never been made public. As for their identity, Halbrock alludes to Swedish academics and journalists, while König confirms that a large number of left-leaning journalists were approached.
It is not known whether the Stasi had any Swedish politicians on its books.