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Stasi spy has 'no regrets'

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13:17 CEST+02:00
The story of the Swedish journalist König's involvement with East Germany's notorious foreign intelligence agency - the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) - begins at the GDR Cultural Centre in central Stockholm at the end of the 1960s. It ends twenty years later with a solemn handshake as ‘König' – ‘King' in English - takes leave of his HVA handler for the last time and the country they once proudly served ceases to exist.

A freelance journalist for various left-wing publications, König's ideological leanings soon led to him spending time at the GDR Cultural Centre. It was not long before he was approached there by an East German journalist.

“It was in the city centre and a lot of us journalists took to dropping in there,” he tells The Local.

According to a source close to Säpo, the two got on well and König was soon invited to spend a few days in Rostock on East Germany's Baltic coast. On the ferry to Germany he was met by an official from the GDR, whom König later understood to be a Stasi agent.

His passport was left unstamped and he was supplied with a temporary visa. In Rostock he was met by his East German journalist friend and the pair went on to spend a few very enjoyable days at a resort hotel. König's contact took care of all expenses.

The idea that he was wined and dined by the East Germans in Rostock is one of the few elements of the story that König disputes.

"Plenty of Swedes made these trips to Rostock and were treated very well by the East Germans. But I was interested in the politics rather than the social aspect," he says.

The Local's source however insists that König made the journey and that he soon travelled to Rostock for a second time. His stay in the town followed a similar pattern to his previous visit but this time the topics of discussion became somewhat weightier.

König's third visit to East Germany took him to Dresden. There he was introduced to the man who would become his HVA handler right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Dresden was something of a Nordic rallying point in the GDR. There were always some Danes, Norwegians or Finns there,” says König.

His new contact quickly made it clear that the gentle introductory period had now come to an end and König was asked to supply information about the Socialist International's Swedish adherents

König is said to have expressed misgivings about spying on his peers in Sweden. Instead he was offered the option of becoming the HVA's man in Bonn. This time there was no hesitation.

König was then taken to East Berlin for basic training. There, at the freezing point of Cold War tensions, he learned to receive basic radio transmissions consisting of five-digit code combinations. He quickly mastered the technique, receiving messages on a weekly basis.

He also learned to use invisible ink. By placing a seemingly normal scarf between two sheets of paper he was able write messages that could were only decipherable using a special treatment. He was also taught to take photographs of documents with a micro camera.

"But I never used the camera or the scarf. I thought it was childish. It wasn't like I ever sent any information anyway - I always met my handler," he says.

After his training was complete, König began travelling regularly to Bonn "but never for more than three days at a time". He stayed at hotels and met up with his contacts.

"My job was to help prevent a conflict between East and West, which the leaders of both countries - Erich Honecker and Helmut Schmidt - were eager to avoid. I was kept busy running around to various meetings and committees and reporting on any tensions that arose," says König.

He is keen to stress that the Bonn trips only made up a small part of his work for the HVA.

“My job consisted of 99 percent reading and one percent listening,” he says.

After just four years as a secret agent for the HVA, König's stock had risen to such an extent that he was pushed up the pecking order in the spy hierarchy.

"I don't remember any time frame but I think it is true that the East Germans trusted me. I think they respected the fact that I stayed true to my commitment not to report on my country or my party,” he says.

As a principal agent, König was now given responsibility for finding new agents, according to The Local's source.

König hesitates for a moment, before saying that "matters of this nature are not open for discussion".

It is not immediately clear what he means. Who decides what can and cannot be discussed?

"The only organization I cooperate with today, which is Säpo", says König.

Säpo would not confirm whether it remained in contact with König.

"We can never comment on these sorts of issues," spokesman Jakob Larsson tells The Local.

Despite König's initial reservations on the subject, he does eventually concede that recruiting what he calls "trustworthy confidants" was "a detail that was always intrinsic to the whole operation".

According to The Local's source, König brought in his first recruit the year after he became a principal agent. This new agent then reported back to him four times a year until the demise of the GDR.

The end game arrived a lot sooner than König would have hoped. In 1989, he received the devastating news that his beloved GDR was on the verge of collapse.

"It was the great catastrophe. Gorbachev was led up the garden path and the Soviet Union came to an end," he says.

König's handler told him to destroy any incriminating material and forget that they had ever cooperated.

"But he needn't have bothered. There was no material and I had everything I needed in my head.

"I was formally thanked for my efforts and told that it was all over, it was time to go fishing."

When asked whether now - in the light of all that is known about the horrors of the East German system - he has any regrets, König's response could not be more emphatic.

"No, no, no! I was working for the ones with the handicap, I was on the side of the weak," he says.

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