Sex and Secrets Trial of Gay Spy Threatens to Embarrass German Intelligence

An explosive trial about to start in Munich involves a spy accused of betraying state secrets to his gay lover. It promises to expose the shadowy world of Germany's foreign intelligence and may end up damaging the service.

By and John Goetz

The Germany Embassy in Kosovo: A trial is about to begin of a German spy who allegedly betrayed state secrets.
Jetmir Idrizi

The Germany Embassy in Kosovo: A trial is about to begin of a German spy who allegedly betrayed state secrets.

It was a quiet and professional operation, exactly what one would expect in the world of intelligence. Acting quickly and decisively, two plainclothes officers apprehended a man at the Grosshesselohe commuter train station near Munich. They searched the man from head to toe for weapons, handcuffed him, led him to an unmarked car and sped away.

The bystanders were shocked, partly because some of them knew the man who had just been taken into custody. He was their colleague, Anton K., a man who, like them, worked for a special "company" whose offices are located just a 10-minute walk from the train station in the suburb of Pullach: the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency.

When the Munich Higher Regional Court begins hearing the case on Wednesday, the public will become witness to the sort of true crime story that every intelligence agency in the world would prefer to keep under wraps.

The defendants are Anton K., a BND agent for many years, and his interpreter. The trial revolves around money and the betrayal of secrets. Love, sex and a betrayed wife are also part of the checkered tale, which takes place against the seedy backdrop of Kosovo's criminal underworld. In other words, the case that the federal prosecutor general is now preparing is the stuff of a larger-than-life drama, the sort of material that would normally be found in the movies or in bestsellers.

While the outcome of the trial remains uncertain, it is already clear that there will be at least one loser: the BND. If the prosecution wins its case, the agency will face the embarrassment of having to admit that one of its agents was out of control for years, and that a career spy gave away state secrets in the height of passion while on assignment in Kosovo. But an acquittal would be just as embarrassing for the agency, because it would show that the BND had expended tremendous resources pursuing one of its employees.

A Dangerous Job

The whole thing began on Feb. 21, 2005, when Anton K. reported for duty in Kosovo's capital, Pristina. Anton K., a former career soldier, was officially in Pristina as a diplomat working for the German Foreign Ministry. But his real assignment from BND headquarters was much more sensitive: K. was charged with building up a network of reliable sources -- a challenging and dangerous job, particularly in a place like Kosovo.

K., who had left his wife and children behind in southern Germany, rented an apartment in the city's upscale diplomatic neighborhood. He changed his appearance so that he no longer looked like he had during his military days. He grew his hair to shoulder length and walked around the city in flip-flops and polo shirts.

A few weeks later, the new agent had already scored one of his first successes. K. was sitting in a street café talking to his family in Germany on his mobile phone, speaking in the Swabian dialect of southwestern Germany, when a young man approached him. He was Murat A., an inconspicuous-looking retail salesman with blondish brown hair who was then in his mid-20s and spoke with a perfect southern German accent. He called himself Afrim and said that he was of Macedonian-Albanian origin but had grown up in Offenburg in southwest Germany.

Afrim seemed to be the perfect interpreter. K. sent a request to BND headquarters to be allowed to use him as such. The request was quickly approved after the young man had passed a security check. From then on, Murat A. was also an official employee of the German Foreign Ministry.

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