Agents No country more beautiful
18 years ago, US soldier Jeffrey Carney defected to the German Democratic Republic (GDR). As an expression of its gratitude, the Stasi (the former East German secret police) granted citizenship to the defector. Now the former top spy wants to return. But the German authorities are balking and the homeland he is seeking has long since ceased to exist.
East Berlin, GDR: In the old days, when Jens Karney drove home from work and people were lined up on the sidewalk, for one reason or another - tomatoes, cucumbers -, since there had to be some reason for the line, he would immediately stop his Lada and get in line with everyone else. Then one person would ask a question, someone else would say something, and yet another would offer a tidbit of information, and Karney never felt as lonely as he does today.
"Actually," he says, "it was nice in the GDR." Ohio, America: Today, Jens Karney, born in Cincinnati in 1963 as Jeffrey M. Carney, and known to the Stasi as the "Source Kid," one of the best defectors who ever spied on the US army for the GDR, is standing in line again. This time he's at Kroger's Supermarket, somewhere in Ohio, and he realizes that he is out of place. He looks like a tree-hugger with his cotton grocery bag, and when he leaves the supermarket parking lot on his bicycle, he says, "everyone thinks I'm crazy." No one talks to strangers while waiting in line here.
"If you have the choice," says Karney, "of course you'll go where you feel best." To Germany.
A man wants to return home. For years, his home was the GDR, and until the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was its loyal servant, in good times and in bad. He was awarded the NVA medal of honor in bronze and the medal of "Waffenbrüderschaft" in gold. And because those were the best of times for him, the former Stasi agent, after having served a twelve-year prison sentence for espionage at Fort Leavenworth, wants to return home to Germany.
To do so, however, he needs a German passport, since his old passport, issued in Berlin in 1991, has expired. "I am a German," Karney insists, showing a copy of his GDR passport. He sounds both embittered and desperate, because no German authority is willing to give him a new passport. Not this man who betrayed the West and was made an East German in return.
This is the story of a criminal who does not deny that he committed a crime when he provided the Stasi with more than a hundred top-secret US military documents. But it is also the story of a victim who was kidnapped in Berlin in broad daylight on April 22, 1991 by the Air Force' intelligence arm, the OSI, and was abducted to be brought to trial in the United States. When the press stumbled upon the case in 1997, the German government did little more than register its mild protest in Washington. In contrast, German authorities have been all the more meticulous in investigating whether Carney is in fact a German citizen and, therefore, should be entitled to emigrate today. In spite of the fact that every citizen of the former GDR essentially became a German citizen upon reunification, the answer, in this case, is no. No passport for Jens Karney. This is perhaps the gloomiest dead end in the labyrinth of his life. In America, he felt like a bad dog, one that is locked in the basement, someone who is not to be trusted. He has no friends in the small city where he lives, and he feels "like an immigrant." In contrast, Germany is still his country, so much so that Karney would receive the highest possible grade on any integration test - in fact, he would even garner a few additional points for being able to read and write "Sütterlin," a traditional form of German handwriting. He is familiar with the Ems dispatch and the Kapp Putsch, can recite the names of every subway station in Berlin, and even knows the difference between two types of Wiener Schnitzel: Jägerschnitzel and Zigeunerschnitzel. He speaks German fluently, and almost without an accent. He can even speak with a Saxon accent. As a boy, he read book after book on Germany and the Germans, especially their military history. When he enlists in the US army in 1980, he quickly asks to be stationed in Berlin, where he becomes a welcome addition to the radio intelligence unit of the 6912th Electronic Security Group in Marienfelde. He is intelligent, speaks perfect German and, most importantly, is a tremendously skilled listener. He is even able to recognize GDR fighter pilots by their voices. Every single one of them. But his emotions prove to be as sensitive as his hearing ability. He craves approval, but his superiors can do little more than feed him hackneyed phrases. His emotional state gradually becomes dangerously unstable. He soon realizes that he is gay, and his fear of discovery begins to grow. He also begins to hate the Air Force for the fact that his homosexuality is something it will never accept.
One night, at the age of 19, after drinking too many pints of beer at an Irish pub, filled with the confused emotions of delayed puberty, he stumbles into a GDR guard post at the Friedrichstraße/Zimmerstraße border crossing. He is prepared to take revenge on America, to do something that will "make so much noise that everyone will finally listen." He waits for an hour and a half until the Stasi's professionals arrive. They make a copy of his military ID card; they sense that fate has delivered a golden source into their hands, and their grip begins to tighten. They frighten him. They threaten to kill him if he tries to become a double agent, but they also encourage him. Stasi Major Ralph Dieter Lehmann flatters him by telling him that if there is anyone who can do something important, something for freedom, justice, a better world, then he is the right man in the right place. He tells Carney that he too can become a "soldier at the invisible front," one of the few who can truly make a difference. And Carney, a boy with ambitions, is more than willing. From then on, the "Source Kid" furnishes a flood of information to the Stasi's "Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung" (Principal Intelligence Division, or HVA). He is as unsuspicious and uninhibited as a child. Instead of photocopies, he provides the Stasi's Department XI, which is responsible for espionage activities against the United States, with numbered originals, including documents "of maximum value," according to a top-level Stasi report written in March 1987. And he is acknowledged for his efforts: "The appropriate recognition has been issued by Army General Chebrikov of the Committee for State Security of the USSR." Carney deposits his reports in defunct mailboxes. He picks up his instructions in the East, slips through secret openings in the Iron Curtain, and makes a dozen trips to the GDR. Although he is paid only 300 West German marks per trip, the damage he inflicts on the Americans is later estimated at 14.5 billion dollars. His greatest coup is the delivery of 47 pages of a report code-named "Canopy Wing," the US' plans to disable radio transmissions by the Soviet senior military command in the event of an emergency. Even after being transferred to an Air Force base in San Angelo, Texas in 1984, Carney continues to steal secret documents from the Air Force' technical library. But then, as the Stasi notes, he becomes unstable, overwrought, burned-out, enters "an emotionally desolate state," and a day arrives when is no longer able to function. In September 1985, shortly before a scheduled Air Force psychological test, the "Kid" deserts to Mexico. He appears at the GDR's embassy and allows himself to be flown to a new home: the German Democratic Republic. Of course, Carney knows too much for the Stasi to simply leave him alone. But there is more to the story. Even at the core of the East German police state, at Stasi headquarters on Normannenstraße in Berlin, feelings of gratitude exist. As a former high-ranking Stasi officer recalls today, "in this regard, the GDR took very good care of its own. An ambassador of peace, someone who had done so much for him homeland - he was not to be given the feeling that his homeland hadn't been deserving of his efforts."
The secret police helps the "Kid" arrive at a stable emotional state in the wake of the collapse of his existence in the United States. He is given a job, Monday to Friday, seven-thirty to five, back in radio intelligence, and one of his duties is to spy on his former US division. He is paid a monthly salary of 1400 East German marks, plus an annual bonus of 1500 West German marks. But that's not all. According to a Stasi report dated May 1987: "The legitimation as a GDR citizen has been completed." Jeffrey Carney receives a GDR ID card, which expires on December 15, 1999. This, according to the report, means that his "residency is official." Was it? And did this really mean that the US spy was now a German? On his ID card, Jeffrey Carney's name was Jens Karney, and even his place of birth was falsified to read Dessau instead of Cincinnati, since being born in the United States would have triggered questions by any village police officer. But to Jeffrey Carney, a.k.a. Jens Karney, one thing is certain: "That meant that I had been naturalized." And he is not the only one who thinks so. In writing about the "Kid" years ago, the Stasi's last director of espionage, Werner Großmann, wrote that the defector had "become a GDR citizen." For this reason, Karney claims, it was entirely appropriate that he was given a West German ID card on March 7, 1991, shortly before agents of the Air Force unit OSI kidnapped him, without the knowledge of German authorities, in front of his Berlin apartment. "It took all of half an hour at a government office," he recalls, "nothing but a formality."
For today's German authorities, it is a worthless piece of paper, a passport providing no guarantee of return. From their perspective, he is the outcome of a Stasi legend, nothing that could serve as the basis of German citizenship. They feel the same way about his GDR ID card, which they view as a fictitious document created by the secret police' machinery of lies and deception. It is for these reasons that in 1996, when Karney was still incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth and applied for a new German passport, the Ministry of the Interior in Berlin decided that he was in fact "never naturalized in the GDR, and therefore did not acquire German citizenship." And this decision is to remain in place. Karney has a passport, and even a social security card issued by the GDR. According to Siegfried Kaminski, the department manager in charge of Karney's case at the Interior Ministry, none of this is in dispute. However, these documents are apparently meaningless without a certificate of citizenship, which Karney has failed to provide and the agency has been unable to locate. In Kaminski's cold assessment, "he can sue if he wants to."
But Karney would be unable to afford a lawsuit. He works in a factory in Ohio, "cutting plastic" for $8.50 an hour. Moreover, his chances of winning such a case are difficult to assess. Attorney Gregor Gysi, in any event, returned the files Karney had sent him, commenting that "the outcome of such a case would be highly unpredictable." This is particularly true in light of the fact that Karney's HVA files was shredded after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As a result, Jeffrey Carney's chances of living in Germany depend on the credibility of former Stasi officers, and their statements are quite clear: "The issue of citizenship is likely to have been completely official," says former HVA director Großmann. Another former colleague from the upper echelon of the Stasi confirms that in the Karney matter there were even additional negotiations with the lieutenant colonel in charge of the case at the Ministry of the Interior: "The Ministry of the Interior issued its approval, and then it went through."
Although this seems rather clear-cut, it is unlikely to support Karney's case. Even if he were able to prove that was in fact naturalized ("After all, I was even permitted to vote in the GDR"), the question remains as to whether he, as a Soviet bloc spy, would have been considered worthy of receiving German citizenship after reunification. Jurists speak of a violation of the "ordre public," or public order. Of course, it is an order of the winners, and Karney stands on the side of the losers and, therefore, of those who were in violation of order. A personnel employee at the German consulate in Toronto, Canada apparently summarized the issue recently when she said: "But Mr. Karney, no one wants you." "I understand this," says Karney, but he also argues that "others aren't scrutinized so closely, either." In fact, no one at any of the ministries of the interior of the nine German states can recall a case in which naturalized Stasi spies or terrorists lost their German citizenship.
Karney, however, won't be as lucky: His story is already so well-known that it will be difficult to settle the matter quietly. And his case even has a relevant precedent in a ruling issued by the German Federal Administrative Court: A Pole, naturalized in the GDR in 1954 and later arrested in West Berlin as a Stasi agent, applied for German citizenship. In its 1985 ruling, however, the court found that anyone declared guilty of treason has jeopardized the security of the Federal Republic of Germany: no passport.
"But I spied on the Americans in Germany, not on West Germany," complains Karney. However, it is unlikely that such a fine distinction will be drawn, says Kai Hailbronner, professor of constitutional law at the University of Constance: "Karney is certainly a classic case of ordre public." This would probably settle the issue for Karney, if only he were able to stop feeling like a German. His old GDR license plate, ICG 8-20, is pasted to the rear windshield of his Ford, he shows highway cops his GDR driver's license, and on job applications he dutifully notes his "employment with the Ministry of State Security of the GDR." Germany is his "no country more beautiful," an image he has preserved for twelve years. His image of Germany is not that of a cold state populated by informants, something he "never wished to see," even in the past. His image is a memory of his neighborhood at Pintschstraße 12 in Friedrichshain: how he cared for a tree growing next to the street in front of his building, how he took care of retirees in his building, cleaning out their basements and sweeping their hallways, and how he argued with the comrades from communal residential management when the old people had no water, especially on a national holiday. "That was my ersatz family, that was the little GDR I miss so much."
The only one of his former neighbors still living there today is Frau Boll, who lives on the ground floor. Everyone else has either died or moved away, and the entire block has been renovated. In fact, the entire country has been erased, at least at first glance.
Karney wanted to see it with his own eyes. Three weeks ago, he returned to Berlin for the first time, where he spent a few days. He took a streetcar. The windows were scratched and the cars covered with graffiti, things that would never have occurred back then in the GDR. And the Palace of the Republic was scheduled for demolition. Karney asked himself why the ICC in the western portion of the city shouldn't suffer the same fate. So the West had arrived, the West where, in his opinion, "the worst thing was that you didn't need any neighbors," and now the same had happened here. At first, Karney was furious about this "urge to destroy everything that was associated with the GDR." His anger gave way to sadness, and then to a hint of fatalism. "Sure, it is possible that I long for something that no longer exists, but don't we all?"
And that's why he still wants to return to Germany, the country that was once his home. Now, at least, he can think of no better place to call home.
Translated by Christopher Sultan