Berlin's Marienfelde district in the fall of 1983: The day Jeff Carney helped save the world was just four hours old. Carney, a 20-year-old surveillance specialist with the United States Air Force, was sitting in the early morning in front of the equipment he used to eavesdrop on the East. He was on the night shift, and there was nothing special to report.
Then his supervisor told him about a secret operation that was set to take place just a few hours later. It was a war game of sorts, and it involved US fighter jets that would come within threatening range of Soviet airspace, triggering alarm signals on the Russians' radar screen and a general state of confusion. The planners expected that the other side would become so unnerved over the maneuver that emergency response procedures would be set in motion, revealing them to US reconnaissance.
But what if the Russians thought it was an actual attack and launched a counter-attack? Carney, who had been working as an agent for the East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, for a few months, had mere hours to act. First, he had to finish his shift, but then he hurried to see his Stasi contact, a teacher in West Berlin. His message made it in time; the Soviets were alerted that it was a fake maneuver, but not an actual attack.
Later, after defecting to East Germany, Carney received the gold "Brotherhood in Arms Medal" from Stasi head Erich Mielke. Even later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a US court sentenced Carney to 20 years in Fort Leavenworth, a military prison in Kansas. Carney, code-named "Kid," was one of a pair of top agents the Stasi had used to infiltrate the US military in West Berlin. The Americans estimated the damage that the "Kid" had caused by betraying secrets over a period of more than two years at $14.5 billion (€10.9 billion).
A World of Lies and Betrayal
Carney, released early after serving 11 years of his sentence, has now written his memoirs about life on both sides of the Cold War. In the 700-page book, he reveals the views of a former spy and offers insights into a world that vanished 25 years ago. It was a world of lies and betrayal, disguises and deception, of dead drops in the woods and a Lipton ice tea can with a miniature camera screwed into its base. Carney, as an agent for the Stasi, used the camera to take pictures of row upon row of US surveillance files.
The many blacked-out passages suggest that the book itself is largely free of lies and falsifications. The US Air Force and the NSA spent about a year examining the book, and there were many passages that they felt should remain secret to this day, which they redacted. Still, what the censors left untouched offers a thrilling look into everyday life on the invisible front of East-West espionage.
Carney joined the Air Force in the summer of 1980. He was only 17 at the time, and the Air Force offered an escape from a broken family in which there was not always enough to eat. His three years of high-school German were his ticket to the 6912th Electronic Security Group in Berlin's Marienfelde district, where trouble with his commanding officers, his fragile mental state and the fear that his homosexuality would be discovered prompted him to change sides on April 22, 1983. After going to a bar, he then walked across the border between East and West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie and addressed the baffled East German border guards without the Western intelligence agencies realizing what had happened. Stasi agents were immediately called to the scene, and Carney told them that he wanted to live in East Germany. But they had a better use for him. They sent him back to West Berlin and placed him as a mole inside his unit.
A year later, the Air Force transferred Carney to the United States and promoted him to be a trainer of other surveillance specialists. He continued his spying activities before ultimately losing his nerve and fleeing to East Berlin through the East German embassy in Mexico. In East Berlin, the Stasi turned Jeffrey Carney into Jens Karney (visit his website here), a postal employee. And because he not only understood English, but also US military jargon, he eavesdropped on communications from the US embassy in East Berlin and the US military mission in Potsdam until the fall of the Berlin Wall. In April 1991, when Carney was working as a metro driver for the Berlin Transport Authority, he was seized by a team with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and taken back to the United States.
'I Really Shouldn't Tell You This ...'
His early transfers to the Stasi, made while he was still in Berlin in 1983, included thick training manuals for US surveillance specialists. Carney had hidden them in the rubber boots of his NBC protective suit and smuggled them out of the American listening post in Marienfelde. While working there, he had discovered that classified US military documents were often left lying around and that secrets sometimes turned into gossip, prefaced by the phrase: "I really shouldn't tell you this, but…"
For his deliveries to the Stasi, he was generally only paid 300 deutsche marks. He writes that the money wasn't that important to him; instead, he had wanted to do something against what he felt was aggressive US policies. But he realized how important the information was to East Germany when he told his contact officer that he wanted to try out some muscle-building drugs for his hobby -- long bicycle rides through Berlin. Before long, the Stasi had provided him with the best that the East German doping machine had to offer: oral turinabol, an oral anabolic steroid in the form of blue pills, with which East Germany had pumped up its swimmers and track-and-field athletes and turned them into Olympic medalists.
Later, in an Air Force library in Texas, Carney photographed the contents of large numbers of file folders containing classified documents. He claims that one of the documents he uncovered revealed that the Americans were fudging the numbers when comparing the military strength of East and West. To exaggerate the threat from the East, he says, they included in their weapons estimates large numbers of decommissioned tanks that had been put on display in many cities after the war as monuments to the glory of the Red Army.
According to Carney, another list he found contained seven names: members of death squads who had been trained in the United States for contract killings in their respective countries. But the Air Force blacked out further details in Carney's memoirs.
Cables from the Embassy
After defecting to East Germany, Carney quickly realized that he had no friends there, only intelligence agents who wanted to use him. Or get rid of him. At first, East Germany wanted to send him to Sweden. But fearing that he might reveal East German secrets there, the Main Reconnaissance Administration found work for him at home, with a radio reconnaissance unit that eavesdropped on cables from the US Embassy and the US military mission in East Germany.
The recordings were made using West German Uher SG-561 tape recorders, which East Germany was only able to afford after receiving a sizable loan in a deal brokered by then Bavarian Governor Franz Josef Strauss. Cassettes for other Uher devices were obtained directly at the border, where they were confiscated from Western tourists.
In his memoirs, Carney talks about how he searched the recorded conversations for the preferences of secretaries at the US Embassy, so that Romeo agents with the Stasi could court the women, armed with a precise profile. On one occasion, he listened in on a conversation in which a female embassy employee said she was looking for a cleaning woman. Soon afterwards, a cleaning woman posted a job search ad at bus stops along the woman's route to work. When she was later hired, the cleaning woman readily opened the diplomat's door to Stasi agents.
Nostalgia for the Old Regime
The Americans, of course, were aware that they were being monitored, which sometimes led to bizarre conversations. After the 1986 bombing of the West Berlin nightclub La Belle, which was frequented by US soldiers, a suspicious-looking car drove past the US Embassy in East Berlin. A concerned diplomat said into his phone: "If you East Germans are listening, I have a license plate number for you." Libya was suspected of being behind the attack and the car the diplomat had seen was registered to the Libyan mission in East Berlin. The Americans wanted the Stasi to deter the Libyans from committing further attacks.
Today, 10 years after his release from military prison, Carney lives in Ohio with his adopted son. As an ex-convict and a traitor, he is unable to find a permanent job and his attempt to gain a foothold in Berlin once again -- from the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2011 -- was also a failure. Acquaintances from the past, including some who were not with the Stasi, tried to help him, and they found him a job with a publishing house that specializes in books for those nostalgic for the old regime by authors such as Margot Honecker and Egon Krenz. Initially, Carney's book was to be published there as well, but ultimately the publishing house declined.
His book likewise didn't coincide with the worldview of former Stasi officials -- because it presents both the Americans and the Stasi in an unfavorable light. "You're not fair to us," a former Stasi colonel complained.
Carney's monthly wages began to decline, until he was no longer making enough money to qualify for a residence permit. With his return to the United States, the publisher lost the book rights and Carney lost his last shred of faith in his old comrades. "Some were visibly happy to get rid of me. I'm finished with those people." But this only makes things more difficult for Carney in the future. He hardly has any friends left, not even his old, phony companions.