A treasure in the exhibit room at the German Federal Criminal Police Office in the western city of Wiesbaden has aroused a great deal of curiosity among the world's intelligence agencies. It looks like an ordinary, black laptop bag. It contains a Siemens hard drive, or at least it looks that way. But a notch reveals that it is not an off-the-shelf product. It's a high-frequency satellite transmitter, with an antenna hidden in the flap of the bag.
The device is state-of-the-art military technology, a "top quality intelligence product," raves an expert. In the spy wars, German authorities haven't gotten their hands on anything this important in years. The significance of this high-tech device, however, approaches that of the legendary Enigma code machine from World War II. Domestic intelligence officials at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) in Cologne are eager to examine the device. The American intelligence agencies, the CIA and the NSA, as well as Israel's Mossad have also asked for permission to inspect the miraculous piece of equipment.
The satellite device served Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag as a connection back home. They were Russian spies who lived as agents in Germany for more than 20 years, until they were arrested in October 2011. But even though they were each sentenced to several years in prison on Tuesday before the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court, hardly anything has come to light about their true identity. Their real first names are probably Alexander and Olga, but their last names are still unknown.
The next question will be whether the Russian government is still interested in the agent exchange the German government offered more than a year ago. Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met personally with a German envoy at the Kremlin, who he then rebuffed. Putin's aim was probably to discover how much the Germans had learned about Russian espionage methods. Now that the case has been tried in a court, Putin will have to reconsider, though. Will he allow Heidrun and Andreas Anschlag to be imprisoned for five-and-a-half and six-and-a-half years, respectively, as the court ruled on Tuesday?
The spy story from the town of Michelbach in the western German state of Hesse is reminiscent of the days when the Berlin Wall was still standing amid the smoldering East-West conflict. It also shows how the Russians view Germany to this day, despite all pledges of friendship. Germany is a "land of the enemy," as the SWR, the successor to the KGB, said in a radio message found among the Anschlags' things. Much has changed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, but Moscow shamelessly continues its spying activities.
The German government experienced this only last winter, when two agents with the Russian foreign military intelligence agency (GRU) tried to buy an infrared telescopic sight in Germany around New Year's. The device, made by the American company Raytheon, is subject to an export ban. When they established contact with an arms dealer, the two Russians, who were accredited as diplomats in Berlin, behaved so clumsily that they were found out. The German authorities complained to the Russians, and a scandal threatened to erupt that would have ended the two agents' spying career in Germany with a bang. Instead, the matter was hushed up and they were expelled.
Evidence of cooling German-Russian relations recently became clear at a reception to mark the anniversary of the Russian Revolution at Moscow's embassy in Berlin. As members of the diplomatic team noted, Moscow's intelligence representative, Sergei Rachmanin, didn't even look at his German counterpart. Mother Russia doesn't fool around when it comes to its agents, especially when they are so-called illegal agents, brought into a country under elaborately constructed pretexts to engage in espionage there. It is the supreme discipline in espionage, and hardly any other intelligence agency is as experienced with it as the SWR. The Russians refer to their illegal agents as "whiz kids." Their covers are developed over the years and become almost perfect, as the case of the Anschlags shows.
According to German prosecutors, Andreas Anschlag's path to the assignment led through the Austrian town of Wildalpen. A lawyer showed up there in October 1984 to register Anschlag, allegedly born in Argentina in 1959, as a new resident in the village of 500 people. The application was approved, even though all the documents were forged. The KGB paid the local official a bribe of 3,000 Austrian shillings, or about €200 ($260), for approving the application. Anschlag's wife Heidrun had the attorney submit a birth certificate indicating that she had been born to an Austrian woman in Lima, Peru in 1965. There is much to suggest that the two were already married when they said their wedding vows a second time at a registry office in Austria.
Shortly after applying for their Austrian passports, the Anschlags moved to Aachen in western Germany. Andreas studied mechanical engineering, and in 1991 the couple's daughter was born. Officially, Heidrun tended to the household and their daughter, while her husband worked in an ordinary job. In truth, the two had already been spying for Moscow for some time, as a radio message from 1988 shows. The couple moved several times until they ended up in Michelbach, an idyllic suburb of the university city of Marburg in 2010. For appearances, Andreas Anschlag took a job with an automotive supplier 350 kilometers (217 miles) away and rented an apartment there. This enabled him to explain his long absences to curious neighbors. "Pit is going to his cover job on Monday," Heidrun once wrote bluntly to headquarters.
In their dispatches, which the couple received with a shortwave radio, the agent controllers in Directorate S of the SWR referred to the Anschlags as "Pit" and "Tina." They were given the state-of-the-art satellite equipment during a trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow. They also attended a course on the use of a decoding program called "Sepal" and an encoding program called "Parabola."
This enabled "Pit" and "Tina" to establish a secure connection to Moscow. All they had to do was pay attention to the times when one of the six to eight satellites sent into space by Russian intelligence for spying activities came into range. A red light on their radio device signaled to the Anschlags that the satellite was approaching, while a blue light indicated the transmission of encoded messages.
Sometimes, when the equipment failed, the Anschlags placed the transmitter below one of their attic windows, among the fruit trees in the garden or on a nearby hill. The hills directly behind the house proved to be unsuitable, because nearby wind turbines apparently interrupted communication with the satellite.
Admitting the Obvious
According to the indictment, what the Anschlags sent over the air or deposited in dead drops was primarily information and documents stemming from a Dutch government official. His rank at the foreign ministry was not particularly high, so that the Russians had little to fear from the Dutch counterterrorism agency. However, the official, Raymon Valentino Poeteray, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Dutch court in April, provided them with plenty of material about the European Union and NATO. From the standpoint of German federal prosecutors, he offered the Russians "access to a fantastic bandwidth."
Poeteray had a mountain of debt and his wife was sick. After deducting his fixed costs, he kept €650 of his monthly take-home pay of €2,500 to cover his living expenses. His situation made him the perfect target for recruitment by an intelligence service.
Starting in 2009, the Dutch official became a top source for the agent couple. Andreas Anschlag drove from Michelbach to The Hague about once a month, always on Saturdays. Over the years, Poeteray collected at least €72,000 from Russian intelligence. In return, he was required to deliver hundreds of documents, as well as "written homework" he did to report on coworkers and as his opinion on key issues.
The SWR was apparently satisfied with the Anschlags. It praised them repeatedly for their "successful and productive operational work," and in 2010 Andreas Anschlag was promoted to department manager and his wife Heidrun to deputy department manager. Even though it was just a symbolic promotion -- Anschlag was in charge of nothing and no one -- he was proud of the title. In the past, he had referred to himself as a "certified engineer," in the guest book of a hotel in Weissensee, for example. But from then on he always signed documents as "Dept. Director." Agents can be vain when it comes to titles and status, even when not even their first names are real.
While the Dutch foreign ministry was apparently unaware that one of its officials had a side job, the German authorities, acting on a tip from Austria, tracked down the Anschlags. But the Russians realized that the agents' cover was in jeopardy and ordered the couple to return home. First they had to dismantle the satellite system and throw the pieces into a deep body of water, though. The agents began preparing for their escape, but the Germans intervened on the night of Oct. 16, capturing Anschlag in his second apartment and confiscating the keys to his home in Michelbach. A unit with the GSG 9 special force then used the key to open the front door early the next morning and crept up the stairway. When they reached the top floor, they caught Heidrun Anschlag radioing with Moscow. She was so startled that she fell off her chair. She claimed that she was "only responsible for technical matters."
After initial denials, the couple fell silent. That is, until last Tuesday, when the two, speaking through their attorneys, admitted the obvious: that they were spies working for Moscow. The Russians themselves have already conceded as much, and Rachmanin, the intelligence liaison to the embassy, even sought to visit the agent couple in prison.
Other Spies Likely
During the trial, the defense attorneys were no longer interested in the question of whether their clients are guilty, but how long they would have to remain in prison. Andreas Anschlag's attorney, Horst-Dieter Pötschke, contradicted a claim by the prosecutors that his client billed both the SWR and his official employer the €84 cost of a hotel stay for a meeting with source Poeteray. "This portrays him as tricky and greedy," which he isn't, said Pötschke. He added that his client perceived such remarks to be "discriminating."
Following the couple's sentencing, the German government wants to exchange Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag for Valery Mikhailov, a former colonel with the Russian domestic intelligence agency FSB who spied for the CIA. After the Anschlags were arrested, a US delegation informed the Chancellery that it was interested in a deal. The German government would like to do the Americans the favor, but it also wants to secure the release of an interpreter who occasionally supplied information to the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence service. The Federal Public Prosecutor's Office indicated that it would have no problem agreeing to an exchange after sentencing. Now it's up to Putin to decide whether to sacrifice his spies or bring them home.
For Moscow, the arrest of the two extensively trained agents isn't the only bitter disappointment in recent years. Since SWR agent Sergei Tretyakov, a.k.a. "Comrade J," defected to the United States in 2000, the counterterrorism authorities in the West have captured a number of Russian agents and their informants. They include Herman Simm, former head of the Estonian National Security Authority, whose cover was blown in 2008. A classified NATO report describes Simm as the "most damaging spy in the history of the alliance." Another case that made headlines worldwide was the discovery of an 11-member group led by Anna Chapman in June 2010.
These successes are often attributable to defectors from the Russian ranks. The man who betrayed Chapman and her group also told the authorities about the use of Latin American covers, as in the case of the Anschlags from Michelbach. In court last week, when their defense attorney painted a picture of two family-oriented individuals who, loyally serving their fatherland, lived in constant fear of discovery, Heidrun Anschlag struggled to hold back tears. She repeatedly reached for a tissue and blew her nose several times. She had nothing to add to her attorney's statement. "Everything has been said," she whispered.
But that statement only applies to this trial. "Pit" and "Tina" probably aren't the last agents Moscow has operating in Germany. The investigations in Austria indicated that there are other spies, although they could have disappeared by now. And the radio messages to agents, directed at Western Europe, continue. This is one reason that security officials assume that a number of Russian spies, probably in the double digits, are still operating undetected on German soil.