Markus Wolf, the elusive spy master of Communist East Germany whose feats of espionage were the stuff of Cold War legend, died Thursday. He was 83.
Known as "the man without a face," because for years Western intelligence agencies did not even possess a photograph of him, Wolf died in his sleep in his apartment in Berlin, according to his stepdaughter, Claudia Wall. She did not specify a cause of death.
Wolf had lived quietly in the German capital since the last of several efforts to punish him for his role in spying on the former West Germany ended in 1997 with a two-year suspended sentence.
For 34 years, Wolf headed the foreign intelligence service of East Germany's feared Ministry of State Security, or Stasi. He ran a network of 4,000 spies who infiltrated NATO headquarters and the West German chancellery, even bringing down a chancellor, Willy Brandt. Wolf was not directly responsible for Stasi's primary business of spying on East Germans, which made it a reviled instrument of repression, but not all critics were convinced of this.
Tall, suave and impeccably dressed, Wolf was the antithesis of the colorless apparatchiks who ran East Germany. He was long rumored to be the model for Karla, the shadowy spymaster in John le Carre's novels - something the writer denied Thursday, as he had before.
Among Wolf's innovations was the "Romeo method," which used young agents to romance lonely secretaries in Bonn, the former West German capital, to gain access to the confidential files of the women's bosses. A few of these affairs, he later noted, led to happy marriages, though the more common outcome was betrayal and broken hearts.
The disclosure that one of Wolf's spies, Günter Guillaume, had managed to become Brandt's personal aide toppled Brandt, who had done more to reach out to the east than any other German leader.
Wolf burnished his legend by publishing a well-received memoir in 1997. But he never escaped the taint of his association with the Stasi, or the belief in a reunified Germany that he had been on the wrong side of history.
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