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Germany's Legendary Stasi Spy Chief Dies at 83

Markus Wolf, the former head of communist East Germany's feared spy service, has died at age 83. He was the mastermind of some of the Cold War's most successful intelligence operations.

For most of his career, Wolf's adversaries in the West had no idea what he looked like, and he became known as "the man without a face."

Wolf planted his agents at every level of West Germany's political and military structure. One of Wolf's spies worked as a personal aide to former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. That agent's discovery led to Brandt's resignation in 1974.

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Wolf is said to have perfected the use of sex as an intelligence weapon. Wolf's signature spies were known as "Romeos" -- agents sent from East Germany to seduce and steal information from West German civil servants.

World War II shaped Wolf's life. His father was Jewish, and his family left Germany for France and then the Soviet Union soon after Adolf Hitler came to power. When the war ended, Wolf returned to Germany, to the region that would become the communist east.

Wolf retired as chief spy in 1986. After the end of the Cold War, he was charged with treason by the government of the reunited Germany. He was found guilty and sentenced, but won on appeal.

Wolf claimed he didn't know about the torture committed by the domestic side of the East German Stasi spy agency. In the late 1990s, Wolf said he had no blood on his hands.

In his memoirs, Wolf wrote that shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, two CIA representatives came to visit him, bearing flowers, chocolates, an offer of a large sum of money and a new life in California -- if he shared information about his former colleagues. Wolf said he declined the offer.

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Wolf maintained he had worked to create an egalitarian society and a Germany that would never allow a repeat of Nazism. He told NPR in 1997 that he was sorry that dream didn't come true.

"The greatest regret I feel that I, like a lot of other active leaders of the socialist countries, helped to compromise the big and great ideal of socialism," he said.

Wolf is survived by his wife and several children.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.