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Shameless Shamus: From Sinister Spies to Private Eyes

March 19, 1992

BERLIN (AP) _ Joerg Behm is an east German private eye, a gumshoe making a buck in the post-Communist world. Like a lot of his ilk, he once worked for the old secret police.

Shame? Regrets? Sorry, pal. Wrong address.

″I was a handwriting expert. That’s all,″ says Behm, 35, slight of build and edgy as a pit bull at supper time.

Private investigators are a new concept - and a burgeoning industry - in former East Germany, where poking around was strictly a government function.

The old Ministry for State Security - the reviled Stasi - was a sprawling bureaucracy of eavesdroppers, analysts, agents and inquisitors who did nothing but intimidate, infiltrate and calculate.

They lost their jobs with the fall of communism. But some have re-emerged in their chosen professions, born-again capitalists with Cold War skills.

Behm spent 10 years with the Stasi. Today he works out of an office in a seedy townhouse in east Berlin. He takes all kinds of cases, from setting up video surveillance at a car lot to tracking a wayward spouse.

He charges 70 marks ($44) an hour, plus expenses.

″In the old days we were part of the law,″ he says. ″Now it’s business. I’m fairly successful.″

The Federal Association of German Detectives requires a complicated two- year process of screening, training and probation before someone can join, said association spokesman Lothar Wenzel.

He said hundreds of east Germans have applied, most of them former Stasi or police employees, but only 18 so far have reached the probationary stage.

″There could be 200 or 300 out there working,″ he said. ″They just aren’t members and there’s nothing we can do about it.″

A Stasi past is no obstacle to membership, Wenzel said.

The Stasi was pretty good at what it did. But Wenzel is unimpressed by the ability of former Stasi agents to handle Western-style cases.

″A lot of their skills are outmoded, especially for economic crimes,″ he said. ″It’s not like television.″

But Behm says he got his degree in criminology from Humboldt University, East Germany’s best school, while the average west German detective ″could have started as a taxi driver.″

He’s reluctant to discuss his background but admits that his training works to his advantage. ″We’re not popular with the people, but Western firms pay for our expertise.″

Some ex-Stasi agents work as subcontractors to west and east German detective agencies, said Ronald Paetzold, one of three detectives who opened an east Berlin agency in July 1990.

″We use Stasi experts,″ said Paetzold, 32. ″They are very good.″

He said he and his two colleagues were investigators for the East Berlin police, which worked closely with the Stasi.

Paetzold’s agency has a stylishly appointed office near the huge complex that once housed the Stasi’s main headquarters.

He says he and his two colleagues together gross about 10,000 marks ($6,250) monthly, 10 times the typical east German salary.

″Most importantly, we have fun,″ he said.

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