Longtime Arranger of Spy and Prisoner Exchanges Is at It Again
SUSAN J. SMITH
Feb. 10, 1986
BERLIN (AP) _ Wolfgang Vogel, who has been called Berlin's master spy broker, recently arranged what may turn out to be one of the most spectacular East-West spy and prisoner exchanges of his career.
The 61-year-old East Berlin lawyer has been handling secret agent swaps since 1962. He first came to world attention after brokering the exchange of captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for Kremlin master agent Rudolf Abel.
Now, another Vogel-negotiated swap is in the making: Soviet Jewish dissident Anatoly Shcharansky and four imprisoned Western agents reportedly will be traded for four East bloc spies jailed in the West.
If the trade comes off as predicted Tuesday at the Glienicke Bridge, journalists will be looking for Vogel's unimposing, white-haired figure at the center of the span.
West German television cameras filmed Vogel on the bridge last June, when he met returning communist agents with warm embraces in what West German papers billed as the biggest East-West spy swap ever.
Twenty-five Western agents who had been caught and jailed in East Germany and Poland were exchanged for four indicted or convicted communist spies imprisoned in the West.
''He has proven to be trustworthy, and that is the most important thing,'' one senior government official in Bonn told The Associated Press.
The official and two other West German government officials spoke to the AP on condition that they not be identified by name. All three confirmed Vogel's role in the more than two decades of swaps and in this week's expected prisoner and swap exchange.
The 1962 Soviet-American swap came after tense negotiating.
To get get Abel back, the Soviets returned Powers, whose plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union. The trade took place on a foggy February morning, also on the Glienicke Bridge.
Other cases negotiated by Vogel include the swap of eight imprisoned West Germans and a South African for Soviet Maj. Alexei Kozlov in May 1982.
He also helped arrange the trade of 11 West Germans for imprisoned Chilean Communist leader Jorge Montes in 1977, West German officials say.
In March 1984, he was credited with arranging the liberation of the niece of East Germany's prime minister, Willi Stoph, after she and her family had holed up in the West German Embassy in Prague and demanded to emigrate to the West.
While his West German counterparts have varied, it usually has been Vogel who has appeared at the center of the Glienicke Bridge or the crossing point in the Berlin Wall during the mostly secret trades, the West German officials say.
Vogel confirmed his role, including his handling of the Powers-Abel case, in a rare 1976 interview for a book written by French journalist Michel Meyer.
''Really, our action is a factor of detente between East and West,'' Vogel was quoted as saying.
''Every spy, every refugee, every dissident that we exchange means one problem less, one less cause of irritation between the two German states and between East and West.''
He practices law in East Berlin and reportedly has no official government title.
Vogel's more controversial work includes arranging the sale of thousands of East German political prisoners to West Germany, Bonn officials say.
In the last six years alone, 7,785 of these prisoners have been sold, according to Bonn government figures provided to the AP.
Bonn officials have always refused to say what has been paid for the prisoners.
But in his book, ''Buying Freedom,'' Meyer estimated that by 1976, Bonn had paid $300 million in cash and goods for about 11,000 prisoners.
Some West Germans, including Erich Mende, former minister for intra-German relations, have charged that the traffic amounts to little more than a slave trade.
''Such assertions injure and shock me,'' Vogel was quoted as saying in his interview with Meyer. ''I am convinced that we have done something good for both German states. Both states have profited from our actions.''
Vogel is one of the few East Germans allowed to travel freely back and forth across that country's closely guarded border.
Vogel could not be reached for comment for this report. His secretary in East Berlin told the AP he was out of town.