While he was leading a quiet life with his family in Weilheim, Bavaria, and was training local youth in football, BND agent Carsten L. is said to have passed highly sensitive documents directly to the Russian secret service, the FSB. Did big money lure you? A search for clues.
The defenses of the Upper Bavarian football club TSV 1847 Weilheim are compact. Whenever there was talk of the former coach and youth leader Carsten L. (52) in the past few weeks, people outside the club only heard this sentence: “No comment!”
But in the floodlights at the Zotzenmühlweg sports facility, where the youngsters are fighting for every ball, the mother of a young player breaks the club’s vow of silence: “All the media say that Mr. L. is an evil Russian spy. He’s not a criminal, what should he have revealed? The Bavarian amigos who made millions with the Corona masks are the real criminals!”
The arrest of its member Carsten L. three days before Christmas Eve hit TSV Weilheim, a traditional club with 4000 members, like a blow out of nowhere. It was only when the local newspaper published the first details about the head of the department of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) that it dawned on the club’s management that their trainer could be meant. L. had not been seen anywhere in the district town, which has a manageable population of 21,000, for days, his cell phone remained switched off, and Christmas greetings were not returned.
The shocked wife and their son sat under the Christmas tree in their semi-detached house and simply couldn’t believe it: the caring family man, a completely inconspicuous guy on duty and in his free time, is supposed to be on Vladimir Putin’s secret mission? And that even here and now, in times of war? A super spy who, according to investigations by the federal prosecutor’s office, delivered top secret documents to Moscow’s agent center FSB and also betrayed a state secret?
Hard to imagine for friends and acquaintances of the family, who started as “Team L.” in internal ski competitions.
If the BND man sometimes acted too snappy during training, everyone attributed it to his job: L. was officially a colonel in the Bundeswehr. Nobody in the small district town knew that he, as a leading expert in technical reconnaissance, listened to and evaluated worldwide communications with his colleagues.
When the first reporters called in Weilheim, TSV chairman Dieter Pausch decided for the whole club: We won’t say anything! All coaches and trainers from the 20 departments were instructed to decline interviews. Pausch responded to a telephone inquiry from FOCUS online with this sentence: “The presumption of innocence also applies to Mr. L.”:
For the German security authorities, the case is clearer. After initial tips from the US Federal Police FBI and strictly confidential special investigations by the BND’s own detectives, Carsten L. was exposed as a suspected traitor. To this day it is not entirely clear why he became a double agent with the help of his recently arrested accomplice Arthur E.,32 who is said to have brought dossiers on Russia’s warfare in Ukraine to Moscow.
What appealed to the man who – as they say in secret service jargon – carried on both shoulders? Insiders believe that E. did not act for ideological reasons – in the end the big money probably lured.
BND President Bruno Kahl (60), head of more than 6,000 secret service agents at home and abroad, is currently fighting on several fronts. Parallel to the investigators of the Attorney General, Kahl has to clarify how this super meltdown could have happened internally. Were the security checks too lax?
Member of the Bundestag Roderich Kiesewetter (CDU), a retired colonel in the Bundeswehr, and Konstantin von Notz, Vice-President of the Greens and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Controlling the Secret Services, are committed to improving security checks. “At the moment we have too rough a grid, we have to go more in-depth, especially with social media,” says von Notz.
Does this expose professional agents? Hardly, says an expert from the Cologne Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution: “I am not aware of any case in which a trained spy was unmasked by a security check. Professionals also master the test on the lie detector.”
BND boss Kahl is under enormous pressure. The Federal Chancellery, which is responsible for supervising the BND, would like to know how what is possibly the biggest case of treason in recent decades came about. In political Berlin, it was noticeable that the Chancellor’s Minister, Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD), did not publicly support the BND.
According to information from FOCUS online, SPD party leader Lars Klingbeil spoke out clearly in favor of replacing Bruno Kahl in October 2022, on the sidelines of the party after the Lower Saxony elections. Back then nobody knew about a mole in the BND. According to SPD circles, Kahl tends too strongly to the Union and is a close confidant of Wolfgang Schäuble.
The case of treason in the BND has startled the partner services. In the intelligence branch, which thrives on taking and giving exclusive news, there are doubts about the reliability of German foreign reconnaissance. Americans and Brits are particularly sensitive to this. To this day, more than three decades after the fall of the Wall, they have not forgotten how heavily the BND was infiltrated by agents of the GDR state security. For years, top spies like Gabriele Gast or the Spuhler brothers delivered secret material from the heart of the BND to East Berlin.
In 2014, a quarter of a century after the fall of the wall, a serious crisis hit. The Greens in the BND investigative committee wanted to see reports on the cooperation between German and British secret services. London reacted quickly and brutally: If only one document on joint German-British operations should appear in the committee, cooperation with Her Majesty’s agents would be terminated immediately. That worked – the dossiers remained under lock and key.
Nobody currently knows how the secret service glitch will affect the BND. John Sipher, who worked in counterintelligence for the US secret service CIA for 28 years, delivered a devastating verdict on the BND three months before Carsten L. was arrested. “The German agents are being held back by their politicians, who apparently do not want to believe that Putin could be up to something bad,” Sipher said in an interview with FOCUS online.
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When asked about the capabilities of German counterintelligence, the high-ranking CIA man said: “When it came to Russia, both the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the BND deliberately turned a blind eye for decades.”
Carsten L., whom ex-KGB Major Vladimir Putin would have described as a “scout on the invisible front” as in the old days, is currently silent on most of the allegations. The “rustic cuisine” in the Franconian Gasthof Endres, which he praised on an Internet site a year ago after visiting the restaurant in Allersberg, will be withheld from him for a while. “I’ll be back,” wrote L. in his exuberant restaurant review.
Lawyers estimate that the alleged spy in the BND will eat out of a tin bowl for at least the next five years.