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Spy Gets 12-Year Term in Germany : Espionage: Rainer Rupp admitted passing NATO documents to the East's security agency. Prosecutors called case the worst in alliance history.

November 18, 1994|MARY WILLIAMS WALSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — A state supreme court in Duesseldorf found master spy Rainer Rupp guilty of treason Thursday and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, in what prosecutors said was the worst espionage case in the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

During his two-month trial, Rupp testified that for more than a decade--until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989--he took sensitive documents out of his workplace at NATO headquarters in Brussels, photographed them at home and delivered them to the East German security agency, known as the Stasi.

The Stasi then forwarded the material, some of it stamped with NATO's most secret classification, "Cosmic Top Secret," to the Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB.

"I take all the blame myself," said Rupp, who cooperated with German prosecutors to protect his British-born wife, Ann-Christine Rupp, who also passed NATO documents to the Stasi and helped cover up her husband's activities. She was convicted Thursday of abetting treason and sentenced to 22 months' probation.

Two former Stasi officers accused of being Rupp's controllers were given suspended sentences of two years each for treason.

Prosecutors in the case said Rupp checked out a total of 1,737 documents from 1977 to 1989 and handed over such potent secrets as plans for the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a war; catalogues of various troop strengths and armament levels; reports on military exercises; descriptions of NATO alarm systems, and reports on the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, the planned missile-defense system known in America as "Star Wars."

Presiding Judge Klaus Wagner said that such information would have been "decisive" had war ever broken out between the East and the West. "To list all the treasonable material would stretch the limits of an oral opinion," Wagner said. "The documents filled whole file cabinets at the Stasi office."

Rupp, who operated under the code name Topaz, also handed over a variety of less sensitive documents, including NATO analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of various Warsaw Pact forces and reports on such Soviet military activities as the invasion of Afghanistan. He made his deliveries every six to eight weeks, often leaving his microfilms hidden in cans of Tuborg beer at prearranged drop points.

Rupp said he acted according to his personal code of ethics and received no money for the secret information. But prosecutors said the Rupps received more than $400,000 from the Stasi, including funds to buy a house in Brussels.

The Rupp prosecution is one of the most significant among the thousands of espionage cases that came into the open after the East German state collapsed and many of the files kept by the Stasi were seized and collected in an official archive.

In all of the cases that have gone to trial so far, the accused spies have received either jail terms or suspended sentences. But in some key cases, the convicted spies have appealed to the German Constitutional Court, arguing that they were acting in accordance with the East German laws in force at the time and that their convictions under post-unification laws are therefore legally invalid.

Rupp's case differs, however, because he was a citizen of West Germany who broke that country's laws (West Germany's constitution now applies to both former states).

The German authorities were aware as early as 1990--when the Stasi files were opened--that there was a super-spy with the code name Topaz. But they were unable to identify him at first because the newly jobless Stasi officers had destroyed or hidden many crucial files naming their agents and later refused to give the names of former agents to prosecutors.

In 1993, however, Germany's secret service coordinator, Bernd Schmidbauer, created a sensation by announcing that he had obtained some of the files that the Stasi officials hid and that Germany would be able to investigate an additional 2,000 spying cases. One of these involved the mysterious Topaz, who was located and arrested that July.

Neither Schmidbauer nor anyone else in the German government has explained how it got the information leading to Rupp's arrest, but the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has reported that the Central Intelligence Agency somehow recovered the relevant Stasi files and brought them to Germany's attention.

The 49-year-old Rupp, who occasionally wept during his trial, told the court that he was recruited by the Stasi over a bowl of goulash in late 1967, when as a 22-year-old student he had been active in anti-Establishment politics. He recalled that after he ate the goulash, he realized he was 50 pfennigs short of the bill, and that the man at the next table came to his rescue. A life-changing discussion ensued.

"He gave me a sense of direction," Rupp recalled.

Rupp's handler-to-be later brought him to East Berlin, asked him to sign a pledge to work for the Stasi and to keep its activities secret, and began training him.

He had been in the spy agency's employ for eight years when, with a West German security clearance, he went to work in the economics unit at NATO headquarters.

His wife was a secretary at the British military mission in Brussels when the couple met, and she testified that although she had first been apolitical, she was won over to her husband's views on the international struggle between socialism and capitalism. She agreed to help him smuggle documents to East Germany and did so under the code name Turquoise from 1972 until 1980, when she became disillusioned and quit spying.

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