Monday, January 2, 2012

Debate Over Return of Stasi "Rosenholz" Files in Britain

The Guardian had an interesting piece last week called "Stasi files row as Britain refuses to return documents to Germany" (thanks to rainbyte) that describes a controversy over Stasi documents called the "Rosenholz" records that were obtained by the CIA "in murky circumstances shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall." The debate surrounds the return of a portion of those records that the CIA provided to Britain that were relevant to the Stasi's foreign intelligence operations there, including information on British citizens who worked with the Stasi.

One of the more detailed accounts of the fate of the Rosenholz files is Robert Gerald Livingston's "Rosenholz: Mischa's files, CIA's booty" in East German Foreign Intelligence: Myth, Reality and Controversy (for a more abbreviated, but fully accessible online, account see Livingston's "An Operation Called 'Rosenholz' - How the CIA bought the Stasi files for $75,000" in the Atlantic Times).  According to Livingston, the CIA supposedly purchased the files from a KGB archivist, who had brought them to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw in the early 1990s, although he notes that the "question still remains open" as others have claimed that the files came directly from a German source. He discusses criminal convictions obtained in the United States and Germany as a result, in part, of information in the documents, including the case of  Theresa Marie Squillacote.  He also describes the negotiations between the United States and Germany for the return of the files as "not easy":
The CIA insisted that it would return only cards relating to German citizens. Information on the cards relating to other nationalities, such as Britons, Danes, Austrians, French, Norwegians, Dutch, and others, were withheld from Germany. They constituted useful "wampum" for the CIA to present as gifts to the "liaison services" with which it worked. British names, of which there were about 100, including possibly 28 IMs, were passed during the summer of 1993 to the United Kingdom's intelligence services, the most privileged partner of American intelligence since World War II
IM, by the way, stands for Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter or "unofficial co-workers" which, Livingston notes, is what foreign agents were "euphemistically designated." He describes the "381 CD-ROMS" that are now "reposing" in Germany's archives noting that the "first two of these are misspellingly emblazoned 'Rosenholtz' by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), under whose supervision the discs were produced and who returned them to Germany between 2000 and 2003."   Livingston's account also discusses the familiar reluctance to return foreign records once obtained:
To visiting German intelligence officers who inquired about return of the files, the CIA gave the standard answer of all espionage services when pressed to disclose information in their possession: "We must protect sources and methods." In cases such as Rosenholz, which had not been meticulously examined, a service's worry is that the materials may include information about the service that the service itself has not detected but that those to whom the information is passed on may - unknown unknowns, to employ a favorite phrase of former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 
The Guardian notes that several other governments, including "Norway, Denmark and Sweden recently indicated they were ready to hand over the Rosenholz files they were given by the CIA more than 10 years ago."