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German agent spied for the CIA and Russia because he wanted to do 'something exciting'

We don’t think it’s meant to work like that.

Germany's Federal Intelligence Agency
Germany's Federal Intelligence Agency
Image: Markus Schreiber/PA Wire

A MUNICH COURT has handed down an eight-year prison sentence to a German former intelligence agent who spied for both the CIA and the Russian secret service because he wanted to “experience something exciting”.

Markus Reichel admitted to handing over “scores of documents and internal information” to the CIA, including names and addresses of agents for the Federal Intelligence Service or BND, in exchange for €95,000.

Some 200 of those documents sent to the CIA were deemed very sensitive, and even included papers detailing the BND’s counter-espionage strategies.

The 32-year-old also delivered three classified documents to the Russian secret service.

Reichel’s case had emerged during a furore over revelations of widespread US spying in documents released by former CIA intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, which had also plunged its partner service the BND into an unprecedented crisis.

Partially disabled after a botched childhood vaccination, Reichel, who speaks haltingly, admitted that he had spied for foreign services out of dissatisfaction with his job at the BND.

“No one trusted me with anything at the BND. At the CIA it was different,” he told the court at the opening of his trial in November.

Not only did the CIA offer “adventure”, the Americans also gave him what he craved – recognition.

“I would be lying if I said that I didn’t like that,” he told the court.

I wanted something new, to experience something exciting.

Agent Uwe

After finishing his studies at a training centre for the disabled in 2004, Reichel had struggled to find a job until late 2007, when the BND offered him a position in its personnel division.

As a member of staff in the lowest salary band, he drew a monthly net pay of €1,200.

The CIA did not pay him significantly more – he received between €10,000 and €20,000 a year in cash at a secret meeting point in Austria, but it gave him a thrill, he said.

Using the undercover name Uwe, Reichel first sent documents to a US agent codenamed Alex by post before later transmitting them by email and later directly entering them into hidden software on a computer provided by the CIA.

Stealing documents turned out to be surprisingly easy – Reichel simply photocopied sensitive papers using a copier next to his desk, before driving out of the BND offices with the stack in his bag.

Random checks at the BND’s gates were so seldom that there was hardly any risk he would be caught.

At home, he would scan the documents before sending them to Alex.

Slip up

In 2014, he itched to “experience something new” again and decided this time to offer his services to the Russian consulate in Munich.

But his email with three BND documents attached was uncovered by the German agency, and led to his arrest on 2 July that year.

Reichel’s case emerged in the wake of revelations the United States has been carrying out widespread surveillance on global communications.

The information stemming from documents made public by Snowden strained ties between Washington and Germany, a key European ally, and led to the expulsion of the US spy chief in Berlin.

© AFP 2016

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