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Man Without A Face Paperback – July 1, 1999

3.8 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Imagine if Heinrich Himmler or Lavrenti Beria had written an autobiography! Well, a secret police chief of even greater prowess (and even greater secrecy) has done just that. For 34 years--through almost the whole of the Cold War--Markus Wolf was the head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service. As such, he gathered and disseminated to his Soviet sponsors many of the deepest top secrets of the whole era. A good example of the mirrors-within-mirrors nature of Wolf's world is his description of his service's interactions with celebrated terrorist Carlos the Jackal. Wolf relates that whenever Carlos came to East Berlin, the spymaster's main concern was "getting him out of the country as soon as possible." But this proved difficult because well, Carlos was a terrorist not above turning on his hosts. Indeed, Wolf reveals that while Carlos was a guest of his government, he made threats against East Germany's Paris embassy and that the reaction was not to expel him, but to beef up embassy security. Similarly, Wolf tells how the 1986 La Belle disco bombing in West Berlin, which killed two U.S. soldiers and resulted in a U.S. reprisal air strike against Libya, involved East Germany's knowing admission through border control of Libyan diplomats with explosives in their luggage. Here, Wolf questions the notion that such terrorists were worth coddling for their usefulness in any all-out war against the West. You have to wonder if he also did so in his old job. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

East Germany had one of the most successful intelligence services of the Communist bloc, headed by the notorious Wolf, rumored to be the model for John le Carre's evil Karla. Wolf (b. 1923) was trained by the Comintern in the 1930s as a Soviet agent after fleeing Hitler, and from 1952 to 1987 he led the foreign intelligence arm of the East German secret police (Stasi). In this memoir, he recounts the sex-for-information spy game, turf battles and bureaucratic inertia, covert warfare, his Western opponents, family problems, his flight to the Soviet Union in 1989 after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, and his return to Germany in 1991. Wolf is proud of his professional career and still believes in the Socialist ideal but says (rather self-servingly) that the methods were all wrong. While Leslie Colitt's Spymaster (LJ 11/15/95) offers an insightful portrait of Wolf, this insider's look at the East German espionage community (complete with organizational charts of the East German government and Communist Party and the Ministry of State Security) is also recommended for public and academic libraries.?Daniel K. Blewett, Loyola Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 411 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (July 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1891620126
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620126
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It is difficult to review this book, because it requires one to separate the merit of the book itself -- which is great -- from the behavior of the regime which the author served -- which was atrocious. The author, "The Man Without A Face" (so called because no Western intelligence agency had his picture) ran the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA), the foreign intelligence section of the feared East German "Ministerium für Staatssicherheit" or Stasi. The HVA was one of the most effective foreign intelligence services during the Cold War.

The book is a fascinating, insider's view of the HVA. The Stasi's main target was West Germany, and the frighteningly efficient HVA managed to place agents in many key positions in or near the seats of power of West Germany and NATO. We learn how the author used "Romeo" traps, taking advantage of the post-war gender imbalance in Germany to send male spies to woo lonely West German secretaries in key positions. It was extremely disconcerting for me, as an American, to learn that every single one of the CIA's agents who attempted to infiltrate East Germany was either an East German plant or a double agent.

Having said that, it is also important to say that Markus Wolf is and remains an unreconstructed Communist. He is the German version of a "red diaper baby"; his parents were Communists and his faith in communism was forged when his partially-Jewish family was given refuge by Stalin from the Nazi holocaust. He is a still true believer -- convinced that communism failed only because of the way it was implemented, not due to any flaws in the ideology itself. This view permeates the book.

Wolf also failed personally to speak up about the regime's behavior.
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Format: Paperback
History is written by the winners, or so the old saying goes. So, I decided to start reading some histories written by the losers. The fact that Markus Wolf, head of the East German Foreign Intelligence Service, was able to write his memoirs after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, East Germany, and the entire Warsaw Pact is a modern phenomenon. Prior to the end of the Cold War, most losers were not in a position to write their memoirs or anything else. Wolf was tried for treason by the now united Federal Republic of Germany. The case was dismissed by the German Constitutional Court on the argument that as a citizen of East Germany, he could not have committed treason against West Germany. He is lucky that his trial was not conducted under the legal system of his former masters.

In brief summary, Markus Wolf was the half Jewish son of German Communist parents who fled to Moscow when the Nazis came to power. Markus grew up as a good Soviet citizen and Communist. He spent WWII writing and broadcasting Soviet propaganda aimed at the German army. After the war, he transferred his citizenship from the Soviet Union to the new German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and rapidly advanced to become director of the Foreign Intelligence Service in 1953, at least in part because he was both fluent in Russian and trusted by the Soviet hierarchy. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1986, three years before the Wall came down. The title of his memoir, Man Without A Face, is based on the fact that the US Intelligence Community did not have a photo or description of Wolf's appearance until well into the 1970s. This added to his legend as the other side's greatest spymaster of the Cold War.
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Format: Paperback
Markus Wolf has an amazing talent for telling stories, listing dates and names, while avoiding the more substantive issues of personal thoughts and feelings, motivations, and heart issues. He tells the stories of major events in his career as head of East German Intelligence, however he doesn't tell, on the whole, how these events made him feel, what the mood and tenor of discussions were as he and his colleagues planned drops/rescues/spy-baiting/blackmail, etc. Most of the information in the book is interesting, but not personal. It's a provocative read, and you won't be sorry you bought the book, but it just seems to lack that ineffable something that really makes the book a five-star read--a truly autobiographical perspective. It's a bit antiseptic. What you will read is a book that contains a perspective you will not read anywhere else. Wolf was shrewd and cunning and tireless and he writes what he knows. He did little first-hand field-work, but he did know how to manage an agency. If you want to see what administrating a Cold War spy agency was like from behind the curtain, then this is one of the few authentic books that will give you the perspective you desire. I would not want to be a NATO spy-master up against Wolf.
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Markus Wolf recounts his service to the "lost cause" of World Communism as foreign intelligence director of the German Democratic Republic, and was more honest than most in recounting his spymaster's craft. Some have berated him for not "telling all," or for not indulging in self-demonization to serve the West's political morality play. But why should he have? When he stated that he did not endorse the terrorism of well-funded allies, like the PLO, he merely echoed Ronald Reagan in coronating Contra cutthroats as "the moral equivalent of [his] founding fathers." If only the CIA's former DIs were as forthcoming about their own aid to violent liberation movements. Wolf also ruthlessly exposes East Germany's role in the 1980s European peace movement, the equivalent to Western use of Solidarity.

As the scion of a "good Communist family," Wolf never truly appreciated how distant he was from the average East German he claimed to represent. Like insider elites everywhere, he took the platitudes of his regime at face value and squelched pangs of conscience that hinted otherwise. He could not grasp the GDR's lingering resentment by many as a state "founded on rape", based on the behavior of Germany's Soviet conquerors; thus the illigitimacy of its political offspring in the eyes of its citizens. The GDR's inability to find common ground created The Wall, and brought it down around him.

Wolf's description of the GDR surveillance state is a warning to the cliche-ridden, platitude-pontificating pundits of the West as well. The age of the NSA and its sovereign power to mock constitutional rights had precedence in East Berlin. Thus the cold war victory grows increasingly pyrrhic, as was the defeat of fascism in 1945. That Markus Wolf preserved his human decency after lifetime service to totalitarian state security is a rebuke to those who fancy themselves on the ever-elusive right side of history.
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