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Germans monitor Russian intelligence in Hamburg

Published on December 11, 2006

11 December 2006

Hamburg (dpa) – German authorities keep a watchful eye on Russian intelligence gathering in the port city of Hamburg and are aware that spies may camouflage themselves as businessmen, the city’s top anti-subversion official said in an interview Monday.

Hamburg hit the headlines when police swooped Friday on homes used by Dmitry Kovtun, a businessman who met expatriate Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London the day he was poisoned, November 1.

It emerged that Kovtun, who stayed for four days in the city in late October with his Russian-born ex-wife and her mother, has German resident status. But there has been no confirmation of claims that Kovtun was formerly an agent for Russia’s FSB espionage service.

The city is Germany’s biggest trade centre. Dozens of nations have trade and consular offices in Hamburg, creating a diplomatic cocktail party circuit that is second only to that in the capital Berlin.

“This case shows that intelligence gathering, which normally lurks in the shadow of the public activities, does go on,” said Heino Vahldieck, head of the Hamburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

The case is likely to prompt his agents to redouble efforts to penetrate covert activities in the anonymity of the big city.

Vahldieck declined comment on the Kovtun case and the smudges of polonium found at various places in the city where Kovtun went.

“I think we want to see first what the inquiries reveal,” he said.

“Speaking generally, it’s obvious that espionage in the sense of intelligence gathering has continued,” he added, noting that Russian agencies remained keenly interested in Germany, though it was no longer so important to them as before 1990.

“However the agencies have not shut down their activities in Germany and my forecast is that this will continue to be so.”

He said Russian agents gathered intelligence by both overt and covert methods.

Cocktail parties were an overt means, with agents doing their fact-gathering “between sips of champagne.” This was an activity conducted under cover of diplomatic and consular representation. Russia’s mission in Hamburg was very large.

On top of this, agents were able to seek cover in the relatively large Russian community living in Hamburg and among the considerable number of Russian business-people regularly visiting the port city.


Subject: German news