Interview with US airman who spied for East Germany

A former intelligence specialist in the United States Air Force, who became one of East Germany’s most lucrative spies in the West, has given a rare media interview. Jeff Carney was a linguist and intelligence specialist assigned to the US Electronic Security Command at Tempelhof Central Airport in West Berlin during the closing stages of the Cold War. In April of 1983, Carney, who was then aged just 19, walked across the dividing line between West and East Berlin and asked to speak to representatives of the East German government. He has since argued that his defection was prompted by his disagreement with the foreign policy of the administration of US President Ronald Reagan. But in an interview aired on Wednesday by the BBC, he claimed there was “nothing ideological about his decision to defect”, and that he, as a gay man, “felt unwanted” because of the US military’s stance on homosexuality. His plan, which he described in his interview as “an impulsive move” was to request to live in the German Democratic Republic. But instead of granting his wish, East German intelligence officials commanded him to return to his post at Tempelhof and become an agent-in-place. Carney claims that they threatened to reveal to his US Air Force superiors his attempt to defect if he refused to cooperate. The young airman returned to his base and began spying for East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (MfS), commonly known as Stasi. He was provided with a miniature camera, given the operational codename UWE, and was told supply his handler, codenamed RALPH, with classified documents, which he smuggled out of Tempelhof in his shoes and clothing. His West German tour came to an end in 1984, when he was transferred to the US state of Texas. While there, he continued to spy for the Stasi, traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Mexico City, Mexico, in order to meet with his East German handlers. However, in 1985, believing that his superiors in the Air Force were beginning to suspect him of espionage, he traveled to Mexico and walked in the East German embassy in Mexico City, demanding to be transferred to East Germany. The Stasi eventually smuggled him out of Mexico to Cuba, and from there to Czechoslovakia before resettling him to East Germany. Upon his arrival, he was provided with an East German passport bearing a new name, Jens Karney, and was given a job translating and analyzing intercepted communications messages. In 1991, soon after the collapse of the communist regime in East Germany, Carney was apprehended in Berlin by officers of the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He was eventually smuggled out of Germany into the US, where he was sentenced to 38 years in prison for espionage, conspiracy, and desertion. The sentence was eventually reduced to 20 years after Carney offered to cooperate with US intelligence. He has now been released after having served 12 years in prison. He told the BBC that he never gave the Stasi “anything that would harm the US” and that his actions “helped to maintain world peace” at the closing stages of the Cold War. He also insisted in his interview that he “did not betray the American people. “Betraying your country and betraying your government are two different things” he said.

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