Spy vs. Spy: West German Counterintelligence and GDR Espionage

Apr 18, 2024  | 6pm ET

Lecture at GHI Washington | Speaker: Michael Wala (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

2024 Spring Lecture Series: Knowledge in the Shadows: Intelligence, Hidden Pasts, and Historians in the U.S. and Germany

Please join us for the third lecture in our Spring 2024 series focusing on intelligence history. To this day, the GDR agency responsible for espionage in the Federal Republic, the HVA, is widely considered one of the best foreign intelligence services of its time. Former employees carefully cultivate this image. So far, it has not been possible to thoroughly investigate this claim, since during the last months of the GDR’s existence they had been allowed to destroy almost all documentary sources. Because the West German agency responsible for counterintelligence, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, has been very reluctant to provide information about its activities, the narrative about the German-German spy war has remained a very one-sided story, in which, curiously enough, the losers dominate the discourse.

Complete and unrestricted access to the secret counterintelligence archives of the Bundesamt has now been granted for the first time. This allows to tell a different story, one that can reveal methods used to track down GDR spies, successes, and failures. The result is a counter-history that disenchants the myth of the supposedly “best” secret service.

The lecture will begin promptly at 6:30pm ET. A light reception will preceed the talk from 6:00pm to 6:30pm ET.

About the Lecture Series


Knowledge in the Shadows: Intelligence, Hidden Pasts, and Historians in the U.S. and Germany

With the 2024 spring lecture series at the German Historical Institute Washington, we cordially invite you on a journey through the captivating research field of “Intelligence History.” Featuring leading scholars in the field, our four lectures offer insights into the covert realm of classified information, clandestine knowledge, and power dynamics and the role these have played in the history of the Americas and Germany in the Twentieth Century. To what extent have secret agencies and their practices of gathering information influenced international politics and the course of history? On the home front, how have the delicate relationships between secrecy and democracy evolved over time, evident in public debates and the treatment of individuals today known as “whistleblowers”? The lectures delve into these questions, shedding light on the intricate interplay between secrecy, democracy, and their impact on society. Furthermore, the lectures address the meta-level of research, highlighting the epistemological challenges faced by intelligence historians. How do scholars navigate inaccessible archives and information? What innovative perspectives, (digital) methods and data-driven approaches promise new insights into the world of secret services and declassified files? These inquiries form the cornerstone of our lectures, exploring new horizons in intelligence history. All lectures will be recorded and made available for viewing.

Organized by Jana Keck and Carolin Liebisch-Gümüş (GHI Washington) in cooperation with the International Intelligence History Association, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, German Association for American Studies, and International Spy Museum


A Frank and Open Discussion about the Secret World of Spying February 22, 2024 | 6pm ET
Alexis Albion (International Spy Museum)

From Abundant Papers to Limited Pixels: Digitization and Intelligence Reduction in the Brazilian Serviço Nacional de Informações (SNI) in the late 1970s March 21, 2024 | 6pm ET
Debora Gerstenberger (University of Cologne)

Spy vs. Spy: West German Counterintelligence and GDR Espionage April 18, 2024 | 6pm ET
Michael Wala (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

The History and Future of State Secrecy May 23, 2024 | 6pm ET
Matthew Connelly (Columbia University)

About the Speaker


Michael Wala, professor of North American History at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, received his academic education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (M.A. History), at the Universität Hamburg (Dr. phil.), and at the Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (Dr. rer pol. habil.). He taught in Great Britain, in the United States, and he spent a year at Stanford University as Visiting Scholar. His research and teaching focuses, in addition to American History, on intelligence services. Most recent books include a biography of Otto John, the first president of the German domestic intelligence agency written with Benjamin Carter Hett (2019), and “The Stasi-Myth”, on West German counterintelligence and GDR espionage, published October 2023.