The Daily Telegraph

Russian spy suspect revealed

Former soldier who led double-life as secret agent allegedly sold Ukraine war documents to Kremlin

- By Jorg Luyken in Berlin

THE alleged Russian spy at the centre of the biggest European intelligen­ce scandal in decades can today be identified as Carsten Linke, a youth football coach.

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that Mr Linke, a 52-year-old father of two, is the alleged double agent in Germany’s foreign intelligen­ce service (BND) arrested for treason last December.

Mr Linke was a rising star in the BND, where he oversaw units tasked with spying on foreign communicat­ions and internal security. He is suspected of passing on top-secret intelligen­ce to Moscow, some of which is believed to be related to Ukraine, according to Der

Spiegel newspaper. His arrest has embarrasse­d Germany’s equivalent of MI6 and raised major questions for Western allies sharing intelligen­ce at the height of a ground war in Europe.

In his home town of Weilheim in Bavaria though, Mr Linke was an engaged member of the community.

He was active at the local football club, where he coached several youth teams and told anyone who asked that he was a soldier.

Mr Linke’s lawyer has refused to comment.

German authoritie­s were last night trying to ascertain whether Mr Linke was part of a larger network inside the BND or whether he acted alone.

Carsten Linke was a fatherly figure on the football field in Weilheim where he coached the local youth team. The 52-year-old, who owns a modest home in the quiet town framed by the Alps, could be stern but parents appreciate­d that he had no favourites.

They were mostly disappoint­ed when a promotion at work meant he had to give up his coaching duties and move to Berlin.

Some had wondered why the man who described himself as a soldier would disappear for months without warning, leaving the young players in the lurch.

Then, one day last December, Mr Linke stopped making his trips back to Weilheim for the weekends altogether.

It did not take long for news to filter back from the capital: German police had arrested Mr Linke, in fact a high-ranking member of Germany’s foreign intelligen­ce service, on suspicion of passing highly sensitive informatio­n to Russia.

The father-of-two who spoke “95 per cent of football”, in the words of one acquaintan­ce, is now at the centre of the biggest scandal to hit a European spy service for decades.

German privacy laws mean he is only named “Carsten L” in the local press. The Daily Telegraph is the first newspaper to confirm his full identity.

Mr Linke is currently held in a German prison on suspicion of treason. He faces between five years and a life sentence over accusation­s he sold documents to the FSB, Russia’s intelligen­ce agency, that could have given Vladimir Putin an advantage on the battlefiel­d.

After a career serving in the German army, Mr Linke switched to the Bundesnach­richtendie­nst foreign intelligen­ce agency (BND), where he rose up the ranks of its signal unit, the department that is tasked with snooping on foreign countries’ communicat­ions.

The unit is based in the town of Pullach, about 30 miles from Weilheim. But a series of promotions inside the agency meant that Mr Linke was called on to move to the agency’s new headquarte­rs in Berlin when they were opened in 2019.

How he became a mole for Russia is largely a mystery. But the means by which he may have sent secret documents to Moscow can be traced back to the TSV Weilheim sports club, where he coached children aged between seven and 14.

His Berlin job meant a reduced role at the club but on weekends, Mr Linke and his wife were still active in organising social events on its grounds. It was at a barbecue held by Mr Linke in 2021 that he seems to have met a man who was arrested last week for acting as his courier to Moscow.

Arthur E, who has not yet been fully identified, was a charismati­c businessma­n who was already living a jet set life at 31. He had also served in the German army, something that helped the men bond at first, according to Der Spiegel.

Born in Russia before moving to Germany as a child, Arthur left the German forces in 2015 and quickly had success in a business career that took him around the world.

He was often in Moscow in recent years on business trips.

One theory being investigat­ed is that he was already on the payroll of the Kremlin and attended the barbecue to establish contact with Mr Linke.

Arthur has admitted to travelling to Moscow on two occasions in October and November and passing documents to FSB agents over dinner.

He has reportedly told prosecutor­s that he was conned by Mr Linke into believing he was on a secret mission for the German government.

But prosecutor­s are said to still be uncertain as to which of the men suggested making contact with Russian spies.

Mr Linke’s seniority inside the BND meant that he had access to highly sensitive intelligen­ce that was shared between Western intelligen­ce agencies, making him a prime catch for the Russians.

Most recently, he had been promoted to head of the department tasked with vetting candidates to join the agency and making sure that no foreign country had managed to compromise spies already inside.

Erich Schmidt-eenboom, an expert on Germany’s intelligen­ce services told The Telegraph: “That is a position that would have been really interestin­g to the Russians as they could have used the background informatio­n he gleaned on BND agents to use against them. The rank he had at his age meant that he was on course to take on one of the top four jobs inside the agency before he retired.”

Arthur has reportedly claimed that he received an envelope stuffed with cash from the Russian agents.

As well as the apparent financial motive, there has been some speculatio­n that he sympathise­d politicall­y with Germany’s far-right AFD party, which demands immediate peace talks with Russia.

Unconfirme­d reports claim that another trainer found AFD pamphlets in his locker at the football club.

The intelligen­ce he allegedly passed on to Moscow, some of which is believed to relate to battlefiel­d casualties in Ukraine, have provided the Kremlin with key insights into how Western intelligen­ce agencies eavesdrop on their communicat­ions.

Fears that he could have also passed on informatio­n from other Western agencies have so far not been confirmed. But the scandal is likely to raise major questions of trust in sharing intelligen­ce with Germany.

Prosecutor­s have been investigat­ing whether other agents inside the BND supported Mr Linke in his alleged crimes, raising fears that a cell similar to the infamous Cambridge Five within MI6 could have been at work.

So far though, prosecutor­s are believed to be more persuaded by the theory that Mr Linke duped others into taking risks for him. Compromisi­ng data was found on the computer of a female agent, but an initial investigat­ion into her was dropped.

Arthur also claimed that a separate BND agent met him at Munich airport when he returned from Moscow and swept him past customs. Again, prosecutor­s believe that Mr Linke may have tasked the agent with unwittingl­y aiding him in committing his crimes.

Mr Linke’s cover was blown by a tip-off from a foreign intelligen­ce agency, further embarrassi­ng the German BND.

Weilheim residents still remember Mr Linke as a man known for his commitment to the football club, the pride and joy of the town.

His colleagues on the training ground say they thought he was a soldier during the weekdays when he was away on long trips. One person at the club said “it was only after he was arrested that we noticed that you could never find a club photo with his face on it. He was obviously very careful”.

In the end, perhaps, just not careful enough.

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 ?? ?? Carsten Linke, 52, coached football while allegedly feeding secrets to Russia
Carsten Linke, 52, coached football while allegedly feeding secrets to Russia

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