Weilheim: 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.
Carsten Linke led a double-life coaching a youth football team in Germany while allegedly feeding Russia with secrets.Credit:Rudder via merkur.de
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, 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 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.
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, 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 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, Linke and his wife were still active in organising social events on the club’s grounds. It was at a barbecue held by 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 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 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.
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 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 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 Linke may have tasked the agent with unwittingly aiding him in committing his crimes.
Linke’s cover was blown by a tip-off from a foreign intelligence agency, further embarrassing the German BND.
Weilheim residents still remember 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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