The neighbors had always considered their names odd — Mr and Mrs Anschlag, meaning “attack” — and the fact that she was often seen in the garden of their white-washed, detached, house making telephone calls in the depths of winter, caused tongues to wag.
However, other than that, Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag hardly triggered the curiosity of any but the most avid curtain twitchers in the community of Marburg, Germany, where they lived for years.
That was before their spectacular arrest in October 2011 on suspicion of spying for Moscow, when a Special Forces commando stormed their house. Heidrun was in the middle of receiving encoded messages on shortwave frequency at the time, prosecutors said. She was reported to have been so shocked she fell off her chair, pulling the connection cable with her.
The trial of the couple opened in Stuttgart on Tuesday. The pair are accused of passing confidential documents, procured from a Dutch foreign ministry official, to Russian intelligence services.
Over 23 years they are said to have passed thousands of EU, NATO and UN secrets to the former Soviet Union and then Russia, using “dead letter boxes,” as well as communicating via satellite and the Internet.
According to prosecutors the pair received about 100,000 euros (US$132,950) a year from Moscow. Allegedly they passed on information pertaining to the relationship between the West and countries in eastern Europe and central Asia. The court will hear how the couple built up what prosecutors described as a “bourgeois existence” in Germany at the end of the 1980s and convinced their neighbors that they were Austrian of south American descent — when they were Russian.
Andreas, a car engineer, now 54, worked in various companies, while his wife, now 48, kept house. Even their daughter, a medical student, was said to know nothing of their true existence.
They spoke in court just to confirm their “cover names.” The court does not know their true identity, only that they were known to their spymasters in Moscow as Pit and Tina. Their real first names are believed to be Sasha and Olga.
The couple’s most important source of information is believed to have been the Dutch foreign ministry, where a source handed them information once a month.
The couple are believed to have transmitted some texts via satellite and to have concealed secret messages in commentaries on YouTube where Heidrun communicated with her controller using the name Alpenkuh1 (alpine cow 1).
Heidrun is believed to have received detailed directives from Moscow twice a week, using a shortwave receiver, which was connected to a decoder and computer. While the couple received their messages via radio, they replied via satellite.
Mika Beuster, a local journalist, said the story had “all the ingredients of an exciting spy thriller,” adding: “The neighbors thought nothing strange about them except for their eastern European accent.”
The couple’s lawyer, Horst-Dieter Potschke, told journalists before the trial that the couple hoped to be swapped for German agents working in Russia.