Exclusive: German football coach unmasked as 'Russian double agent'

Carsten Linke German spy Russia football coach invasion Ukraine war Europe - Merkur/Craig Stennett for The Telegraph
Carsten Linke German spy Russia football coach invasion Ukraine war Europe - Merkur/Craig Stennett for The Telegraph

The alleged Russian spy at the centre of the biggest European intelligence scandal in decades can today be identified as volunteer football coach Carsten Linke.

The Telegraph can reveal 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 of 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 spy agency and raised major questions for Western allies sharing intelligence at the height of a ground war in Europe.

Before his arrest, Mr Linke was thought to be on his way to becoming one of the top officials in the BND and was already privy to highly sensitive intelligence that was being shared among Western spies.

Vladimir Putin Russia invasion Ukraine spy scandal - Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via Reuters
Vladimir Putin Russia invasion Ukraine spy scandal - Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via Reuters

With the help of a courier, he was alleged to have used this position to pass intelligence on to Moscow on two separate occasions last autumn.

But in his home town of Weilheim in Bavaria, 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.

The Telegraph can confirm that Mr Linke organised a barbecue at the club where he met a Russian-born German businessman who would become an alleged courier for his espionage.

In trips to Moscow, Arthur E, who has not been fully identified because of German privacy laws, is believed to have fed Russia’s FSB agency with classified intelligence relating to the battlefield in Ukraine.

Mr E is believed to be co-operating with authorities whom he has told that they took money in exchange for their actions.

Mr Linke’s lawyer has so far refused to comment.

German authorities are now furiously trying to ascertain whether Mr Linke was part of a larger network inside the BND or whether he acted alone.

Germany spy scandal Russia invasion Ukraine BND Carsten Linke - Reuters/Axel Schmidt/File Photo
Germany spy scandal Russia invasion Ukraine BND Carsten Linke - Reuters/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

Locals in the town of Weilheim said that Mr Linke was known around for his commitment to the football club, but was also known to go missing for months at a time.

Fellow coaches, meanwhile, have said he was “a father figure” to the youths under his tutelage as well as a disciplinarian.

Mr Linke’s identity can be revealed as European leaders on Thursday and Friday visited Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, in Kyiv.

The European Union offered support for Ukraine at a summit as air raid sirens wailed on Friday, but set “no rigid timelines” for its promised accession to the bloc. The visit came a few weeks before the first anniversary of the start of the war, on Feb 24.

Meanwhile, Germany approved sending another 88 battle tanks to Ukraine following the West’s commitment to send armoured fighting vehicles last month.

Ukraine and Russia remain locked in a bloody battle of trench warfare in the east of Ukraine, centred around the city of Bakhmut, which analysis fear has turned into a “meatgrinder” of attrition on both sides.

How a youth football coach embarrassed the German spy network

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 this quiet town framed by the Alps, could be stern but parents appreciated 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.

Carsten Linke German spy Russia football coach invasion Ukraine war Europe - Craig Stennett for The Telegraph
Carsten Linke German spy Russia football coach invasion Ukraine war Europe - Craig Stennett for The Telegraph

German privacy laws mean he is only named Carsten L in the local press, and the Telegraph is the first newspaper to confirm his full identity.

Mr Linke now sits in a German jail cell after being arrested on charges of treason. He is believed to have sold documents to Russia’s FSB intelligence agency on two occasions last autumn, revealing to Moscow sensitive information that could give them an advantage on the battlefield in Ukraine.

His home, a semi-detached house with pristine garden, is the paradigm of suburban modesty, in a town of 20,000 inhabitants that is settled in front of the foothills of the Alps.

After a career serving in the German army, Mr Linke switched to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Berlin’s foreign intelligence agency, 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 now also be traced back to TSV Weilheim sports club.

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 the club’s grounds.

The fateful barbecue encounter

It was at a barbecue held by Mr Linke in 2021 that he seemed to have met a man who was arrested last week for acting as his courier.

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 armed forces in 2015 and quickly had success in a business career that brought him around the world.

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

One theory being investigated was that he was already on the Kremlin’s payroll and attended the barbecue in order 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.

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

Carsten Linke German spy Russia football coach invasion Ukraine war Europe - Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Carsten Linke German spy Russia football coach invasion Ukraine war Europe - Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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, who demand immediate peace talks with Russia.

Unconfirmed media reports claimed that another trainer found AfD pamphlets in his locker at the football club.

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

German ‘duped others into taking risks for him’

Fears that he could have also passed on information from other Western agencies have so far not been confirmed. However, 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.

Meanwhile, Arthur made the explosive claim that a different BND agent met him at Munich Airport when he returned from Moscow and swept him past customs.

Again, though, 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 BND.

‘Father figure’ to young footballers

Locals in Weilheim 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 said they thought he was a professional soldier still during the weekdays when he was regularly away.

“Sometimes he would be away for a few months and we heard that he was on missions abroad. But we thought it was as part of the army mission in Afghanistan,” said Dieter Pausch, the managing director of TSV Weilheim.

His training methods were also those of a soldier, he said, adding: “Soldiers have a particular way of talking with other people, but it was nothing negative.”

Others at the club described him as being “a father figure” to the boys he coached, who were anything between seven and 14 years old.

“He was always fair with the boys and didn’t have favourites,” he said.

Conversations with Mr Linke were 95 per cent about football” and they never established a deeper relationship, the trainer said.

Another person connected to the club said that “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”.

Major question marks remain over why Mr Linke seems to have decided to betray his country and help Moscow.

Whether his alleged betrayal threatens lives in Ukraine, or the trust of Western intelligence agencies working with Germany, remains to be seen.