Heinz Felfe: From SS Officer to KGB Spy – Espionage, Ideology, and a Legacy of Controversy

Vacationing spies

As a child, I fantasised about travelling to America while watching movies. I believe the majority of people still dream of that.

While reading and researching for a podcast, I stumbled across this 1956 photo of BND travellers to the United States.

She attracted my curiosity, and the story began.

The CIA invited members of the German BND to travel, discover American communities, marvel at cowboys, and sunbake on beaches. One of them was Moscow’s mole, who played “two games” at once.


It was hot and sticky in Washington in late summer.

Heinz Felfe did not perspire on September 13, 1956, despite a temperature of 30 degrees and 90% humidity.

During a lecture, the CIA official planned to demonstrate a lie detector to his eight BND colleagues in West Germany, all of whom were counterintelligence specialists.

Such polygraphs have never been used by German foreign intelligence before.

“Would you like to check this detector?”

“Volunteers, get in contact!”

“And you, Mr. Felfe?”

Chance made a play. Of all people, Heinz Felfe.

In 1949, the former SS Obersturmführer and “Third Reich” espionage expert joined the Soviet secret service through ancient SS networks. He was then brought into Gehlen’s squad as a mole, which was the progenitor to the BND.

Reinhard Gehlen, Felf’s supervisor, referred to him as his “news anchor” and threatened to expose him as a double agent if the lie detector went off.

However, Felfe went unnoticed.

After several decades, a BND investigator remembered how cleverly he had fought himself against the exam. Felfe spoke only a few words at the time: “Polygraphy.” He then praised Gehlen on the benefits of lie detectors to avoid drawing attention to himself.

Heinz Felfe

Heinz Felfe was born in Dresden, in the southern part of what was then Central Germany. His father was a criminal investigation officer. At school, he joined the Nazi League of School Students (NSS / Nationalsozialistischer Schulerbund), when Adolf Hitler was only known as a highly effective opposition politician.

Felfe joined Hitler Youth in 1931, when he was thirteen years old.

Two years later, in January 1933, the NSDAP (Nazi Party) took power in Germany, and on his eighteenth birthday in 1936, Heinz Felfe joined the Nazi Party of Germany, which at the time had approximately four million members.

In 1943, Felfe joined the German Security Service. He was sent to Switzerland in August 1943, where he headed the agency’s major Swiss operation and was in charge of circulating counterfeit British pound notes as part of a bigger scheme to devalue the British pound worldwide.

He was promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmführer at the end of the war, which is roughly equivalent to second lieutenant. In December 1944, he was ordered to Holland to organise subversive groups behind the Allied front line.

After being captured by the British Army in 1945, he was held captive for seventeen months, from May 1945 to October 1946. It was during this time that he became fluent in English.

In 1946, he agreed to work in Munster for the British Intelligence Service (“MI6”). His responsibilities included reporting on communist activity at the universities of Cologne and Bonn. In addition to working for the British until at least 1949, he was able to attend the University of Bonn and complete his law studies.

Between 1949 and 1951, Felfe was recruited into the Soviet secret services.

Agents are on a school trip

Cheating and dishonesty during a trip intended for relaxation training:

At the CIA’s request, the BND delegation was scheduled to travel thousands of kilometres across the United States in nearly three weeks, from Washington to New York via California and Arizona, and then back on a luxury ship.

The voyage under the CIA code name “UJDRACO VII” served two purposes:

  • The goal was to improve teamwork and friendship among the secret services.
  • Demonstrate the US’s supremacy to BND agents, inspiring them to embrace the country’s technology and culture.

The CIA’s purpose was to protect the informants from KGB recruitment efforts, but one of their visitors had already been captured by Moscow a long time ago.

Six similar missions were conducted beginning in 1951.

The seventh was important because, in 1956, the US-led Gehlen group morphed into the BND, establishing the Federal Republic’s first independent secret service.

These views of the Capitol and Golden Gate Bridge, Sunset Boulevard, an abandoned gold mine, cowboys and herds of cattle, magnificent hotel mansions, and huge motorways gave me the idea that they were of ordinary American travellers.

I can make jokes about influencer photos now, but…

“Wide use of the bar”

Nonetheless, the photographs are exceptional in that they show top spies on vacation—sometimes wearing floppy hats and sunglasses—who are seldom seen in public.

They stand next to cacti, swim slowly in pools and beaches, hike mountains, and dress in Western attire.

But dullness can be deceptive.

Furthermore, during the tour, the BND delegation’s apparent unity dissolved.

Felfe, a loner by nature, believed Ernst Pickel was “unsympathetic” with him. Others claimed he was extremely nosy and confrontational.

On the third week, the delegation’s leader, Ulrich Bauer, wrote to his wife, “There is a good team spirit, but not so human approach.”

When the company left in a beautiful double-decker on September 8, 1956, the mood was more positive.

Felfe praised both the ship’s lounge and the London station’s superb meals (“watermelon, fish fillet, steak and chips”).

“Felfe noticed the extensive use of the bar!” the men exclaimed, genuinely excited for the United States.

The CIA’s technique of energising the BND about the country and its people quickly proved effective.

Are there televisions in hotel rooms? One of the many miracles of this country that Ulrich Bauer mentioned in his numerous letters! CIA colleagues owned dishwashers and washing machines! And everything is massive, even the “amazing 2 x 4 lane roads”.

The American way of thought also appealed to the BND members.

Bauer appreciated the “relaxed, natural masculinity,” the “absence of authoritarian bosses,” and the “luxurious hospitality”.

However, he found Los Angeles “oppressive and unreal,” as well as the opulence that other Americans find “disgusting.”

A valuable double agent

Double agent Felfe sent a totally different message home. He informed his BND colleague Hans Clemens, who also spied for the KGB, of his arrival in the United States via postcard, which Clemens promptly transmitted to his KGB liaison officer, “Alfred”.

During their early days in Washington, CIA officials lectured colleagues about international communism, satellite espionage, eavesdropping, and sophisticated databases.

Felf also got to know certain CIA agents privately, and he scrupulously documented all of the agency’s official and true identities, addresses, and organisational structure.

Felfe courted one of his newly obtained CIA contacts and purchased a Ford Taunus during his stay in the United States, acting like a fan of American culture: “I think about this trip very often and am deeply impressed”. He expressed a great desire to return to the United States, saying, “I’ll stay with you for maybe a year.”

Stress and allergies

“I wanted to look my best in the eyes of the Soviets,” Heinz Felfe claimed gleefully after being exposed when the judge questioned his meticulousness.

During his 1956 trip to the United States, he did this.

Following his trip in the United States, he acquired a face allergy. Didn’t he like the climate in Arizona? Or was he overly stressed? The BND later speculated that Felf’s recurring allergies “coincided with the height of treasonous activity”.

The double spy felt increasingly alone. We noted that his demeanour did not fit with that of his coworkers. Thus, on September 25, 1956, while wandering alone along the waterfront in New York, he took the decision to return home a few days earlier than planned. None of it seemed unusual.


Four years later, Felfe came to light—partly because of the trip to the United States—when a Polish double agent known only as “Sniper” notified the CIA in 1959 that two members of the BND delegation were KGB agents.

Felfe was shortly investigated by the CIA. The BND also investigated Felfe’s acquisition of a notably expensive property beginning in 1961. He and fellow spy Hans Clemens were convicted in November 1961.

Felfe received a 14-year prison sentence in 1963, but the agent exchange permitted him to depart the country after six years and travel to the GDR.

He was honoured by the Soviet Union with a generous pension and a professorship in Berlin.

Felf’s good fortune continued following the fall of the Iron Curtain, when he won about 700,000 D-Marks in the 1991 lottery.

The second double agent was never discovered, despite rumours that he was a “Sniper” informant visiting the United States in 1956. BND undertook substantial, but haphazard research.

Following the Felfe crisis, the administration did not want to create any other scandals.

Thus, there could be one more secret related with a long-forgotten trip to the United States.

This post was written by Mario Bekes