Alfred Zehe
Alfred Zehe is a physicist, professor and author. After American authorities charged him with spying for the East German government in 1983, he became part of a high-profile prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Early Life and Education

Born in Farnstädt
Farnstädt is a municipality in the Saalekreis district, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.Since 1 January 2010 Alberstedt has been incorperated....

, Germany, Alfred Zehe was trained from a young age to be an underground copper miner. In 1964, he graduated from the University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

 with a degree in Physics; in 1969, he received the degree of Doctor rerum naturalium; and in 1975, he received the degree of Doctor scientiae naturalium. He was Chairman of the Institute of Physics at the Technical University of Dresden
Dresden University of Technology
The Technische Universität Dresden is the largest institute of higher education in the city of Dresden, the largest university in Saxony and one of the 10 largest universities in Germany with 36,066 students...

 from 1980 to 1991, during which time he taught periodically at the Autonomous University of Puebla
Autonomous University of Puebla
The Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla is the oldest and largest university in Puebla, Mexico...

 in Puebla, Mexico. Prior to the 1990 German reunification
German reunification
German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany , and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The start of this process is commonly referred by Germans as die...

, Zehe’s ability to travel, including his teaching at University of Puebla, was contingent on his consulting with the East German government on matters of national security.

Sting Operation and Arrest

In 1982, Zehe was summoned from Puebla to the East German embassy in Mexico City to meet with East German officials, who sought Zehe’s expertise regarding recently-acquired documents on sonar technology. Unbeknownst to Zehe at the time, the documents had been purchased by East German agents from an undercover U.S. operative in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. operative, in an FBI-managed sting operation, had gone shopping on Washington’s embassy row "to lure a spy from one or another of the Communist embassies to come out and take the bait." After purchasing the documents, the East Germans realized they lacked the expertise in Washington to evaluate the intelligence, so they called on Zehe in Mexico City. There, he reviewed the documents, which turned out to be outdated information on submarine sonar-detection, and returned to his teaching post in Puebla.

On November 3, 1983, Zehe was arrested while attending the annual symposium of the American Vacuum Society
American Vacuum Society
AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing is a not-for-profit learned society founded in 1953. AVS is a member society of the American Institute of Physics. AVS has approximately 5000 members worldwide from academia, governmental laboratories and industry...

 in Boston. He was subsequently charged under the Espionage Act
Espionage Act of 1917
The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years. It was originally found in Title 50 of the U.S. Code but is now found under Title 18, Crime...

 with conspiracy to obtain classified documents related to military technology and deliver them to a foreign government.

The decision to arrest him at the conference with television cameras on hand was designed to fuel public awareness of the dangers of scientific espionage.

The FBI later asked the American Vacuum Society to furnish it with the names of the 2600 attendees at the Boston meeting and threatened to subpoena the information. The Society declined but replied that it would comply with such a subpoena. The FBI did not pursue the matter.

The East German government posted bail for Zehe in June 1984. He remained in Boston while awaiting trial.

Wolfgang Vogel
Wolfgang Vogel
Wolfgang Vogel was a German lawyer active in East Germany at the time of the Cold War who had brokered some of the most famous swaps of spies or exchanges against ransom of political prisoners between the Soviet bloc and the West...

, East German lawyer and spy trader, was enlisted by the East German government to help free Zehe. Vogel contacted Alan Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz
Alan Morton Dershowitz is an American lawyer, jurist, and political commentator. He has spent most of his career at Harvard Law School where in 1967, at the age of 28, he became the youngest full professor of law in its history...

 to oversee the legal aspects of the effort and Ronald Greenwald
Ronald Greenwald
Rabbi Ronald Greenwald is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who is a businessman and an educator.Born in New York City, he has made a career of spy trading, international hostage mediation, and other forms of high stakes, high intrigue diplomacy. He served as presidential liaison of President Richard Nixon...

 to act as personal liaison between him and Zehe. Dershowitz, seeking to avoid a conflict of interest with his then-client Anatoly Shcharansky
Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky was born in Stalino, Soviet Union on 20 January 1948 to a Jewish family. He graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. As a child, he was a chess prodigy. He performed in simultaneous and blindfold displays, usually against...

, a founder of the Refusenik movement who had been imprisoned in Moscow for allegedly spying for the United States, brought in Harvey A. Silverglate
Harvey A. Silverglate
Harvey A. Silverglate is an attorney based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the co-founder, with Alan Charles Kors, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education , for which he also serves as the current Chairman of the Board of Directors.He holds degrees from Princeton University ...

 to defend Zehe.

Silverglate claimed that under any reasonable interpretation of the Espionage Act, Zehe had not committed a crime. Zehe did not purchase the documents at issue in the case, but only reviewed documents presented to him in Mexico City, Silverglate asserted. He also told how at Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller
Robert Swan Mueller III is the 6th and current Director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation .-Early life:...

's direction, prosecutors used "national security" as a reason to withhold documents from the defense even though they were prepared to let the East Germans review them. Silverglate further contended that the indictment was invalid because the Espionage Act does not cover espionage conducted by a foreign citizen outside the United States.

On January 29, 1985, U.S. District Judge David S. Nelson denied Zehe’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the Espionage Act could be applied extraterritorially to both citizens and noncitizens because of the threat to national security that espionage poses.

U.S. prosecutors then offered to allow Zehe to defect to the United States, where he could take residence and continue his academic career. Despite being closely watched by the East German government, Zehe accepted this offer and agreed to defect. Shortly thereafter, however, the U.S. government refused to accept Zehe as a bona fide defector. He was left with the option of either pleading guilty and hoping for a light sentence, or pleading not-guilty and testing the American legal system.

On February 25, 1985, Zehe entered a plea of guilty. He submitted to a full debriefing in exchange for the promise of a light sentence. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Prisoner Exchange

Zehe was released in June 1985 as part of an exchange of four East Europeans held by the U.S. for 25 people held in Poland and East Germany, none of them American. The exchange took place on the Glienicke Bridge
Glienicke bridge
The Glienicke bridge is a bridge on the edge of Berlin that spans the Havel River to connect the cities of Potsdam and Berlin near Klein Glienicke...

 linking West Berlin
West Berlin
West Berlin was a political exclave that existed between 1949 and 1990. It comprised the western regions of Berlin, which were bordered by East Berlin and parts of East Germany. West Berlin consisted of the American, British, and French occupation sectors, which had been established in 1945...

 with Potsdam
Potsdam is the capital city of the German federal state of Brandenburg and part of the Berlin/Brandenburg Metropolitan Region. It is situated on the River Havel, southwest of Berlin city centre....

, East Germany.

Silverglate used Zehe's case to argue against the 2001 appointment of Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller
Robert Swan Mueller III is the 6th and current Director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation .-Early life:...

to head the FBI. On another occasion, Silvergate argued that the FBI was trying to acquire assets it could trade with Eastern European governments, part of what he termed "spy trading culture."

Academic Career

In his academic career, Zehe’s major research fields have been materials science, solid-state electronics, and vacuum physics. He is the author of Tecnologia epitaxial de silicio (2001 with Andreas Thomas) and Herramientas Analiticas de Interfaces Solidas (2002).

External links

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