Foreign News: The Case of Otto John

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Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, riding so high as the year began, was now deep in trouble. Labor unrest was increasing (see above). France was threatening to upset his cherished EDC and, worst of all, the strange case of Otto John was haunting and hurting the old Chancellor.

Last week, after 22 days under Communist wraps, Otto John faced a press conference in East Berlin that was open to Western correspondents. No more nervous than usual. Adenauer's former security chief read a six-page statement into a battery of microphones, then freely answered questions from 300 correspondents for an hour. Gist of his statement: he had defected to the Communists because "the Nazis and the militarists in West Germany are again in power" and "the Bonn-Paris axis is only a tool of the Americans." Americans, he said he had learned on his recent visit to Washington, are "downright hysterically mad in fear of Communism."

Later, accompanied by four Communist officials but seemingly not intimidated by them, he drank beer and talked for 45 minutes with three old acquaintances: New York Herald Tribune Correspondent Gaston Coblentz and two British newspapermen. He was neither a Communist nor a traitor, he insisted, and he certainly had not been lured across the line. "My decision [to stay in East Germany] was only finally made after my talks with the Communist authorities," he said. "I would have been free to return if I had wanted to."

After this performance, the West German government did an about-face. Gerhard Schröder, Adenauer's Minister of Interior, an ex-Nazi who is John's old boss, had stoutly defended him and offered $119,000 reward for information about John's "abduction." Now he flatly called him a traitor. Schröder also did his best to free the Adenauer government of any blame: the British, he said, had forced John's appointment as West Germany's security chief after rejecting

Bonn's own candidates, and the West German government had suspected him for a long time.*

From Adenauer's opposition, the Social Democrats, came demands for Schröder's dismissal and a special session of Parliament to discuss the John case. At week's end Chancellor Adenauer, facing what may be a fight for his political life, reluctantly agreed to Socialist demands and ordered Parliament to meet early in September.

* Editorialized the normally Anglophile New York Times: "Dr. John, who served British intelligence during the war . . . thus takes his place at the side of Fuchs, May, Pontecorvo, MacLean, Burgess and other traitors who evaded the British security system. It is perhaps time to suggest a little more cooperation between the British and American intelligence services in matters that could mean life or death for all of us."