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WAS N-SMUGGLER ALSO GERMAN AGENT?

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A man arrested last week when he delivered a plutonium sample to an undercover police agent at the Bremen train station was an undercover agent himself - for another police bureau, his lawyer says.

Police deny the alleged smuggler was working for them at the time of his arrest but conceded Friday that he previously did. They do acknowledge the would-be buyer was an undercover agent.In fact, of the 276 nuclear smuggling crimes recorded in Germany since 1992, almost all have been sting operations, including two of the three other finds of weapons-grade material this summer, police and researchers said.

In saturating the market with fake buyers, some officials believe German police may have tricked open a Pandora's box of deadly nuclear radiation by offering big bucks to Russian scientists and criminals willing to smuggle out the material.

"There's no evidence of a real market for plutonium in Germany," said Hans-Georg von Bock und Pollah, chief prosecutor in Bremen. "There's a danger that our interest in pursuing criminals is bringing danger into Germany. As law enforcers, we simply can't do that."

Bernd Schmidbauer, the government's intelligence coordinator, says the sting operations show authorities are effectively turning up smugglers and leaks in Russian nuclear installations, forcing the Russians to admit the problem and work with Western authorities to solve it.