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Book Recalls Berlin Spy Wars

September 9, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Soviets discovered one of America’s biggest Cold War operations _ an underground CIA tunnel in Berlin _ before construction even began. CIA agents in Berlin shortly after World War II ``paid too much attention ... to rumors, high-level gossip.″ East German spymaster Markus Wolf was slightly cross-eyed.

Such are the gleanings from a 634-page collection of documents by CIA historians on U.S. intelligence efforts in Berlin _ ground zero of the Cold War _ from the end of World War II until the wall was built in 1961.

The book was compiled as part of a three-day conference beginning Friday in the German capital. Historians and former CIA and KGB agents will be trading tales about the intelligence wars at the epicenter of East-West espionage.

The CIA is sponsoring its first overseas conference with the Allied Museum of Berlin around the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Lloyd Salvetti, director of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, calls the German capital ``arguably the hottest spot during the Cold War.″

The book, made up mainly of documents declassified in recent years, traces the tentative start of clandestine operations in Berlin after the war, the 1948 Soviet blockade of Berlin and the Allied airlift, a 1953 uprising by Germans in Soviet-controlled Berlin, the 1956 Soviet uncovering of the CIA tunnel and East Germany’s construction of the wall.

The first U.S. intelligence officers in Berlin after the war didn’t have a Russian speaker until 1947, and were frowned on by U.S. Military Governor Gen. Lucius Clay, who was determined to maintain good relations with the Soviets.

They were denied military cover and in 1946 were down to a staff of only 23. ``There are still instances of immaturity, emotional unbalance and social inbreeding within our little community,″ said a 1948 memo. ``... Too much attention was paid to rumors, high-level gossip, political chitchat.″

One 1947 dinner party source, Maj. Gen. Leonid Malinin, was so voluble after drinking three vodkas and five whiskeys that he was invited back to another meal with the American ambassador. Turned out he was head of a major Soviet spy agency.

The CIA accurately predicted before the start of the June 1948 blockade that the Soviets were ready to try drastic means, short of war, to drive the Americans, British and French out of the divided city. The Soviets were thwarted by the Allied airlift, which flew up to 4,000 tons of supplies a day into Berlin.

The CIA infiltrated a meeting after the blockade began where the Soviets ``evidenced a great consternation″ when they learned from their German allies how a counter-blockade from the West would cripple production in eastern Germany and cut off food exports to the Soviet Union. ``If we had known this, we would not have gone so far,″ one Soviet official was quoted as saying. The KGB ``was often very good at collecting information, but they were frequently unable to make use of that information,″ said Donald Steury, the CIA historian who edited the book.

The CIA’s Berlin Tunnel was an ambitious operation in 1955 to tap Soviet military communications. Even before construction began, the Soviets were tipped off by British agent George Blake, a KGB mole, the CIA documents indicated. But the Soviets, to protect Blake, didn’t ``accidentally″ discover the tunnel until more than a year after it was built.

The CIA analysis at the time said the discovery was ``purely fortuitous.″

Wolf, who controlled East Germany’s agents from 1953 to 1986, was described in a 1959 dispatch as ``slightly cross-eyed″ with a ``casual, even sloppy″ manner.

It said the famous spy ``does not always exercise 100 percent self-control. He often left material lying on his desk.″

The book also contains extensive CIA analyses of the crisis in the late 1950s, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s attempts to prop up the East German regime and weaken Western influence in West Germany raised real concerns of war.

The CIA’s chief agent inside the Soviet General Staff in Moscow, Oleg Penkovsky, says in a 1961 transcript that Khrushchev was ready to strike if the West didn’t make concessions.

But a CIA analysis casts doubt on Penkovsky’s remarks, saying it was highly unlikely the Soviets would strike first ``unless they were convinced that a large-scale Western attack was inevitable and imminent.″

Steury said the East German move to erect the wall in August 1961 caught both the American and Soviet intelligence communities by surprise, although the documents showed that the CIA had been predicting for some time that the communists would do something to seal off its section of the city.

The wall diminished the value of CIA operations in Berlin and a memo in September 1961 predicted a ``drop in morale″ among agents. Two months later, a dispatch noted that while they were still working hard to monitor activities in the east, ``there is no practical way to conduct black operations into East Berlin in the face of physical barriers and patrols on the border.″


Requests for copies of ``On the Front Lines of the Cold War: Documents on the Intelligence War in Berlin, 1946-1961,″ should be directed to the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Va., 22161.

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