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WASHINGTON TODAY: Book details CIA-KGB spy wars in Berlin

September 22, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The secret meetings took place in London movie theaters and the upper level of double-decker buses.

A senior British government source was revealing to the Soviet KGB one of the most tightly guarded secrets of the early Cold War: the CIA’s construction of a tunnel into East Berlin to tap underground cables carrying high-level Soviet and East German communications lines.

A new book by two Americans and a Russian _ the latter a participant in those shadowy London meetings _ explains why the Soviets decided the information was so sensitive it could do nothing to stop the tunnel project.

``Battleground Berlin, the CIA vs. the KGB in the Cold War,″ published by Yale University Press, tells an insider’s account of the Cold War’s first and most intense battleground from the end of World War II to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

From farcical encounters with drunken diplomats to deadly efforts to penetrate enemy intelligence, the detailed account shows how the wartime alliance quickly dissolved into tense mistrust and aggressive espionage on the streets of Berlin.

Coauthors David Murphy, a former chief of the CIA’s Berlin Operations Base; George Bailey, former director of the CIA-coordinated Radio Liberty; and Sergei A. Kondrashev, a retired lieutenant general in the Soviet KGB, buried their Cold War differences in collaborating on the project.

The tunnel, more than one-third mile long, was conceived in the utmost secrecy by CIA and U.S. Army officials in Berlin and Washington in 1952 as a way of penetrating tightly closed communist East Berlin. Approved by CIA Director Allen Dulles, the project was made possible by key sources, including East German postal officials who provided detailed descriptions of the Soviet sector’s official communications links.

Digging deep into the basement of what was ostensibly an Army radar station, specially picked men forged through damp clay under the Soviet sector border until they reached a cable line running beneath a roadway.

Unbeknownst to U.S. and British officials, the KGB had already learned of the tunnel through _ appropriately enough _ a mole, George Blake, who had access to some of the most sensitive British intelligence operations.

The key meeting took place in early 1954 on a double-decker bus when Blake handed over the minutes of a meeting between CIA and British intelligence officials in which the tunnel project was discussed in detail.

The recipient of this prized information was none other than Kondrashev, then a KGB undercover agent in London.

``Naturally, this was reported immediately by me to Moscow to the chief of foreign intelligence, and certainly this was accepted as the most important, the most vital information,″ Kondrashev said in a recent interview with the Voice of America.

So concerned were the Soviets about protecting Blake from exposure that a mere handful of top-level KGB officials were told about the tunnel project. And for nearly a year, the CIA received a flood of information through its wiretaps before the Soviets closed the tunnel. To avoid suspicion, they made it appear they had stumbled on the tunnel in a routine security check.

Some have speculated that the Soviets fed bad information to the CIA through the tapped cables. The authors of ``Battleground Berlin″ dismiss these assertions.

``The take from the tunnel in Berlin was so massive _ hundreds of thousands of conversations and thousands and thousands of feet daily of teletype traffic _ there was no way they could have turned this into a disinformation operation without alerting everyone up and down the line,″ Murphy said. ``And that would have cast suspicion on Blake.″

In 1961, the CIA’s Berlin office closed the loop on the tunnel case, learning about Blake’s treachery through a defector from Poland’s intelligence service.

The CIA understandably regards the tunnel as one of its great Cold War coups. A mockup section of it is on display at CIA headquarters as part of a celebration of the agency’s 50th birthday.

But, the authors note, the need for the tunnel derived from the relatively weak position from which the CIA began its battles with the KGB.

The Soviet secret service had agents all over Germany but had carefully restricted Allied access to eastern sectors until the country’s partition became official at the end of World War II. This, combined with the notion by some then that communism was the wave of the future, gave Moscow a great head start in agent recruiting.

The CIA earnestly tried to catch up, sometimes with high-tech means such as the tunnel, other times with less subtle techniques.

One CIA dispatch unearthed by the authors describes an attempt to recruit Soviet Gen. Leonid Malinin at a reception.

``Malinin consumed three water glasses of vodka and five water glasses of undiluted American whiskey in the course of the conversation,″ the agent noted. This intake seemed directly proportional to ``the freedom with which Malinin discussed various political topics of significant interest.″

Moscow later tried Malinin for improper contacts with the West. And Kondrashev said that in the course of working on the book, he learned that, ``the penetration of the CIA into our midst ... was very deep, much deeper than I anticipated.″


EDITOR’S NOTE: John Diamond reports on national security affairs for The Associated Press.

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