For those who like their history built on dates it may be said that the cold war began sometime during the eight weeks between the formal surrender of the German armies on May 8, 1945, which ended the Second World War in Europe, and July 4, 1945, when the Soviet military authorities first allowed American organizations to set up shop in Berlin. For an exact date we might choose May 17, on which day, according to Battleground Berlin, a fascinating and important new account of the opening campaigns of the secret cold war waged by the CIA and the KGB, the OSS officer Frank Wisner passed on to Washington the report of three men he had unofficially slipped into the occupied city in the hope of “establishing contacts in an area which will shortly be denied to us”—that is, to commence spying on the Russians.
Berlin by agreement was to be divided into four zones of occupation but the devastation of war had obliterated landmarks, leaving a maze of erratically marked streets blocked with rubble. The first thing American commanders wanted to know was where their writ ended and that of the Russians began, but this required precisely the sort of information—details of military units and strength designated in military intelligence documents by the term “order of battle” (OB)—which the Russians by precept and temperament kept secret. By summer’s end the central question of the cold war may be said to have been posed—when, if ever, would the Soviet army go home? Within a year the initial OSS efforts to establish a working map of occupied Berlin had escalated into a full-scale intelligence war—nets of half-trained agents hastily recruited by the OSS and its successor organization, the Strategic Services Unit (SSU), to gather the raw data for a Soviet OB were being arrested wholesale by Soviet counterintelligence officers whose efficiency began the long American education in how to run a secret intelligence service.
For nearly fifty years the intelligence war to gather and to deny information centered on the military strength of opposing armies, initially in Germany, later across the world—where stationed, how much, of what sort, for what purpose? Around these central questions proliferated a host of secondary questions about intentions in Washington and Moscow, political alliances, the control of territories, the development of weapons, and the operations of clandestine organizations struggling to learn the secrets of opponents and protect their own. All the subsequent accretions of layered operational minutiae in the conduct of the secret cold war may be traced back to these basic questions surrounding the planting of Soviet armies in the heart of Eastern Europe, a fact much like the grain of sand at the heart of a pearl.
The cold war lasted so long (from, let us say, May 17, 1945, until November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down), was so expensive, and at moments threatened catastrophe on so vast a scale, that it pleads for some overarching explanation matching in magnitude the cost and danger. Many have been offered. Of course, there is no right answer, just varying ways of trying to talk about what obsessed us. One explanation that seems to match the deeper rhythm of the cold war, a kind of half-century inhale-exhale, can be found in the formulation, once a staple of every introductory course on geopolitics, of Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), who lived barely long enough to hear the cold war named. In a paper read to the Royal Geographical Society in England in 1904, and further refined in an influential book of 1919, Democratic Ideals and Reality, Mackinder said the pivotal issues of international politics all revolved around geography, and might be summarized in the maxim: “Who rules East Europe commands the heartland; who rules the heartland commands the world island; and who rules the world island, commands the world.”
The cold war began with the half-hidden friction of two armies which met in Berlin. It spread outward to arenas of conflict ever farther afield, much in the manner of armies testing each other’s flanks, until something like an unbroken line circled the globe. Three outbreaks of intense local war—in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan—never became general, but the scale of the confrontation proved to be more than the Soviet Union could finance indefinitely. The end of the cold war came where it began, in Berlin, with abandonment of the wall erected to maintain the Soviet army planted in the heart of Europe.
Long treated as a symbol of the East-West conflict, the Berlin Wall turns out to have been genuinely central. Without it the German Democratic Republic (GDR) could not have survived, for the East Germans would have left in large numbers for the West. And with the fall of the GDR the Soviet army found itself the unwelcome guest of a reunited Germany with which it was not at war. What could the Soviets do? They accepted a large bribe and went home. This, roughly, is the political setting of Battleground Berlin, which retells in detail, much of it new, the ways in which Soviet and American intelligence services fought their secret, bloodless war, from its beginning in the ruins of Berlin until the night in August 1961 when the Soviets quit pretending there was anything voluntary about the division of Germany, and the wall went up.
At the height of the cold war there were as many as eighty different intelligence organizations operating more or less independently in Berlin, but the principal adversaries were four—the Americans in the CIA’s Berlin Operations Base (BOB) established by Allen Dulles in the leafy Berlin suburb of Dahlem; the KGB residency included in the vast complex housing Soviet military headquarters in the East Berlin district known as Karlshorst; the East German Ministry for State Security (the Stasi) in Normannenstrasse; and the local offices of the West German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) principally based in the town of Pullach near Munich in southern Germany. But all four—the Americans, Russians, and East and West Germans—were each represented by numerous other police, intelligence, and investigative organizations operating more or less independently and occasionally bumping into one another in the dark.
Across this crowded and bewildering landscape Battleground Berlin charts a straight-line course, sticking largely to the central episodes of the intelligence war and citing other players only as they intrude into the major operations of the Americans and the Russians. What’s most unusual about the book is the fact that its three authors served on opposing sides in Berlin during the early years of the cold war, sometimes ran operations against one another, and have worked hard to extract documents from the notoriously tight-fisted archivists at the CIA and the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, successor to the KGB.
Sergei Kondrashev was a long-time intelligence officer in the KGB, at one time headed the German Department, and retired as a lieutenant general. David Murphy had a similar career with the CIA, was chief of the Berlin Operations Base (BOB) in the late 1950s, and later ran Soviet operations for the Agency as a whole.1 George Bailey was a linguist (Russian, German, and Czech) who served with the Fifth Army Corps under General Clarence Huebner as it entered Germany in 1945 and later joined the CIA at its base in Munich. Since leaving the Agency in the late 1950s he has lived and worked in Germany. All three of the authors have deep operational experience in the intelligence war.
But despite a serious effort at evenhandedness, Battleground Berlin remains essentially an American book; it’s not entirely clear just who wrote what, or even if any sections were completely or substantially written by the Soviet coauthor, Sergei Kondrashev, but the book’s tone, moral judgments, and historical point of view are unmistakably American. It is not pugnacious; indeed it is generous. But this is the opening segment of a story of a political minefield successfully traversed, of war averted, of a country reunited, of a Soviet attempt to redraw the map of Europe which failed in the end; a story, in short, of what can only be called a stunning American success.
But it didn’t look that way in the beginning. At first the Soviets had everything their own way in the secret war. BOB didn’t get its first Russian speaker until the arrival in 1947 of George Belic, born in Russia in 1911, a veteran of US Naval intelligence who was recruited for the interim SSU by Allen Dulles’s successor in Berlin, Richard Helms. But while Belic was trying to organize an agent-recruiting effort among Russians stranded in Displaced Person (DP) camps the Soviets were crushing political opposition throughout their zone, laying the foundations for a docile client regime, and recruiting spies wholesale for coverage of the American, British, and Russian zones. In the early 1950s the Soviet secret services were joined in the field by the East German Ministry for State Security with its foreign intelligence branch, eventually called the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung or HVA, headed from 1952 until his retirement in 1986 by Markus Wolf.
Probably the biggest problems facing the Americans not only at the beginning but throughout the cold war derived from the deep experience of the Soviets in collecting intelligence and running operations, dating back to the conspiratorial origins of the Bolshevik regime, and the extraordinarily tight social control maintained within the Soviet Union and the client states it established throughout Eastern Europe. The CIA referred to Soviet-bloc countries as “denied areas” because it was all but impossible to work there without the protections of diplomatic cover. American attempts to dispatch illegal agents into Russia proper met with uniform failure; the handful of successful Soviet agents were almost all walk-ins who volunteered, not the fruit of recruitment efforts. Allied services in West Germany were thoroughly penetrated by Soviet and East German agents, and American operations against the East often turned out to be controlled by the other side.
It is still much too early to tot up a realistic score for the recruitment of spies in the cold war; some important and dramatic successes of the Allies during World War II remained secret for decades after the shooting stopped. But even a tentative, preliminary accounting does not look good for the West. Among the major early disasters were Soviet recruitment of leading counterintelligence officers in the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, the notorious Kim Philby); in the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a rough equivalent of the American FBI, whose chief in 1954, Otto John, disappeared into the East for more than a year; and in Reinhard Gehlen’s BND, where Heinz Felfe slipped into Pullach in 1951 and virtually dominated BND’s Soviet counterintelligence operations by the time of his arrest in 1961.
Almost as damaging, in its way, was the case of George Blake, the Dutch-born British intelligence officer recruited by the KGB in a North Korean prisoner of war camp. Blake was personally handled for a time by Sergei Kondrashev in London, where Blake delivered among numerous other documents the minutes of a CIA-SIS conference on plans for what came to be known as “the Berlin tunnel”—an ambitious scheme to tap into Soviet military communications cables in East Berlin which eventually recorded 443,000 conversations over a period of eleven months and eleven days, ending in a blaze of headlines following Soviet “discovery” of the tunnel on April 22, 1956.
This daring plan had been dreamed up and pushed through principally by the legendary William King Harvey, the former FBI agent who joined the CIA in the 1940s, helped uncover Kim Philby, and later ran the notorious Operation MONGOOSE, which included the CIA’s multiple plots to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba. References to Harvey’s pungent character and aggressive operational style are salted throughout Battleground Berlin and it is clear that the book’s CIA authors, David Murphy and George Bailey, like and admire Harvey even when they cannot wholly approve of him.
Blake’s betrayal of the Berlin tunnel beautifully captured the baffling ambiguity which can attach to intelligence operations. The rewards for the KGB were many—the quiet satisfaction of knowing what an opponent is up to; the brownie points for keeping the Kremlin informed; the demonstration of professional discipline in allowing Harvey’s diggers to go forward in order to protect the secret of the asp in the enemy’s bosom; the guilty pleasure of knowing that the KGB’s bureaucratic archenemy, the GRU, was spilling its secrets over tapped lines; and perhaps—Kondrashev and his sources do not say—the operational advantages to be gained by manipulating cases through disinformation spoonfed to opponents giddy with their windfall of secrets. If Kondrashev had written this section of Battleground Berlin he might be forgiven for concluding that Blake blew the tunnel, Harvey and the CIA were snookered, and the army of translators and analysts back at CIA world headquarters were only spinning their wheels.
Murphy and Bailey think not. Maybe the KGB knew what was afoot even before the first CIA shovel touched earth, but so what? The tunnel went forward all the same; the KGB never warned Soviet military authorities, who chatted away without suspicion, and during the year the tape recorders were running the take was rich. According to Murphy and Bailey, “more than 350” officers in Soviet military intelligence were identified from conversations over twenty-five lines used by the GRU; “several hundred” Soviets were identified who worked for the supersecret “Ministry of Medium Machine Building,” cover name for the Soviet nuclear weapons establishment; the CIA learned of and closed down a similar KGB operation to tap a US cable near Potsdam, and so on. The inventory provided is a long one, prompted, doubtless, by long-fermenting irritation at claims that everything picked up by the tunnel was just gossip and trivia. But the heart of the take was not specific secrets; it was a feel for the size and the preoccupations of the Soviet military, its plans for building East German and Polish military forces, and a deep sense of the web of communications which forms the central nervous system of an army.
Murphy and Bailey make their point nicely, but still—Blake knew. On the Allied side of the ledger are many small agents and defectors who betrayed the secrets of the East, but there is only one big one described in Battleground Berlin—Colonel Pyotr Popov, an intelligence officer for the GRU who volunteered to work for the Americans in Vienna on January 1, 1953. The first information sought from any defector was knowledge of plans for war, if any. Next on the list was knowledge of Soviet spies within Allied services, if any. But unlike the first question, the second rarely had a clear or definitive answer. Despite the sacred principles of compartmentalization and the “need to know,” intelligence officers are curious, gossiping types, eavesdroppers and desk-peekers; they all carry a wealth of information in their heads. Debriefing them thoroughly can take months or even years, and the tiniest of clues can sometimes lead to big discoveries. The Russians and the Americans agree in considering Popov a major conduit of secrets, but the enduring interest of the case centers on the question of his arrest in Moscow on February 18, 1959.
There are two versions of what happened. The first says George Blake, attached to the SIS office in Berlin, learned of Popov’s existence after Popov contacted the British there early in 1956, or later, in the spring of 1957, when one of his reports—“an intelligence bombshell”—described the contents of a frank speech by Marshal Georgy Zhukov. Soviet war plans, Zhukov said, called for reaching the English Channel on the second day of hostilities, a remark certain to attract excited attention in the West. Murphy and Bailey say the speech went to the SIS station in Berlin, where it must have been seen by Blake, and consequently must have been passed on to the Russians—thereby revealing a leak in Soviet military headquarters and providing the KGB spyhunters with their first clue that something was amiss.
The problem with this theory is that Blake, in his memoir No Other Choice, insisted he had nothing to do with Popov’s report, and Kondrashev backs him up. The former KGB officer says that the leak of the Zhukov speech did direct suspicion at Popov, who had been in the audience when Zhukov spoke, but he insists that the first clue (the fact the Americans and British knew about the Zhukov speech) came from a “friendly service.” Blake and Kondrashev might both be lying as part of some deep operational game, or they might not.
Anyone interested in just how complex a counterintelligence case can become should read the fourteen pages in which Battleground Berlin lays out the intricate web of what was known to whom, through which channels, as the KGB’s Valentin V. Zvezdenkov closed in on Popov, and the CIA later tried to figure out what had gone wrong. To say that the case was “watched closely” or “analyzed carefully” fails to convey the intensity with which each nuance of an unfolding case may be examined and weighed. The point at all times is to know what is really happening, who is really in control, what is true. As early as the spring of 1958 there were signs of a troubling KGB focus on Popov. A known Russian spyhunter was reassigned to Popov’s group. “More sinister,” Murphy and Bailey write, “was the sudden interest taken in Popov by Lt. Col. Dmitry Fyodorovich Sknarin, who was responsible for counter-intelligence….” Usually content to socialize with Popov’s group, he suddenly began to take part in their volleyball games. “It isn’t enough that they have informers among us,” said one of Popov’s buddies; “he even comes to observe us himself!”
Popov’s last meeting with his handlers in Berlin took place on November 10, 1958. He was heading back to Moscow but seemed unworried; the biggest question on his mind was what to take home in the way of presents. The following February he was arrested, but for more than eight months Popov continued to operate under Soviet control, communicating more or less normally with his CIA handlers as it became increasingly clear things were definitely not right.2 In October 1959 the game was ended with the noisy arrest of Popov and his CIA handler on a Moscow bus. There were many possible reasons for this long delay but the obvious one, chewed over at length by the CIA, would have been the KGB’s desire to muddy the waters to obscure precisely how and when they discovered Popov was a traitor. The implication, of course, was that the means was one they might use again—Blake, for example, or even the ghastly possibility that the KGB had a mole at the heart of the CIA. Battleground Berlin wisely declines to enter this corner of the swamp, but only a few years after Popov’s loss, counterintelligence analysts in the CIA shop run by James Jesus Angleton argued that the mole hypothesis was the right one.3
But if the Soviets in Berlin proved themselves masters of the intelligence game, frequently confounding the deepest ploys of the Allied intelligence services and seeding spies on an industrial scale throughout Germany, they ultimately failed in a deeper sense. This failure was rarely articulated and never grasped entire at the time, but it has become obvious since the end of the cold war that the Soviets fundamentally erred in depending so heavily on clandestine means of control and manipulation. “The most frightening aspect of the Cold War in Berlin,” write the authors of Battleground Berlin, “was how poorly informed the Soviet leaders were….”
The fault lay in Moscow. Despite its record of success in the field the KGB was often ignored by the Politburo in the Kremlin. All intelligence agencies sometimes deliver unwelcome advice and find themselves frozen out of policy debates in response, but Moscow’s dismissal of the KGB went deeper. On at least three occasions—when Stalin blocked Western access to Berlin by road and rail in 1948, when Stalin gave Kim Il Sung permission to invade South Korea in 1950, and when Khrushchev allowed East Germany to split Berlin with a wall in 1961—the Soviet Union acted in a provocative and impetuous fashion without ever asking the KGB for its best guess about how the Western Allies would respond.
All three of these bold strokes ended badly for the USSR—the Berlin blockade with Stalin’s surrender, the Korean War with the rearmament of Germany, and the Berlin Wall with an implicit confession to the world that the only way to keep the citizens of the socialist East at home was to lock them in. The first two might plausibly be dismissed as tactical errors resulting in tactical defeats, but the last—the lengthening shadow of the Wall—gradually stripped away every shred of legitimacy for the puppet regime propped up by the Soviets in East Berlin.
The Berlin Wall was fifteen years in coming, but the reason for it was implicit from the first moment German citizens were required to present papers as they crossed from the East to the West. The problem was a simple one: life was better in the West, at first a little better, then a lot better, finally so much better that some found it worth the risk of death. Both sides had been more or less equally devastated by Allied bombing and the last-ditch fighting demanded by Hitler as foreign armies closed in, but with peace, reconstruction in the West soon commenced, investment poured in, the economy began to recover and eventually to boom, while in the East industrial machines were looted by the Soviets, war damage was left untouched once the streets had been cleared of rubble, the necessities of life were in short supply, opposition parties were outlawed, anti-Communist leaders were arrested, jobs were hard to find and poorly paid, and protest was repressed by the vast police apparatus referred to as “the Stasi.”
According to Murphy and Bailey, the Gestapo of Nazi Germany at its peak had one police official for every 10,000 citizens. By the late 1980s the ratio in East Germany was one police official for 200. Little wonder that from day one the unhappy people of the East began to vote with their feet, decamping west in relentlessly increasing numbers—nearly 200,000 in 1960, more than 150,000 in the first seven months of 1961. The border between the two Germanies was relatively easy to close, but Berlin was a sprawling capital city entered from the east by a delta of local streets, rail lines, and thoroughfares. Subway and commuter trains passed freely back and forth between zones. There was no way to keep East Germans out of Berlin, no way to prevent their passing into the Western half of the city, and, once they were there, no way to retrieve them. The city was open by solemn agreement but continued Soviet control of the East required an end to the hemorrhage.
Over the years BOB had speculated the Soviets might try to close the border at its most porous point—in Berlin—but Murphy and Bailey make no attempt to hide the depth of the CIA’s surprise on the night of August 12, 1961, when East German soldiers began to put up barbed wire along the demarcation line. It was later concluded there had been plenty of evidence; any number of defectors or border crossers could have reported the stockpiling of brick, barbed wire, cinder blocks, railroad ties, steel tank traps, and the like. But the standard questions put to refugees had failed to get the right answers. Another CIA spy in the GRU, Oleg Penkovsky, learned about plans for the wall a few days after the decision to build was reached in Moscow on August 6, but he was unable to contact his Agency handlers.
The day the wall went up, Battleground Berlin’s coauthor David Murphy was in Washington. He was summoned by Allen Dulles, who took him to the White House for a meeting with the President to discuss problem number one—the streets full of demonstrators in West Berlin. It would have been “legal” for the US military to tear down the wall as fast as the East Germans put it up, but the risks of starting something it couldn’t finish had stayed the American hand. The Murphy-Bailey account proceeds:
It was a full house, and one could sense the group’s frustration…. The president…made sure Dulles and Murphy realized that “our writ does not run in East Berlin.” It was evident that Kennedy did not wish to hear Murphy argue that the border closure was unacceptable. But he did welcome insight into the problem of West Berlin morale…. They now needed reassurance that they would not be abandoned by the United States and its allies. This explanation apparently made sense to the president. He responded by ordering Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to augment US forces in Berlin….
The building of the wall ended the public humiliation of Moscow and its East German client but it did nothing to reconcile the citizens of the East to their fate. Over the next twenty-three years 200 people were killed trying to scale the wall or cross the border elsewhere, a number which only suggests the true state of affairs. Instead of attempting to kill or jail all who wanted to leave, the East German government in 1963 adopted a more inviting course—they sold them. The East German lawyer who worked out the details, Wolfgang Vogel, established a price (based on the fiction of East German costs in schooling and training those who left), and negotiated it upward from time to time. Over the years East Germany sold 33,775 political prisoners and another 215,019 citizens seeking to join relatives already in the West for hard currency payments totaling 3.5 billion Deutschmarks, nearly $2 billion at current values.
This traffic, which included numerous spies for both sides—the U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and the Soviet illegal arrested in New York City in 1957, Colonel Rudolf Abel; the BND mole Heinz Felfe, the HVA spy Gunter Guillaume (whose arrest toppled the government of Willy Brandt in 1974), the Soviet Jewish refusnik Natan Scharansky, among a total of about 150—is related in a fine book of a few years back, Spy Trader,4 by the New York Times reporter Craig Whitney. What especially strikes the reader is Vogel’s complacency about the comfortable living he earned as a broker of souls, sure that everyone saw him as he saw himself—a kind of good Samaritan and friend of man—and even dreaming at one point that the Nobel Prize for peace was within his reach.
But Vogel’s hallucinations pale beside those of the GDR’s not-quite-last leader, Erich Honecker, who fussed and preened over arrangements for the 40th anniversary celebration of the founding of the GDR held on October 7, 1989. The guest of honor, Mikhail Gorbachev, seized the occasion to tell Honecker the play was over, Soviet troops would no longer come to the rescue of Moscow’s clients in Eastern Europe. Honecker resigned in mid-October, the Wall came down on November 9, and early in the New Year mobs broke into the headquarters of the Stasi on Normannenstrasse and plundered the files. This at least the Stasi had seen coming. In his memoirs, Man Without a Face, recently reviewed in these pages by Timothy Garton Ash,5 the East German spymaster Markus Wolf writes that in the two months before the break-in on January 15 “highly sensitive intelligence files were destroyed….”
But not all of them. A sudden flood of prosecutions by the reunified government of Germany a couple of years later was based on leads passed on by the CIA. Just how the CIA laid hands on this material remains unknown, but Wolf has an idea. For years the bureaucrats had been “seeking to centralize records.” Even Wolf’s boss, Erich Mielke, chief of the Stasi, “was desperate to have me provide a central index of agents. I refused pointblank.” Wolf fears his successor in 1986, Werner Grossmann, ignored his parting advice “never to put the agent files onto any kind of computer disk.” This is a modern corollary of the old intelligence axiom which says if you want to keep it secret, don’t write it down. The reason is obvious. A computer disk is the kind of thing a man might put in his pocket as he departs for life in the West.
Wolf himself went East; he had grown up in Moscow, had been backed by Moscow for his job as chief of the HVA, had served Moscow faithfully in the decades that followed. Moscow protected him for a year but then the Communist Party was swept from power and the Soviet Union broke up following the collapse of a coup attempt in August 1991. Wolf returned to Germany to be tried and in 1996 received a suspended sentence for a comparative misdemeanor of long ago.
But even during all those years of fraternal work on the front lines of the class war Wolf sensed that Moscow felt no respect for the HVA, Stasi, or East Germany. In June 1953, hurrying back to his office at the time of the riots in East Berlin that first served notice that Moscow was not winning hearts and minds in Eastern Europe, Wolf was arrested by Soviet troops and locked up in a cellar with other suspicious persons. “There,” he writes, “I had a few hours to ruminate on who really ran things in our part of Germany!”
But what rankled most was Moscow’s habitual failure to confide. The HVA shipped information to Karlshorst by the truckload; little came back. The first word Wolf got about the Berlin tunnel came the day the Soviets dug it up; the chief of the Stasi at the time, Ernst Wollweber, picked Wolf up in a Volkswagen beetle and they hurried to the site. Later they learned that the Soviets had known about the tunnel for a year from their spy George Blake, but gave the East Germans no warning. “For them, intelligence generally flowed in one direction only.” In August 1961 he learned of the Berlin Wall from news on the radio. “My first reaction was one of pure professional fury,” he writes. His agents in the West were all cut off, in effect, behind the lines. There is a simple and bitter truth here. “I still refuse to accept the judgmental stance of those who say our system was built only on the Lie,” Wolf writes. But he lived with the lie every day—the pretense that East Germany was the ally, not the creature, of the Soviet Union.
Behind all the hugger-mugger of spies and counterspies recounted in rich detail in Battleground Berlin, and in sparer form in Spy Without a Face, lay the original question of the cold war—when would the Soviet armies go home? Their determination to stay on created a chronic threat of war. General Zhukov’s “bombshell” of 1957—plans to reach the English Channel with Soviet armies on the second day of a general war in Europe—suggests what was really on the minds of spies and their masters throughout the cold war. Western strategists believed there was only one way to stop Zhukov or his successors—with nuclear weapons. Soviet strategists believed there was only one way to guarantee that Zhukov or his successors could get through—intimidate the West from using nuclear weapons.
There is very little about this essential theme of the cold war in Battleground Berlin, somewhat more in Wolf’s memoirs. One of Wolf’s major coups was Gunter Guillaume’s theft, in the summer of 1973, of a report from West Germany’s ambassador to Washington saying he had been warned by Henry Kissinger and President Nixon that “without technological reinforcement to NATO the Americans could no longer guarantee a nuclear first strike against a Soviet ground attack.”6 This constituted a confession that the Soviets were on the verge of attaining a long-sought goal of Soviet policy—“decoupling” the defense of the United States from the defense of Europe. Alas, the Soviets never knew; the handler carrying the documents spotted a surveillance team and in panic dumped the secrets into the Rhine.
But that was certainly the sort of intelligence the Soviets wanted. Wolf says he was often pressed by the commander of Soviet forces in East Germany:
“You [East] Germans are so good. Can’t you get us some more of the coordinates?” he would say, alluding to the exact map locations of the NATO bases, which the Soviets wanted to knock out first in any nuclear conflict. With terrifying bonhomie he would continue, “We don’t need your papers. All we need are those coordinates, and we can drop a bomb on them and slice right through the West.”
The KGB, along with the rest of the Soviet military establishment, departed Karlshorst for Russia in 1992. The CIA’s Berlin Operations Base was officially closed down two years later. “How could the GDR, the keystone of the Soviet position in Eastern Europe, have collapsed?” ask Murphy and Bailey. Their answer is that “the Soviet treasure trove of intelligence never shaped Soviet policy as it could have,” that Soviet leaders never took account of the bitter dissatisfaction of East Germans, and that the brightest idea in Karlshorst was to sit tight behind the Berlin Wall until it was too late.
But Wolf claims something more for himself and his profession, including its practitioners on the other side. “The intelligence services,” he writes, “contributed to a half-century of peace—the longest Europe has ever known—by giving statesmen some security that they would not be surprised by the other side.” By peace of course Wolf means an absence of war—the only sort of war the two sides had prepared to fight, which was nuclear war. In avoiding that, Wolf insists, “I had my share.” This is not an extravagant claim.
October 23, 1997
Murphy’s name may be familiar to some readers as a figure in the great molehunt of the 1960s, when claims of a KGB spy in the CIA by the defector Anatoli Golitsyn led the CIA’s counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, to loony excesses of suspicion. When Murphy was appointed chief of station in Paris in 1968 Angleton personally told the chief of a French intelligence service that Murphy more probably than not was a Soviet spy. See note 3 for references. ↩
It is worth noting here that the months during which Popov was strung along correspond to a similar period in the career of Oleg Penkovsky, another GRU spy for the CIA who was photographed by the KGB meeting a handler in Moscow in January 1962 but not arrested until September. In the Penkovsky case conventional wisdom says the KGB was watching him during those months, but not running him. If the conventional wisdom is wrong, and Penkovsky—like Popov—was under Soviet control during those months, we may need to look for a different explanation why Penkovsky failed to warn the CIA of Khrushchev’s plan to put missiles into Cuba that fall. See Jerrold Schechter and Peter Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World (Scribners, 1993), my comment on the book in The New York Review, May 13, 1993, and an exchange of letters in The New York Review, June 24, 1993. ↩
The Great Mole Hunt has inspired a five-foot shelf of books ideal for rainy afternoons. Readers curious about the episode might consult my review of one of the best of these books, Edward Jay Epstein’s Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and the CIA (Simon and Schuster, 1989), in The New York Review, August 17, 1989. ↩
Times Books, 1993. ↩
The New York Review, June 26, 1997. For those interested in the intelligence war this is an important work, but its usefulness is undermined by the difficulty of knowing when the language is really Wolf’s, and when it is that of his coauthor Anne McElvoy, a British journalist who has also written a book about East Germany. McElvoy appears to have written in English; Wolf is fluent in English but his first language is German. There are many small errors about dates and facts certainly known to Wolf, and occasional misuse of intelligence concepts and terms, such as calling the spies Kim Philby, George Blake, and Aldrich Ames “double-agents.” How these gaffes slipped by Wolf is unclear. “As told to” books ought to be written in the language of the subject, and ought to be preceded by a careful announcement of how the work was done. ↩
The language is Wolf’s—or Anne McElvoy’s—paraphrase of the stolen document. It confuses a “nuclear first strike” (an all-out surprise attack intended to disarm an opponent completely) with “first use” (the willingness to escalate a military conflict by using nuclear weapons, presumably in a limited way). But despite the confusion the meaning is clear: Nixon and Kissinger were telling the West Germans they could no longer absolutely depend on Washington’s willingness to treat an attack on Germany as an attack on the United States. ↩