Battleground Berlin


This book is the definitive insiders' account of the espionage warfare in Berlin from 1945 to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. In an unprecedented collaboration, CIA and KGB intelligence veterans reveal previously untold stories of the Berlin tunnel, critical moments of the Berlin crisis, clandestine initiatives, betrayals, and defections to provide the first comprehensive and accurate history of the Cold War battles waged in Berlin.

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This book is the definitive insiders' account of the espionage warfare in Berlin from 1945 to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. In an unprecedented collaboration, CIA and KGB intelligence veterans reveal previously untold stories of the Berlin tunnel, critical moments of the Berlin crisis, clandestine initiatives, betrayals, and defections to provide the first comprehensive and accurate history of the Cold War battles waged in Berlin.

"Rarely if ever before has such a complete and authoritative insiders' account of the game of espionage ever been put into a single volume."-Richard Bernstein, New York Times

"Battleground Berlin is a captivating book, rich in factual material. It can be recommended not only to specialists in intelligence and foreign policy, but to anyone who is interested in the details of the history of the Cold War."-Oleg Gordievsky, Times Literary Supplement

"A fascinating and important new account . . . which retells in detail, much of it new, the ways in which Soviet and American intelligence services fought their secret, bloodless war."-Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books

"A classic of modern intelligence literature drawn from archives and personal recollections. . . . Moles, double-agents, Soviet antisemitic disinformation campaigns, dead drops, recruitments-the stuff that makes good spy novels, with the welcome blessing of being factual. If you read only one intelligence book this season, make it this one."-Joseph Goulden, Washington Times

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas Powers
A fascinating and important new account...which retells in detail, much of it new, the ways in which Soviet and American intelligent services fought their secret, bloodless war.
NY Review of Books
Kirkus Reviews
A troika of erstwhile adversaries team up to deliver an absorbing and authoritative inside view of how American and Soviet- bloc intelligence agencies plied their offbeat trade in divided Berlin during the first 15 years of the Cold War.

Drawing on newly available archival material and their own experiences, Murphy (a sometime chief of the CIA's Berlin station), Kondrashev (who headed the KGB's German Section), and Bailey (a former director of Radio Liberty) offer an essentially chronological account of who was spying on whom in Berlin and to what avail, from V-E Day through the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Before getting down to business, however, they provide brief rundowns on the major services, including the fledgling CIA, the thoroughly professional KGB, and East Germany's Stasi. Having set the scene, the authors recount the facts behind convulsive events that produced headlines throughout the world. Cases in point range from the 1953 uprisings in the German Democratic Republic, the tunnel the CIA dug to eavesdrop on supposedly secure phone conversations originating in the Eastern Sector, the cover- organization games played by both sides, counterintelligence as well as disinformation efforts and propaganda campaigns (e.g., Nikita Khrushchev's threat to sign a separate peace agreement with the GDR), and, of course, the Wall. Covered as well are the stories of high-profile defectors (Pyotr Popov, Otto John, et al.), interservice rivalries (notably, between the KGB and the Stasi). Both Moscow and Washington, the authors point out, ignored some crucial, first-rate intelligence gathered by their operatives in the field. Eye-opening detail on cloak-and-dagger operations in a conquered capital city that once threatened to alter the balance of world power and breach the world's hard-won peace.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300078718
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/1999
  • Pages: 582
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Table of Contents

Key Players
List of Abbreviations
Behind the Lines in the Cold War
1 CIA's Berlin Base: A Question of Knowledge 3
2 KGB Karlshorst: How It All Began 24
3 The Berlin Blockade Challenges Western Ingenuity and Perseverance 51
4 The Korean War: Pretext or Premise for Rearming West Germany? 79
5 Cold Warriors in Berlin: A New Era in CIA Operations 103
6 East German State Security and Intelligence Services Are Born 129
7 Stalin Offers Peace, but the Cold War Continues 142
8 Soviet Intelligence Falters After Stalin's Death: New Revelations About Beria's Role 151
9 The Events of June 1953 163
10 The Mysterious Case of Otto John 183
11 The Berlin Tunnel: Fact and Fiction 205
12 Redcap Operations 238
13 BOB Concentrates on Karlshorst 255
14 The Illegals Game: KGB vs. GRU 267
15 KGB and MfS: Partners or Competitors? 285
16 Khrushchev's Ultimatum 305
17 BOB Counters the Soviet Propaganda Campaign 317
18 Bluffs, Threats, and Counterpressures 327
19 Facing the Inevitable 343
20 Countdown to the Wall 363
21 The Berlin Wall: Winners and Losers 378
Epilogue 396
App More Detail from CIA and KGB Archives
App. 1 The Merger of KPD and SPD: Origins of SED 399
App. 2 Double Agents, Double Trouble 408
App. 3 The Mysterious Case of Leonid Malinin, a.k.a. Georgiev 411
App. 4 MGB at Work in East Germany 415
App. 5 Was It Worth It? What the Berlin Tunnel Produced 423
App. 6 BOB's Attempts to Protect Karlshorst Sources Backfire 429
App. 7 KGB Illegals in Karlshorst: The Third Department 440
App. 8 Soviet Active Measures: A Brief Overview 447
App. 9 Operation Gold (SIS document obtained by George Blake) 449
Notes 455
Index 513
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First Chapter


The Sides Line Up


CIA's Berlin Base:
A Question of Knowledge

On Christmas Eve 1943, Gen. William Donovan, head of America's first central intelligence organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), arrived in Moscow. He had just completed an exhausting trip to China, and he was determined to establish a liaison relationship with the Soviet foreign intelligence service similar to the one that already existed between the Soviets and the British. To the astonishment of us Embassy Moscow personnel, Donovan was whisked right to the office of Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov on the day after he arrived. There he explained his plans for Bulgarian operations. Although Molotov seemed displeased at OSS's plans for the Balkans, which could have interfered with Soviet objectives in the area, he nonetheless quickly arranged for Donovan to meet with representatives of Soviet foreign intelligence.

Two days later, Donovan was introduced to Commissar of State Security Pavel Fitin, head of the foreign intelligence directorate of the People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB). Fitin in turn introduced "Col. Aleksandr P. Osipov, head of the section conducting subversive activities in German-occupied areas." Colonel Osipov interpreted for Fitin, speaking American-accented English. Imagine Donovan's reaction had he known that "Colonel Osipov" was in fact Gaik Ovakimian--known to FBI as the "wily Armenian"--who had been arrested in 1941 on charges of espionage but released after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and who was now deputy chief under Fitin responsible for Anglo-American operations. Although the story of this meeting has been told many times, "Colonel Osipov's" true identity and function are fully revealed here for the first time.

Donovan's shock would have been even greater if he had realized that Ovakimian was overseeing the extensive penetrations of OSS that had begun as soon as the American service was formed in July 1941, as Roosevelt's Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI). NKGB had several well-placed agents in OSS--known to Soviet intelligence by the code name Izba (the hut)--among them Duncan Chaplin Lee, code-named Koch, who was assistant general counsel and one of Donovan's personal assistants.

Given that the Soviets were already well informed about internal OSS plans and programs, it is not surprising that Donovan could so quickly secure an agreement to exchange intelligence information and establish liaison missions in Moscow and Washington. In the end, the idea of an NKGB liaison mission in Washington was blocked by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, on grounds that it might compromise American security.

In spite of this setback, liaison between OSS and NKGB continued through the US Military Mission in Moscow. NKGB was in the catbird seat. Its agents in OSS could obtain information, including documents from the State and War Departments, that OSS did not want revealed? NKGB was thus able to provide Josef Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria with a rich diet of OSS information from both officials and agents--information that in many cases was supplemented by commentary from other sources. Information from OSS Bern, where Allen Dulles had excellent sources in the German resistance, was particularly prized.

This liaison between OSS and NKGB continued fitfully until just after the end of the war, by which time OSS had entered Germany and Allen Dulles was ensconced in Berlin. When the leader of a German SS agent network in southeastern Europe was captured in Austria, along with his radio center, OSS proposed that it and NKGB collaborate in liquidating the operation. OSS recommended that Fitin and Dulles meet in Berlin to discuss the proposition. Fitin stalled on the Berlin meeting and asked "what other leading German intelligence officers [had] been captured by the American military," and who among them had proposed "work against the Soviet Union." At this point the us Joint Chiefs of Staff directed OSS to drop the idea of collaboration. Perhaps they feared that if word got out that the United States had "betrayed" a German intelligence operation, others contemplating cooperation might shy away. Accordingly, a directive went out to OSS Germany to demolish the radio center.

Thus ended NKGB-OSS wartime collaboration, which from the start reflected the sublime naivete with which OSS entered the arrangement. As the inheritors of the OSS legacy faced new challenges in Berlin and elsewhere in the postwar world, they encountered the same NKGB--a tough opponent that knew a great deal more about the American intelligence services than these services did about it.

The Soviet advantage extended beyond intelligence. The Germans capitulated on 2 May 1945 and the surrender agreements were signed on 8-9 May, but Western Allied forces were not allowed into Soviet-controlled Berlin until 4 July, when American forces ceded portions of the future Soviet zone of Germany that they had occupied during the closing days of the war. In the interim the Soviets had controlled the entire city. They and their German Communist Party (KPD) allies had taken over many of the Berlin district offices and other elements of municipal administration. They had even adapted the notorious Nazi Blockleiter system of social control by appointing block and house leaders to report to Soviet authorities.

For the OSS German Mission marking time in the American zone, the two-month delay put on hold its hope of "establishing contacts in an area which will shortly be denied to us." Indeed, for Western military commanders and their intelligence officers, the Red Army's zone soon became terra incognita. The military missions that were to operate in each of the four zones had not yet begun. This absence of information on the dispositions of Red Army units was exacerbated by American innocence about the potential for Soviet-American military cooperation. When Gen. Omar Bradley first met Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev on 5 May, he gave the latter a map "showing the disposition of every US division across his group front." Marshal Konev did not reciprocate--nor, it seems, did Marshal Georgy Zhukov.

Berlin Operations Base Digs In

On 4 July 1945, the first day that OSS could enter Berlin, it flew a team into the city. The plane landed at Tempelhof airfield in the American sector while the entire city was still under Soviet control. For OSS Berlin counterparts and by his growing appreciation of intelligence information provided by BOB.

Geography added to the problems of OSS Berlin. Theoretically, conquered Germany was to be run from Berlin, but this never really happened. Each occupying power was supreme in its own zone and could veto actions by individual Allied powers. The Americans, isolated in their sector many miles from the headquarters of us Forces, European Theater, in Frankfurt, found it difficult to maintain the fiction that Berlin was the center of the occupation. Indeed, with Dulles's departure, the notion of Berlin as German Mission headquarters could no longer be sustained.

The Soviets, meanwhile, made Berlin operations a high priority and gave them all the local organizational support they needed. The Soviet Military Administration for Germany (SMA), the Group of Soviet Occupation Forces, and the headquarters of Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence services were all located in East Berlin or the Berlin suburbs.

The officers who remained in Berlin after Dulles's departure realized that if BOB could not overcome its difficulties there was little future for them as intelligence officers. Adding to the problems of severe personnel shortages and inadequate funds was some involvement in extensive black market operations. Such activities were by no means confined to OSS; they existed on a remarkable scale throughout the American military.

It fell to Dulles's successor and a future CIA director, Richard Helms, to tackle these problems and begin to reorganize BOB. With the help of Capt. Peter Sichel, whom Helms brought to Berlin to head the intelligence branch, a base structure emerged consisting of two branches that still bore the OSS labels SI (secret intelligence) and X-2 (counterintelligence). This organizational scheme, which included reports officers, remained intact for many years.

Helms left Berlin for Washington before Christmas 1945. He was replaced by Dana Durand, who, with Sichel as his deputy, shepherded BOB through the transition from the Strategic Services Unit (SSU) to the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) and finally, on 18 September 1947, to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). During this period, Durand's main concern was BOB'S survival as a base of intelligence operations. To achieve this he had to balance conflicting concepts of what his base should become and how it should function. SSU headquarters, Washington, thought that BOB should become part of a long-term covert organization that would concentrate on collecting strategic, national-level intelligence. But US occupation authorities wanted current information on the Soviet zone. The dilemma was resolved in favor of having BOB respond to local, current requirements.

Durand remained at BOB until 1949, by which time it had become a fixture of the Berlin intelligence scene. During his tenure the base struggled to overcome significant difficulties in its intelligence and counterintelligence programs and encountered hosts of problems with cover and in its relations with the military. Nevertheless, BOB survived to come of age during the Berlin blockade. Durand's reporting on this period, released for this book by the CIA Historical Review Program, has been invaluable.

What Was BOB's Intelligence Mission?

In late summer 1945, BOB did not have an overall intelligence mission. What little reporting there was dealt with such matters as background checks on Germans deemed worthy of serving in a future German government, the activities of new trade union organizations, actions by local German officials, and occasional acts of violence by die-hard Nazis. Indeed, there was doubt whether BOB would ever have an intelligence mission. Initially some believed that OSS should not plan to collect intelligence outside the American zone. Reluctance to intrude on other Allies territory was never a problem for the Soviets.

The issue of whether to expand intelligence operations beyond the American perimeter was resolved for OSS by the Soviets themselves. As Soviet controls tightened along the zonal demarcation lines, the American military government lacked even the most basic information needed to judge the economic and political situation in East Germany. Pressure to acquire this information prompted BOB to increase its reporting on such Soviet zone issues as transportation, the food supply, land reform, public opinion, and industrial conditions, including Soviet actions to dismantle and remove whole factories and other equipment to the Soviet Union. Many of these reports relied on interviews with refugees, but increasingly the Berlin unit developed agent sources capable of providing continuing information on these topics.

Reports on the Soviet takeover of the East German railroads in late August 1945 foreshadowed the excellent coverage of this key transportation system by Berlin Base--coverage that continued through the Berlin blockade. BOB obtained the first information on the new German Central Administration, for example. The Administration was a sort of shadow government established by the Soviets to carry out the decisions of SMA'S headquarters in Karlshorst, the Soviet compound whose name became synonymous with Soviet control and intelligence in East Germany. BOB provided the minutes of a 26-27 September meeting between Soviet officials and the Central Administration for Industry, during which industrial conditions in the Soviet zone were reviewed, and it also tracked shipments of dismantled industrial equipment by covering the Soviet collection point at Berlin-Lichtenberg. This type of economic reporting gave us policymakers their first warning about the nature and extent of Soviet actions concerning the economy of their zone.

Political reporting by BOB came to center stage later in 1945. At the time there was little appreciation of the scope of Soviet influence on East German politics, but a series of incidents during December 1945 involving the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) focused American attention on the issue. On 22 December, BOB reported on a meeting ten days earlier between CDU leaders in the Soviet zone and Marshal Zhukov in which Zhukov announced that CDU was "unrepresentative of public opinion, had a highly objectionable attitude toward land reform, and thus could not be permitted to take part in political meetings with CDU leaders in the American and British zones." This intelligence was followed five days later by a BOB report on the crisis in the CDU leadership that described in detail Soviet pressure on CDU--specifically, "the method and central planning used to precipitate the crisis." Apparently this and subsequent intelligence reports from Berlin on the CDU crisis alarmed SSU German Mission headquarters; Peter Sichel was summoned to explain them. Some at the mission were upset by the document's criticism of the Soviets. But Sichel stood his ground, insisting that such actions, especially when taken by the top Soviet officials, must be fully reported. Eventually, Sichel told us, everyone agreed that such information was indeed essential and urged that it continue. This reporting was also being read carefully by Ambassador Robert Murphy.

BOB political reporting gradually moved beyond CDU to encompass successive crises caused by the Soviets' decision to merge the KPD with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The merger didn't proceed as the Soviets had expected. When the Western commandants, led by General Clay, refused to permit a merger in West Berlin unless SPD members agreed, more than 29,000 voted against the proposal and fewer than 3,000 voted for it. Even after the merger was finally forced on SPD members living in East Germany, the results were far from satisfactory for the Soviets. In October 1946, for example, the combined vote for the East German CDU and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), another "bourgeois" party of the National Front, exceeded that of the new merged Socialist Unity Party (SED). BOB reported these events in depth. Appendix 1 documents how all of this affected the Soviets. A gloomy meeting took place in December 1946 between Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky and the leading members of the SED, chiefly Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht, both longtime German Communists, and Otto Grotewohl, a former SPD official who had knuckled under to join the new party. During this meeting, SED blamed its poor showing in the October elections on Soviet policies and practices.

BOB and the Soviet Bomb

As part of its economic reporting on the Soviet zone, BOB followed early Soviet industrial dismantling activities. Initially conceived by the Soviets as a way to revive their economy, which had been ravaged by the German invasion--and reflecting Allied agreement that Germany should never again be able to wage aggressive war--the Soviet dismantling was a disaster. In many cases, plants and equipment sent to the USSR were badly damaged and allowed to rust. The alternative, taking reparations from plants still operated by East German managers, was pursued with better results.

One of the most important of the enterprises that ultimately concerned American intelligence efforts stemmed from Stalin's determination to build the atomic bomb using East German resources, even though doing so violated Allied agreements. General Clay wrote about this period, "A Soviet corporation was formed to mine uranium ores, and stories of forced labor in this work began to reach us." This corporation was Wismut, an enterprise for mining and processing East German uranium.

Coverage of the Soviet atomic program was a major BOB commitment, one never before fully described. One of BOB'S earliest successes was its discovery of a group of German scientists who had been taken to the Soviet Union in 1945. The uranium mining and ore concentration facilities in East Germany naturally became key targets, but as awareness of the scope of the Soviet atomic bomb project increased, BOB began to exploit connections in other German industries vital to the Soviet program. BOB'S British counterparts were active in the same areas. Both services, for example, developed sources at an I. G. Farben plant at Bitterfeld in the Soviet zone that made distilled calcium, which is used in the production of uranium 235. BOB'S unique contribution was proving that Bitterfeld calcium had made its way to the Soviet atomic facility at the town of Yelektrostal near Moscow, which was already known to make uranium 235.

BOB also provided crucial reporting on the production of nickel wire mesh at the Tewa plant in Neustadt. This very fine mesh was vital to the Soviet program because it was used in producing uranium 235. Because of the importance of the wire mesh to the Soviets, BOB undertook an operation to persuade key craftsmen to leave the factory and be resettled in West Germany.

Gradually, many of the firms supplying Wismut and other manufacturing sites for the Soviet nuclear program were also designated Soviet Joint Stock Companies, administered by the Directorate of Soviet Property in Germany (USIG). BOB was alerted to the developing nickel wire mesh program by agent sources within the USIG complex. These firms supplied Wismut with pneumatic drills and special miners' lamps, as well as materiel like refrigerated testing chambers, which were shipped directly to the USSR for use in the atomic program. Items not available in the Soviet zone were ordered through West German firms. For example, the Bitterfeld plant needed vacuum pumps and a special steel to produce pure calcium metal, and it found these goods in West Germany. Luckily for the Americans, most of these items had already been placed on an export control list: when the us European Command learned of Soviet efforts to obtain them from West German firms, it stopped the shipments.

BOB also learned about the Soviet atomic bomb project from the Soviets themselves. Yevgeny Petrovich Pitovranov, a senior KGB official whom we interviewed, recalled the concern within MGB over the security of Wismut shipments in early 1952, when intelligence leaks about them were reported. Information on these shipments was transmitted by enciphered messages sent over land to Novosibirsk, but from there they were sent by radio, which was easily intercepted. Soviet concern for the security of the Wismut operation was heightened considerably by the defection in June 1950 of a colonel, code-named Icarus, who had been a logistics officer in Moscow and then in Wismut. Icarus had left his German mistress behind when he defected, and he became increasingly despondent and eventually returned to Soviet control. He was apparently executed, and his mistress was sent to the Gulag. Icarus's information greatly expanded us knowledge of the Soviet atomic program in East Germany, but the tightening of security that ensued frustrated BOB'S operational programs. Eventually, security measures initiated by MGB, and later by KGB, made it virtually impossible to recruit agents within Wismut.

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