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Spies Beneath Berlin


Operation Stopwatch/Gold, said CIA chief Alan Dulles, was one of the most valuable and daring projects ever undertaken. In 1955 it ran a tunnel 800 metres under the Russian sector of Cold War Berlin, and for more than a year tuned into Red Army intelligence. This was an almost impossible trick: apart from the technical wizardry needed, any noise or vibration could have given the game away.

That the operation succeeded is even more surprising than it looks. Trust, even between ...

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Operation Stopwatch/Gold, said CIA chief Alan Dulles, was one of the most valuable and daring projects ever undertaken. In 1955 it ran a tunnel 800 metres under the Russian sector of Cold War Berlin, and for more than a year tuned into Red Army intelligence. This was an almost impossible trick: apart from the technical wizardry needed, any noise or vibration could have given the game away.

That the operation succeeded is even more surprising than it looks. Trust, even between allies, was dangerous. Despite the Burgess and Maclean affair, the Americans had decided that co-operation was safe once more, and Stopwatch/Gold was a joint CIA/MI6 project using British expertise from a prototype in Vienna. This was a mistake: there was another mole in the British secret services, and the KGB knew about the tunnel even before it was built.

This book tells the story. David Stafford draws on eyewitness interviews and the full range of sources. Ironically, it was the Russians who supplied the minutes of the meeting that OK'd the tunnel. They had been taken by George Blake (who was of course the mole).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A leading writer on military intelligence and project director at the Center for Second World War Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Stafford (Churchill and Secret Service) details the political backdrop and events surrounding Operation Stopwatch/Gold-the CIA's clandestine spy tunnel under the Russian sector of Cold War Berlin during the mid-1950s, when Eisenhower complained bitterly about the lack of intelligence regarding Soviet intentions. Although Stopwatch/Gold was the subject of Ian McEwan's 1990 novel The Innocent, adapted into John Schlesinger's 1993 film with Campbell Scott as a telephone technician tapping secret Soviet phone lines, Stafford says his is "the first full-length study of the Berlin tunnel," documenting covert operations and intrigue as complex and dramatic as espionage fiction. Because the British Secret Intelligence Service possessed vital expertise not found in the CIA, the Berlin tunnel became a joint operation, code-named "Gold" by the CIA and "Stopwatch" by the SIS. Originally projected at $500,000, costs soared to $6 million as three large warehouses were constructed to conceal excavations and 3,000 tons of soil were replaced by high-tech eavesdropping equipment. Beginning with the first tap in May 1955, a "vast stream of intelligence" flowed to Washington and London for the next 11 months. In this account of "spies spying on spies," Stafford writes with clarity, and his cool, methodical style adds to the suspense, which peaks in the closing chapters with the April 1956 discovery of the tunnel by the stunned Russians. 29 b&w photos, 3 maps. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, books dealing with Cold War spying have come out fast and furious. Stafford (project director, Ctr. for Second World War Studies, Univ. of Edinburgh) has done his part by authoring such impressive recent works as Churchill and Secret Service and Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets. This time Stafford shares with us the fascinating story of the secret tunnel beneath the Russian sector of Berlin that existed for more than a year in the mid-1950s and enabled the British and Americans to tap into all area Russian telephone conversations. But this amazing intelligence achievement was complicated by another development: the KGB knew about the tunnel through the traitorous activities of its undercover agent, George Blake, but could not reveal that they knew for fear that they might compromise the invaluable Blake. Moreover, existing Soviet interagency competition resulted in the KGB's sacrificing Soviet military secrets to the West in order to protect their other ongoing espionage activities. Debate goes on about the tunnel operation's final significance. What a great story! And Stafford tells it exceedingly well in sprightly prose. This book belongs in all collections that cover Cold War espionage.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British historian Stafford (Roosevelt and Churchill, 2000, etc.) casts a revealing torchlight on an obscure and odd episode in the Cold War espionage game. It’s not much comfort to know, as the author recalls, that British schoolchildren in the 1950s feared nuclear annihilation as much as their American (and, presumably, Soviet) contemporaries. Neither is it much comfort to read of the astonishing incompetence that seems to have marked Allied efforts to spy on the Reds. Stafford provides a meaty case in point: a daring project in which American and British intelligence agents tunneled half a mile into the Soviet sector of Berlin to set up a listening post by which they could intercept Russian and East German transmissions. Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA, called the Stopwatch/Gold tunnel "one of the most valuable and daring projects ever undertaken," and by all rights it should have worked, to judge by the success of similar capers in Vienna. Trouble was, the Soviets knew about the tunnel before an ounce of dirt was removed from the construction site, thanks to the diligent work of a British double agent named George Blake, one of many Secret Intelligence Service employees in the employ of the KGB. Strangely, the Soviets did not take full advantage of this opportunity to disseminate disinformation; instead, while they gave out enough mixed signals to keep the West on its toes—as one CIA report had it, "Intelligence is inconclusive as to whether or not the Soviet intention is to precipitate a global war now"—they also used transmissions into the tunnel to assure the Allies that they weren’t about to launch a first-strike nuclear attack. The Soviets finally dug up the tunnel in 1961, notlong before Allied agents figured out what Blake had been up to; a 15-meter section is now preserved in a Berlin museum. To judge by Stafford’s account, it’s amazing the Cold War turned out the way it did. Good stuff for le Carré fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781909609129
  • Publisher: Thistle Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/20/2013
  • Pages: 222
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

David Stafford is an historian and former diplomat who has written extensively on espionage, intelligence, Churchill, and the Second World War. The former Project Director at the Centre for The Study of the Two World Wars at the University of Edinburgh, he is now an Honorary Fellow of the University and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, where he and his wife now live.

He has frequently acted as a TV and radio consultant, has written radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC, and his latest book, Ten Days to D-Day, formed the basis for a Channel Four two-part Docudrama. He is currently acting as Historical Consultant on a TV documentary being made by ORTV in London on the legendary CIA-SIS Berlin Cold War spy tunnel based on his book, Spies Beneath Berlin.

He is a regular book reviewer, appearing in The Times (London), BBC History Magazine, The Spectator, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, the Times Herald Tribune (Paris), and Saturday Night and the Globe and Mail (Toronto).

David Stafford was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, has degrees from Cambridge University and the University of London (London School of Economics and Political Science), and when he is not writing books is an avid reader of fiction and a devotee of the operas of Mozart.

In April 2005 he was appointed by the Prime Minister to write the official history of SOE in Italy ( Part Two, 1943-1945) which was published by the Bodley Head in March 2011.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix
Introduction 1
1. 'The Stuff of Which Thriller Films Are Made' 5
2. Our Man in Vienna 14
3. Smoky Joe's 29
4. Black Friday 42
5. The Human Factor 49
6. 2 Carlton Gardens 58
7. Agent 'Diomid' 67
8. Operation Stopwatch/Gold 77
9. 'Kilts Up, Bill!' 88
10. Digging Gold 98
11. Turning On the Tap 114
12. Chester Terrace 122
13. 'A Bonanza' 131
14. Fingers Crossed 139
15. 'It's Gone, John' 148
16. Caught Red-Handed 154
17. 'A Gangster Act' 165
18. Tunnel Visions 172
Epilogue 184
Notes 190
Bibliography 200
Picture Credits 204
Index 205
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