Monday, July 16, 2012

Archaeology of the Cold War: The Berlin Tunnel 1952-1956

Beginning our series on the Archaeology of the Cold War, we have here one of the favorites of the genre: the CIA Berlin Tunnel operation.

The CIA has a history department, as you might expect.  From time to time, this department issues reports of past operations, particularly of operations that were somehow exposed and which is long in the past.  It would be naive to believe that they tell us everything, and it would be naive to expect that they are going to give us all points of view on the topic (e.g. we can expect that they will emphasize the positive and successful aspects).  My experience suggests that even in the area of positive results, that the allocation of credit and acknowledgement of contribution is a story that is rarely completely told.

But for those of us on the outside, the information in a CIA history report can be fascinating, and also in this case, humorous.   Here is a very short synopsis of what the report discusses.

Berlin is a divided city, and the American and Soviet sectors are adjacent.   The US becomes aware of a Soviet military cable going from the major airport to a Soviet military headquarters and within 1500 feet of the American Zone.  The CIA figures out a way to dig a very long tunnel without giving away any indication that the tunnel is being built, tap the cable without the Soviet's figuring it out (in cooperation with the UK who had done something similar in Vienna) and retrieving reams of information for almost a year until it gets discovered.  Then something even more amusing happens, the Soviets tell the world about it which unexpectedly increases our prestige in Europe, most of whom did not believe we were capable of anything so clever.

Here is one of the funny bits in the report.   It was a major problem to figure out how to dig the tunnel in secret, because, among other things, of the problem of getting the dirt out.  You could not have a bunch of dump trucks filled with excavated dirt, for example, leaving a site so close to the Soviet Zone without people noticing.   So the solution they found was to dig a big hole in public, and then put the dirt in it (its all explained in the report).  Just the press when the Soviets go public is amusing.

After you read this report, we have other CIA reports selected for your amusement.

CIA Introduction

CIA Report (100 + pages)

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