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Response to Review no. 649

I am grateful to Dr Elkes for reading my book very carefully. Her review provides a good summary of its contents, though she might wish to look again at what I and others say about NSC-68 (which was also the work of Paul Nitze rather than George Kennan). As the review indicates, my book puts forward arguments relating to several themes of post-war German and international history: the role of scientific intelligence in post-Second World War policy-making in Britain; the significance of the division of Germany for intelligence collection; the character of the containment policy adopted by the US government in the later 1940s; the Soviet Union’s post-war arms build-up; communist security policy in the German Democratic Republic (GDR); and the significance of security considerations for the GDR and the Soviet Union in the second Berlin crisis of 1958-63. It brings together German history, intelligence history and diplomatic history, which is very unusual. I sometimes describe it as ‘the secret history of the Berlin Wall’, which I think an apt description.

Dr Elkes’s review focuses on explaining what the book says. In this response, I would like to comment on the archives I used. The book was researched in Britain, Germany and the United States. My major sources were records of the British Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office held at The National Archives in London (then known as the Public Record Office) and records of the GDR’s Ministry of State Security (or Stasi), held since the GDR’s collapse by a special authority established by the German parliament, the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU for short). The British records are overwhelmingly intelligence files compiled by scientific intelligence officers who in the years 1946-58 gathered intelligence in Germany on Soviet developments in war-related science, both in East Germany and in the Soviet Union itself, by questioning refugees, defectors, deserters, contacts and former prisoners-of-war. These sources were available to them chiefly because of the open border between the two Germanies, which remained open longest in Berlin (it was only closed there on 13 August 1961, when the so-called ‘Berlin Wall’ was built). It was the open border which allowed refugees, defectors and deserters to make their escape to the West. The British records shed little light on spying on scientific targets in East Germany and the USSR because the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) does not release any of its records to The National Archives. The intelligence records I used (mainly those of a unit responsible to the Ministry of Defence called the ‘Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch’) were only released because the unit’s sources were not spies. The records were released in the mid-1990s as part of the Waldegrave Initiative on Open Government. This ground-breaking release of post-Second World War scientific intelligence records was the first of its kind, and they shed much light on post-war British Intelligence. My PhD thesis, entitled ‘Britain’s Exploitation of Occupied Germany for Scientific and Technical Intelligence on the Soviet Union’ (Cambridge University, 1999), was the first piece of scholarly work to make use of them. The thesis is available for perusal in the Manuscripts Room of Cambridge University Library.

However, I saw while researching my thesis that the division of Germany was also central to the success of the espionage conducted by British and other western agencies in Germany in the years up to 1961. So if the thesis were to be turned into a proper book it would have to examine spying on scientific targets in East Germany. It also needed to extend right up to August 1961, instead of stopping in 1958, when the remnant of the Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch was closed down. Since SIS has no archive at The National Archives, it was pointless to research into British espionage there. I could have shifted the focus to American espionage – which I do examine – but the Central Intelligence Agency is also careful to give out little information about its spies and operational methods. Of course, it does release records on matters more distant from actual spying, such as the information obtained from spies; I found this kind of material very useful.

Therefore, the best option was to apply to the BStU to see records of its counter-espionage service on western spying. This I did. The law which created the BStU, the Stasi-Unterlagen-Gesetz of 1991, requires that the research conducted with its help be into the Stasi. So the BStU did not like my application because it regarded it as using the availability of Stasi records to research into operations of western secret services, rather than those of the Stasi itself. The reality is that some categories of record, such as counter-espionage files, will shed light on both. Moreover, I wished to study how the Stasi proceeded against foreign intelligence services, which is part of the Stasi’s own history. Although the BStU accepted that my application was a proper one, for years it processed the application in such a way as to defeat it, rather than take it to a successful conclusion. The historian does not himself conduct research at the BStU. The research is done for him or her by a case officer, who orders files from the archives. Only if s/he decides that the information contained in them can be made available are the files transferred to the historian. Information that infringes the privacy of others is blacked out. The research work undertaken by my BStU case officers was, for a long time, poor in quality and too cautious to give the application a chance of achieving the results I was aiming for. However, persistence prevailed. In the end I was given precisely what I had always applied for: counter-espionage records on arrested spies of western secret services. Specifically, the records are those of Line IX (part of the Stasi’s counter-espionage service responsible for interrogating arrested spies). Chapters six and nine of the book are largely based on these records.

The result is a very original book. It is the first book ever to use Stasi records to examine western espionage. Line IX’s records shed light on the spies themselves, which is very rare. Such material could only be obtained from counter-espionage records, since a secret service would never reveal this kind of information about spies it was running itself. The book is able to cover the whole range of human intelligence sources available and to consider them throughout the period 1945-61. It proves that this represented a distinct era in intelligence collection in Germany: one in which human intelligence sources were particularly valuable. It thus ties intelligence history to the broader political history of the period, as well as the history of scientific and technological development, as Dr Elkes observes. Lastly, it shows that a policy of induced defection was adopted by the US government in the early 1950s as a means of undermining the GDR. This was alleged by the GDR at the time, though the communists exaggerated the reality. The book draws on quite recently declassified records at the Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries, as well as Stasi records, to show that there was some truth to the allegation. The book fuses western and communist records in support of a convincing argument about western intelligence operations in the early Cold War, contributing both to intelligence history and to the broader history of the Cold War.