"When I go to sleep at night, I try not to think about Berlin."

--Dean Rusk, ca. 1961

For nearly 50 years the German city of Berlin was the living symbol of the Cold War. The setting for innumerable films and novels about spies and Cold War espionage, Berlin was, in truth, at the heart of the intelligence war between the United States and the Soviet bloc. For the United States and its allies, Berlin was a base for strategic intelligence collection that provided unequaled access to Soviet-controlled territory. For the Soviet Union and the captive nations of the Warsaw Pact, the presence of Western intelligence services in occupied Berlin was a constant security threat, but also an opportunity to observe their opponents in action, and possibly to penetrate their operations. Perhaps nowhere else did the Soviet and Western intelligence services confront each other so directly, or so continuously. It thus seems appropriate to refer to this situation as an "Intelligence War"; not because the conflict between the opposing services regularly erupted into organized violence, but because it was a sustained, direct confrontation that otherwise had many of the characteristics of a war.

The genesis of this unique situation lay in the agreements reached by the victorious allies at the end of World War II. Plans calling for the joint occupation both of Germany and of Berlin, its capital, had been agreed to by the Allied powers in November 1944. Thus, even though it was the Red Army that engulfed Berlin in the Spring of 1945, the Western Allies were able to claim a stake in the city. To this the Soviets acceded, but only after the Allied Supreme Commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, agreed to withdraw American troops from Czechoslovakia. Berlin nonetheless remained surrounded by Soviet-controlled territory, with the Allies dependent upon their reluctant ally for access to the city.

These arrangements were formalized on 5 June 1945, in the course of a meeting between Allied representatives held in Berlin itself. "Greater Berlin" was divided into three occupation "sectors," duplicating on a much smaller scale the division of prewar Germany into three occupation zones. British and American forces assumed control over the western half of the city, while the Soviet Union occupied the eastern half. At Anglo-American insistence, a fourth occupation sector was created in the northwestern part of the city, to be under French jurisdiction. Each of the occupying powers appointed a Commandant for their individual sector. Administrative control in the city as a whole was vested in an "Inter-Allied Governing Authority," made up of the four Commandants, each of whom served in rotation as the Chief Commandant. For some reason, this was known as the Berlin Kommandatura, a Russian word sometimes anglicized to Commandatura. Berlin was simultaneously to become the seat of the Allied Control Council, responsible for the military government of occupied Germany.1

In 1948 the Soviets walked out of first the Allied Control Council and then the Berlin Kommandatura, thereby unilaterally nullifying the arrangements made for the administration of Berlin. The arrangements nonetheless persisted as the basis for the Allied occupation of the Western half of the city until the end of the Cold War, even though both halves of Berlin had become self-governing in 1948 and West Berlin had become a Federal German Land in 1950. East Berlin was declared the capital of the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) in 1949.

Surprisingly, given Berlin's position deep inside the Soviet occupation zone, until 1972 there was no formal agreement guaranteeing the Western Allies continuous ground access to the city. This became profoundly important beginning in 1948, when the Soviets severed the road and rail routes leading from the American and British occupation zones into Berlin. Fortunately, concerns about air safety in November 1945 had led to a four-power agreement establishing air corridors linking Berlin to Hamburg, Hanover, and Frankfurt. Although the Western Allies subsequently demonstrated that they could supply Berlin by air, the lack of guaranteed ground access remained a weak point in the occupation of West Berlin.

The US intelligence presence in Berlin began in July 1945 with the Western military occupation and lasted for the duration of the Cold War. First to arrive were intelligence officers of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), who awoke on 1 October 1945 to find themselves employed by the new Strategic Services Unit (SSU), itself assimilated piecemeal by the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in 1946. CIG was replaced in 1947 by the newly created Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Although just about every element of the Agency had some kind of stake in Berlin, the clandestine services were those principally interested in the city. For the early CIA, these were the Office of Special Operations (OSO), responsible for the collection of secret intelligence, and the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), the Agency's covert action arm.2 In August 1952 OSO and OPC merged to become the Directorate of Plans (DDP).3 The analytical arm of the CIG and early CIA was the Office of Reports and Estimates (ORE), which produced short-term, newspaper-like, current reporting and longer range, more predictive, intelligence "Estimates."4 In 1950, newly appointed Director of Central Intelligence Walter Bedell Smith broke ORE into three offices: current reporting was now produced by the Office of Current Intelligence (OCI), with longer range, estimative analysis the responsibility of the Office of National Estimates (ONE). A new Office of Research and Reports (ORR) initially concentrated on the Soviet economy--a gradually expanding mandate that eventually included strategic intelligence on the Soviet military.

For the early Cold War period at least, "Berlin Operations Base" may be said to have been one of the most active and productive postings for CIA intelligence officers in Europe. Its first Chief of Base was Allen W. Dulles. Richard Helms succeeded Dulles in October 1945. Following in the shoes of these two future Directors of Central Intelligence were some of the most successful intelligence officers in the Agency--most of whom must remain anonymous even today. CIA Berlin was never an independent entity, however, but always was subordinate to the Senior Agency Representative in Germany.5 Moreover, the CIA mission in Berlin was never more than a very small part of the much larger Allied presence.

Across the city, in their compound in the Karlshorst district of Berlin, the Soviet intelligence services--in their various guises--moved in about the same time as their Western counterparts. Their mission always was dramatically different from that of the CIA and the Western intelligence services, however. Whereas for the Western Allies, Berlin was and would remain an important strategic intelligence base, the city provided no equivalent advantages for the Soviet services. The main foreign intelligence target for the Soviets was the US military presence in Western Europe, a target the Soviets shared with their East German counterpart in the Normanenstraße, the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS, or Stasi). Nevertheless, both sides used Berlin as an arena in which they could challenge the intelligence services of the opposing side. Moreover, the high level of intelligence activity in Berlin meant that counterintelligence problems always assumed a high priority, sometimes even overshadowing the more important "positive" mission of intelligence collection.6 It was partly because of Berlin's value as an intelligence base for America and its allies that the East German government eventually sealed off the western half of the city in 1961--a move that severely inhibited Allied intelligence operations there without incurring a similar disadvantage for the Eastern Bloc services.

What follows is a sampling of CIA intelligence documents dealing with Cold War Berlin from the beginning of the Allied occupation in the summer of 1945 until the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This might be regarded as the classical period of the intelligence war in Berlin, when the relatively unrestricted access permitted between the eastern and western halves of the city facilitated the intelligence operations of both sides. It was during this period that Berlin earned its reputation as a "den of espionage," a reputation that at least partly lived up to the romantic image created over the years by novelists and screenwriters.

In general, the documents included here may be divided into three broad categories:


  • Internal memoranda concerning the conduct of operations or the establishment and maintenance of an American intelligence presence in Berlin.


  • Intelligence reporting from the field on specific topics. These run the gamut from raw intelligence reports from the field to more finished products ultimately intended for dissemination to intelligence analysts and other recipients. In general, this kind of reporting would not be seen by policymakers until it had been subjected to some level of analysis and editing in Washington.


  • Finished intelligence produced in Washington, DC, and intended for distribution to a widespread audience in the intelligence and policymaking communities. Included in this category are current intelligence reports, which keep policymakers and intelligence officers up to date on events as they happen, and National Intelligence Estimates7 concerning Berlin.

National Intelligence Estimates, or NIEs' are at the pinnacle of the American intelligence process and represent the agreed position of the agencies responsible for producing intelligence on a given topic. They are designed to provide policymakers with regular, detailed analyses of diverse aspects of the world situation, including the policy objectives and likely actions of other nations and their military capabilities and potential. Although predictive in format, they frequently devote much space to weighing the merits of often conflicting pieces of evidence. Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIEs) are shorter, more ad hoc analyses written when a more rapid response is needed. Both NIEs and SNIEs are coordinated throughout the Intelligence Community and released only on approval by a standing intelligence advisory board committee, chaired by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and made up of his deputy, the DDCI, and the heads of the departmental intelligence organizations in the military and the Department of State.8

Also included in the category of finished intelligence are Intelligence Memoranda issued on the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) in his capacity as head of the CIA and the President's chief intelligence adviser. Unlike NIEs and SNIEs, these were not coordinated with the rest of the Intelligence Community, and thus frequently took stronger positions than would an NIE on the same topic.

A problem in selecting the documents for this volume derived from the sheer volume of the material. Precisely because it was so important as a base for collecting intelligence, Berlin figured one way or another in most of the intelligence operations mounted in Europe during the first two decades of the Cold War, but often only tangentially. For example, both the Pyotr Popov and Oleg Penkovskiy cases--among the most successful of CIA's operations against the Soviet Union--touched upon the Berlin question, but both were focused elsewhere and neither could be said to be tightly interwoven into the fabric of Berlin's Cold War history.9 To keep the size of this volume manageable, only those documents focused on Berlin were selected.

Sadly, although the documentary record is voluminous, it is also in many respects incomplete for much of the period covered by this volume, so that a full accounting of many important events or periods in Berlin's Cold War history simply is not possible from CIA records alone.10 Continuing security considerations have made it impossible to include many other important records. Some of those that have been reproduced have been redacted to conceal individual identities, or to protect still-sensitive sources and methods. Otherwise, the documents have been reproduced in their original state, without alteration or abridgment. This means that some of them are difficult to read, even though we have used the most legible copy available. The reader is further cautioned that some of the documents retain marginalia or handwritten comments that may have been added by researchers long after the fact. The historicity or accuracy of these additions cannot be guaranteed.




1 For the relevant documents, see US Department of State, Documents on Germany, 1944-1985 (Washington, DC: 1971).

2 Michael Warner, ed., The CIA Under Harry Truman (Washington, D.C., 1994), pp. xvi, xx-xxi.

3 William M. Leary, ed., The Central Intelligence Agency: History and Documents (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1984), p. 50. In 1973 the DDP was renamed the Directorate for Operations (Leary, p. 97).

4 Leary, p. 26. For a discussion of what an Estimate is, see pp. viii-ix, below.

5 See Document I-7.

6 In the parlance of the 1940s, "positive" intelligence referred to collection of information on the other side's intentions and capabilities. "Negative" or (less often) "passive" intelligence referred to counter-intelligence activities.

7 Strictly speaking, National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) did not appear until 1951. However, we include in this category estimative reporting written by the Office of Reports and Estimates between 1947 and 1951.

8 The name of the this body has changed over the years. In 1946-47, it was the Intelligence Advisory Board (IAB); from 1947 to 1958 it was the Intelligence Advisory Committee (IAC). It was called the United States Intelligence Board (USIB) until 1976. Since that time it has been known as the National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB).

9 Popov operated briefly in Berlin, but was most active in Vienna. Penkovskiy was active primarily inside the Soviet General Staff in Moscow and provided only a limited amount of intelligence material on Berlin, but it was very important and arrived at critical moments in the Berlin Crisis of 1958-61 (reproduced as Docs. VII-5 and VII-11, below). Fortunately, splendid studies already exist on these important subjects. On Popov, see William Hood, Mole: The True Story of the First Russian Intelligence Officer Recruited by the CIA (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1982). See also the cogent article by John L. Hart, "Pyotr Semyonovich Popov: The Tribulations of Faith," Intelligence and National Security (1997). On Penkovskiy, see Jerold L. Schecter and Peter S. Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992). See also Oleg Penkovskiy, The Penkovskiy Papers (Garden City NY: Doubleday and Co., 1965).

10 A comprehensive collection of intelligence records dealing with Berlin nevertheless would demand at least a dozen volumes of this size.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 19, 2007 07:34 AM
Last Updated: Feb 04, 2014 12:21 PM