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CIA and the National Archives Present Newly Declassified Documents Detailing Life in the Shadow of the Berlin Wall

January 14, 2014


Dr. Donald Steury, CIA Historian, delivers keynote address.
The National Archives’ National Declassification Center (NDC), in partnership with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), today made public more than 1,300 documents (more than 11,000 pages) detailing not only the political, military and economic Cold War dynamics in Berlin, Germany, between 1961 and 1989, but also the many fascinating life stories of human beings impacted by the rise and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In highlighting this release, the National Archives hosted a three-hour public symposium, “A City Divided: Life and Death in the Shadow of the Wall,” which explored the newly released and published declassified documents. The second of three declassification events pertaining to the history of the Berlin Wall, today’s featured a number of Cold War history experts, including Dr. Hope M. Harrison, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University and scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and also Dr. Christian F. Ostermann, Director History and Public Policy Program at the Wilson Center. The program also featured two keynote speakers from the CIA – Joe Lambert, CIA’s Director for Information Management, and Dr. Donald P. Steury, a CIA historian working at the NDC.

The collection of official U.S. Government memos, intelligence reports, contingency plans, diplomatic cables, meeting notes, maps, essays and vignettes provides unique insight into the human dimension of life in the shadow of the Berlin Wall for both East and West German citizens.

“The Berlin Wall was a constant reminder of Berlin’s status during the Cold War,” noted Joe Lambert, CIA’s Director for Information Management. “Incidents at the Wall were a daily occurrence, whether it was an escape from East Berlin, or demonstrations and protests on the West Berlin side of the Wall. The CIA is proud to join with the National Archives and the NDC in shining a light on this important period in the archives of Cold War history.”

NDC and CIA worked together to convince an additional 17 U.S. Government agencies – including six Presidential libraries and U.S. military history entities – to declassify thousands of these documents. “Getting two organizations to agree on the declassification and release of a single document is difficult enough, but getting 19 different agencies to work together is very strong evidence of the leadership of NDC and David S. Ferriero,” added Lambert. Ferriero is the 10th Archivist of the United States, confirmed in November 2009.

The former Director of NDC’s Indexing and Declassification Review Division, Neil C. Carmichael, noted that the documents released as part of the “A City Divided” conference took more than a year to develop, coordinate, and declassify. “The effort began in early 2012, and it was a struggle for us to discern a specific focus over 28 years of history,” explained Carmichael. “The topics run the gamut from political and intelligence topics, but also propaganda, military, and so forth. But in the process of reviewing thousands of documents from State, the Defense Department, the Intelligence Community, and even NATO archives, the underlying stories that demonstrated the human spirit in the shadow of major world events were eventually revealed to us,” he added.

The declassified documents showcase the struggle for freedom from specifically 1961 to 1989, and include vignettes highlighting the visits to Berlin of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, as well as the personal tragedies and triumphs of key individuals who, for example, either escaped or helped others to escape the oppressive Soviet-dominated East Berlin. According to Dr. Harrison, the documents also demonstrate the use of propaganda and the media by both sides as part of a continuing psychological war. Today’s symposium featured a unique aspect of the Berlin Wall – the use of tunnels as an escape route, as highlighted by a 1962 movie documentary by the NBC network and journalist Piers Anderton.

“The Berlin Wall was built to stop the East German brain drain and keep the best and the brightest from defecting to the West,” said Carmichael. “These documents tell us the story of the importance of four key freedoms – the freedom of speech, of worship, the freedom from fear, and the freedom from want – freedoms still valued today. These stories reflect the best of humanity’s struggle and the indomitable human spirit.”

Posted: Jan 14, 2014 05:58 PM
Last Updated: Jan 16, 2014 01:12 PM