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Central Intelligence Agency Marks 50th Anniversary of the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Building of the Berlin Wall

October 31, 2011

The Central Intelligence Agency, in partnership with the National Declassification Center, hosted a symposium on 27 October 2011 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to discuss the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the subsequent construction of the Berlin Wall. In conjunction with the event, more than 370 declassified documents – totaling more than 4800 pages of material about this crucial time period – were released from the records of multiple U.S. Government agencies. This collection marks the first time so many government entities have compiled their declassified documents on a single historic event in one place.

“Eleven U.S. Government organizations contributed to the material being presented today – from intelligence reports to contingency plans to photographs to maps – all of these revealing the tremendous challenges U.S. analysts faced in predicting Nikita Khrushchev’s intentions and actions during the Berlin Crisis,” said Joseph Lambert, CIA’s Director of Information Management Services (IMS). “These documents also afford a glimpse of the many differing opinions held by Kennedy Administration advisors and various military leaders about which tactics and strategies offered the most effective U.S. response.”

Historians, intelligence experts, retired CIA officers, and policymakers from the Berlin Crisis era participated in the event. The symposium featured a keynote address by Dr. William R. Smyser, the last person to cross the Potsdamer Platz in a car as the Berlin Wall was being erected. Dr. Smyser, who now teaches at Georgetown University, discussed his firsthand experiences serving as the special assistant to General Lucius Clay, President Kennedy’s personal representative to Berlin, and as a political counselor at the American Embassy in Bonn.

The military, historical, and diplomatic views of the crisis were explored in a panel led by CIA historian Dr. Donald P. Steury. The panel consisted of Dr. Don Carter, historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History; Dr. Hope Harrison, historian at the George Washington University and Woodrow Wilson Center; Lou Mehrer, a retired CIA officer; and Dr. Greg W. Pedlow, historian at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

This event was organized by the CIA’s Historical Collections Division (HCD), a component of IMS. HCD seeks to identify and declassify collections of documents that detail the Agency’s analysis and activities relating to historically significant topics and events.

“Of one thing I am certain,” Lambert said of the officers in HCD. They believe that “they hold these classified records in trust for the American people, and that when the sensitivity of the material attenuates over time, that they have a sense of duty to declassify and release it.”

A publication with more information on the documents and the Berlin Wall event can be found here. The documents in their entirety can be found here.

Historical Document
Posted: Oct 31, 2011 12:48 PM
Last Updated: Apr 29, 2013 01:33 PM