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Journal of Cold War Studies 2.1 (2000) 139-141

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Book Review

Battleground Berlin:
CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War

David E. Murphy, Sergei A. Kondrashev, and George Bailey, Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. xxv + 530 pp.

Cold War espionage buffs, rally around! A book on Treffpunkt Berlin. This richly detailed account of the confrontation of intelligence services in the (East) German capital covers the period from the collapse of the Third Reich in May 1945 to the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. The story it recounts draws on a wide variety of sources, published and unpublished, including documents extracted from the archives of both the Soviet Committee on State Security (KGB) and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The narrative moves back and forth between American and Soviet perspectives on events and developments.

Two of the volume's authors were strategically placed operatives: David E. Murphy, who served as chief of the CIA's Berlin Operation Base (known in the trade as BOB); and Sergei A. Kondrashev, a former KGB lieutenant general and its ranking German specialist. The other co-author, George Bailey, also served in the CIA and headed Radio Liberty before becoming a freelance reporter and writer on German affairs. Their joint text constitutes something of a seamless web; it is all but impossible to identify the author of specific sections of the book. Probably much if not most of the actual writing devolved upon Bailey. It would be unfair, however, to attribute the recurrent stretches of opaque prose to any one author or even to the collective as a whole. A certain amount of tedium is inevitable in any account that strives to catalogue the organizational as well as operational features of espionage networks. Only the most ardent of intelligence aficionados can be expected to relish the bureaucratic details (replete with endless acronyms) of Cold War spying. For the rest of us, the appeal of this volume lies in the light it sheds on the intelligence underpinnings of the [End Page 139] dramatic political eruptions that affected Berlin and therefore the whole fabric of East-West relations during the period under review. This book is also useful in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of intelligence services in the Soviet and American political systems.

As concerns Cold War history, the book's extensive discussion of three major events--the Berlin blockade in 1948-1949, the June 1953 uprising in Berlin and the rest of East Germany, and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961--usefully augments previous accounts. With respect to the blockade, it seems that Soviet intelligence officials initially served to encourage Josif Stalin by predicting a likely pullout of forces from the Western sectors of the city, and then they deliberately downplayed the success of the Anglo-American airlift for fear of angering the Soviet dictator. This deceptiveness may well have contributed to both the onset and the prolongation of the crisis. The CIA, for its part, undergirded the policy premises behind the airlift with its assessment that the West's unexpected countermove would not provoke the Soviet Union to go to war. In contrast to the events of 1948, the June 1953 uprising took Soviet intelligence and its inchoate East German subsidiary by surprise. According to this account (and contrary to some hearsay), the CIA, including BOB, also "were caught flatfooted" (p. 169). However, both intelligence services quickly swung into action, leading to the downfall of Lavrentii Beria in the Soviet Union (and the survival of Walter Ulbricht in East Germany) and the propaganda coup of the American Food-Package Program.

If 1953 witnessed intelligence shortcomings in both East and West, what is one to make of 1961? The quasi-military action undertaken on the night of 12-13 August "to seal the border" between East and West Berlin and the subsequent construction of the hideous wall of concrete, barbed wire, and explosive devices, came as a shock to the West. U.S. attention...


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