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In the decade and a half before Nikita Khrushchev built the Berlin Wall, Berlin was the focal point of the espionage world. Eighty or so intelligence units from countries around the globe were at work in the city, foremost among them was the CIA and KGB. During some of those years, the CIA's Berlin base was led by David Murphy - a former director of Radio Liberty; his KGB counterpart in charge of German affairs was Sergei Kondrashev.

During this period in the contest of obtaining secrets, the Russians prevailed in being superior players. As for U.S. spy efforts, the fledgling CIA was undermanned, understaffed and disorganized in the critical early postwar years. Counterintelligence problems of the U.S. stemmed not only from trying to crack the air tight countries of the totalitarian world but also from a conviction that in statecraft and all else "gentlemen," in the famous words of Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson, "do not read each other's mail."

Yet if the Soviet Union was proficient at intelligence gathering, using it was another matter. Deficiencies in this department were followed from a particularly notorious feature of the Stalinist regime. To avoid being demoted or executed, Soviet intelligence agents doctored their reports to please a likely to be a paranoid superior commander. So although the KGB itself was well-informed, its officials did little to discourage Stalin from his erroneous belief that the West would crack under the pressure of his 1948 Berlin blockade, or in another case, to dissuade him from the conviction that the U.S. would stand idly by if North Korea invaded the South.

To be sure the CIA did, on occasion, carry out brilliant feats in espionage. Foremost among its triumphs was the tunnel it dug into East Berlin in the early 1950s to splice into Soviet communication cables. In 11 months of operation, the taps produced 50,000 reels of magnetic tape containing more than 443,000 conversations on many high-priority topics.

 

 

Source: The Wall Street Journal Bookshelf, August 27, 1997 pg. A10