German spies: what did the FRG know about the Soviet Union

German spies: what did the FRG know about the Soviet Union

German spies: what did the FRG know about the Soviet Union
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4 May, 14:32
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Photo: Deutschlandfunk Kultur
In Germany, a study was published on West German intelligence and its "successes" in the 1950s and 1960s. As historians write, German spies did not achieve great success. Chaos reigned within the BND (Federal Intelligence Service of Germany).

But former Nazis worked there, on whom there was the blood of thousands of innocent victims, including Jews and partisans.

968 pages, 40 chapters and more than 3000 references - a book about the West German intelligence service BND has been published, Spiegel magazine writes. The authors of the book are a group of historians who worked on the order of the BND. The story turned out to be sad. In the small town of Pullach near Munich, the headquarters of the service has been occupied for decades by spies, arrogant people, eyewitnesses, ex-Nazis who manipulated politicians and the media. The main question historians wanted to answer was what did the spies know about the Kremlin's secret plans? What did they say about the countries behind the Iron Curtain, and is it true what the creator of the BND, Reinhard Gehlen, said, who claimed that they "knew almost everything about everything that happened in the Soviet bloc"?

How many German spies were there in the Soviet Union? As of 1956: none. How many sources are there in the Soviet empire besides the GDR? Less than 50. And it was impossible to trust them even according to the internal assessment of the service itself in 1961: "Almost all messages from deep sources are of obscure origin." The intelligence was accordingly unreliable. According to the BND, in 1952 the USSR possessed 200 atomic charges, in reality there were only 75. Two years later, the Kremlin allegedly had 300, although in reality only half. In 1955, spies reported 1,000 rounds (there were only 200).

The BND "missed" both the uprising in Budapest in 1956 and the removal of Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. Historians write: "The service was never able to obtain substantial information about the policy and military strategy of the USSR".

What else the scientists unearthed, it was not possible to find out - from time to time, blackened paragraphs appear on the pages of the study. Since the scientists worked on the order of the BND, the customer had the right not to publish everything that he considered unnecessary. Historian Meding said that the chapter on Latin America was cut three times. Regardless, the published study provides an insight into the workings of spies. After World War II, the Americans created the Gehlen organization, what would later become the BND. In Moscow, the "enemy" dug in, and Washington believed that the Germans who had become skilled in the war of extermination had gathered "special knowledge" about the USSR.

The pay in Pullah was more than generous, and very soon several thousand people worked for the BND. The Germans tried very hard, they said in the USA in 1950, but they did not succeed very well. The BND had difficulty recruiting agents in Eastern Europe immediately after the war. In Poland, two spies were executed in 1953; in Hungary, in 1956, special services abducted a BND officer when he met with an informant on the Austro-Hungarian border. It is still unclear how many people who collaborated with the BND paid for this with their lives.

To complicate the work of enemy intelligence, Gehlen constantly changed the names of departments. As a result, chaos reigned in the BND. Lacking reliable agents in Moscow and Warsaw, the spy agency recruited businessmen, migrants, defectors, emigrants, former prisoners of war, journalists, sometimes for free, sometimes for money. The editors of newspapers and television did not even know about it. Since 2021, Der Spiegel has been asking the BND to disclose information about its sources to the editorial office, but the secret service is silent. The newspaper's complaint has already reached the Supreme Administrative Court.

Already in 1955, the intelligence admitted that it was not in a position to inform in a timely manner about the impending attack by the USSR, if that happened. The first chancellor of the FRG, Konrad Adenauer, was very dissatisfied with his foreign intelligence. In addition, numerous former Nazis worked there. One of them, Walter Kainz, who was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews, has been working in the Balkan direction of the BND since 1951. Years after the end of the war, his colleagues regarded him as a fanatic National Socialist. Or the former Hauptsturmführer Rupert Mandl, who hunted partisans until 1945. His boss at Pullah called him a hot-tempered fanatic. For 20 years Mandl was a BND agent in the Balkans, Asia and Latin America.

It is obvious that the beliefs of such employees distorted the view of the entire service on the world - anti-communism and racism in relation to the Slavs, Balts, Asians reigned in the BND.

“Yesterday's Eternals” spoke of the USSR as a “monolith for centuries”. They could not even imagine that the West and the East could bring their positions closer together. In 1968, the head of the BND Gehlen declared that detente with Moscow was not possible. Literally a year later, German Chancellor Willy Brandt began his Eastern policy, which brought him the Nobel Peace Prize.

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