CIA’s Secret War For Germany

The Central Intelligence Agency aggressively pursued clandestine efforts to undermine East German morale at the height of the Cold War, recently declassified CIA records confirm. Exploring one of the core chapters of post-war European history, the materials posted today by the National Security Archive detail key facets of the intelligence agency’s still meagerly documented activities in East Germany.

CIA's Secret War For Germany 1

Those activities included supporting and advising certain anti-communist activist groups, particularly in Berlin – a fact long denied in public – which were effective enough to prompt the Soviets to make them a subject of diplomacy with Washington, in addition to implementing their own propaganda and security measures.

This e-book consists of several documents culled from the recently published Digital National Security Archive collection CIA Covert Operations IV: The Eisenhower Years, 1953-1961 (ProQuest, 2021), available by subscription through many libraries. They provide a concise look into some of the intelligence agency’s previously classified ties to covert organizations in Cold War Germany.

CIA In Germany

Germany after World War II was divided into occupation zones garrisoned by troops of the Great Powers. The Soviet Union had the eastern part of the country. In the west the United States held the south and center and Great Britain the north, with a slice on the western edge assigned to France. In a microcosm of that, Berlin, located within the eastern zone, was divided among the four powers also. Much Cold War diplomacy after 1945 focused on the integration of Germany into international politics as well as its unification in one form or another. Because there was no “peace treaty” formally ending World War II, the political status of the various parts of Germany remained in flux.

With the Berlin Blockade in 1948-49 the Soviets tried to compel the Western Allies to accede to Russian control over the former German capital within the eastern zone. Many political and economic measures followed. The Americans and British initiated a currency reform that re-established a quasi-national medium of exchange. The Russians created the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in their eastern zone. The U.S. and U.K. merged their occupation areas into “Bizonia,” a rump state, on the way toward forming the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), a national political entity. Berlin remained divided.

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At each step along the way, intelligence services participated in the developments. For the Americans, this meant the CIA. Looking at this history from a spy’s perspective, probably the two most memorable episodes of the 1950s were the East German riots of 1953, with the question of what CIA had, or had not, done to spark them; and the Berlin Tunnel, where CIA, in conjunction with Britain’s MI-6, tunneled into East Berlin to place wiretaps on Soviet telephone cables.

But the day-to-day activities of the intelligence services, while equally meaningful, were less spectacular. These were intended to produce information on political developments on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain, to gain intelligence on the adversary’s military posture, and to undertake activities designed to influence those other elements. Since Berlin was an important entry point to the West for those fleeing Eastern European countries as well as the Soviet Union, it was also a key recruitment center for the CIA in finding agents and operatives willing to work against the Soviets. The full panoply of intelligence operations is too broad to accommodate in this e-book, but something we can do is to focus in on a key part of the story – CIA’s efforts to undermine East German morale by means of covertly funded and directed non-government organizations that purported to consist of nonpolitical citizen activists who were actually toeing an American line.

Many of these organizations started during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. (Much more will be reported on this when the Digital National Security Archive brings out its CIA Set VI, which will cover the Truman years, where a fresh e-book on Germany is planned.) For the most part these entities were run from the Berlin Operations Base (BOB) of intelligence. During the Eisenhower period, CIA was the relevant service. Under base chief Peter Sichel, then William K. Harvey, the Berlin detachment funneled promising displaced persons to the activist groups, not just the German ones but also Eastern European and Russian. The CIA German mission, at first under Lucien K. Truscott, a “personal representative” of agency Director Allen W. Dulles, then Frankfurt station chief Tom Parrott, followed by Henry Pleasants, managed the funding of the activist groups and their relations with the political entity that became the Federal Republic.

This was the situation in June 1953, when the Soviet-sponsored East German regime attempted to implement new economic performance norms. There seems to have been a disconnect between Moscow, which perceived increasing dissatisfaction in East Germany and Eastern Europe at Soviet controls, and the East German communist authorities. The Soviets imagined a program intended to appeal to East Germans burdened by communist ideological and political controls. East German leaders, by contrast, saw themselves as enforcing Sovietization and the people rightly perceived this as revitalized oppression. East German workers first threatened, then began strike actions and actual riots, particularly in East Berlin on June 17. Surprised by these events, BOB lost touch with the situation when East German and Russian security forces closed interzonal crossings, cutting the CIA off from its networks in East Berlin.

In this turbulent atmosphere, U.S. intelligence struggled with what to advise Washington. The standard story has been that Henry Hecksher, then BOB deputy chief, cabled headquarters to recommend weapons be handed out to the East German workers, but that his superiors in Washington quashed the idea without referring it to Director Dulles, who had been absent when the cable arrived. That appears to be fictitious. Bayard Stockton, then a junior officer at BOB, avers that he was the actual author of a BOB cable which base chief Harvey, not his deputy, sent to Washington, advising that U.S. troops in West Berlin be put on alert. Hecksher was leaving Berlin for a new post in Guatemala. Stockton affirms the cable’s recommendation proved quite controversial and was rejected.

These details are important because the 1953 riots ended up being among the defining events of 1950s Berlin (as well as to the rest of the Soviet camp) and the question of what the CIA did, or did not do, to trigger them becomes important in Cold War history. The Berlin Base had no existing project of its own specifically aimed at stirring up trouble in the eastern zone. Therefore, a corollary question is whether the German activist organizations it supported had had such a role. At least one of them, the Fighting Group against Inhumanity (Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit, or KgU) aimed at administrative harassment of GDR authorities (Document 1). The Investigating Committee of Free Jurists and the Cramer Bureau propaganda projects had the ability to sway East German public opinion but did not seem to be encouraging the East Berlin riots.

Management controls over these entities were weak. From mid-1954 on, base chief Harvey would be preoccupied by moving his burgeoning CIA base to new accommodations, reorganizing the BOB, and backstopping construction of the tunnel necessary to wiretap Soviet telephone cables. The expanded BOB would have sections for East Germany, the Soviet satellite countries, the Soviet Union itself, and counterespionage. Really only the East German section was set up to guide the activist groups and it was stretched thin. A November 1954 project review (Document 1) notes the CIA anticipated only one officer at Berlin Base (and two more at headquarters) were sufficient to ride herd on the KgU. This was especially sensitive since the Fighting Group Against Inhumanity had harassment as one of its aims in East Germany. Its VII Bureau consumed the bulk of the CIA money, with a central office staff of 5, 10 more in field sectors, and 125 in East German networks. These operatives received and circulated propaganda material and participated in the harassment operations.

The Committee of Free Jurists and the Cramer Bureau (Documents 3, 4, 6, 11) were other propaganda sources. All had been active before the East German riots. In July 1952, in a major provocation, East German security service agents had kidnapped a top official of the Free Jurists. The Jurists’ desire to strike back was evident. Both the Jurists and the Cramer Bureau crafted propaganda products after the Berlin uprising that built on those events. Therefore, it was not easy to dismiss allegations that the CIA, through its German activist organizations, had had a role in triggering the East German troubles.

The kidnapping of Dr. Walter Linse, a senior official of the Free Jurists, in West Berlin by East German operatives, shows the increasing East German and Soviet preoccupation with defeating the covert enemy. Linse was never seen again. Through 1959, as many as 62 persons followed him, kidnapped into East Germany. There were waves of arrests within the GDR, notably after the Berlin riots. Eastern courts handed out over 126 death sentences for alleged association with the KgU alone. Soviet authorities carried out the executions. In 1955 the eastern zone authorities mounted a media campaign against the German activists. This included inserting East German agents among the flow of Displaced Persons to the West, who then infiltrated the Fighting Group and the Free Jurists, purloined documents, and then redefected to the GDR, where the materials were used in the media campaigns.

In the fall of 1955, the anti-Western maneuvers spilled over into the West German press, when the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel and the daily newspaper Die Welt published exposés of activities of the Fighting Group. The CIA labored to contrive tactics to meet these attacks. One such measure was to hire a lawyer familiar to many of the actors involved to defend the KgU and implicitly threaten defamation suits against the newspaper and magazine (Document 2). Another form of defense was to improve the cover arrangements made to preserve the secrecy of the covert activities. The CIA experimented with one of its projects, LCCASSOCK, deepening the conventional publishing role of its covert entity, the Cramer Bureau, to make it appear more innocent (Document 6). Another tactic was to stop creating phony versions of East German publications and substitute propaganda that simply mimicked the style of GDR propaganda, as shown in the 1956 project renewal for LCCASSOCK (Document 4).

The underlying reality of the CIA operations, however, made it imperative to increase cooperation with the West Germans and the role of the recently formed Federal Republic of Germany. CIA deliberations on how to do this flitted back and forth between headquarters and the field (Document 3). No matter what the degree of U.S.-FRG cooperation, in the sensitive political atmosphere of the time, the West Germans were under pressure for permitting the presence in Berlin and West Germany of entities that not only distributed propaganda in the GDR but carried out commando operations. Debates in the West German legislature, the Bundestag, in 1957, showed the FRG moving toward criminal investigations of commando-type actions of, at a minimum, the Fighting Group Against Inhumanity (Document 5).

Ultimately the CIA had few alternatives. When the West German government refused to take over full responsibility for the CIA covert operations, the agency made preparations to close them out. The Soviets assisted in the shutdown by making an issue of the covert entities. In particular, in the 1959 Berlin crisis – often called the “Berlin Deadline crisis” because of Soviet demands for a resolution of longstanding Berlin issues by a certain date – Moscow denounced Western (U.S.) espionage and propaganda carried out from the divided city.[6] As it happened, the Central Intelligence Agency was already operating under an October 1958 decision to shut down the Fighting Group, at a minimum, by June 1959 (Document 8).

Still, field operatives could not resist the temptation for one last roll of the dice. In early 1959, the Berlin Base advocated a program of covert actions which might complicate the Russians’ diplomacy. A high-level study group chaired by senior diplomat Robert Murphy backed the idea. The CIA’s Board of National Estimates, the intelligence community’s top analytical office, expressed serious doubts (Document 9), however. On May 15, 1959, President Eisenhower convened a meeting in the Oval Office to consider the action program. Eisenhower made no immediate decision, but he appreciated that similar initiatives had worked previously, and he did not speak against the Murphy committee’s idea (Document 10). However, the president ultimately rejected the covert initiative. Nevertheless, a June 1960 CIA record demonstrates that the Cramer Bureau was still in the process of being liquidated (Document 11). This illustrates the difficulties associated with shutting down agency covert operations.

There is no overall scorecard demonstrating success (or failure) in the secret war over Germany in the 1950s. Both the Western countries and the Soviet Union avidly pursued this conflict, as the documents here help to illustrate. There can be no doubt that their machinations complicated the effort to create a viable state in place of the former Hitlerite Germany. The covert operations added to hostilities that persisted through the era and led to the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. That crisis, the sharpest yet, contributed to Soviet anxieties that led to the world-threatening Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Documents

Document 1

CIA Paper, Project Outline for Fighting Group Against Inhumanity, November 17, 1954

Nov 17, 1954

Source: Nazi War Crimes Document Review Board

Renewals of CIA covert operations were approved based upon project reviews. These followed a set format, beginning with a capsule outline of operational history, approval, current status, achievements, and so on. In this particular case, the German political grouping Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (or KgU) was at issue, known in English as the “Fighting Group Against Inhumanity,” or to the CIA as Project DTLINEN. In this report the agency admitted it had “subsidized and guided” the KgU “since its inception in 1949.” (There will be more detail on the KgU project in the upcoming Digital National Security Archive Set VI of the CIA document collection, which will cover the Truman administration.) Aside from minor gifts from Berliners and western German citizens, “the KgU receives its entire financial support from CIA.” At first intended for propaganda purposes, by 1954 DTLINEN had shifted to “administrative harassment” of authorities in the Soviet zone of Germany. The West German and West Berlin governments, the Office of the High Commissioner, and the British intelligence service MI-6 were all aware of CIA’s role in the Fighting Group. Both the two top officials of the KgU were so witting of the CIA connection that the agency’s case officer worked openly with them. The KgU is described as supporting CIA Berlin Base’s counterespionage and Soviet defection operations and contributing as many as 600 reports a month to the base’s tally.

Document 2

CIA Memo, Air Pouch, Chief of Station, Germany-Chief of Base, Berlin – German Press Flap over Fighting Group Against Inhumanity, November 16, 1955

Nov 16, 1955

Source: CIA Electronic Reading Room

Previous allegations that the Fighting group Against Inhumanity had been carrying out acts of sabotage in East Germany were successfully parried, but in September and October 1955 the newsmagazine Spiegel and the newspaper Die Welt published new charges that had more substance. In this document, the CIA’s station chief for Germany, John Bross, reports to Berlin Base chief Bill Harvey on efforts to counter the charges. KgU director Ernst Tillich had retained lawyer Curt Bley to defend him. According to copies of Bley’s representations to the German press officials, included in this air pouch package, the anti-KgU campaign amounted to a planned operation agreed among editors and journalists of the media outlets. Bley included explicit details such as noting that documents had been stolen from KgU files and concealed by a former employee in the coal pile in his basement.

Document 3

CIA memo, Memorandum to DCI – re cable on West German government and CIA over Fighting Group Against Inhumanity, November 23, 1955

Nov 23, 1955

Source: Nazi War Crimes Document Review Board

This CIA memo from the chief of the Directorate of Operation’s Eastern European Division informs Director Allen Dulles of the background behind agency dispatch FRAN 4690, which articulated the German station’s positions on a series of issues under discussion with the West German government and the city authorities in West Berlin. In the single month since CIA wrestled with press revelations regarding DTLINEN and the KgU (Document 2), the situation had become so untenable that the United States held an official meeting with the West German government and West Berlin parliament at which CIA had admitted its support for the KgU and several other organizations, including the Untersuchkungsausschuss Freiheitlicher Juristen (UFJ, or Investigative Committee of Free Jurists), run by the CIA as Project CADROIT. Now the CIA was prepared to take a back seat to a joint board composed of German and CIA representatives who would guide the covert projects, and the sides had reached the point of determining modalities by which the system might operate.

Document 4

CIA Paper, Project review for Werbebuero Cramer (Cramer Public Relations Office, or LCCASSOCK), October 19, 1956
Oct 19, 1956
Source: Nazi War Crimes Document Review Board

Project LCCASSOCK was a major CIA black propaganda operation, and this is its lengthy project review for 1956. The bureau prepared, printed, and shipped falsified editions of East German publications and smuggled them across the inter-German zonal boundary for distribution in the German Democratic Republic. Until 1952, the bureau had been supported by grants from West German official sources which ended with a dispute over the secrecy of the propaganda source. The CIA had taken over the funding through another covert project in April 1952, and as a directly approved initiative from July 1954. The re-authorization of 1956 aimed to support a shift away from falsified East German publications to openly anti-regime ones that were still formatted in previous styles. It also produced poison pen letters sent to the East, letters to individuals who had written to comment on the publications, and special publications on particular subjects, such as East German or Soviet communist party congresses. In the first half of 1956 LCCASSOCK had circulated 122,500 copies of its various publications.

Document 5

CIA dispatch, West German Bundestag discussion of Fighting Group Against Inhumanity, November 30, 1957
Nov 30, 1957
Source: CIA Electronic Reading Room

The continuing sensitivity of the CIA covert operations is illustrated in this late 1957 dispatch (Berlin 4913), which describes parliamentary debates over the Fighting Group Against Inhumanity. This cable records public speeches and political positions of several Berlin legislators, showing that German politicians were ready to defend the KgU but also acknowledge its previous “freewheeling” as a CIA covert asset, and that evidence of criminal acts should be referred to a state attorney. Berlin’s then- mayor Willy Brandt is described as feeling that the city was weak but the Federal Republic of Germany (“FedRep” here) strong, so the FedRep should take care of instructions for DTLINEN.

Document 6

CIA Paper, Commercial cover for LCCASSOCK, September 15, 1958
Sep 15, 1958
Source: Nazi War Crimes Document Review Board

The agency moved to endow the Berlin black propaganda organ with a deeper commercial cover under the name Schlagzeug. From April to June 1958 it observed the effectiveness of this commercial cover as part of re-authorization of the project. Berlin Operations Base had viewed the commercialization of the Cramer Bureau as both a mechanism for legalization of its activities and a possible offset for CIA funding since at least 1955. The CIA (“KUBARK”) retained a 76% equity interest in the CASSOCK commercial entity. Agency officials anticipated commercialization would widen the proportion of printing and editorial assets devoted to legitimate business activities, but that CIA would utilize CASSOCK on a “selective financial and operational basis” (p. 2). During the experimental period sales of Schlagzeug publications fell short of CIA’s expectations but this was attributed to start-up difficulties. Project estimates would be revised at the last moment according to a late-arriving modified proposal (which is not attached).

Document 7

CIA dispatch, Chief of Base, Berlin – Chief of Station, Germany, What to do with Fighting Group Against Inhumanity, October 15, 1958
Oct 15, 1958
Source: Nazi War Crimes Document Review Board

Berlin Operations Base (BOB) comments to chief of station Henry Pleasants on a summer 1958 paper proposing termination of Project DTLINEN, with marginal comments, probably from the recipient. Although the original termination proposal is not here, the paper and marginal comments make clear that both BOB and the CIA station chief are prepared to move ahead with a close out. Berlin base raises several questions about continuation of certain of KgU’s activities. There is interest in getting West German intelligence, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), to take over supporting the KgU or at least its central files, or for the CIA-BND jointly funded project CAWASH to do the same, but the latter had previously indicated antipathy toward the Fighting Group, so this was not very practical. The CIA officials also show they are aware of West German legal proceedings against some members of the KgU, making termination of CIA support even more critical for cover purposes.

Document 8

CIA Paper, Termination of Fighting Group Against Inhumanity, October 28, 1958
Oct 28, 1958
Source: Nazi War Crimes Document Review Board

Simultaneously with CIA’s internal deliberations on the future of DTLINEN, a representative of the ministry in charge of all-German affairs informs the CIA that West Germany not only will not take over the covert action project, but its government is not willing to go further in the legislature (bundestag) than to assert the KgU’s past activities have not been criminal in nature. The official, described as having been previously friendly to the CIA project, advised the American spies to get rid of the covert project. Agency Director Allen Dulles then instructed his apparatus in Germany to terminate assistance to the KgU by June 30, 1959.

Document 9

CIA Memo, Board of National Estimates opinion for the DCI, Psychological Warfare Activity in Berlin, April 1, 1959
Apr 1, 1959
Source: CIA Historical Review Program

With Four-Power negotiations over Berlin looming, a committee of senior officials chaired by Robert Murphy proposed a campaign of psychological warfare and political action measures that CIA agents argued might lead the Soviets to reduce their own “saber-rattling.” Before agreeing to any such program, Director Dulles sought an opinion from his top analysts at the Board of National Estimates (BNE). Stepping outside their usual role of surveying specific situations or predicting broad trends in foreign behavior, the BNE presented an opinion on a particular cable from the CIA station in Bonn, the West German capital. The Board simply assumed that CIA had the capabilities to conduct the proposed covert actions, but even so doubted the operations could attain the advertised results without “substantially increasing the hopes and possibly even resistance activities of Satellite populations” in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary (p. 1). BNE believed that the proposed covert action campaign would actually “increase Soviet intransigence with respect to West Berlin” (p. 2).

Document 10

NSC memo, Memorandum of Conference with the President, May 15, 1959
May 15, 1959
Source: CIA Electronic Reading Room

About six weeks after a BNE opinion about launching a psychological warfare operation (Document 9), the covert action proposal is considered at the White House at a meeting convened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. CIA Director Allen Dulles explains that he spoke of a program like this with his brother, former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, as early as January 1959, about what could be done covertly to influence talks. The agency would rely upon carefully plotted leaks selectively put before senior Russian and Soviet Bloc officials. Some supplies might be moved forward to make it seem like CIA was preparing a partisan campaign in Eastern Europe. It knew how to accomplish this. The CIA would seek to undermine the effectiveness of East German officials. Robert Murphy interjected that such “seepage” might have a positive effect on negotiations at Geneva. President Eisenhower stated that he understood the plan. Later Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy complained that the British were all in favor of joint planning when in the Middle East but were nowhere to be found when it came to Berlin.

Document 11

CIA dispatch, Chief, BOB-Chief East European Division, Termination of Project LCCASSOCK, July 20, 1960
Jul 20, 1960
Source: CIA Electronic Reading Room

This account from Berlin Base chief David Murphy provides a fascinating look at the headaches associated with closing down a CIA operation. Here, the Cramer Bureau (LCCASSOCK), which the agency had previously tried to spin off with a new legal cover as an innocuous publishing company, has gone into receivership. The CIA base follows the progress of Cramer Bureau personnel as they seek new employment, puts one person in charge of selling off CASSOCK’s office furniture and equipment, actually making a profit doing it, and has a different CIA covert project buy some of the items. The FRG tax authorities pursue the agency proprietary for unpaid back taxes, and demand descriptive information on its “foreign investors” that might reveal Cramer’s CIA funding. Agency officials intervene with the West Germans to protect the secrecy of the American spy operation.

This article was originally published on National Security Archive.

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