Tunnel Vision Of The Cold War


REVIEW by Willard Manus

One of the forgotten but still exciting stories of the Cold War is retold in SPIES BENEATH BERLIN by David Stafford (The Overlook Press). An historical account of the battle between the CIA and KGB in the Berlin of the 1950s, the book uses recently declassified information about a joint Anglo/American team of intelligence agents--popularly known as "spooks"--who dug a 500-yard tunnel that reached from the American to the Russian side of occupied Berlin, enabling the allies to tap into the telephone and telegraph lines of the Red Army. Thus every electronic message between East Berlin and Moscow was intercepted and recorded.

The tunnel took six months and six million dollars to dig, and was considered one the greatest intelligence coups ever, on a scale of the Verona code-breaking breakthrough of WW II. The project was headed by a colorful, pistol-packing American spy, William Harvey, whose mandate was to discover whether the Russians were planning to attack the West. On that score, Harvey did his job. The tunnel was built and escaped detection, thanks to some great feats of derring-do (well researched and described by Stafford, a former British diplomat).

But the story doesn't stop there. Ultimately, it was revealed that the KGB knew about the tunnel all along, having been tipped by an infamous double-agent, George Blake. As a result, the CIA, which had patted itself on the back for having outwitted the KGB, discovered that in reality it had been finessed by Ivan, played for a sucker.

This complex, eye-opening story is brought to life by Stafford, who makes the events of fifty years ago seem fresh and compelling today (especially in light of the importance of intelligence in these post 9/11 times).