Thursday, September 30, 2021

German Spy Museum, Berlin

Today Claudia surprised me with a visit to the German Spy Museum which is just a short walk from Potsdamer Platz where the Berlin Wall once divided the city between West Berlin and East Berlin.  The museum actually sits in what used to be the "death strip" between the inner and outer perimeter of the Berlin Wall.

It is a private museum that opened in September 2015 as the Spy Museum Berlin and it was relaunched in July 2016 as the German Spy Museum.

The Deutsches Spionage Museum is actually one of the most visited museums in Berlin.  There are more than a 1.000 exhibits focusing on the history of spies and espionage.  While there are exhibits about how intelligence has been gathered throughout history, infamous spies such as Mata Hari, and even exhibits about James Bond, the primary focus is on espionage in Berlin from WW2 and during the Cold War.  Berlin is often referred to as the Capital of Spies because this is where Capitalism and Communism faced off during the Cold War.  A standoff between Nato and the Warsaw Pact.  

Here's a video about the museum that I found on YouTube.

©Deutsches Spionage Museum

It's a pretty cool museum with lots of interactive exhibits where you can play with Morse code, look for hidden listening devices in a room, and try to navigate a laser maze.

This replica is of a small film-carrying statue once used by Alfred Frenzel, a West German member of Parliament, who was unmasked in 1960 as an undercover StB agent working for Czechoslovakia.  The statue's pedestal was hollow and used to smuggle film.  It was rigged with a mercury switch to explode, destroying the film, if it was improperly opened.  

East Germany's secret police, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or Stasi, was one of the world's most ruthless intelligence services.  There's lots of what used to be high-tech recording equipment.  

The Stasi and the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) established a state-of-the-art listening post on the highest mountain in East Germany.  

©Phil Jeren 1979In 1961, the Americans and British set up a listening post on Teufelsberg in West Berlin and eavesdropped on Eastern bloc radio traffic.  Here, military intelligence personal listened to all radio and telephone traffic within a 500 km (310 mile) radius while monitoring the Warsaw Pact command and control systems.  The NSA closed the listening post in the early 90s but you can still visit the abandoned site which we plan to do tomorrow.

The Glienicker Bridge between Potsdam and West Berlin was the spot for famous spy swaps between the west and the east.  In 1962, this is where the trade was made for American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and KGB spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel.  This was the plot of the 2015 movie Bridge of Spies.  Here's the movie trailer.

On display in the museum is one of the early models of the Enigma machine which was the most famous encryption machine of WW2.  It looks like a typewriter with rotors and wheels that can encode a message 150 different ways.  Germany used the machine to secure communications but the Allies had secretly cracked the code, in a huge part, thanks to Alan Turing.  He is regarded as the "father of modern computing" and is often credited by shortening the war in Europe by at least two years and saving more than 14 million lives.  In 1952, he was prosecuted for being gay and chemically castrated before he ultimately committed suicide.  In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II posthumously pardoned him.
This has nothing to do with the museum but the United Kingdom decriminalised same-sex relationships in 1967.  However, there was a ban on gay people serving in MI5, MI6 or GCHQ until 1991.  Just this February, the MI6 Chief publicly apologised for the "misguided, unjust and discriminatory" ban on gay spies.  The apology came 30 years after the ban was lifted.  A little late but at least it came.

In the USA, we had the "lavender scare" where Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist campaign targeted gays which painted homosexuals as subversives and Soviet sympathisers.  In 1953, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which ruled that gay people were security risks.  The logic being that if you were gay then you could be blackmailed into giving away state secrets.  I get that at the time people were more vulnerable because the law offered them no protection. 

I've never understood the logic that gay people were more of a threat to national security than straight people.  It's not like straight people have been immune to honeytraps and blackmail.  I had a security clearance when I was in the U.S. military and I would have lost it if I had come out while serving.  So I stayed in the closet until after my enlistment was over.  My argument was if everyone knows that someone is gay then how can they be blackmailed for being gay?  Anyways, back to the museum.

I had never heard of "Operation Infektion" before.  This was a disinformation campaign thought by the KGB and carried out by the Stasi.  In the 1980s, East German biologist and KGB agent, Dr. Jakob Segal, presented false "evidence" that the HIV virus was created at Fort Detrick, Maryland, as part of a biological weapons research project.  I'd heard the conspiracy story before but I never knew that the Stasi was behind it.  

Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the KGB to stop the disinformation campaign and the Stasi followed suit.  At the time the USA and the Soviet Union had a meeting on AIDS research collaboration and the U.S. Surgeon-General insisted on an end to all further disinformation as an absolute requirement for any further collaboration.

The museum is well worth the €17 price of admission and you'll need at least 3 hours to really check everything out.

No comments:

Post a Comment