“The simple dichotomy that the Soviets allowed the Berlin tunnel to
function either because they used it to funnel disinformation or because they wanted to protect their agent, George Blake, just doesn't go very far.
“First, the disinformation theory can be discounted simply because it's impossible to create that much information, particularly when it would have to be entirely consistent with other sources as well as internally consistent. It's vastly more complicated than managing a command economy (which, admittedly, the Soviets tried to do).
“But I don't think they tried. Blake was a spy for the KGB, so certainly the KGB knew. The communications monitored were military and military intelligence, for which the KGB had great disdain. It's doubtful the KGB believed there'd be anything worth listening to. In truth, however, we got excellent order of battle information and valuable gossip that indicated, for example, tensions between the Soviets and the East Germans.
“Also consider that a prime purpose of the tunnel tap was to provide early warning of a Soviet bloc mobilization prior to an invasion of Western Europe. But the KGB knew there were no such plans, so why not let the Americans listen to crap? For us, such negative information was a positive good, but for the Soviets, it probably didn't occur to them that the absence of warning indicators would be valuable to us.
“NSA, by the way, was cut out of the tunnel operation initially. It really was a CIA operation with British help (and KGB acquiescence, as it turned out). Only after the tunnel was operating and the take was seen as huge as it was that the decision was made to bring NSA into the operation, but not for technical collection purposes but rather for translation assistance.”
We should note these comments on the historical circumstances regarding the Berlin Tunnel in no way detract from the literary qualities of Hill’s Voices Under Berlin—and, as you can see in in other posts here, there are other perspectives. If you haven’t checked it out yet, don’t pass up reading:
“T.H.E. Hill’s Voices Under Berlin: A Spy Novel That Breaks All The Molds”
posted in the “Spies in History and Literature” section at