Thursday, April 08, 2021

Operation Tinker Bell Anniversary

Can you solve the case?
Operation Tinker Bell is running exactly eight years. The cryptologic challenge is the ideal introduction to cryptography, crypto equipment and spy tradecraft for the novice. All those years I noticed at the webstats how people worked through all messages, some in a few days and others took their time. Many e-mailed me with kind feedback and some dropped a note in our guestbook, but they could never share their results with others. Therefore, I decided last year to introduce a Wall of Honor to give participants the chance to document their achievements (see below).

What is Operation Tinker Bell about? You will learn to work with the TSEC/KL-7, a 1960's state-of-the-art crypto machine, and decrypt operational one-time pad messages, used for one-way voice links, commonly known as numbers stations. Once you're briefed, you start in the CIA communications center and its crypto room, the inner sanctum where the most sensitive information arrives.

Robert Novak needs your support!
You are immersed in a true Cold War espionage atmosphere and witness the modus operandi of your fellow CIA officers and their KGB counterparts. Experience at first hand the spy tradecraft, CIA transmitter sites in West Germany, illegal border crossings, fake passports, safe houses, the dreaded East-German Stasi and Czech StB secret police.

British intelligence helps to arrange clandestine meetings, you receive SIGINT support from the U.S. Army Security Agency and some of the USMLM operations flirt with the rules of engagement. The Cold War at its best. It's all there, authentic details and as real as it gets!

Operation Tinker Bell starts in 1964, at the height of the Cold War. CIA case officer Robert Novak investigates the sudden disappearance of a CIA operative in Moscow. Operation Tinker Bell, the hunt for a KGB colonel starts and Novak travels across the Soviet Union.

Ausweis bitte! Keep calm when East German border guards check your forged papers!

For obvious security reasons, all communications between Langley, the CIA stations abroad and their agents behind the Iron Curtain are encrypted. It's your task as COMSEC officer to decrypt all that message traffic. This sounds harder than it actually is. All required crypto tools, keys and clear instructions are provided and used exactly as in real life. Make sure to carefully read the briefing!

Below the first names engraved in the Wall of Honor. Get to work, assist your CIA colleagues that operate across the Eastern Bloc and get your name on that wall. Join Operation Tinker Bell.

New case officer Arindam Chakraborty added April 16, 2021

Did you completed the operation before the Wall of Honor?
Contact us!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Tracking Cold War Signals

Adcock four element antenna array
WWII Naval direction finding station
(source: Frontline Ulster)
The Cold War was also a war of signals. This battle comprised chatter over radio, Morse, data and technical signals. Eavesdropping on enemy communications and analysing their technical signals was a vital part of that battle. However, to know where those signals came from was just as important.

Directional antennas find the bearing of a signal. Early simple loop antennas had to be turned mechanically to find the signal bearing. With two or more such antennas on different locations, the target is located at the crossing of those bearings, but it was a cumbersome task. Later, double loop antennas and Adcock antenna arrays with four elements improved performance, but many more special  direction finding (DF) antennas were built to locate signals, and some were quite extraordinary.

German Wartime Research

The Wullenweber antenna array
(source: FGCRT)
Significant progress was made during the Second World War by Dr. Hans Rindfleisch, who invented the Circularly Disposed Antenna Array (CDAA). Rindfleisch also headed the Communications Research Command of the German Navy, and together with Telefunken they developed his antenna array under the codename Wullenweber.

The first Wullenweber, build in Skibsby in northern Denmark, was designed as high-frequency direction finding (HF/DF) antenna array and operated in the 6-20 Mhz range. The above drawing shows, at the top, the view of the antenna array and the reflector screen wires behind them (click image to enlarge)
First Wullenweber at Skibsby site
(source unknown)
The antenna consisted of 40 vertical radiator elements, each supported by a wooden structure and placed in a large circle, 120 m (392 ft) in diameter. Inside that circle was a reflector screen of wires, supported by 40 poles and arranged in a smaller circle, 105 m (344 ft) in diameter.

The Foundation for German communication and related technologies (main page) has a description of the Wullenwever (original spelling), including German Naval research on Wullenwever (pdf p11-20).

German Technology in Soviet Hands

Many German scientists were rounded up by US and Soviet forces in the final days of the war. Both were interested in this new CDAA technology, but the Soviets were the first to start building them in 1951 with assistance of German scientists.

The Soviets eventually build 31 CDAA's of various types and called them KRUG. They were places in Russia, Warsaw Pact countries, Mongolia, Cuba, Vietnam and Burma. These KRUG stations tracked radio communications of US and NATO reconnaissance aircraft and nuclear bombers. GlobalSecurity has info and photos on Soviet KRUG antenna arrays.

The Global U.S. Antenna Network

One of the German antenna researchers was moved to the United States to assists in the development of a CDAA. The US version of the Wullenweber was the AN/FLR-9 antenna, nicknamed "Elephant Cage". The first was built in 1962 at the RAF Chicksands base in the UK, leased by the US Airforce.

FLR-9 at USASA Field Station Augsburg, Germany (source: US Air Force ISR)

The huge FLR-9 antenna had an outer diameter of 440 m (1,443 ft) and height 37 m (121 ft). A network of eight FLR-9 was constructed in Alaska, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Philippines, Turkey and Thailand. This network could accurately locate HF signals anywhere on Earth, to track enemy airplanes, ships or ground based transmitters, but also to follow own or friendly targets.

The US Naval Security Group operated the AN/FRD-10, also a Wullenweber antenna but smaller than the FLR-9. Its outer diameter was 133 m (435 ft) and height 27 m (90 ft). A network of sixteen FRD-10's was located at coastal lines of the Pacific and Atlantic on US mainland and Alaska, Hawai, Puerto Rico, Canada,  Panama, Japan, Spain and Scotland.

More about the Wullenweber

FLR stands for Fixed Countermeasures Receiving. FRD stands for Fixed Radio Direction-finder (see JETDS designations). More about the FLR-9 on FAS and Freedom Through Vigilance Association (USAFSS). Navy Radio has details of the AN/FRD-10. There's a report on the dismantling of the AN/FLR-9 at Misawa air base in Japan and the decommissioning of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska (video).

More on WWII direction finding at the RSS Secret Listeners website and on Frontline Ulster's WWII Aircraft Direction Finding in the UK.

The NSA video below explains the history and purpose of the FLR-9.

The American Forces Network Pacific gave a look inside Misawa’s FLR-9, build in 1962. The antenna was demolished in 2014.

More on Signals

Many different signals were sent, received and analysed during the Cold War. Below some posts on this blog about Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), but there's much more to discover...

Visit also the Cold War Signals page about the battle over radio waves on our website

Monday, February 01, 2021

Le Carré's Legacy for Spies

David Cornwell - John Le Carré
Source: Krimidoedel
David Cornwell passed away last December. He was not only a brilliant writer, but also someone who once in a while kicked the conscience of the establishment. John Le Carré was the alter ego of David Cornwell, who wrote his first three novels while still working for MI5 and MI6, from 1959 to 1964.

Le Carré is renowned for spy novels that depict pretty realistically the live of spies, their masters and a bureaucracy full of backroom politics with a distinguished disregard for the very spy who risked his life for them. A huge contrast to the James Bond action-packed books and movies. History has unfortunately shown that the success of intelligence services is mostly measured by their failures and rarely by their successes, because the latter often should stay secret to remain a success.

Filter this blog by the label espionage and you will encounter many failures, tormented spies, executions and imprisonment. They often leave behind lots of debris, if not their life. The not so glorious life of spies, as Le Carré described so masterfully in his books.

From his Cold War marvels such as The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Small Town in Germany, A Perfect Spy or his brilliant but introvert spy catcher George Smiley, to his more recent and more critical Our Kind of Traitor, Legacy of Spies or Agent Running in the Field. All these, and many more books Le Carré wrote, and were filmed, show the game of espionage, all but glamorous, often taking a heavy toll on people involved.

He also wrote The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, a splendid biography with countless dramatic, hilarious or weird events and all kinds of people, honourable or questionable, that he encountered. Only a former MI5/MI6/secretary/consul/journalist could have lived such a curious life, of course neither confirmed nor denied. Le Carré's real legacy for spies is the knowledge that their life won't be all that great.

John Le Carré, the spy novel master who made it almost impossible for writers to create a credible spy with a loyal wife, a successful career, and caring superiors. He will forever remain my favourite writer of stories that could have been so beautiful but end so tragic.

Below some of the rare interviews David Cornwell gave. Or was it John Le Carré? One thing's for sure, we'll miss him dearly.

In a CBC 2017 audio interview with John Le Carré (67 min), he talks about his early life, his work for the intelligence service, the characters in his books, the TV series and movies, and shares his view on contemporary politics. A Conversation with John le Carré (27 min) is a 2002 video interview about his books, the Cold War and intelligence services.

In the CIA Studies in Intelligence Volume 61 No 1, historian David Robarge wrote A Review of The Pigeon Tunnel (pdf, archived).  More about John Le Carré's life at The Guardian's Obituary.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Podcast Nuggets Episode 8

Click for more

Time to spoil the ears again with another selection of podcast nuggets from across the Internet. We start with a man who knows the Soviet Union inside out. Next, a stupendously dangerous extortion that ends spectacular, how to catch a most damaging spy in your own ranks and finally the struggle between government and public for right to digital privacy.

COLD WAR CONVERSATIONS - A UK Journalist in the Soviet Union & the GDR is an interview with Mark Brayne who studied in 1972 two years in Moscow and traveled around Russia. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1974 as Reuters reporter and befriended Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear scientist who eventually became a Soviet dissident. After Russia he became correspondent for Reuters in East Berlin and later for BBC in Beijing and the BBC World Service. Also listen to Brayne under Stasi Surveillance and his Reporting the 1989 Romanian Revolution. So many fascinating stories about the many people Brayne got to know. The interview show notes contain photos and videos of Brayne's trips.

DAMN INTERESTING - The Zero-Armed Bandit brings the stunning story of  John Birges who lost a lot of money in Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino. He got the brilliant idea to extort three million dollars from the casino by planting a 1000 pounds dynamite bombe in Harvey's Resort Hotel. The bombe had a complex tamper-proof detonation mechanism and once the ransom was paid, Birges would provide the instructions to disarm the bombe. He warned the FBI not to disarm the bombe but they decided to let the bombe technicians have a go at it.

SPYCAST - Cuban Intelligence and the Ana Montes Spy Case interview with Scott Carmichael, a senior counterintelligence investigator of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Carmichael was the man who identified Ana Belen Montes, one of the most damaging spies in recent U.S. history. Montes joined the DIA in 1985 and quickly became a rising star and later DIA's most senior and distinguished Cuba analyst. In reality, she worked for the Cuban intelligence service.

DARKNET DIARIES - Crypto Wars Jack Rhysider talks with Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (IFF), the well known non-profit digital rights group. For many decades, cryptography was in the hands of governments and their military. That changes in the 1980s when the Internet arrived and ordinairy people began to use cryptography to protect their communications and data. Since then, governments have tried to restrict or weaken publicly available encryption.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

The Cold War Vogelsang Twins

There are quite a few places in Germany called Vogelsang, but two of them became part of Cold War history. They were located on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain that divided Europe into East and West. Although both named Vogelsang, these military twins, located 550 km (340 mi) apart, were quite different, as twins often are, and one of them could deliver a serious nuclear punch.

Before the Cold War

The first Vogelsang, a place between the villages Einruhr and Gemünd in the Eifel National Park, is located 55 km (35 mi) southwest of the city Cologne (Köln) in Germany, and close to the Belgian border. Until 2006, this place was known as Camp Vogelsang, a military training area. The camp however first had a more sinister history.

The history of this Vogelsang twin starts in 1933. Adolf Hitler, then chancellor of Germany, decided to create four Ordensburgen, training centers for the offspring of the leadership of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party).

By 1936, three NS-Ordensburgen were partly build and already in use. Ordensburg Krössinsee in Pomerania, Ordensburg Sonthofen in Allgäu and Ordensburg Vogelsang in the Eifel. The forth in Marienburg was never built. The first Vogelsang NS Junkers (cadets) arrived in 1936.

Ordungsburg Vogelsang (source: VoWo)

The Junkers were lectured, or rather indoctrinated, on Nazi ideology, race science and foreign policy, and they received intensive physical training. The nearby Walberhof airfield provided pilot training.

The Ordensburgen were to become the breeding ground for the future Nazi elite. Regular education in the Ordensburgen ended in 1939 when the Second World War broke out. Vogelsang Castle was handed over to the Wehrmacht and its Junkers drafted in the armed forces.

In the excellent video below you have a 360° view of Vogelsang and inside its buildings. Start the video and grab the video screen with your mouse to look around. The interview is in German, but you can select settings > subtitles > auto-translate and choose your language.

Ordensburg Vogelsang housed troops during the German 1940 western campaign and several fighter squadrons were stationed at Walberdorf airfield. From 1941 until 1944, Vogelsang housed several Hitler schools, and from 1944, military training was given to boys aged 15 to 16 from the Hitler Youth. Vogelsang was cleared in 1945 after Allied air strikes had destroyed several buildings.

Camp Vogelsang Training Area - West Germany

After WWII, Ordensburg Vogelsang was in the western part of divided Germany, officially known as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The area was taken over by the British Army in 1946. They initially planned to destroy this symbol of National Socialism but eventually turned it into a 6354 hectares (63km² or 25 sq mi) training area.

The people of the nearby village Wollseifen were ordered to leave the area and the village was then completely destroyed (later rebuild as urban warfare training area). Between 1946 and 1950, the British rebuild the castle, heavily damaged by air strikes. The training area consisted of nine firing ranges and an infantry exercise area. The British handed over Vogelsang to the Belgian Army in 1950.

Belgian 2nd Lancers Rgt with M47 Pattons, Vogelsang 1962 (source: legerdienst)

After the creation of NATO in 1956, the Vogelsang training area was used for nearly five decades by the NATO countries Belgium, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany and France.

Belgian insignia Vogelsang
source: Christophe Cobbaut

Parts of the training area were returned to the civilians in 1960, reducing the training area to 4200 hectares. Over the years, the Belgians restored damaged buildings and added new ones. Vogelsang could accommodate 2500 troops and was used extensively for military exercises until 2005, when the camp was handed over completely to the German government.

Since 2006, the facility is open to the public as Vogelsang Internationaler Platz, part of Eifel National Park. You can visit the camp, which has an exhibit about its history and Nazi documentation on Vogelsang. They also organise guided tours. Burg Vogelsang is a protected monument since 1989.

Soviet Base Vogelsang - East Germany

The military twin of Camp Vogelsang was a Soviet base in Vogelsang near Zehdenick, 55 km (35 mi) north of Berlin, in former East Germany, officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Although less in size, this one had serious striking power.

Mural monument at the Vogelsang Soviet base (source: Johan van Elk)

After WWII, Vogelsang was still a small village in a vast and dense forest that was difficult to access. The Group of Soviet Occupation Forces in Germany (Rus. Группа советских оккупационных войск в Германии - ГСОВГ ) claimed 2,000 hectares of the forest and commissioned in 1952 the construction of a military base in Vogelsang. The construction of the base was planned, built and paid for by the East German government

Soviet Forces in Germany
The site gradually grew into a town with a population of 15,000 soldiers, their families and civilian personnel. The town included several barracks, medical facilities, shops, a theatre, gym and school, and was basically self-contained. Vogelsang became, next to Wünsdorf, the largest and most expensive garrison of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany GSFG (Rus. Группа советских войск в Германии - ГСВГ )

The garrison housed the headquarters of the 25th tank division, 162nd tank regiment, 803rd Motor Rifle Regiment, 1702nd anti-aircraft missile regiment and the Tactical Missile Division.

In 1959, the Soviet theatre ballistic missile R-5 and R-5M Pobeda (Rus. Побе́да, NATO name SS-3 Shyster)  became the main strike weapons of the garrison. They carried a 300 kt thermonuclear warhead (20 x Hiroshima) that could reach all strategic targets in Europe. The R-5M missiles mainly targeted the PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the United Kingdom. Less than a year later, the Soviets withdrew the R-5's.

From 1983, the TR-1 Temp (Rus, Темп-С, NATO name SS-12 Scaleboard) mobile theatre ballistic missiles with 500 kt warhead were stored in Vogelsang. Enough to raise hell across Europe.

All Russian troops, then called Western Group of Forces, withdrew in 1994 and the abandoned town and the military buildings were partly demolished. What remained of the military town is now gradually reclaimed by the forest, as shown in the aerial video of the base. 

Little was known about secret "object" Vogelsang, but gradually more details surfaced. At the Lenin in Vogelsang website are several memoirs of soldier Serik Kulmeshkenov (translation), Igor Platonov part1 & part 2 (translation part 1 & part 2), the son of an officer, and Colonel Zharky F.M. from the 25th division (translation),

In the documentary Lenin in Vogelsang, people recount how the Russians and East Germans lived together in Vogelsang and the nearby Zehdenick. You can first select English subtitles and then auto-translate English in your language.

Growing up on a Soviet base in the GDR is a podcast interview with Andrej, whose father was a lieutenant in the Soviet army. They lived in Wünsdorf, the largest Soviet base in the GDR, and also in Rudersdorf and Prenzlau. His story gives an inside view on everyday life of Soviet families in the GDR.

These stories make you realize that those Soviet military and families serving abroad were mostly people just like us, doing the same work, only other leaders and ideology. Cold War Conversations has more podcasts with personal stories.

Vogelsang vs Vogelsang

Although we cannot compare Camp Vogelsang training area with the Soviet Vogelsang base and its nuclear strike capabilities, we should consider the British occupation zone, which also included the Belgian Forces Germany, and the American and French occupation zones. These zones stretched from the western border of West Germany to the East German border. They too deployed nuclear missiles.

The MGM-1 Matador surface-to-surface cruise missiles, armed with nuclear warhead, were deployed in 1953 by the 1st Tactical Missile Squadron from Bitburg U.S. Air Base. These were withdrawn in 1962. Three U.S. Army battalions, stationed in Germany, and two German Air Force wings received Pershing 1a nuclear missiles in 1965, and by 1985, the U.S had 108 Pershing II missiles in Germany and 464 nuclear armed cruise missiles in Germany and neighbouring countries. More about the Bitburg and Hahn Air Bases in Germany, equipped with nuclear weapons, at the 38th Tactical Missile Wing.

And we didn't even mention the many unguided nuclear bombs, stored by both NATO and Soviet units on many locations in powder keg Germany, let alone the thousands of ICBMs, both fixed and mobile in the US and USSR. In the end, all occupation troops left Germany in the 1990s, fortunately without firing a single doomsday-shot. The last troops to leave were the Belgian Forces Germany in 2005. In hindsight, a bit weird that we slept like babies when stationed there.

Below additional information, many photos and videos from both Vogelsang twins. Non-english pages are provided with translation link.

Camp Vogelsang (former West Germany)

Soviet base Vogelsang (former East Germany)