Wednesday, October 28, 2020

James Hall – The Spy Inside Field Station Berlin

James W Hall III
James Hall was a U.S. Army signals intelligence analyst, stationed at Field Station Berlin from 1982 to 1985. Although less known to the general public, he became one of the most prolific and most damaging spies of the Cold War.

The listening station on top of Teufelsberg intercepted and analysed East German and Soviet signals (SIGINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) during the Cold War, from radio communications, microwave links, satellite transmissions to different types of technical signals. Initially operated by the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) took over in 1977 and the National Security Agency (NSA) provided most of the personnel.

Given its strategic importance and secretive mission, the well-guarded Field Station Berlin was an important target of both the Russian state security service KGB and the East German foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA).

Field Station Berlin on top of Teufelsberg (source: INSCOM)

James Hall was 17 when he joined the U.S. Army in 1976. He was trained as a signals specialist and his first assignment was in 1977 to Det J in Schneeberg, a U.S. listening station in West Germany near the Czech border. The Schneeberg station was a detachment of the 326th ASA Company in Augsburg. In 1981 he was transferred to Berlin.

From Secrets to Cash

Working at Field Station Berlin, Hall realised he could make a lot of money by selling top secret information. In 1982 he dropped a letter in the Soviet consulate mailbox, offering his services to the Soviets. After a first covert meeting with his KGB contact, Hall started his spying career to increase his low pay, but wasn't quite happy with the cumbersome KGB tradecraft and complex agent communications schemes.

Auto Craft Shop
Source: Berlin Brigade
Already in 1979, the HVA had recruited walk-in Huseyin Yildirim, a Turkish national who proved valuable in 1980 when he started working as mechanic in the Auto Craft Shop inside U.S. Andrews Barracks Berlin. Yildirim was a very skilled mechanic, nicknamed "Der Meister" (the master) by the Army personnel, but he was even more skilled in profiling people and making money fast.

Yildirim, codename BLITZ, was the ideal man to approach people who worked at the SIGINT station and serviced their car in the Auto Craft Shop. In 1984, then 27 year old Sergeant Hall got acquainted with Yildirim and proved to be an extremely valuable source for the HVA. Hall now had an additional and easier source of income.

Operating under the codename PAUL, Hall sold huge amounts of highly classified information to both KGB and their HVA counterpart. Yildirim served as middleman between Hall and HVA agents, and as his courier and paymaster.

Crown Jewels for Sale

Hall compromised ELINT systems to locate and identify enemy aircraft, missiles and vehicles, revealed NSA's SIGINT targets and several top secret programs, including TROJAN, a worldwide intelligence collection and dissemination system, and CANOPY WING, the electronic warfare plans to disrupt and mislead crucial Soviet command and missile communications in the event of a war against the Eastern Bloc.

He also sold the complete National SIGINT Requirements List (NSRL) to the KGB and HVA. The crown jewels and holy grail in one. The massive 4258-page NSRL was a catalog of all NSA activities, their list of targets and the U.S. government wishlist of intelligence and enemy capabilities they were interested in.

Hall was reassigned in 1985 to 513th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The KGB took over running Hall during his stay in the United States because the HVA had no agents over there. Due to Hall's problem with elaborate precautions and using dead drops, his spying was temporarily  halted.

Huseyin Yildirim's entry pass
for U.S. military installations
Hall transferred back to Germany in 1986, this time to 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion (205th MI Group) in Frankfurt where he worked as chief of the SIGINT and EW (electronic warfare) section.

He resumed passing large amounts of classified SIGINT information to the HVA through his trusted courier Yildirim. Hall meticulously copied classified documents during his working hours or smuggled them out to photocopy them.

When Hall applied for an appointment as warrant officer, he was subjected to a routine background investigation. A supervising officer complained that Hall apparently spent more money than his wages could afford, but Hall told him that a deceased aunt left him a large trust of which he received $ 30,000 annually.

Hall was reassigned in 1987 to Fort Stewart, Georgia. After completing his training as warrant officer he was assigned to the G-2 (military intelligence staff) of 24th Infantry Division in early 1988. As a warrant officer, he now had an even greater access to classified material. Yildirim had also moved to the United States in 1987, but the tide had turned for both men.

Defector vs Traitor

East German professor Manfred Severin, who was hired by the Stasi as interpreter for Hall, defected in 1988 and offered his services to the CIA. His information lead to the identification of Hall, who was put under surveillance by the FBI and Army counterintelligence for several months. The FBI moved Severin in December to Savannah, close to Fort Stewart. Severin contacted Hall to arrange a meeting with a KGB agent in a hotel. On 20 December, Hall was introduced to an FBI agent, posing as KGB agent Vladimir.

FBI mugshot
During that meeting, videotaped by the FBI, Hall believed he was talking to a genuine Soviet contact. He explained to “Vladimir” that he made a lot of money by selling secrets and bragged about his work as an agent. The FBI agent assured him that Moscow pays better than the East Germans, and Hall handed over several top secret documents in exchange for $60.000. When Hall walked out the hotel he was arrested. Yildirim was arrested one day later in Tampa.

In total, Hall had received an estimated $300.000 from the East German and Russian agents, which was actually a bargain for the HVA and KGB. His flood of documents enabled the Eastern Bloc to take countermeasures, prevent eavesdropping and adapt their strategy. An NSA official estimated that Hill caused $3 billion worth of damage to the United States.
Hall and Yildirim to Court

On 9 March 1989, James Hall was court-martialed and sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage. Huseyin Yildirim was convicted on 20 July 1989 for conspiring with Hall and carrying classified intelligence to East Bloc agents. He was sentenced to life.

Hall served 22 years in Leavenworth military prison and was released in 2011. Yildirim was released after 14 years in a secret 2003 prisoner exchange with Turkey, under the condition that he would serve his sentence in Turkey. The Turkish government however immediately set him free for humanitarian reasons.

The New York Times archived the 1989 investigation of James Hall and a report on Hall's trial. Smithsonian Magazine brings the story of FBI agent Dimitry Droujinsky who posed as KGB agent Vladimir (mid-page, after Robert Lipka case). The book Seduced by Secrets - Inside the Stasi's Spy-Tech World from Kristie Macrakis has 14 detailed pages on James Hall. You can also read about James Hall at the DOD PERSEREC website.

Der Spiegel published three interviews with James Hall. Hunt for the Stasi Superstar (translation) and many photos of the FBI arrest, the follow-up interview The Treasure from Teufelsberg (translation) and the interview The Scope of NSA Surveillance Surprised Me (in English) with former Stasi agent Klaus Eichne. Huseyin Yildirim's side of the story was published on the 6941st Guard Battalion Berlin website (you can select your language).

The Stasi archives contained a steel container with copies of 13088 classified documents, marked Top Secret and Top Secret Umbra, sold by James Hall to the HVA. After the reunification of Germany, these documents were returned to the U.S. government, as explained in Der Spiegel's Destruction of Traces in the Office (translation).

Related Info on this Blog

More about Teufelsberg in the Field Station Berlin. The damage Hall inflicted on U.S. military and intelligence was comparable to the betrail by John Walker, a US Navy communications specialist, who was preceeded by Joseph Helmich. Both sold technical details and key lists of crypto machines.

Some argued that personnel with low income and access to highly classified documents, like James Hall, might be tempted to sell secrets for cash. However, even people with high income committed espionage, out of greed or financial problems. Besides money, the other incentives to spy are ideology (Ana Montes), compromise (Romeo spies and Swallows) and ego (Robert Hansen). 

Visit the Cold War Signals page on the website for information on signals intelligence. US Army Border Operations provides more on other intelligence operations in Germany with links to Det J Schneeberg, including many photos of the listening station.

There are several posts on legenday HVA chief Markus Wolf. In a German documentary (subtitles available), Markus Wolf talks about James Hall. Jump directly to Part 2 segment at 21:16 (enable CC Subtitles with Settings > Subtitles > Auto-translate > English).

There's also a documentary, Deckname Blitz, about Huseyin Yildirim and the James Hall spy case, which includes video footage of the actual meeting between the covert FBI agent and Hall (at 36:00). The doc is in German, but no subtitles.


Anonymous said...

Lots that could be added here, but wanted to correct one thing -- Hall joined the Army in September of 1976 -- not 1974, and his assignment to Schneeberg (via 326th ASA Co. in Augsburg) was his first permanent assignment anywhere. Much more could be said about his immaturity and amorality, but will leave that for another day.

Dirk Rijmenants said...

Thanks for the info! Then I suppose he was born in late 1958? Do you have any reference on the Det J date, as there's little to find on that regarding Hall? I also added a link to my older post on US Army Border Operations, with links to Det J in Schneeberg. Any additional info on Hall is welcome, if referenced somehow. You can always contact me through e-mail (see "About" tab).

Anonymous said...

Just now saw your note. I suppose in some circles it was called Det J--it was a much larger site back in the 60's, but by 1077 it just went by Det S. Hall had issues with the bottle, and he wanted to enter the CDAAC program, which would have been over at Bindlach (2nd ACR post where we got our mail). Anyway, when he found out that it would be reported to chain of command, he chose not to enter the program. This was about the same time that he wrecked an Army jeep over near Graf after he'd been drinking. Am told his good German got him off with the Polezei, and that wasn't mentioned in the police report. Also, and this was always rumor, he was supposedly buying well beyond his allowed liquor ration at the Bindlach Class VI, and was exchanging the bottles of booze for a significant cut in his rent. (Everyone lived downtown, mostly in Bischofsgrun). Hall lived in quarters owned by one of the better restaurants in town. Most of the apartments were for waiters and waitresses at the restaurant who were learning the trade. That's where he met his future wife, by the way. Anyhow, never proven, and as far as I know never reported, but that was the scuttlebutt. Other things to note: he wasn't a particularly good analyst, and that applies to school at Goodfellow AFB and at work on the Hill. The first group of 98C's from the class he graduated in at Goodfellow came up for the E-7 board in 1984 I think. He wasn't on the list, although he was eligible, and in spite of most eligible 98C's being on that list. So he went warrant, and somehow convinced them he was worthy. I think there is one picture from Hall's time at Schneeberg on Facebook at the Schneeberg Vets site. I could rattle on about Hall for hours.

Anonymous said...

Hall was an arrogant jerk at Schneeberg. Not a very good NCO. Rumors at DET S about him were his great German language skills, his preferance for German friendship, love of drink, and a collection of pricey leather jackets. I avoided him and his snotty atitudes towards others. I certainly had a laugh about him years later when he was finally caught! The death penalty would’ve been more appropriate for Hall.