T Stokes – August 22, 2012
Czech investigators are working back through cold war records to track down Czech collaborators and Soviet criminals behind an elaborate plot that ran from 1948 to 1951.
The Soviets built false checkpoints near the German/Czech border, and manned them with men in US army uniforms. The checkpoints were exact replicas of real checkpoints but built just inside Czech borders and no detail was spared in making arriving Czech citizens think they had made it to safety to the West. This included US newspapers scattered on desks and a US military bus visible through the window.
Once they were settled in what they thought was Germany a Czech secret policeman posing as a US army intelligence officer would ask them to write down all their contacts back home and anyone who disagreed with Soviet policies.
“It was a human tragedy, as people were brought into areas which they thought were safely in the west, there were American flags and American uniforms, and people were asked to name those who were co-operating with Western intelligence, they still feel so ashamed at how they were tricked” said Pavel Bret of the Czech Republics centre for the Documentation and investigation of Communist crimes.
In one documented case an “American army officer” poured a glass of Whisky in order to help relax an escapee before debriefing, when he unwittingly betrayed his friends to face possible death or long imprisonment from Moscow based Stalinist judges.
The defector Josef Frolik claimed the Prague spring, which occurred in 1968, could have happened 15 years earlier but the rounding up of dissidents delayed its onset.
Several defectors to the west have spoken of this massive scam before and how many people fell foul of it but the heroic Oleg Penkovsky, possibly our greatest intelligence asset and the man many say averted WWIII, gave us much information on this episode with documentation and notes at a debriefing in London’s Wardour St. Unfortunately, however it was deemed impossible to stop Operation Stone or the rounding up of Czech informants.
Igor Lukas, a Czech American historian who has been researching the operation, claims several of the perpetrators are still alive and living in luxury. He went on ” I would think that 23 years after the fall of communism the state should be capable of bringing them to justice, the survivors still carry the guilt both mentally and physically of being tricked.
Although the operation was classed as top secret some 10,000 pages of documents have survived.
With thanks to Matthew Day in Warsaw and others.