Target Brussels - Cold war espionage

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Expand view Topic review: Target Brussels - Cold war espionage

Target Brussels - Cold war espionage

Post by Tjahzi » Fri Jul 05, 2013 1:29 pm

targetBRUSSELS gathers information on the activities of Eastern European secret services in Brussels during the Cold War. The research is based on the intelligence archives of the former German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary.

'As Brussels has become an important centre of the western world, we have to prevent it from also becoming an important centre of espionage.’ The minutes of the Belgian cabinet meeting of 21 April 1967 leave no doubt: the Belgian government was very much aware of the espionage threat triggered by the relocation of NATO’s operational and political headquarters to Belgium the same year.

Ever since, Brussels has become one of the world’s espionage hotspots. During the Cold War hundreds of spies from both sides of the Iron Curtain were involved in an intelligence war around the Belgian capital.

Secret services from several Warsaw Pact countries established spying activities inside Brussels, looking for information on international organisations and institutions, companies and individuals. Obviously, the NATO headquarters was one of the top targets. But also plenty of diplomatic representations and Belgian and Europan government administrations were on the target list of spies from the East.

targetBRUSSELS is made possible with the financial support of the Fonds Pascal Decroos, a Flemish foundation promoting investigative journalism; the Fonds pour le journalisme, a Walloon foundation promoting investigative journalism; and the Fonds voor Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten, a Dutch foundation promoting investigative journalism. It is also supported by the Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society (Ceges-Soma), a Belgian federal research institution on wars and conflits of the twentieth century and their impact on Belgium.

Between 1/6/2011 and 24/04/2013 has been visited by 13.655 unique users (according to GoogleAnalytics), resulting in 58.876 page views.


Since the beginning of the 1990's, a process has started in several Eastern European countries to disclose the secret service archives of the communist era. targetBRUSSELS studies files from the intelligence archives of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the former German Democratic Republic and Poland.


Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR)

The archive of the Czechoslovak secret service is partly administered by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) in Prague. The USTR became fully operational in 2008. It comprises twenty kilometers of secret documents. Researchers get unlimited access to all documents, can take pictures and no personal data are blackened out.

Related to espionage in Belgium, tens of thousands of pages are available. According to the Belgian Sureté, the Czechoslovak spies during the eighties were the most active secret service on Belgian territory -after the Soviet KGB and the German Stasi.


The Committee on Disclosure of Documents and Announcing Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens to the State Security and the Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army (COMDOS)

The COMDOS commission was set up in 2007 and administers the archives of the former Bulgarian secret service. During the Cold War, Bulgaria was known to be the most reliable ally of Moscow.

Of the twenty kilometers Bulgarian intelligence archives, up to now only four kilometers have been made accessible for the public. Another disadvantage is that the original inventory list of the archives is not searchable yet. Researchers have to sign a declaration promising they will not make public the names of former spies. If the do, they commit a crime in Bulgaria.

A first request concerning Bulgarian espionage in Belgium resulted in about 500 documents, mainly about intelligence targeted at the Bulgarian "enemy migration" inside Belgium.


The National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS)

The CNSAS council in Bucharest, responsible for the archive of the former Securitate, was set up in 1999 but really took off in 2005. The archive consists of 24 kilometers of shelves and about 2 million files. Unfortunately, the original Securitate inventory has not been handed over to the CNSAS, which makes it very difficult to look for needles in the haystack.

A first search for documents related to Belgium resulted in about 900 documents, mostly focused on espionage against Belgians in Romania.

CNSAS director Dragos Petrescu is concerned about the future of his institution. 'Our mandate is to be renewed in 2012, but in the present political spectrum there is -to put it mildly- not much support for our activities.'


The Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU)

The archive of the Ministry for State Security (MfS) of the former GDR was the first secret archive to open its doors for the public. Immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Eastern and Western Germany, the BStU commissioner started his archive activities. Because of that, the Stasi archive is the most complete of all Eastern European archives.

The BStU administers 111 kilometers paper documents, 50 kilometers archive on film, thousands of pictures, videos and audio documents and 15.000 bags of shredded paper. Over the past twenty years no less than 1,7 million German citizens have looked through their Stasi file.

The foreign spies of the GDR worked under the umbrella of the so called Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA). During the roundtable discussions of the then East German government and opposition groups of the GDR in early 1990, the HVA files were a topic of intense discussion. A consensus was reached: the documents should be destroyed.

As a result of that, a lot of material concerning Stasi espionage abroad has vanished. Exceptions are the Rosenholz database (of index cards with info on HVA employees, captured by the CIA and later given back to Germany) and the Sira database (he electronic mail input book of the HVA: lists in which the source, the content and the further distribution of documents are recorded).

A first request concerning Stasi activities in Belgium resulted in 6000 documents, not only from the Rosenholz and Sira databases but also from other subdivisions of the Stasi archive. Notably the archive of the East German military intelligence service (Verwaltung Aufklärung, HAI), which is also hosted at the BStU, contains a lot of information about Belgium. Names of spies and informants are all blackened out.

No less than 1700 employees are working at the BStU. A controversial issue is the fact that 47 employees used to work for the Stasi in the past. Roland Jahn, the new BStU commissioner wants them to take up a job somewhere else.


The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN)

The IPN in Warsaw is the biggest Polish scientific and archival research institution. Set up in 2000 it administers 89 kilometer of archive documents originating from the Polish communist secret police. There are four departments: the public education office, the office for preservation and dissemination of archival records, the chief commission for the prosecution of crimes against the Polish nation, and the vetting office. The latter verifies the statements of public officials or candidates for such positons with regard to their possible cooperation with the communist state security organs in the past.

The IPN is also very active in organising national and international conferences. Since 2001 it has published over thousand books.

A first request concerning Polish intelligence in Belgium during the Cold War resulted in thousands of files, e.g. on the Solidarność Coordinating Office Abroad, that was located in Brussels. But also on the NATO, the European institutions, the port of Antwerp and several citizens of Polish origin plenty of files are available at the IPN.

The great thing about the IPN reading room is that researchers can directly access the digital database of all IPN files (the socalled NEXUS system informacji archiwalnej), providing the possibility to search for names (kwerenda osobowa) or themes (kwerenda przedmiotowa/rzeczowa).


The Historical Archive of the Hungarian State Security (ABTL)

Located in a beautiful historical building in the heart of Budapest, the ABTL administers about 4 kilometres of archive documents from the former Hungarian secret service. It was set up in 2003.

Journalist who want do do research at the ABTL must hold a research licence from a board of trustees with members delegated by scientific institutions.

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