It’s spy vs. spy in Khrushchev-era Berlin, and countless lives are in the balance.
As the Cold War began to grind its way through the 1950s, notes former Washington Post military reporter Vogel (Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation, 2013, etc.), British and American intelligence agencies began to look for ways to intercept Soviet signals. The telephone was obvious, and British agents had already used the tunnel network of Vienna to tap into Soviet lines. But Berlin was the better locale: “Just as all roads led to Rome, all calls—including to and from Moscow—were routed through Berlin.” Thus, an ambitious tunneling project was put into motion only for the Allies to be thwarted when the Soviets learned of the tunnel, a discovery that afforded the possibility of “a big propaganda splash” when Khrushchev made a state visit to London. Why hadn’t the tap been detected when it was first made? “Everyone must have been quite drunk,” commented an East German technician after taking a look at the alien cables. For all that, Khrushchev kept mum, knowing that if he revealed that the Soviets knew about the tunnel, they would provide clues as to who had made them aware of the project—that source being an overly confident British double agent named George Blake. In time, Blake was discovered and jailed only to break out of prison and make his way across the Iron Curtain in a daring escape. Combing through declassified documents and intelligence archives and drawing on interviews with Blake, Vogel delivers a swiftly moving, richly detailed, and sometimes improbable narrative, surpassing an earlier study of the tunnel affair, David Stafford’s Spies Beneath Berlin (2003).
As well paced as a le Carré novel, with deep insight into the tangled world of Cold War espionage.