Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945-1961

By P. U. Maddrell | Go to book overview
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The Uses of the Intelligence Gathered


Intelligence of a huge Soviet arms build-up using German weapons technology fuelled fear of war. American intelligence analysts warned in 1949 that, though it was not imminent, 'Both sides are actively preparing for eventual war'. The USSR, it pointed out, 'has maintained, and possibly accelerated, its efforts to enhance its military capabilities through both the intensive development of basic war industries and the qualitative improvement of its military forces'.1 This made the gathering of more scientific and technical intelligence crucial; during the Cold War intelligence collection developed a momentum of its own. Scientific and technical intelligence was needed because it reveals what weapons the enemy has and will have, and thus what kind of war to prepare for. It shows weaknesses which can be exploited and strengths against which defence must be made. Thus, it helps to determine what weapons to develop and what military strategy to pursue. It also shows what weapons are not needed and so helps to save money. During the Cold War, it both fuelled the arms race and kept the West from panicking. The CIA's tribute to Pyotr Popov, its spy in the GRU from 1955 until 1959, mentioned that his information had saved at least $500 million in defence-related R&D.2 The frantic and revolutionary weapons development of the period 1945–61 is too large a subject to be examined in depth here. All that will be attempted is to show that intelligence had a significant impact on war planning and weapons development.

Britain was acutely sensitive to its military weakness in face of a Soviet attack and to its vulnerability to an atomic strike. This made it a keen gatherer of intelligence on Soviet weaponry and on the USSR's air and guided missile forces. Financial crisis in the late 1940s also made the government reluctant to spend money on manufacturing new weapons; to avoid falling behind other countries as a result, it gave the highest priority to research and development.3 So intelligence on Soviet R&D was particularly sought after. The intelligence gathered in Germany was passed to the weapons design offices of the Ministry of Supply to guide them in their work.4

1 ORE 46–49, 'The Possibility of Direct Soviet Military Action during 1949', 3/5/1949, in
Steury, Front Lines, 162–5.

2 Murphy et al, Battleground Berlin, 281.

3 A. Pierre, Nuclear Politics (London, 1972), 152.

4 DSI/JTIC(52)14, 'Targets for STIB in Eastern Germany', 16/6/1952, DEFE 41/153.


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