The Western Secret Services and the Wall
Both as the refugees' way out of East Germany and as the Western secret services' way in, West Berlin was a thorn in the side of the DDR and USSR. Khrushchev's ultimatum of 27 November 1958, which began the Second Berlin Crisis, was an aggressive attempt to pull it out. But the Western governments did not yield to Khrushchev's demands and he did not want to provoke them into military or economic retaliation. In the early hours of 13 August 1961 he and Ulbricht took action both to stop the flight of refugees and to frustrate the subversive work of the Western secret services. The sectoral border in Berlin was closed using barbed wire; the operation had the codename 'Rose'. By 6 a.m. West Berlin was completely fenced in. The declaration of the Warsaw Pact states announcing the closure claimed that its purpose was to prevent 'subversive activity' against them. There was some truth to this. Reinforced by concrete blocks, watchtowers, and minefields, this fence turned into the Berlin Wall. Ulbricht was so afraid that Western agents in the SED and government might learn of 'Rose' that the preparations were made in great secrecy by a small staff of highly trusted people directed by Erich Honecker. The KGB supported closing the border.1 The MfS had had plans ready for it even before Khrushchev issued his ultimatum. The first Minister of State Security, Wilhelm Zaisser, is said in the early 1950s to have been contemplating the construction of a wall. The Minister for State Security in 1961, Erich Mielke, took an active interest in the refugee problem. He was a member of the Politburo working group which early in the year considered ways of stopping the flight of refugees.2
Ulbricht had been pressing for the sectoral border to be closed since 1952. Indeed, he had also wanted the DDR to take control of the access routes between West Berlin and West Germany. The refugees escaped to West Germany by air. It was reasonable to expect that, if the air routes were cut, they would no longer try to reach West Berlin because they would no longer be able to reach West Germany from there. But this might provoke the United States to war. Khrushchev selected the solution to the refugee and subversion crises which would least antagonize the
1 Murphy et al, Battleground Berlin, 371–2.
2A. Wagner, Walter Ulbricht und die geheime Sicherheitspolitik der SED (Berlin, 2002), 432–4, 438.