Prague, Dec 3 (CTK) – A rift in the Czechoslovak communist intelligence during the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement caused a collapse of its espionage network in Western countries, historian Petr Kanak, one of the authors of a book on this topic, told Saturday’s issue of daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD).
The book on the developments in the secret police (StB) in 1968-1971 was recently issued by the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR), the paper writes.
“The tension in the intelligence was growing. Reformists who supported the government politics of Alexandr Dubcek opposed conservatives who mostly had a leaning towards the Stalinist idea of a totalitarian state,” Kanak said.
The Czechoslovak reform movement was crushed by the intervention of Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968 and the reformists were sacked from the intelligence and persecuted.
“This era resulted in an enormous purge, which has been the largest purge within the whole StB secret police,” Kanak said.
But the persecuted reformists were no heroes, they were StB officials, he said. Many of them promptly withdrew their reformist views, flattered, informed on people and hoped that they would get high posts again, Kanak said.
However, five of the reformists who were sacked from the StB intelligence signed the Charter 77 human rights manifesto, which turned into a political opposition movement in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The conservatives mostly pursued successful careers in the Czechoslovak security forces, MfD writes.
The conservatives usually belonged to a older generation, while the reformists were younger. The reformists often studied in the Soviet Union after the war at a time when the totalitarian regime was softening. On the contrary, their older colleagues were members of Czechoslovak revolution guards or rapid reaction units that supervised the deportation of Sudeten Germans after the war. They were also involved in repressions and controversial operations that took place in the 1950s. When a discussion about unlawful practices of the communist regime opened in Czechoslovak society in the lae 1960s, these inteligence officers began to fear for their future.
In the months following the occupation of the country in August 1968, one fourth of the espionage agents, about 270 officials, were dismissed because of their political views, and the Soviet secret service KGB played a role in this.
Several Czechoslovak spies fled to the West and they revealed valuable information, including secret operations and Czechoslovak agents operating in Western Europe.
“The network that was developed for 20 years collapsed and the intelligence faced the consequences until the end of the 1970s,” Kanak told the paper.
The Czechoslovak intelligence had to leave about 20 out of the 50 countries in which it operated until then and a lot of operations had to be scrapped.
Two of the revealed secret agents paid by Czechoslovakia were British MPs, William Owen and former minister John Stonehouse, MfD writes.
In 1968-1971, at least ten Czechoslovak spies defected to the West and they told what they knew to the Western secret services. One of them was Ladislav Bittman who worked undercover in Vienna. Shortly after Czechoslovakia’s occupation, he and his wife travelled to Western Germany and addressed the U.S. intelligence.
Bittman was no ordinary spy – he knew the names of many other intelligence senior officials and agents and operations. He even made up and controlled the Neptun operation, within which Czech authorities “revealed” Nazi documents hidden in a Czech lake close to the German border.
“His defection is a serious threat to the operation of the Czechoslovak intelligence abroad and it will cause considerable political, moral and financial losses. The U.S. intelligence will have access to…one of the most valuable workers of socialist secret services who joined the enemy after World War Two,” a StB report admitted.
The Czechoslovak intelligence expected that extensive damage would be caused, and this really happened very soon. Within a few months, Czechoslovak secret agents operating in Austria were arrested and others lost their cover. Bittman was sentenced to death in absentia by a military court.