Looking Down The Corridors

Title:                      Looking Down The Corridors

Author:                 Kevin Wright

Wright, Kevin (2015) and Peter Jefferies. Looking Down The Corridors: Allied Aerial Espionage over East Germany And Berlin 1945-1990. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: The History Press

OCLC:                    908632464


Summary: The only book to examine Berlin operations in detail, written by experts with extensive first-hand knowledgeBetween 1945 and 1990 the British Government mounted some of the most successful intelligence operations of the Cold War. Conducted in great secrecy, aircrews flew specially modified light transport and training aircraft to gather intelligence on the Soviet and East German military targets that surrounded  Read more…
  • E book. Print book not in US libraries (re: WorldCat)

Date Posted:      March 23, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Aerial photography was a major source of tactical and strategic intelligence throughout the Cold War for all participants. For many in the United States, its importance was highlighted publicly during the U-2 incident in 1960 and later with the satellite programs used during nuclear arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. In addition to strategic collection platforms, each nation’s military conducted fixed-wing aerial reconnaissance, which was common knowledge. But one Western aerial collection program was kept secret from the public during the Cold War, though ironically not from the Soviet Union. Looking Down the Corridors tells that story.

After the end of World War II, British, US, and French occupying forces reached an agreement with the Soviet Union that provided ground and air access to the divided city of Berlin from the Western occupied zone of Germany via three well-defined virtual corridors. In the case of aircraft—military and civilian—the corridors created flight paths that passed over territory the Soviets and their allies would have to traverse before attacking the West. Thus, in the spring of 1946, Britain and the United States began secret aerial reconnaissance flights in the corridors. A wide variety of aircraft with photographic, SIGINT, and radar sensors were employed to collect data on targets on both sides of the corridors. The imagery recorded Soviet and later East German military activity for early warning purposes, while at the same time providing important order-of-battle intelligence.

Authors Kevin Wright and Peter Jefferies interviewed participants and examined records declassified since the end of the Cold War to produce a comprehensive record of flight operations and the intelligence they produced. For perspective, the authors include descriptions of the major events that influenced collection priorities—for example, the Berlin Airlift, the Czech invasion, and even “non-corridor peripheral flights” (p. 57) over Russia and the Baltic and Caspian seas.

Since four nations were involved in all activities involving Berlin, a Berlin Air Safety Centre (BASC) was formed to control all flights. In separate chapters on corridor operations for Britain, the United States, and France, the authors explain how they operated within the agreed-upon rules. They discuss the targets, types of aircraft employed, and the response of the Soviets when they attempted to harass (there was an occasional shootdown) aircraft they asserted were flying outside of agreed-upon altitude or geographic limits. With a few exceptions, no attempt was made to disguise the nature of the collection flights, since the aircraft had to open doors that concealed the cameras and were thus visible to the Soviets during flight. The Soviets did not file complaints, however, since they were flying their own reconnaissance missions. The result was that the flights were kept secret from the public. (pp. 186ff)

In addition to the corridor flights, the authors discuss the British military mission (BRIXMIS) in Berlin that flew light aircraft in the Berlin area from which crewmen employed handheld cameras to collect close-up imagery of Soviet and East German equipment, such as the then-new T-72 tank.

The authors include a chapter on the joint imagery exploitation of US and British units that eventually provided imagery readouts. Their advance warning of what turned out to be the Czech invasion in 1968 and preparations for building the Berlin Wall are noted in a chapter discussing the value of the program.

Looking Down the Corridors documents a little known chapter in Cold War intelligence. It is meticulously documented, thoroughly illustrated, and well written. A really valuable contribution.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp.  122-123).  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at  www.cia.gov.


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