What others have to say, and what I say to them…

This specific page is dedicated to the comments of former co-workers and other military personnel, specifically those who served in the 6912th ESG or its successor units.

Let me begin by saying that it is easy to talk about someone you think you know. It is even easier to do so from the protection of groups and forums that are private. My web page is public, and I have nothing to hide. I have over the course of the years monitored the thoughts, comments and personal attacks posted in the various forums. I have been at times a member in this forum or that one, without anyone knowing my true identity. That remains true today.  I have contacted some of you as well, knowing full well that my attempt might be rebuffed or worse. That, however, has usually not been the case. Some former co-workers have even offered their support, if only behind the scenes. Why would that be?

And whether you are an angry former Colonel or a simple airman who sat on the line, you must one day accept the fact that what I did – what we did – is now relegated to the history books. Whether or not you agree with my acts, whether or not you agree with my punishment or fate: it is what it is. During the process of getting the release for my manuscript I had to call not only the Pentagon on a regular basis, but also NSA. I was treated fairly and respectfully – especially by NSA – during the entire 10-month long pre-publication process. I was not only permitted to tell this story, I was encouraged by many involved with the redaction process to do so. The reason is simple: there are lessons to be drawn from it. It might surprise those of you who now suggest that I might best be served being killed during a late night visit by Navy SEALs (such as on a former AFOSI member’s gun enthusiast website), but the message in my book is probably not what you think.

Before I continue I would like to address one particular issue for those of you who either have not taken the time to educate yourselves or have not read what I have written about the book.

I cannot profit from the publication of this manuscript. Period.

 

Memo

What most of you don’t know is that I never intended to betray the Air Force or the United States. On that fateful April night in 1983 I simply wanted to leave my life behind. I had more than my own share of problems, many of them from home, and I simply didn’t know where to turn. One bad decision led to another and soon I found myself on the other side of Checkpoint Charlie, sitting with the ‘enemy’. I will spare you the intervening scenes, but suffice it say that I was in no position to bargain. When I was sent back to West Berlin, I was no longer in control of my fate.

As much as my initial intention was simply to leave my past behind, I soon understood why the East Germans and the Soviets wanted so desperately to place agents at Teufelsberg or Marienfelde. And most of you know, too. Behind all of those ludicrous names ‘Comfy-this’ or ‘Comfy-that’ was the real reason we were in Berlin. Most of us didn’t see the so-called Big Picture back then, because it wasn’t necessary in order to do our jobs. As I read through every possible document and binder on Swings and Mids, I began to get a bigger picture. We all know what we did, we all know what we wanted to do, and we all know what we could have done.

When they built that fancy tower at TCA in the early 80s, we knew what it was for, even if we said something else in public.

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Easter Sunday, 2011. The huge expanses of Tempelhof offer Berliners a rare place to play and relax in the crowded city. Today it is home to small garden plots, rollerbladers, cyclists and sunbathers, as well as the backdrop for Car Shows and other events.

We all knew Marienfelde wasn’t a weather station, we even laughed openly (and so did the Germans) when we called it one. I won’t even speak of Teufelsberg (although I could, with authority, thanks to the information I learned while working for the MfS).

 

Let’s be honest. None of us were afraid of a conventional attack by Warsaw Pact forces. The only real threat was a nuclear war, especially one triggered by accident. And this is where we all have to put our cards on the table. Unlike you, I had a unique vantage point with regards to the ‘enemy’. When Baker Flight went to Zürich, for example, I was in Dresden. I could see the so-called ‘enemy’ – men, women and children; hungry, over-worked Soviet soldiers, and East German draftees eager to return to civilian life. None of these people wanted a war, much less a nuclear one. We, on the other hand, pushed the USSR and its allies to the brink nearly every day. We don’t need to recapitulate the missions we supported at Marienfelde, but know what their purpose was, we also know that their capabilities far outstripped any that the USSR possessed. After all, we could see for ourselves every day at work.

When the pilots of the Aggressor Squadron came to Marienfelde in 83-84, did anyone get the impression that NATO was going to lose a war in the air? No, of course not, because NATO wouldn’t have. And we all know that, don’t we Nat, Jim, Roy, Ellen, Doug….? We know that any war today is decided by air superiority.

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RC-135 reconnaissance flight refueling. Photo courtesy of R.B.

Does anyone remember KAL 007? Sure you do. Do you remember the conversations we had on that horrible day? Did any of you have DLI classmates who flew the missions near Sakhalin that day? I did. But you didn’t need to have a friend flying that day to know what had happened. Do you remember when we went back to work, Baker Flight? (We were on break when KAL 007 was shot down.) We all had to read an order from the Air Force directing all questions to AF Public Affairs, and we were instructed not to discuss any aspect of the issue, despite the fact that President Reagan was about to play the infamous (and edited) audio tapes of the Soviet pilots who shot down the airliner. Yes, we were all aghast… At the same time we wondered. We wondered why, if we had those tapes, had we not warned KAL?

You know why.

KAL was a tragic loss of life. If the USSR was responsible for the shoot-down, then the US bears the blame for allowing it to happen – simply to further its propaganda war under Ronald Reagan.

KAL was only one of many things we did to provoke the USSR. We knew first hand about those things. Some of us knew more, some knew almost nothing. I made it my mission to learn as much as I could. The more I learned, the more I became convinced of the necessity of my actions.

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Photo taken of a Soviet Air Defense Forces ‘Fiddler’ during aerial intercept in June, 1972, by crew of US aircraft over the Kara Sea. Photo courtesy R.B.

For those of you who do not understand where we were in 1983, please watch any of the numerous video documentaries on ‘Able Archer’ available on YouTube and elsewhere. All of us at Marienfelde and in West Berlin in1983 lived through Able Archer. I personally betrayed one of the most dangerous provocations in the European Theater, and for that I make no apology.

My life in East Germany was not unpleasant, but it was far from paradise: My phone was tapped, my ‘friends’ were often informants, and when the Wall came down, my handler left me at the mercy of the men sent to hunt me down. And, yes, they did kidnap me, since some of you seem to have a hard time with that term. When you are taken at gunpoint from one country to another in secret without having proper jurisdiction or authority, that is a crime. The crime is called kidnapping. That the United States (and especially the Air Force) does not like to talk about this, is understood. For those of you who call it karma, I certainly accept that. But: if you say that two wrongs make a right, then you have gone down the slippery slope of moral and legal relativism. If simply believing or feeling something is right justifies any action (such as kidnapping), then I can maintain this position for myself as well. Is that really what you believe? In the end the only difference between me and my OSI kidnappers is that only I have paid for my crimes.

There is a reason you can read about Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Pollard, Clayton Lonetree and not me. There is a reason news of my arrest, trial and conviction was not (allowed to be) broadcast in 1991. If people were allowed to know what I betrayed, they might actually understand why I did it. And we couldn’t have that now, could we?

Twenty-five years after I crossed the white line at Checkpoint Charlie we are not willing to discuss what I betrayed. Not even KAL can appear un-redacted – after nearly 30 years. I, unlike others, don’t have anything to hide. This is why my manuscript was confiscated in 1997, and why the government has tried every possible way to prevent the publication of my book.

To all of those I once knew and even considered friends, I say this: I wish you and yours well. We are all growing older, most of us wiser. My life in the GDR and my nearly 12 years in prison makes most daily challenges pale, and I owe my survival to meditation, Buddhist study and simple hard work. I have learned to overcome hate and, more importantly, to forgive. Forgiveness is not math, however, and it is not predicated on being forgiven in return. Either we forgive or we don’t. It’s just that simple. I have made friends even among those that hunted me down and brought me back to the United States in handcuffs. One of the East Germans who betrayed me to the CIA is now also in close contact with me. When I first contacted him, he was unsure of my intentions and probably – and otherwise logically – feared for his life. Unlike those of you who post ignorant and useless threats towards me online, I seek something else besides simple revenge. When I met with this man not too long ago at an airport in a neutral country, I gave him an opportunity to explain what he did and why he did it. After I listened I extended my hand in forgiveness to one of the men who was responsible for sending me to prison. Hatred is a powerful thing, but Forgiveness liberates. It does not, however, require that we forget.

In 2010 I had been invited to speak with a group of other MfS workers to friends and comrades in another European country. I had been asked questions about my time in East Germany and my time working for the MfS. When everyone had finished and we had begun preparing to leave, an old gentleman in his eighties approached me. He had been sitting quietly in the corner for the past two hours. Earlier he had been introduced briefly as the oldest present.

“Jens,” the old man said in his heavy accent, “I just wanted to thank you.”

I was stunned. This man, who was not a German, had been imprisoned for years in the concentration camps and had been tortured under the Nazis. “Oh, no,” I said, “I owe you a debt of gratitude!”

“Listen,” he said quietly. His bony hand shook as he kept his grip on mine. “In the 30s and 40s I did what had to be done, and I paid for it. We both went to prison for what we did. When I was released from the camp, people thanked me. That was then, this is now. And now I am thanking you.”

“Regret nothing.” – Gautama Buddha