Part Eight – In the Hands Of Others

With the trove of U.S. electronic secrets provided by insider “Paul” and with increased demand at home and among “brother Socialist organs” for their products, Hauptabteilung III in the 1980’s found itself reaching out to other entities to accomplish its missions.  Most technical were the RELAIS flights circumnavigating West Berlin.

     Streng geheim!  [Top Secret]


On 15 October 1983, Lieutenant General Gerhard Neiber — head of the secretariat that handled the information flow for Minister of State Security Erich Mielke — forwarded a 12-page summary of the initial flights of RELAIS 2. [Often in Roman numerals as Relais II.]  Mielke, who scrawled his approval across the cover memo, may have been pleased that the first paragraph credited “the groundwork laid through Comrade Minister” in establishing photo and electronic investigations of electronic intelligence sites in West Berlin.  Or he may have been sarcastically amused by the tone of the paragraph, which indicates that in the event that someone higher was angered, the staff were only following his orders.  Everyone involved knew there were risks, both technical and geopolitical.

Earlier that same year, a Soviet intelligence analysis program (NATO code name RYAN) had sparked what in hindsight was a serious nuclear war scare, responding to stiffening of the U.S. military posture in President Ronald Reagan’s first term.  In its aftermath analysis, the CIA specified the point that:

The KGB abandoned caution and eschewed proper tradecraft in collecting indications-and-warning intelligence and relied heavily on East German foreign and military intelligence to meet RYAN requirements.

In the following, we join Comrade Minister in reading how a Soviet Forces Germany Mi-8 helicopter (NATO code name Hip) was equipped and crewed for this purpose, making the first RELAIS 2 flights over West Berlin on 27-28 September 1983.


Planning even included the angles for photography of specific targets.

In the 70’s and 80’s a radio tower site in the French Sector’s Frohnau district was developed to handle the ever-growing telecommunications traffic. When the was demolished in 2009, newspaper reports stated that it also been used for Allied radio messages and for radio monitoring of the Warsaw Pact forces.

The helicopter flights were interesting enough to make them a regular feature — until interrupted by historic events in 1989. As awareness within the Ministry grew, more and more departments became involved. The 1989 plan, completed after the Berlin Wall was breached, shows the elaborate preparations. It also shows the additional workload created by diplomatic recognition of the German Democratic Republic. with all the new diplomats and embassies to monitor. And it includes a specific interest in Potsdam, within the GDR. Potsdam was the home base for the Allied Military Missions and Soviet units.



Sources for this section:

1.  Memo – Top Secret – from MfS Major General Horst Maennchen, chief of Hauptabteilung III; BStU, MfS-HAIII Nos. 11603 and 11793.

2. Schmidt, Andreas; “Aufklarung” des Funkverkehrs und der Telefongespr√§che in Westdeutschland – Die Hauptabteilung III; in Knabe, Hubertus; West-Arbeit des MfS; Ch.Links Verlag; Berlin; 2nd edition 1999.

Additional information: (some details in this German language site differ from the account above)