Book Review Editors Note
Licensed to Spy: With the Top Secret Military Liaison Mission in East Germany. By John A. Fahey. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institue Press, 2002. Pp. 202. $25.95 cloth.)
Lieutenant Commander John Faheys twenty-year naval career included a tour of duty from mid-1960 to mid-1962 with the U. S. Military Liaison Mission (USMLM). The Mission, or "Smellem" as most non-USMLM military members referred to it, operated out of Potsdam (GDR) from whence it engaged in daily reconnaissance of Soviet forces in East Germany. Likewise, the Soviet Mission operated out of Frankfurt (FRG) from whence it targeted American, British, and French military activity in West Germany. Fahey came to this post with qualifications far exceeding those of the other thirteen U. S. Army and Air Force personnel assigned to Potsdam. He held an undergraduate degree in international relations, completed several intelligence courses at the U. S. Naval Intelligence School, and--most importantly--could read, write, and speak fluently in both Russian and German. As a naval officer assigned to the only USMLM naval position, Fahey provides a unique point of view of army and air force collection efforts, command relationship problems, service rivalries, tasking from various higher headquarters, and enlisted discipline problems. While his observations are often humorous, one can quickly detect a sense of bitterness, if not absolute disgust, with his immediate superior and even with some of his military colleagues. Faheys biggest criticism of USMLM personnel, and one valid today in the vast majority of military postings that require contact with local nationals, rested on the fact that few Mission members could converse well in any language other than English. Some spoke a little German, some a little Russian, but he was the only USMLM officer who could translate and interpret in Russian and German simultaneously.
Fahey had several reasons for writing this book. The first, and probably most important reason, was to make a case for the importance of language ability when assigned to a foreign country, especially one like the GDR, which was "managed by a third nation, the USSR. His second reason was to acknowledge the love and support of Barbara--his wife of some fifty-six years--who encountered more than a few difficulties as a direct result of his assignment in Postdam. Thirdly, Fahey wanted to acknowledge the efforts of the Mission personnel, especially the drivers, for the difficult work they accomplished under dangerous conditions. And lastly, he wanted--perhaps in hindsight--to justify his recommendation to change the naval billet to one occupied for the twenty-eight years of its existence by a member of the U. S. Marine Corps.
The author strives to give the reader a sense of what it is like to surreptitiously collect intelligence on Soviet forces during the Cold War from the vantage point of one accredited to the Soviet Army. This accreditation document is the "license to spy" to which Fahey refers often--perhaps too often--throughout the book. He selected approximately twenty-five incidents from his two-year experience to de-scribe in some detail in order to highlight his activity and that of other USMLM members. These selected incidents include: conversations and negotiations with Germans and Russians of varying degrees of authority, from policemen to general officers; the intelligence results of a few of his reconnaissance trips; and several detentions. He also describes intelligence tasking, or the lack thereof, from higher headquarters; a couple of shooting incidents; the Berlin Wall crisis; and a train incident on Thanksgiving Day.
Faheys first-hand account of intelligence collection against the Soviets in East Germany is based--forty years after the fact--upon his memory alone. He uses no other sources, and yet he presents his information in a compelling and credible manner due in part to his training in mnemonics (a memory technique). His recreation of the negotiations between General Bruce Clark and Marshall Ivan Konev, and his role as one of the negotiators as well as translator/interpreter, provides considerable insight into the US-USSR military-to-military relationship after the creation of the Berlin Wall and prior to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. For historians, this work provides an insiders account of life at the USMLM in Potsdam and the activities of the U. S. military personnel accredited to the Soviet Army. Most importantly, Faheys major theme--the vital necessity of being able to communicate in the language(s) of the country and/or foreign entities to which one is assigned--is an invaluable lesson for American diplomats and military personnel serving abroad today.