March 7, 2016

1949. The Czechoslovak Spy Ring in West Germany

Five Men Face Charges of Espionage Against the United States
The border town of Mödlareuth in occupied Germany, July 1949 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Munich

February 19, 1949

The American military government in Bavaria has a first-class spy thriller on its hands today—a story which is probably getting more than its share of attention because American authorities have chosen to be so mysterious about the whole thing.

Tomorrow, two Poles and three Germans will face a military court on charges of espionage against the United States. They are part of a ring of twenty persons recently arrested and identified as the group supplying information prejudicial to the security of the United States. The information, authorities say, was going to Czechoslovakia.

Initial interest was created in the trials during the first hearing of the case of Frontisek Klecka. The Army announced that Klecka would be tried in secret, and that not even the verdict would be announced. Protests from reporters here brought about modification of this ruling, and the sentencing was performed in open hearing. Klecka got twenty years of hard labor. We still don't have any idea of his operations, but presumably he was a courier for the spy ring as he once worked on the Orient Express, which runs from Paris to Ankara.

Bavaria is conveniently located for illegal border operations, rimmed as it is by the Soviet zone of Germany, Czechoslovakia, the French zone, and Austria. Smuggling is widespread here despite the efforts of authorities to break it up.

A steady stream of some 15,000 refugees a month pour into this German province—most of them from the Iron Curtain countries.

Military government refugee policy has been one of benevolence, to give political asylum wherever possible. But this refugee traffic also provides excellent cover for espionage, such as that carried on by the Czech ring now under indictment.

Here in Central Europe, espionage and counterintelligence has been a growing byproduct of the international struggle between the East and West. Agents and informers are a dime a dozen, and some are known to market their intelligence on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

One of the most interesting things about tomorrow's public hearing—the first postwar spy trial to be held in Europe by America—will be the kinds of information and the type of intelligence which our authorities regard as dangerous to the security of our country.

This is one of the things that badly needs defining in these difficult times.

This is Bill Downs in Munich. Now back to CBS in New York.
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Bill Downs

CBS Munich

February 20, 1949

Three Germans and two Poles pleaded not guilty to charges of espionage against the United States here this morning as the Army lifted the secrecy surrounding a ring of some twenty persons charged with selling intelligence to a foreign power.

The five men are charged with collecting material and information relative to the strength, training, resources, communications, and capabilities of the US armed forces in Bavaria, and imparting them to agents of a foreign power.

Earlier announcements by the Army identified the foreign power as Czechoslovakia. One member of this ring was convicted of espionage and sentenced to twenty years of hard labor in a secret hearing.

Brigadier General John McKee, president of the military court, announced today that all subsequent hearings will be made in public.

Army prosecutors opened the trial this morning with the case of Theodore Szendzielorz, a citizen of Poland. A German patrolman told of stopping Szendzielorz near Nuremberg last September 15. The man fled, leaving behind a woman's handbag containing sketches, notes, and film. The sketches included drawings of the big Siemens electrical works in Nuremberg, sketches of a railroad repair shop, notes on the water and gas works of the Bavarian town of Marburg, sketches of a steel factory in Frankenburg, and a German topographical map of the Grafenwöhr training grounds where American troops carried on maneuvers last fall. Also included was an old blueprint of the American billeting area at Grafenwöhr.

Many of these notes were signed by one Robert Eicher, the mystery man in this spy drama. Eicher has not been identified.

So far, the evidence indicates that someone is interested not only in the American occupation army, but also in a lot of economic and industrial information, much of which could be gotten from a chamber of commerce. The detail goes down to the names of streets and car lines, the height of fences, and the kind of roofs on the buildings concerned.

Trial of the five men is not expected to be completed until the end of the week.

This is Bill Downs in Munich. Now back to CBS in New York.

(All five of the men charge were convicted, but General Lucius Clay later reduced their sentences. Klecka's sentence was later reduced to five years.)