Several people have asked me, especially since a local newspaper published an interview, what it was like working in Berlin in the ‘60s and what my job entailed. The operation on Teufelsberg was one of the Cold War’s best kept secrets. So, I will let Mike McCurry tell you the basics.
The room Evans and McCurry worked in was about thirty feet wide by sixty feet deep and packed with electronic equipment. Metal racks, set up with columns of audio tape recorders, lined both the side and the back walls of the room. Each column had four of the reel-to-reel machines. There were two columns on each side of a small metal desk, where the operator sat with two more recorders situated over the desk. The racks were set out from the walls about two feet to allow room for the miles of wires that ran out of them and into the walls.
There were nine voice intercept operators in the room, four on each side wall and one at the closed end of the room.
After McCurry had been on site for a while, he would learn there were various rumors about the purpose of a dome that sat atop the facility and concealed a giant microwave dish. The dome could be seen from points outside the Grunewald forest where the Hill was located. Some of the most ludicrous stories were circulated among non-ASA soldiers in Berlin, the “gators,” whose lives overseas comprised a lot of nonsensical war games. The most prevalent rumor was that the bubble concealed a giant laser that could vaporize Russian reconnaissance planes. It wasn’t difficult to find someone who had actually seen the dome open and the laser operating.
There were five voice intercept operator rooms, or wings, on the Hill, three for German language operators and two for Russian linguists. Russian operators listened in on Warsaw Pact maneuvers. The Warsaw Pact consisted of the eight communist states of Eastern Europe and its officials were well aware that their radio communications were being monitored. It was said that through the Russians’ own intelligence activities they often even knew the identities of the personnel assigned to monitor their airwaves. Rich Sezov, the Russian linguist McCurry hung out with at the language institute in Monterey, was shocked into reality on his first day on the Hill. Shortly after picking up his headphones and getting settled in for the shift, he heard a Russian say, in plain English, “Good morning, Mr. Sezov. We hope you enjoy your stay in Berlin and will come back often.” Sezov wasn’t sure, however, whether the voice on the other end was really a Russian or if he had been set up by the guys who had been around for a while. Newks, or newcomers, were often the butt of jokes and pranks.
In addition to the voice intercept operators, there were analysts, specialists who monitored Morse communications and others who maintained the equipment and kept the operations up and running. In all, there were about 80 men in the American contingent on each eight-hour shift. Since the end of World War II, the joint control of the western sector of Berlin was shared by America, Great Britain and France. Great Britain also conducted its own covert activities in another facility on the Hill.
The facility as it looked in 1967.