The CIA and Czechoslovakia | Radio Prague International

Lyndon Johnson |  Photo: Arnold Newman, US Federal Government, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

It’s very easy! All you have to do is search the CIA Electronic Reading Room, type Czechoslovakia into the “Search Query” field, and within seconds you can access thousands of documents. Some of them show the depth and breadth of information the CIA was collecting. For example, I found a fairly detailed description and list of heavy equipment in the steel and machinery factory in my own small hometown of Žďár and Sázavou from 1953. But many documents are much more in nature. analytical and have found their way to work. Office of the Presidents of the United States. The President’s Daily Brief of December 30, 1967 includes a detailed description of the struggle for power in the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. So, Lyndon Johnson, then President of the United States, read this description of the situation in Czechoslovakia:

“After 20 years in power, the Czech Communists have little to show for their efforts but with economic stagnation and growing dissatisfaction among large segments of the population, the country is a good candidate for the world’s worst case. Communism can mean to a people who had developed a fairly modern economy and were relatively happy with their lot before the Communist takeover. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

“The party itself is heavily divided between liberals and conservatives, and the result is confusion and a lack of cohesion at the top. The liberals are calling for greater decentralization of the state apparatus, including greater autonomy for individual factories and farms. Many are also in favor of some relaxation of the regime’s strict political controls. Conservatives, on the other hand, fear the changes will dilute the party’s political power and weaken its ties with Moscow.

Historian Oldřich Tůma of the Czech Academy of Sciences confirms that Western intelligence services have followed developments in Czechoslovakia with great interest, especially when the ruling Communist Party attempted to introduce “socialism with a human face” into the country. the end of the 1960s:

“Of course, Western governments and their intelligence services have followed developments in Czechoslovakia since late 1967. In the case of the United States, this was motivated by the Vietnam War, as Czechoslovakia was a very important supplier. weapons and other military equipment for the Viet Cong. When U.S. government officials discussed the Prague Spring developments in 1968, they never failed to mention that after the Soviet Union and China, Czechoslovakia was the third largest arms exporter to Vietnam, supplying about ten percent of all military equipment. So the idea of ​​America helping Czechoslovak reforms was out of the question.

In other words: yes, the CIA was interested in what was happening in Czechoslovakia, but only as part of a much larger picture dominated by the power struggle with the Soviet Union including the war in Vietnam. was the most important factor. This does not mean, however, that US intelligence analysts have not followed the situation in Czechoslovakia very closely. They correctly predicted that the Soviets would not tolerate the liberalization processes relating to Prague for long. The CIA warned that a military invasion was likely when there were massive Warsaw Pact maneuvers in the country with the participation of the Red Army. Here is an excerpt from July 12, 1968:

“The announcement that Soviet forces will begin withdrawing from Czechoslovakia on July 13 could be a cover for the redeployment of Soviet troops from training areas and assembly points to crucial locations for a coup. Conservative state, probably within 24 hours, that is, Sunday. It may be interesting to note that the USSR has traditionally chosen the early hours of the morning for movements of this type: the counterattack in Hungary on November 4, 1956, the closure of the Berlin border area on August 13, 1961, the Soviet North Korean plan attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950. This does not mean that the element of surprise alone would dictate the timing , because the requirement to complete all preparations is more essential.

When the invasion arrived the following month, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Historian Oldřich Tůma explains that although the Americans formally protested, they dealt almost exclusively with the Soviets, the Czechs and Slovaks could have been victims of an illegal invasion, but that did not mean that they would be seriously consulted. by the US government:

Anatoly Dobrynin |  Photo: Abbie Rowe, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

“Between August 19 and 25, 1968, Soviet Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Dobrynin met with US Secretary of State Dean Rusk on several occasions and spoke at least once with President Lyndon Johnson. Czechoslovak Ambassador Karel Duda only had a fifteen-minute meeting with the head of the Central European Department in which he was able to deny that the Soviet-led invasion was invited by the Czechoslovak government. I think this shows that the events in Czechoslovakia were important, but Czechoslovakia itself was not important. It’s good to remember that. “

Over the following months, the CIA continued to monitor the situation in Czechoslovakia and again correctly predicted the imminent demise of reformers from the Czechoslovak Communist Party. As in this perspective of the end of November 1968:

Alexander Dubcek (left) |  Photo: YouTube

“Dubček and the liberals are susceptible to a gradual erosion of the popular mandate which is the source of their power. Having admitted that the assumptions underlying this mandate – such as guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press – are “unrealistic”, they have been reduced to quibbling over non-essential elements and will now find it difficult to save reforms – such as guarantees of individual freedoms – they consider necessary for survival.

The CIA also provided the White House with fairly detailed profiles of potentially important Communist actors in Prague. For example, Lubomír Štrougal who was rising in the party deserved this detailed description in the president’s daily newspaper:

Lubomír Štrougal (right) |  Photo: Czech Radio

“Lubomír Štrougal, raised this weekend to four party leadership positions, is not a fanatic Stalinist, but an authoritarian conservative. A personal friend of the former leader of the Novotný party, Štrougal nonetheless turned against him last winter and helped oust Novotný from power. He was remunerated by a post of Deputy Prime Minister, a post he still holds.

The CIA then details Štrougal’s background, his political capabilities and his ties to the Soviets:

historian Oldřich Tůma |  Photo: Czech Academy of Sciences

“Son of a cement manufacturer from Bohemia, Štrougal has a law degree. He rarely travels and he only left the Communist bloc once, during a trip to Finland.

And the intelligence brief for the President of the United States included a prediction of the future role Štrougal might play:

“If the Soviets maintain strong pressure on the Czechoslovak regime, Štrougal is in a good position to challenge Dubček at the party leadership, perhaps as early as the next party congress in 1969. He is clearly the type of Communist that Moscow would have. confidence. . In the meantime, he will likely continue to enjoy Soviet support and be able to lead other conservatives to positions of power and influence.

Gustav Husak |  Photo: Czech TV

Štrougal later became the oldest prime minister in the history of Czechoslovakia. The most powerful post of General Secretary of the Communist Party was won by Gustáv Husák, who later also became president.

Of course, the CIA also reported on other Communist countries. But Czechoslovakia, as the most industrialized communist country after East Germany, with a relatively strong army, continued to receive special attention. Documents relating to Czechoslovakia have been declassified in recent years and they are not exactly spy novels. Nonetheless, they are accessible to the public, and you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy reading the documents the CIA produced on the country when he was on the other side of the curtain. iron.

Berta D. Wells