Chapter Thirteen

Forgery of Protokol M

On January 14, 1948, certain British correspondents in Berlin were called together by a British political intelligence officer. I was in Berlin too, at the time, but was not invited. The correspondents were shown part of a document of which the officer said, "there is absolutely no doubt of its authenticity." The top and bottom parts of this document were folded over, concealing the origin and signature, date of issue, etc. Written in pseudo-Marxist language, the document, known as "Protokol M," consisted of a preamble and five sections.

"The coming winter will be the decisive period in the history of the German working class," the preamble started. "This battle is not concerned with ministerial posts, but is for the starting position for the final struggle for the liberation of the world proletariat... The working class of every nation will provide the necessary assistance..."

The five-point programme called for:

(1) Strikes against transport to disrupt food supplies.

(2) Agitation cadres to be formed to exploit weaknesses in Social Democrat organisations.

(3) The organisation of secret radio stations. Names of supposed organisers were given. "We must guarantee that receiving sets are installed in good time and secure places."

(4) Strike cadres were to be organised by the end of February, organisation of a general strike would begin in early March.

(5) "M. A. Cadres" were to be placed in charge of the strike. (A most unlikely quotation from Lenin was used to bolster up the rest of this ridiculous document: "He who places at the top of his programme political mass organisation embracing all the people, even before his tactics and organisation, runs the least risk of failure in the revolution.")

The chosen correspondents were told that "Protokol M" would be published in the French licensed evening paper "Kurier," that evening; that their stories should be based on "Kurier" and not on British intelligence; but they could say that British intelligence had known of the existence of this document for some time and had no doubt of its genuineness.

The correspondents waited around with considerable impatience for the evening issue of "Kurier." Eventually it came – but with no mention of "Protokol M." The telephone of the intelligence officer was soon ringing and half a dozen indignant journalists wanting to know what was going on. Was that his idea of a practical joke? He was very astonished that it was not in the paper and begged them to call him back after half an hour. Some harsh words must have passed between him and his French opposite number, for within half an hour the British officer was able to tell the correspondents that there would be a special edition of "Kurier," later in the evening with the story. Sure enough, a few hundred copies of "Kurier" were run off later that evening carrying "Protokol M." It seems that the editor had stage-fright almost at the last moment and had decided not to carry the story, but heavy pressure was brought to bear.

The most enraged man in Berlin that night was Arno Scholtz, editor of the British licensed Social Democrat paper, "Telegraf." Normally Scholtz did not shrink from publishing the most outrageously false stories. He had had "Protokol M" in his pocket for some weeks; had even taken it to London with him and tried to sell it to a London newspaper. It smelt too much like the infamous "Zinoviev letters" forgeries, published by the British Tories on the eve of the 1924 general elections to discredit the Labour Party, to the particular editor to whom Scholtz offered his story. He turned it down, and Scholtz did not raise the good English pounds he had been seeking. As the story was turned down in England Scholtz was dubious about publishing in Berlin. There is no doubt at all, that Scholtz knew the document was a forgery, but still he was furious at being "scooped” by a rival paper.

Next morning, the story made a sensation in the British and shortly afterwards in the world press. Properly trimmed with guarantees of British intelligence, quotes from officials in the British Zone that sabotage had already started, stories that troops were being moved to the Ruhr as precautionary measures, "Protokol M" became the sensation of the year. The following day the British Foreign Office released the full text, with a pompous statement that "It had been known to the British authorities for some time."

On January 21, Mr. Hector McNeil, assured the House of Commons that "His Majesty's Government believes this document to be genuine." He also added to quieten the suspicions of some members that the German press had obtained copies of the document "by the ordinary methods of news gathering" and its publication was made "quite freely and without instigation by us and as far as we know by no other government."

Pravda nailed the story for what it was, a "villainous forgery circulated by British intelligence in order to justify the repression which is being prepared against democratic movements in German." As Communist newspapers were being closed down right and left at that time, the SED and People's Congress had been banned in the Western Zones, Pravda put its finger well and truly on the spot. "Protokol M" was a good illustration of the type of incident which the lunatic fringe in military government, were capable of manufacturing. "Protokol M" was to be the prototype for future provocations to turn the "cold war" into a "hot" one.

It was not until three months that Mr. Hector McNeil had to eat his words and make a painful admission to the House of Commons that the document was a forgery. Meanwhile the damage had been done and repressive action against the Communists was in full swing. "'Mr. Bevin," stated McNeil, "decided that the most careful and exhaustive investigations should be undertaken. These eventually led us to a German, not employed by H.M. Government, who, after questioning, volunteered that he was the author of the document. I have read a summary of his statements and I must tell the House that they are not convincing and that they are in parts conflicting. The Secretary of State, however, wishes it made plain that after these further investigations, we can only conclude that the authenticity of the document now lies in doubt." All of which was Mr. McNeil's roundabout way of admitting the truth of Pravda's terse comment that "Protokol M" was a "villainous forgery" perpetrated if not by, at least with the knowledge of British intelligence.

To this day the name of the forger has not been released, nor his position. In Germany, it is widely accepted that the person referred to by McNeil is a leading functionary in the British Zone organisation of the Social Democrats. The only action taken against the intelligence officer who palmed the story on to correspondents was that he was transferred to the British Zone.

An amusing sidelight to the "Protokol M" story for me personally was that while I was unsuccessful in dissuading most of my colleagues from lending themselves to such an obvious "phoney," I was successful with Leo Muray, of the Manchester Guardian. He arrived in Berlin from Vienna on the evening when the story was released. I told him of it and my reasons for disbelieving it. It was "supposed" to have originated in Belgrade in the "autumn" of 1947. What serious person and what Communist would take notice of a document which bore no exact date, no address of origin and no recognisable signature? What Communist would use such a roundabout quotation from Lenin, the only purpose of which could be to justify the stupidity of the tactics outlined in the document – and to introduce the word "revolution"?

After some discussion, Muray agreed with me and did not send the story. Next day, with the story splashed all over the British Press, Muray got an angry message from the editor, demanding to know why he had not sent the story. After Hector McNeil's April 19 statement, however, the Manchester Guardian came out with an article preening itself for its acumen in having discarded a story which was so "obviously" a doubtful one.

"The Foreign Office," wrote the Manchester Guardian, "comes rather badly out of the episode of Protokol M. It accepted as genuine a document which, even to uninstructed observers like ourselves, appeared to be doubtful on the internal evidence alone. Gullibility is the worst possible vice of an intelligence service. Those who swallowed 'Protokol M' might well be released to seek their fortunes writing thrillers for the commercial market."

"Protocol M" is a forgery which deserves to stand with the "Zinoviev Letter," the "Protocols of Zion," the "Reichstag Fire," and other villainous provocations invented by reactionaries to justify oppression. It was exploded in the U.S. Congress in the middle of the debate on Marshall Aid and was used as an argument for the need of American dollars to save Europe from Communism.

There were many similar clumsy tricks pulled out of the armory by the Berlin professionals in political warfare, disguised as information and intelligence officers. Crude and stupid as many of them were, the plots sometimes misfired to the temporary embarrassment of the governments concerned.

One enthusiast in the British I.S.D. (Information Services Division) produced a plan for "counter-propaganda," working through the German press and certain British journalists (the B.B.C., Reuters, News-Chronicle and Daily Express were to be excluded). A definite programme of prefabricated stories was to be floated for simultaneous release to British and German correspondents. An exact list of stories was contained in the memorandum produced by the official concerned. It included the following "news" stories. "Mass arrests for former social democrats in the Soviet Zone," "Food riots in certain cities in Soviet Zone," "Slave labour in the uranium mines in Soviet Zone," "Mass exodus of workers to the West," etc. Unfortunately for this particular officer he was so intoxicated with the brilliance of his brain-child that he talked about it too often and too openly. A summary of his memorandum appeared one day in the Soviet licensed "Berliner Zeitung." Of course the story was immediately denied, but the I.S.D. officer was quickly whisked off from Berlin to the British Zone with stern admonitions to keep his mouth closed in future.

The programme of stories however went through, with a few alterations as to the order in which they would be published, and a few additions. One of the more recent campaigns in the West German press was in preparation for the demand for a German army in the West. A series of stories was released about the People's Police in the Soviet Zone, pretending that it was a vast army in police uniforms, complete with tanks, artillery – and one paper added planes as well. The Sozial-Demokrat, to cover up the fact that the French were using German troops to crush the independence movement in Indo-China, claimed Soviet Zone people's police were fighting with the democratic forces in Greece. It even published a large list of names and home-towns of those supposed to have been killed fighting in 1949. "Neues Deutschland," the S.E.D. newspaper, checked every name in every town. In some cases no such people as mentioned existed, in other cases the names existed but in no case did a name correspond with anybody who was a member of the Soviet Zone police force. But for every lie that was crushed a dozen more were invented by the Goebbels-trained journalists working for the social-democrat press.

One of the crudest efforts perpetrated by British intelligence in Berlin was the production of a "pro-forma" questionnaire, which any British officials having dealings with Russians were supposed to complete about the particular officials with whom they came in contact. The document was marked secret, was printed by the firm which did all British official printing in Berlin, and by the nature of the questions, it was clear that the questionnaire referred only to Russians.

A copy of this was left one day on a table after a Control Council meeting in the Allied Control Building. Either it was left as a friendly warning by some sympathiser or it was meant as a subtle means of increasing Russian suspicions and forcing them to break off those social relations which still existed. From the moment that document was known to the Russians, they could justifiably expect that every British official with whom they came in contact was a spy.

The "pro-forma" was sent around to various British officials with a memo. stating if they had any doubts about filling in such forms, they should ring a certain telephone number. A British intelligence officer who answered at that number would then allay their scruples. Several of the questionnaires were returned to the issuing officer with angry notes from officials who said they had not come to Germany to spy against the Russians.

The questions concerned the military rank and branch of service, decorations worn, languages spoken, region in Russia where official stationed (to make it quite clear that the questionnaire was for use against Russians it said with regard to the last question, "e.g., White Russia, Ukraine, etc."), whether subject had been abroad before and other routine questions of military intelligence.

The face of the intelligence officer who was supposed to quieten one's scruples was a fine purple of anger and embarrassment, when I dropped a photostat copy of the document on his table one morning and asked him what it was all about.

Eventually, amid mumbled threats of the Official Secrets Act, he muttered something about "mere routine enquiries" for information which helps Control Commission officials "to deal with their Russian opposite numbers."

A facsimile of the "pro-forma” eventually found its way to the British and German press and British-Soviet relations were dealt another heavy blow. And this brings us to the subject of social relations between the Russians and the western allies.

Any newcomer to Berlin, certainly any newcomer in the press world, was told that it was impossible to see any Russians. "They never even answer their telephones," one was told by the official liaison officers. Stories were spread that no Russian could visit a westerner without permission from his superior officers; that any Russian having social contacts with westerners came under suspicion of the Soviet police, and if he persisted in his contacts he would "disappear," that those few who did have contacts were "police spies."

Far nearer the truth was that British and Americans having friendly relations with Russians were regarded with the greatest suspicion – and if they disregarded hints, they "disappeared," or, in the western way, they were declared "redundant" and sent back home. This happened in a number of cases, especially to friendly British-Russian liaison officers.

From the time I arrived in Berlin at the end of 1945 until the time I finally left Germany in April, 1949, I had close and continued social relations with Russians. Of the half dozen who became my good friends, five were still in Berlin when I left, the sixth had been transferred back to Moscow, where I kept track of him through his articles on Germany which appear regularly in the Soviet press. I invited them – and they came – to my flat and the British Press Club. They invited me – and I went – to their flats and to the Soviet Press Club. If they accepted an invitation, they never failed to come.

At the British Press Club, my Soviet guests were usually joined by several British correspondents and other guests of the club. Discussions ranged over the widest variety of subjects – and no holds were barred on either side. I could drop in at any time to the Soviet Army newspaper "Taegliche Rundschau" and see the editor, Colonel Kirsanoff, and this applied to any other correspondents interested enough to the attempt.

In the early days of the breakdown of the Allied Control Council, at the time of the collision between the British Viking air-liner and the Soviet Yak fighter plane, when official relations were at their lowest ebb; Marshal Sokolovsky's aide, Colonel Prishepniko came to a dinner party at my flat, together with General Robertson's public relations officer, Richard Crawshaw, and Colonel Howley's public relations officer, Fred Shaw. Shaw and Prishepniko had a vigorous verbal duel over American intervention in Greece, but the dinner was a great success.

Prishepniko, who is a tall, exceedingly handsome and intelligent officer, learned excellent English when he served with a Soviet tank-purchasing mission in the United States.

There was no difficulty in having friendly contacts with the Russians if one went to the trouble of getting to know them. Many people complained that the Russians did not come to their cocktail parties when they were invited.

My Russian friends explained that they were excessively bored with cocktail parties, and bored in general with being treated like "museum pieces" by gushing Allied wives who were just "too thrilled" to actually talk to and touch a Russian. It was something to write home to one's friends about. The parties the Russians liked and the invitations they accepted, were to smaller, more intimate affairs with people they knew and liked and with whom they could have interesting discussions. Most of them were good linguists and spoke either English or German or both. Those from the press world with whom I had, naturally, the closest contacts were extremely cultivated people, with a knowledge of European literature and drama that put most of their hosts to shame.

The mistake that many British and American correspondents made, once they did make contact with their Russian opposite numbers, was to try and exploit them as a news source. They would telephone on all sorts of occasions, hoping to get a "beat" on their colleagues with some meaty quotes from Soviet sources. And, of course they were always disappointed. There were no "leakages," official or otherwise from Soviet sources, such as correspondents were accustomed to from their British or American contacts.

If one approached the Russians as human beings and not as "news sources" one made fine friendships with polished and cultured men and women, with whom it was possible to enjoy a first night at theatre or opera and have a stimulating discussion together over supper afterwards.

But to try and worm out of a Russian official, what the Soviet attitude was going to be to a certain proposal coming up for discussion at the Control Council, was to risk being regarded as a spy. A Russian regards the premature disclosure of government policy, as treachery, and it is certain that many social contacts which could have been developed were broken off by this insistent prying into a Russian's official business which is considered normal in the west, over a few drinks, but which is unthinkable with Russians.

There were those amongst Allied officers who deliberately tried to sabotage Allied-Soviet social relations from the first days. There were the liaison officers who wore their Tsarist or White Guardist decorations and made loud anti-Soviet remarks at the Control Council buffet, who paraded the fact that they were intelligence officers and deliberately tried to arouse Soviet suspicions. It is quite possible that the "pro-forma" mentioned above was intended for this purpose when it was seen that the earlier line – that it was impossible to have social contacts with these "Soviet bounders" – had failed and increasing numbers of western officials were making friends with their Russian opposite numbers. "If one can't drive the British away from the Russians, let's try driving the Russians away from the British" was the attitude of one Colonel of liaison that I knew.

A favourite form of sabotage was for Allied liaison officers to hold up letters sent to the Russians and then blame the Russians for the resultant delays. On several occasions I and other correspondents had applied for transit passes through the Soviet Zone and had been held up for more than a reasonable time. Our enquiries produced the standard excuse: "You know what these Russians are, chaps." Eventually we found the requests had never been sent to the Russians.

A particularly cheap and crude snub to the Russians was administered by the "wrecking section" in British Public Relations. Several tours of the Soviet Zone for British correspondents were arranged by the Soviet press section. On those trips, British correspondents were hospitably and correctly treated. Food, lodging and petrol for our cars, was provided free of charge. We were taken to the places we wished to visit and as far as possible interviewed those officials we desired to. We were treated as honored guests, in a warm-hearted and friendly manner.

When Soviet correspondents desired a return trip, after months of negotiation, arrangements broke down, because the British officer conducting the negotiations, Colonel Gillespie, demanded payment in advance, for petrol, food and lodging. Payment had to be made in British occupational currency, which it was illegal incidentally, for Russians to hold. Such treatment was a challenge to British honour and hospitality. At the same time a large group of German editors were invited to England as the "guests of His Majesty's Government." A group of Czech correspondents were expected in the British Zone (these were the days when the West hoped to woo Czechoslovakia away from the Soviet sphere) and orders were given to Public Relations officials to "entertain them lavishly, all costs to be borne by the Foreign Office."

A special meeting of the British Press Association was called to discuss Gillespie's snub, and it was decided that the correspondents, many of whom had experienced Soviet hospitality, would pay the cost of the tour out of their own pockets. When this reached the ears of Colonel Gillespie, he finally decided the trip could be arranged, cost-free after all.

In the end the tour turned out a complete fiasco. A schedule agreed by the Deputy Military Governor, Major-General Brownjohn, was repudiated by the Zonal Commander, Major-General Bishop. Half the places to be visited were struck off the list, soon after the tour started. A highly embarrassed British conducting officer, Major Donald MacLaren, tried to do a correct job, kept cabling Berlin and receiving fresh instructions, which were promptly countermanded by General Bishop who did not want Russian journalists looking at munition plants that should have been dismantled. In the end the trip was abandoned and the Soviet journalists returned to Berlin to lodge an official protest about the way they had been treated.

The only Russian-speaking liaison officer at British Public Relations was declared "redundant" because she did her best to smoothe out the difficulties and maintain correct, friendly relations with her Soviet opposite numbers. After she left no one was appointed to replace her and one more line of contact with the Russians was snapped. By mid-1948, there was no official means for a correspondent to contact the Soviet press section – although German journalists and editors were being pressed on to us from all directions.

Correspondents who came from London to see the Soviet Zone were usually "informally" directed to myself or the dismissed liaison officer if they insisted that they wanted to meet Russians. In that way a special correspondent of the London Times, a B.B.C. commentator, and a well-known Fleet Street foreign editor, were able to visit the Soviet Zone with the minimum of formalities – at 24 hours' notice.

The wreckers left no tricks unplayed however to ensure that visitors from outside would have no contact with the Russians. Deceit and downright lies were part of the stock in trade.

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