Escaping Two Dictators: Czechoslovakian Intelligence Defectors from the New Communist Regime, 1948-1949

Kevin Riehle

After the February 1948 communist takeover of the Edvard Beneš government in Prague, many Czechoslovakian government officials began seeking opportunities to escape.  Within just a few months of the Soviet-sponsored coup, non-communists were being removed from the Czechoslovakian government and security forces, leaving only communists in positions of power.  Communists increasingly dominated the Second Directorate (Intelligence) of the General Staff, and non-communists were interrogated about their refusal to join the party.  Consequently, intelligence and state security officers were among a flood of Czechoslovakian officials, especially those working in Germany and Austria, who fled and settled around the world.  Intelligence and state security officers who chose to defect under these circumstances represent a little-known group who resisted communists in the early Cold War, and they provide indications about an intelligence service’s adaptions to a changing political environment and the implications for the service’s officers.

From April 1948 to June 1949, seven Czechoslovakian military intelligence officers defected to American or British occupation forces in Germany and Austria, with another officer disappearing and possibly defecting.  Three additional suspected civilian Czechoslovakian state security officers also defected during the same period.  At no other time was the outflow of Czechoslovakian intelligence and state security officers greater than this 15-month period.  This article provides details, to the greatest extent possible, about the careers of these Austria- and Germany-based officers before their defection, their motivations for defecting, and their post-defection lives.  The volume of information available about each of them varies widely, with most coming from British, American, and Australian archives, including intelligence, counterintelligence, immigration, and naturalization files.  This is supplemented by a small amount of published information, although several of these individuals have not been noted in previously published accounts.

These officers’ motivations for defecting were mostly ideological, although other personal reasons, including desires to protect their families from retaliation, sometimes accompanied ideology.  Opposition to the communist regime likely had its roots in the officers’ experiences serving an independent Czechoslovakia before the war and the Allies during the war.  Several of the defecting officers escaped an oncoming Nazi Germany in 1939 and served with British forces during World War II, giving them positive perceptions of the Western Allies.  They were then forced to escape a second time in the late 1940s, this time from the oncoming communist regime.

Several of the defectors prominently and publicly testified of their operations and targets.  The intelligence collection targets that they revealed provide insights into Czechoslovakian, and by extension Soviet, intelligence priorities in Germany and Austria in the early Cold War.  Their collection targets can be grouped in three primary categories: U.S. military units and capabilities, German economic and industrial recovery, and the activities of anti-Communist émigré groups in Germany. 

Unlike many of their Soviet counterparts who defected in the early Cold War, Czechoslovakian defectors who settled outside of Europe continued to use their real names.  Soviet intelligence officer defectors regularly changed them names, assuming the Soviet Union’s intention to pursue them.  However, once Czechoslovakian defectors arrived in their settlement location--which included the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and in one case Argentina—there is no indication that Czechoslovakian or Soviet state security attempted to track them down.  This is even after several had served as sources for U.S. and British intelligence services.

These officers were among many Czechoslovakians who fled the new communist regime in 1948-1949.Although they were not the last Czechoslovakian intelligence officers to defect, they represented the anxieties that existed at the foundation of a communist Czechoslovakia.

Tina Andersen