Something New Every Day – The literal ‘underground’
In the pre-Wall, cold-war 1950s, the CIA and the British SIS joined forces to create a half-kilometre long tunnel beneath the worlds most watched border and into Soviet-occupied Berlin in order to listen in to Soviet communications. Over the year it operated, the tunnel generated 50,000 tapes worth of conversation from half a million intercepted calls.
But the combined heat of the mountain of communications equipment in the small tunnel was so high it created a tunnel-shaped melt in the frozen landscape above. To get around being discovered, the allies installed air-conditioning in the tunnel to keep it cold and disguised.
As it transpired, the Soviets knew about the tunnel’s existence all along (courtesy of a spy in the British ranks) but they let it operate for more than a year (until their man was transferred, thus protecting his cover) before faking its discovery. After all the time, effort and expense involved in digging, manning, equipping and airconditioning the tunnel and paying for a room full of translators to transcribe half-a-million calls they recorded, it turned out the KGB was well aware of what they were overhearing and taking steps to ensure it revealed little.
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