The title coupled with a barrage of advertising became a shaped charge and penetrated my psyche. I just had to watch TNT’s Legends. The Cold War birthed many legends and awoke others from deep sleep. Legends are an intentionally bland component of the
espionage landscape. They have wives, husbands, families, and careers. Legends pass easily through security background investigations because their cover is so deep they are what they appear to be. Sometimes couples are sent to the U.S. to raise their children as legends. China has that kind of patience and the cover is as deep and as good as it gets. Legends steal processes like volumes of research leading to the development of laser technologies rather than discrete things or bytes of data. Once the objective is acquired legends go home and never reappear. The East German Stasi made good use of legends as did the Russians, Israelis, Indians, English, and Chinese. The U.S. probably uses legends too, but the attention deficit disorder associated with American culture renders their effectiveness questionable.
Initiation of any ‘new guy’ at the Nevada Test Site included tales of legends at the
Livermore and Los Alamos National Labs. One such tale from the 1970s intrigued me. A brilliant, young engineer and a natural born citizen of Chinese immigrants working in Livermore leaves the physics lab with drawings in tow one Friday night never to return. The theft isn’t discovered for months. How could that happen? Pretty easily.
The 1970s were a busy time in the nuclear bomb development business. Laser triggers and neutron bombs were coming into their own and testing the products proceeded non-stop. President Jimmy Carter liked the idea of neutron bombs so his administration proposed modernizing the US nuclear arsenal by installing neutron warheads on missiles and artillery shells planned for deployment in Europe. Neutron devices are smaller, minimize physical damage and maximize number of people killed as a result of radiation; ugly realities.
Definition of a Neutron Bomb
“Also called ENHANCED RADIATION WARHEAD, specialized type of small thermonuclear weapon that produces minimal blast and heat but which releases large amounts of lethal radiation. The neutron bomb delivers blast and heat effects that are confined to an area of only a few hundred yards in radius. But within a somewhat larger area it throws off a massive wave of neutron and gamma radiation, which can penetrate armor or several feet of earth. This radiation is extremely destructive to living tissue. Because of its short-range destructiveness and the absence of long-range effect, the neutron bomb would be highly effective against tank and infantry formations on the battlefield but would not endanger cities or other population centers only a few miles away. It can be carried in a Lance missile or delivered by an 8-inch (200-millimetre) howitzer, or possibly by attack aircraft. In
strategic terms, the neutron bomb has a theoretical deterrent effect: discouraging an armored ground assault by arousing the fear of neutron bomb counterattack. The bomb would disable enemy tank crews in minutes, and those exposed would die within days. U.S. production of the bomb was postponed in 1978 and resumed in 1981.”-Source: http://www.britannica.com/seo/n/neutron-bomb/
The legend in the Livermore Lab had planned and executed his escapade well. The timing was excellent. Did it really happen? The 900-page Cox Report prepared by the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China released in May 1999 appears to confirm the test site gossip. Concurrent with the release of the redacted Cox Report to the public President Clinton announced he had already implemented a couple of dozen of the recommendations designed to stop the leaks. They didn’t work. China’s rapid rise from no scientists of nuclear note to major nuclear power pretty much says it all.
Spiegel’s Gunther Latsch and Udo Ludwig uncovered the Stasi’s legends in a report released in 2011. Even holy men could not be trusted.
“Josef Frindt took his secret to the grave. When he passed away at the age of 81, the pastor in the western German town of Dorsten left a congregation mourning a pious man of God. But what the congregation didn’t know was that their pastor had also worked for East Germany’s notorious secret police, the Stasi.
Under the code name “Erich Neu,” the pastor is believed to have submitted 95 informant’s reports, including ones on a colleague who even at the time showed a
great deal of potential: Joseph Ratzinger, better known today as Pope Benedict XVI. Frindt, who studied and later taught in the city of Münster, delivered information on up-and-coming theologians and future church dignitaries there, including the future pope, who was working at the time as a professor….”
Legends are a peculiar cut of the espionage cloth. I rubbed shoulders with at least one and never guessed until I was questioned. They are the people next door, the friends with whom you share a party or a joke. Legends do their thing and then they are gone. They still operate in industry, the military/industrial complex, and the political field of play. Why is another question. Gunther Latsch and Udo Ludwig offered an insight.
Some former West German collaborators remain proud of the work they did for their brothers in the East. Peter Wolter is one of them. As a student of sociology and philosophy at Münster University in the 1970s, he joined a Marxist student group called Spartakus, which was secretly financed by East Germany. Wolter visited East Berlin frequently, and came into contact with the HVA there.
He established a successful career as a journalist, working for the German Press Agency (DPA) and holding a senior position at Reuters news service. The Stasi was
particularly interested in a relative of Wolter’s who worked in Cologne for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Peter Wolter sent reports to East Berlin over a period of 12 years.
Wolter was arrested soon after German reunification. He admitted to having worked for the Stasi, but insisted he had not been a spy or an agent, rather describing himself as a “scout.” A court in Düsseldorf sentenced Wolter, who had founded the homeless newspaper “Draussen!” (“Outside!”), to two years on probation.
To this day, he defends his time as a West German Stasi collaborator. He “helped Europe to have half a century of peace,” he says.
Legends the TNT series is not about legends. It is about a guy who has no business being anywhere near a covert op that requires a cover. And my world of excitement and secrets is long gone. The government reports and studies from the Cold War time shine a bit of light into the dark, dank corners of the past but the government has its own secrets to keep. The legends continue their work. As with physics, reality is relative.
 Lodi News-Sentinel – May 26, 1999; Panel: China nuclear spying serious, continuing; http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19990526&id=L9g_AAAAIBAJ&sjid=MiEGAAAAIBAJ&pg=6783,3501345
 Spiegel Online International; November 24, 2011; Gunther Latsch and Udo Ludwig; Shocking New Research: Stasi Had Thousands of Spies in West Germany; http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/shocking-new-research-stasi-had-thousands-of-spies-in-west-germany-a-799335.html