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Did Hungarian spy save world from Russian invasion, World War III?
Stars&Stripes ^ | April 21 2002 | By Ward Sanderson, Stars and Stripes

Posted on 04/22/2002 9:52:37 AM PDT by swarthyguy

István Belovai believes he is the spy who saved the world.

Not that he puts it exactly like that. But the former Hungarian intelligence officer says he betrayed the Soviet bloc in 1984 not to harm his country, but to deliver it from destruction. And in doing so, he might have sabotaged a Soviet plan to invade Western Europe and take on the United States — a plan Belovai believes would have resulted in all-out nuclear war.

Now the West has won, the Berlin Wall is rubble. Hungary is a democracy, a member of the very North Atlantic Treaty Organization that Belovai briefly served. Belovai warned NATO of Operation Snowdrop, a communist campaign that seized some of the alliance’s most prized intelligence, some classified Cosmic Top Secret, the alliance’s highest security rating.

But now the 64-year-old, living comfortably and anonymously in the United States, still seeks change in his old homeland. Belovai wants Hungary to publicly announce that he and others like him were never criminals. He also accuses the parliamentary left of secretly pining for the Soviet era — and therefore planning to forever stymie an absolute amnesty.

"While they were sleeping, I was working for their security, and for the security of Europe and for Hungary," Belovai said in an interview.

Belovai had hoped this month’s parliamentary elections, the second round of which happens Sunday, would result in Socialist losses. First-round results from April 7 make that look unlikely, however, as the left actually made gains that threaten to unseat conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"The problem is serious because I did nothing against the interest of Hungary," Belovai said. "In that case, I am not a traitor for my country. The CIA did not recruit me. I did it … I helped the United States to prevent the next war in Europe. I saved many, many billions of dollars in Europe. And I believe I helped stop the next atomic war, which would be arranged by the Soviet Union. Because they wanted to arrange a war. I knew it."

The Central Intelligence Agency will not discuss Belovai’s work.

"Our policy is not to comment on specific cases or relationships that the agency may or may not have had," said a CIA spokeswoman in Washington. "Obviously, it could discourage others from working with the agency."

But Belovai remembers it all very well.

Belovai, NATO spy

According to his memoirs, it was 1975, and Maj. István Belovai of the Hungarian Military Strategic Intelligence Service was given an assignment that would alter history.

Belovai was to rate the value of a dispatch from inside the U.S. Army in Europe. He held in his hands microfilm containing the standard operating procedures of the U.S. 7th Army.

Three years later, Belovai was assigned, full time, to the job of translating intelligence pouring in from Operation Snowdrop. The dispatches exposed U.S. Army and Air Force strength, strategy and defense. It all proved so sensitive that by the end of 1978, Belovai decided he wanted to alert the United States to the security leak. He feared Snowdrop would lead to nuclear meltdown.

But any visit to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest on his part would have surely led to arrest. The Hungarian government watched the building 24 hours a day.

For years, the very fate of the world would continue to plague Belovai: The stolen intelligence showed that NATO had no plans to invade Hungary, yet Warsaw Pact war plans included a Hungarian invasion of Italy through Austria. Hungarian military officials now acknowledge the latter.

Belovai believed his countrymen would be needlessly slaughtered.

What proved more staggering to him was the disclosure of the locations of U.S. nuclear mines near the fringe of the Iron Curtain.

Allied atomic mines, it turned out, could not stop a properly planned Soviet advance. If deployed along a certain small strip, Soviet armored forces could penetrate the West and unleash apocalypse.

"If the Soviets would reach the Rhine River, the U.S. would deploy nuclear weapons," Belovai said. "Because what else could they do?"

Belovai believed the stage was set for World War III.

It wasn’t until 1982, though, that Belovai started down the path that led to the CIA. It was then that Hungary assigned him to serve as assistant military and air attaché in London. It took two years to find "a reliable man" to alert about the threat of Snowdrop.

In 1984 Belovai met with "Richard C," a U.S. contact in a safe house in London. Belovai told Mr. C that the Soviets knew the placement of nuclear mines under the responsibility of the U.S. Army’s V Corps.

That summer, Belovai was transferred back to Budapest and the intelligence service, but not before learning how to use an invisible writing system for future contact with the Americans. Belovai’s codename: "Scorpion-B."

In 1985, the Scorpion was stung. While on his way to a drop point to pick up a container left for him by the CIA, Hungarian counterintelligence converged on Belovai. His arrest shocked many of his colleagues. However, he suspects convicted CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames had already tipped off Moscow.

A judge sentenced Lt. Col. István Belovai to life behind bars. The prosecution wanted more.

"They wanted to hang me," Belovai said.

Three years into his sentence, Belovai discovered something that redeemed his seeming defeat. His sacrifice had not been in vain. Reading a newspaper sent to him by his son, he discovered the leak within NATO had been stopped. Belovai himself had never known the identity of the spy he had fought to expose.

His anonymous nemesis was Clyde Lee Conrad, a 41-year-old retired U.S. Army sergeant who had worked as an administrator at secret archives in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, the home of V Corp’s 8th Infantry Division.

During a decade’s time, Conrad and accomplices smuggled some 30,000 classified documents from the division’s headquarters and sent them to Budapest.

Though Conrad retired in 1985, he continued to live in Europe, married to a German national. He also continued to funnel classified information to Hungary gleaned from other contacts.

Conrad was arrested in 1988 and two years later, a West German court sentenced him to life in prison for espionage. Conrad died in 1998.

Conrad and Snowdrop are still remembered bitterly by the Army. Recently officials at Fort Meade, Md., invoked their specter in a base warning to watch for turncoat troops that may threaten America’s current war on terror:

"Conrad supplied the Hungarian government with the General Defense Plan [GDP] for essentially every allied unit assigned to Europe," an October issue of the base’s newsletter recounted. "He was a key player in what is generally regarded as one of the most successful Soviet bloc spy rings of recent times."

As for Belovai, he would eventually taste freedom. It is his legacy he still fights for.

Freedom, and struggle

It was October 1990, a new decade, a new world and a new season. Fall brought freedom to István Belovai.

The post-Soviet government allowed Belovai to leave prison. But Belovai was still a convicted criminal.

Hungary had led the movement to dissolve the Warsaw Pact. Yet Belovai’s friends in Hungarian intelligence warned him some people still wanted him dead. So Belovai contacted the CIA, and the agency found him a new life in Colorado.

"The people from the government with whom I was in connection were just like a family," he said. "And they helped me from the beginning."

Hungarian history marched forth without him. On March 12, 1999, Hungary joined NATO along with Poland and the Czech Republic. And December 2000 brought a surprise: Belovai’s criminal record in Hungary was cleared. Yet he remains restless. He is still considered a convicted criminal, with or without a current record.

Belovai wants Hungary to declare that he and the 24 other Hungarians convicted of spying for NATO were patriots, not criminals. Belovai said NATO agents from other former Warsaw Pact nations — particularly those from East Germany, Poland and Romania — are considered heroes.

"I did not commit treason against my country," Belovai said. "I did commit treason against the ideology of Russian communism." He viewed the Russians as foreign occupiers.

Now, more than a decade later, a political battle rages between the forces of nationalism and Socialism. Western concern over the prime minister’s leanings to the right, and Belovai’s accusations against the left, paint a picture of a democracy in delicate infancy.

Belovai is a big supporter of the conservative prime minister. "Mr. Orban is a patriot and works for the interest of his country, just like Mr. Bush does," Belovai said.

But while Belovai praises Orban, many in the West find fault with him and his Young Democrats Alliance. The Washington Post recently accused him of whipping up 1930s-style nationalist fervor. Others accuse him of being anti-Semitic.

"There is some concern about some of the rhetoric of Mr. Orban," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He said Orban’s nationalism "stirs up an issue that’s best left quiet."

However, Hungary’s government staunchly denies any ugly leanings, and a recent analysis by The Wall Street Journal called Orban’s ideology "more patriotism than anything sinister, as is sometimes implied."

Belovai firmly believes it is the Socialists who are a threat to democracy. The party, however, bills itself as centrist. And though Belovai wants full exoneration, he vows not to accept it from any future left-leaning government.

"The former Communists, and the very important criminal court, are still the same nowadays as they were during the communist system," he said. "They did not understand that after the change, it is a new country. In Hungary, it is a democracy, not a dictatorship. But they are acting just like it is a dictatorship."

Cato’s Carpenter believes that is largely exaggeration. "The left in Hungary, generally speaking, isn’t that far left," he said.

Still, according to a Hungarian magazine publisher, the old guard is still strong enough to keep a guy like Belovai from realizing his dream.

"We have leftovers from the previous regime," the publisher said, on condition of anonymity.

The publisher believes that, blessed with more exposure, Belovai would be widely viewed with sympathy.

"On the other hand, he had done it once," the publisher wondered aloud about Belovai’s past espionage. "How can we be assured he won’t do it again?"

This distrust of someone ratting on the state, even for laudable purpose, seems to be the crux of the issue for some. Privately, a Hungarian military official believed it all comes down to Belovai’s intent: Did he really do what he did to save Hungarian troops?

Belovai maintains he never accepted a cent for his espionage.

Officially, the Hungarian government isn’t saying much. "This is a sensitive issue," said a diplomat at Hungary’s embassy in Washington.

A spokesman with Prime Minister Orban’s offices in Budapest, where the question was referred, then offered, apologetically, that the rush of elections makes dealing with such questions difficult.

So for now, Belovai’s ultimate quest continues. In the meantime, he has no regrets.

"Would I do it again? Yes. I would do the same. I feel I know that I did right."

And though he now feels safe visiting Hungary, he has no plans to leave America.

"It’s wonderful to live here," Belovai said, remarking on a recent and lovely Colorado day.

"There is only one word: wonderful."

TOPICS: Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Russia
KEYWORDS: coldwar; espionagelist; hungary; nato; us
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1 posted on 04/22/2002 9:52:37 AM PDT by swarthyguy
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To: swarthyguy
Great article! Thanks for posting it.
2 posted on 04/22/2002 10:09:50 AM PDT by Icthus
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To: swarthyguy
All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing."

This is a good man who did something. An immigrant who has earned his keep.

3 posted on 04/22/2002 10:10:10 AM PDT by Paradox
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: swarthyguy
5 posted on 04/22/2002 11:01:46 AM PDT by Argus
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To: Icthus
The US Military at the end of the 1980s was at its peak. I think the Soviets would have been stopped before the Rhine conventionally. There missile subs would all have been sunk and their bombers shot down, or destroyed on the ground. I doubt they would have launched their land based missiles against the retaliation they would have faced....

Thank you President Reagan!


6 posted on 04/22/2002 11:35:56 AM PDT by MichaelP
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To: MichaelP
"..I think the Soviets would have been stopped before the Rhine conventionally.."

You may be right.....but if they knew our contingency plans for a Soviet invasion, that changes the whole scenario. The US would be at a severe disadvantage. The Soviets would have the benefit of knowing how we would react in a particular situation, and could put into place a counter for each and every one of our pre-planned scenarios.

In that type of game....we may have found ourselves reeling backwards right out of the gate. Thank G_d it never got to that point.

7 posted on 04/22/2002 12:27:58 PM PDT by Icthus
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To: swarthyguy
"István Belovai believes he is the spy who saved the world. "

Hogwash! Evertbody knows that it was the Norwegians who denied Hitler of early development of the A-bomb.

They blew up the "heavy water" plant in Telemark during the German occupation.

8 posted on 04/22/2002 12:39:42 PM PDT by advocate10
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To: swarthyguy
"István Belovai believes he is the spy who saved the world. "

Hogwash! Evertbody knows that it was the Norwegians who denied Hitler of early development of the A-bomb.

They blew up the "heavy water" plant in Telemark during the German occupation.

9 posted on 04/22/2002 12:39:59 PM PDT by advocate10
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To: swarthyguy
When he departs, they should bury him in Arlington!
10 posted on 04/22/2002 12:44:25 PM PDT by Cold Heat
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To: advocate10
You watch too many war movies.
11 posted on 04/22/2002 12:45:51 PM PDT by Cold Heat
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To: advocate10
Many people have saved the world from time to time. Don't worry, there is still much more saving to be done.
12 posted on 04/22/2002 12:47:10 PM PDT by SubMareener
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To: advocate10
With the help of the British commandos, wasn't it. Recently, TCM had the kirk douglas movie 'incident at telemark' or a similar title.
13 posted on 04/22/2002 12:51:04 PM PDT by swarthyguy
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To: swarthyguy
Norway: Heroes of Telemark

On a moonlit winter night in 1943, nine Norwegian commandoes, trained and equipped in England, infiltrated the most heavily defended structure in occupied Europe. Their objective was to destroy the heavy water production facilities critical to the Nazi atomic bomb project. Four months earlier, three-dozen British soldiers had tried and died on a similar mission, without ever gaining sight of their target. But the Norwegians were destined to have a different fate...

After skillfully climbing the "unscaleable" (and therefore undefended) gorge below Norsk Hydro; they snuck into the facility, set and detonated their demolition charges, and escaped back down into the gorge without having to fire a single shot. This attack was the climax of the Allied efforts to deny Germany the bomb.

14 posted on 04/22/2002 12:55:40 PM PDT by RoughDobermann
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To: swarthyguy
 And though Belovai wants full exoneration, he vows not
to accept it from any future left-leaning government.

I was with him until this.  Exoneration from a right-wing
government would be preaching to the converted.

15 posted on 04/22/2002 2:58:25 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: RoughDobermann; swarthyguy; advocate10
In 20/20 hindsight the heavy water approach to building an a-bomb was a wrong approach. It would'nt have worked anyhow.
16 posted on 04/22/2002 3:02:27 PM PDT by Dinsdale
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To: swarthyguy
Great Post!

Sergeant First Class Clyde Conrad was a traitor of the first order, he has not recieved the condemnation he so richly deserved - this man did the free world a great favor by exposing his treachery.

The revelation that the defense plans of much of NATO's CENTAG and NORTHAG forces caused great consternation and unleased an intense dragnet to uncover the culprit. I was privileged to participate in a small way. I only regret that I was unable to serve as a one man firing squad at Clyde Conrad's execution. The German court issued its harshest possible sentence, life, in his case; but this was far too lenient. Fortunately, Clyde died before he ever again saw the light of day.

Stuart Herrington has written a great inside account of this drama. Highly recommended reading.

17 posted on 04/22/2002 3:21:48 PM PDT by centurion316
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To: centurion316
Do u have the title of herrington's book or a link if the article/book are online?
18 posted on 04/22/2002 3:54:12 PM PDT by swarthyguy
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To: MichaelP
I was a staff weinie at VII Imperial Corps, G3, in the mid-80's. We would have had our asses handed to us. The Pershings would have flown on D+2. It would have been all down hill from there. We got lucky.
19 posted on 04/22/2002 4:49:51 PM PDT by Cannoneer No. 4
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To: centurion316

I was A tank company commander in the Fulda Gap (3rd Brigade), then in G-3 and later the HHC commander 83-88. I worked with Conrad, and know that he betrayed all of us. He was, indeed, a traitor. The German courts put him in a special prison, where he died a few years later. I agree that with the war plans Conrad kept selling to them for mere money they would have knew our weak points and every update of the GDP plan for many years. The German courts, in their ruling said that Clyde Conrad’s personal actions would have likely resulted in Nuclear release on German soil-—I agree with that assessment.

No knock on Regan who’s force improvements kept the Russians from trying.

The Real unsung hero was MSG Michael Barnes, the G-3 Sergeant Major who came in under cover and exposed Conrad. If you are still out there Mike, Thank you for your service to your country, both in Vietnam and in Bad Kreuznach

20 posted on 05/12/2011 7:12:25 AM PDT by lroyal
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