Intelligence service offers Internet users unique glimpse into Communist-era espionage practices

For the first time ever internet users have been given access to formerly top secret documentation compiled by Czechoslovakia's Communist secret intelligence - which spied on and plotted extensively against opponents of Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 80s. Targeted were dissidents and notable exiles and opponents whose moves were monitored and phone-lines tapped.

Foto: ČTK
Perhaps most infamous was the bombing of Radio Free Europe's headquarters in Munich in 1981. Not surprisingly, the dark chapter in Czechoslovak history captured in the new documents released - has already attracted attention.

Sixteen years ago the Velvet Revolution spelt the end for Czechoslovakia's Communist regime, including its notorious secret service, whose agents spied on and attempted to hurt Czech exiles abroad. Following 1989, the service was disbanded, its documents and photo-documentation taken over by the emerging Office for Foreign Relations and Information, which has now made some of them available to the general public. The service's spokesman Bohumil Srajer:

"We are by law responsible for archives which we inherited from our Communist predecessors, so we feel as an obligation and as a duty to the Czech Republic and the public in general to make a selection of documents which no longer have intelligence value, to put these documents at the public's disposal. We selected the Internet as the best means of doing so."

Photo: CTK
According to Srajer, the most interesting and significant material deals with clandestine operations targeting former citizens in exile. Among those were people like Pavel Tigrid, sentenced to death in absentia. Other operations included the infamous plan to bomb Radio Free Europe in Munich. So what has reaction to the project been so far? Former dissident and political commentator Jan Urban:

"It's very, very interesting. I don't know about many similar cases where a country's intelligence service would go on-line with documents from past activities. I definitely welcome this. It shows how profoundly illegal was communist intelligence and its activities in the past. The Czech judiciary was unable for seventeen years to deal with Communist intelligence agents like Minarik and his plans to bomb the Radio Free Europe building in Munich, and I think that historians and the interested public can now see for themselves that the Communists had no hesitation in not only bugging people they disliked or suspected of being anti-communist but that they were also willing to go further: to inflict bodily harm."

In the first eighteen hours of the project's launch, the intelligence service's website - http://archiv.uzsi.cz - has already received remarkable attention. Bohumil Srajer again:

"I have in front of me some actual numbers from six o'clock in the morning and they show that [since yesterday] we registered 25,000 unique IP addresses, with users coming from 45 countries around the world. It's absolutely vital. History isn't just the property of the historians, it is something that we have 'lived through' together, so we are putting up the materials in their 'raw' form, and in so doing, are able to show some of the atmosphere of years past, an additional value to the website."

If you would also like to view material at the Office for Foreign Relations and Information the site is http://archiv.uzsi.cz