The foundation of military intelligence in Czechoslovakia and its beginnings

The beginnings of Czechoslovak military intelligence reach back as far as WWI when the first intelligence groups formed within the Czechoslovak legions. The foundations of a professional military intelligence were laid immediately after Czechoslovak independence was declared on 28 October 1918. In early November 1918, the Intelligence Department of the Czechoslovak Supreme Command in Prague became the first army information body headed by Division General Čeněk Haužvic who took office on 12 November 1918. This date is therefore officially considered as the day when Czechoslovak military intelligence was born.

In December 1918, the newly established Intelligence Department of the Military Section of the Ministry of National Defense followed the activities of the previous body. A year later, this department merged with the intelligence department of the French military mission in Czechoslovakia, which resulted in the foundation of the 2nd (Intelligence) Department of the General (later Main) Staff which, bearing the same name, existed until the beginning of WWII.

The Intelligence Department was divided into four sections: A – education and planning, B – search, C – foreign a D – provision and support. Concerning intelligence performance, the first two sections were of decisive significance. Section A was tasked with analyzing and processing the information gained. Section B was tasked with building up a secret espionage agency and conducting defensive intelligence activities.  This section was further on segmented into the P-1 offensive part focusing on collecting information abroad, and the P-2 defensive part operating as counter-intelligence.

The 1920s saw the defensive part focusing primarily on discovering the subversive activities of the communists and German nationalists, while the offensive part occupied itself chiefly with Hungary´s continuous attempts to change the borders set after the end of WWI.

1930s and military intelligence

The military intelligence of the 1920s and ‘30s proved its rightful key position not just within the army, but also within the entire power apparatus of the Czechoslovak Republic. This body´s information contribution was respected by both top political representatives and foreign allies, and its results were thoroughly observed by President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and later on, also by President Edvard Beneš. Both the presidents highly recognized army intelligence.

Military intelligence officers were using up-to-date technology as part of their work work. In the early 1930s, the intelligence department within the Main Staff created a technical site with a lab designed to build special communication means, carry out photography, as well as develop secret inks. By 1939, Czechoslovak intelligence officers also made remarkable achievements in developing agency stations and were able to monitor radio communication of foreign militaries and telephone lines of representative offices of countries of interest.

In the 1930s, international political developments placed extraordinary demands on both intelligence defensive and offensive. The offensive section´s focus grew on Germany against which an agency network comprising 800 registered members was established by 1938. The defensive section combated a strong onrush of Nazi espionage, and during 1938 – 1939 it struggled sabotage structures organized by Germany, Hungary and Poland.

In the times of fastest growing tensions, i.e. the late 1930s, the military intelligence participated in uncovering dozens to hundreds of cases of so-called military treason committed mainly by members of the Czechoslovak armed forces of German nationality. There were several cases of arresting officers and sergeants having been actively involved in the activities of intelligence services of foreign countries.

World War II

After the Munich Agreement, the military intelligence was instructed by the Czechoslovak government to minimize its activities against Germany, yet the intelligence officers kept in touch with their most eminent agents. One of those was Paul Thümmel, the fabled agent A-54, who on 11 March 1939 delivered the news that the rest of the Czech lands were going to be occupied by German troops. This fact was immediately handed over to the top state representatives who refused to believe the information quoted. Consequently, Head of the intelligence department Col. František Moravec, in cooperation with the British intelligence service, launched a secret operation aimed at airlifting 11 intelligence officers and priority documents to London. The emergency operation was successfully carried out on the evening of 14 March – literally several hours prior to the arrival of the occupation forces.

In London, the so-called Moravec Eleven promptly set to work on restoring a free Czechoslovakia. In the following years, Moravec´s group arranged for a supply of information from the occupied country for President Beneš and his exile government, and, within the bounds of possibility, it also aided the domestic Czechoslovak resistance comprising numerous former military intelligence officers. The most significant domestic resistance organization was the Defense of the Nation, having swiftly created a system of collecting and classifying intelligence items, trying to keep radio communication with foreign resistance. The legendary Three Kings group (Lt. Col. Josef Balabán, Lt. Col.  Josef Mašín, Capt. Václav Morávek) became a symbol of the intelligence activities of domestic resistance.  

Since late 1941, the military intelligence officers based in London began dispatching into the homeland airborne groups formed from volunteers in the Czechoslovak foreign army, who had completed a system of special training before dispatch. Altogether, 31 airborne groups of 88 paratroopers were dropped into the occupied country. 47 of them lost their lives during deployment.  The most renowned operation of military intelligence became the top-secret Operation Anthropoid in which Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, landing in the Protectorate in the night between 28 and 29 December 1941, carried out the successful assassination of the Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector Reinhard Heydrich. This operation is considered the most significant act of Czechoslovak resistance during WWII.

Military intelligence in the totalitarian regime

The developments of the military intelligence after WWII corresponded directly with the political developments in Czechoslovakia, chiefly with the ever growing influence of the Soviet Union and the takeover of state of the Czechoslovak Communist Party´s in 1948. With respect to the needs of the security apparatus, an administrative separation of the military intelligence took place. The intelligence was still subordinate to the General Staff, but the counter-intelligence was newly incorporated into the structure of the Interior Ministry. These bodies, variously titled, were in operation under this mode until 1990.

In the 1950s, military intelligence went through extensive personnel purges in which the most experienced officers, including František Moravec, had to leave their posts for ideological reasons, often fleeing abroad. The then head of military counter-intelligence Capt. Bedřich Reicin is considered a symbol of these purges. However, the terror he helped unleash was eventually turned against him. Reicin was arrested and consequently sentenced to death in a show trial. After his execution, political trials with purges within the military intelligence were discontinued.

There was long term tension between the army intelligence and counter-intelligence, showing namely in 1968 during the so-called Prague Spring, when the military counter-intelligence approached the new pro-reform course with considerable mistrust, while among the military intelligence and its special units, men like Dubček and Smrkovský enjoyed distinct support. After Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia, the military intelligence command headed by Maj. Gen. Burda assumed a patriotic position, which led to Burda´s removal. However, members of the intelligence did not surrender and continued carrying out activities aimed against the occupants, e.g. by helping provide broadcasting of Czechoslovak Radio, facilitating transfers of journalists in Prague occupied with tanks, and monitoring the movement of Soviet troops.

Also special forces, subordinate to the military intelligence, participated in such operations, such as the 7th Airborne Regiment in Holešov. Its paratroopers not only rejected to collaborate with the Soviet occupants, but also were ready to free Dubček and other Czechoslovak political officials held in Moscow. The regiment suffered the consequences and was, on the pretext of a shake-up, disbanded. Nevertheless, its basis survived this shake-up, as well as the whole normalization era, to eventually lay foundations to today´s 601st Special Forces Group which, until 2014, lay within the Military Intelligence.

New staff purges across the military intelligence bodies marked the beginning of normalization, and cooperation between the military intelligence and Soviet intelligence services further on intensified.  Nonetheless, even in these hard times, the Military Intelligence comprised, above all, of experts reaching significant achievements, sparing no efforts to catch up with their western rivals´ technological lead.

Military intelligence after the Velvet Revolution

After the fall of the communist regime, a new phase of developments unfolded in the army intelligence bodies. Both the organizational structure and intelligence priorities were changing. As early as January 1990, the military counter-intelligence was transferred from the Interior Ministry to the subordination of the Federal Ministry of Defense and, in the same year, renamed Military Defense Intelligence remaining until 2005 when both the intelligence bodies merged into a unified armed intelligence service of the Czech Republic.

In connection with the shift in intelligence priorities and areas of interest, new tasks arose for the espionage military intelligence service. Alongside the deployment of Czech military units abroad, a space for activities emerged for military intelligence officers in areas where Czech contingents are present. An important moment was the admission of the Czech Republic into NATO in 1999, opening up a new scope of cooperation for the military intelligence.

Military Intelligence today

The Military Intelligence gradually develops its skills in all intelligence disciplines used in fulfilling its tasks. Regarding the ceaseless advancement of technologies, a particular emphasis is put on the development of technical disciplines. The Military Intelligence features its own SIGINT site, based on the government´s resolution it is building the National Cyber Operations Center, and based on commitments towards NATO, it is setting up the Satellite Center of the Czech Republic.

Today´s Military Intelligence came into existence in 2005 as successor organization of the Military Defense Intelligence and the Military Intelligence Service, integrating intelligence and counter-intelligence activities. The Special Forces were a subordinate unit of the Military Intelligence until 2014. Today´s Military Intelligence follows the Czechoslovak First Republic´s tradition providing information important for the country´s defense, and via its outputs helps the highest constitutional officials in decision-making.