Operation Border Stone: Capturing Defectors During the Cold War

Operation Border Stone was a program developed by the Czech Republic during the Cold War to capture citizens who were attempting to defect to West Germany across the Iron Curtain. Although the border was guarded in 1948, approximately 10,000 people — including 50 prominent politicians — escaped. In response, the Czech secret police set up parts of the country’s border fortifications about 150 feet from the actual border with the American occupation zone in West Germany. The false border crossings consisted of signs, border stones, administrative buildings, and guardhouses. At the fake border post, the refugees were introduced to Czech agents posing as smugglers or bribed border guards, who offered to lead the refugees into the forest and across the border at night in exchange for payment. After crossing the fake border, the refugees were welcomed and interviewed by supposed agents of the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps. In these interviews the refugees were asked about their connections to and knowledge of the anti-communist opposition in Czechoslovakia; in many cases, the refugees willingly told the "Americans" about members of their family or social circle who would support the overthrow of the communist regime, in the belief that the Americans could provide assistance to those family or friends. In this way, the police learned the identities of other opponents of communist rule, who were eventually imprisoned along with the would-be refugees. Once the interviews were finished, refugees would be arrested by Czech Republic border guards. In this way, the refugees couldn’t claim to be innocent. Some received life sentences, and some were sentenced to death; others were released after sentences of 15-20 years. Once the U.S. learned of the false border operation, Radio Free Europe was used to broadcast a warning about it and the fake border operation was shut down.