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Posted at 6:35 PM ET, 07/27/2010

Red spymaster recalled agony of copying stolen documents

By Jeff Stein

With everybody comparing the WikiLeaks document dump to the Pentagon Papers, let's not forget the immense time and wrist-breaking effort it took in the pre-Internet days to copy stolen files.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome hadn't even been invented yet.

For Daniel Ellsberg and partner-in-leaks Anthony Russo, copying all 7,000 pages of the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War took three months by hand with a Xerox machine.

Such donkeywork proved so tiring to East German spymaster Markus Wolf that he told one of his American moles to slow down, my Washington Post colleague Peter Finn recalled for me today:

"In the last years of the Cold War, James Hall, an Army warrant officer assigned to a National Security Agency listening post in Berlin, turned over thousands of documents to East Germany’s spy service, whose analysts fretted that Hall was providing so much material they couldn’t keep up with it," Finn recalled.

“Hall’s deliveries were so vast that we suggested he slow down,” Wolf wrote in his memoirs.

“Hall spent up to two hours a day photocopying military documents, or else would carry out plastic bags of classified material, which he would hand to an accomplice who would copy them and then bring them back for Hall to put them back in the files,” Wolf wrote.

The material Hall stole included critical information on signals intelligence and electronic warfare, Wolf wrote. Hall was convicted of espionage and is serving a 40-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth.

For Ellsberg and Russo, of course, copying the 47 volumes of the Pentagon study was a one-time deal. But it took them from September to November 1969 to complete the caper.

It must have seemed endless.

Ellsberg would leave his RAND Corp. offices at 11:30 p.m. with a briefcase full of documents. He and Russo would photocopy them through the night and replace them in the RAND safe early each morning, according to “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers.”

“Ellsberg’s children often aided in the copying,” it says.

Paul Farhi, another Washington Post colleague, interviewed Ellsberg Monday.

“He said if the Pentagon Papers were coming out today, he wouldn't bother copying it and leaking it the way he did,” Farhi told me. “He'd just get a scanner and put the thing on the Internet himself.”

And like the WikiLeaks documents, of course, they'd be available to everyone -- instantly. No messy court injunctions to worry about, either.

By Jeff Stein  | July 27, 2010; 6:35 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
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Of the 2 comparisons, the one with James Hall is the more accurate.

Posted by: Nymous | July 27, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

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