CIA Agent Infiltrations into Lithuania during the Early Cold War
Richard H. Cummings introduces the CIA's early Cold War efforts to infiltrate the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Regime of the USSR has controlled the former Republic of Lithuania with an iron hand since occupying and annexing the nation in June-July 1940. This control was broken only by the German occupation of the area during 1941-1944. The United States has not and, on the basis of the evidence of public and classified policy declarations, does not intend to recognize the legality of the Soviet absorption of Lithuania as a constituent "republic" of the USSR. While the Soviets have killed and deported a significant portion of the Lithuanian population, and many fled to the West in 1944- 1945, the great majority of those remaining in Lithuania today are nevertheless thoroughly anti-Soviet. The policy of the United States is to seek the eventual liberation of Lithuania by peaceful means. - CIA SR Division AECHAMP (PP) Project Outline, December 23, 1953
In general terms, the CIA’s Office of Special Operations (OSO) was responsible for classical intelligence-gathering operations. The CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), on the other hand, was responsible for psychological warfare and propaganda.
AEGEAN was the CIA cryptonym for the joint OPC-OSO project that began in November 1948 to support the "Lithuanian Resistance Group" (officially known as The Supreme Committee for Liberation of Lithuania, or the Vyriausiasis Lietuvos išlaisvinimo komitetas/VLIK). OPC supported VLIK for political and psychological warfare (PP), while OSO was responsible for foreign intelligence (FI) activities of Project AEGEAN. These activities included:
- Procuring information from Lithuania and the Baltics generally;
- Procuring information from other parts of the USSR;
- Using the Lithuanian facilities as a channel for two-way movement of personnel in OSO service and, as necessary, for the movement of equipment, documentary data, and instructions;
- Using the Lithuanian facilities for such intelligence activities of OSO interest as may become necessary, to which the Lithuanian facilities, in the West or the homeland, will lend themselves.
The AEGEAN project was approved on June 21, 1949: "This project calls for the use at appropriate seasons (usually spring and autumn) of air and sea dispatch facilities. The necessary support equipment consists of wireless transmission equipment, secret writing supplies, personal arms, medical equipment, medical supplies, and negotiable items, such as watches, venereal drugs, and jewelry. Documentation needs will normally be taken care of by the project participants themselves." Project operations were set to begin on July 1, 1949.
There were two objectives in the project plan that was under the control of the CIA's Munich Operational Base (MOB):
- Procurement of intelligence from the Baltic States and contiguous areas;
- Development of a support base in the Lithuanian SSR as a transit point for agents to be dispatched into the Russian SFSR, Belorussian SSR, and Ukrainian SSR.
There were three targets:
- Development of Special Office of Special Operations-controlled morse-code communications from the Lithuanian SSR to the American Zone in Germany and Sweden.
- Development of sea, land, and/or air courier routes - between the American Zone in Germany and the Lithuanian SSR for the two-way movement of personnel, material, and information.
- Development of safe areas, houses, and routes in the Lithuanian SSR to transit personnel, material, and information to and from the Russian SFSR, Belorussian SSR, and Ukrainian SSR.
The OPC project was approved by Assistant Director for Policy Coordination Frank Wisner on July 23, 1949, under the cryptonym BGLAPIN. The project's first year was devoted primarily to recruiting, training, and briefing agents.
Lithuanian General Paulius Plechavicius, then residing in the British zone of Germany, was to be the CIA contact person. Plechavicius was chief of the operating (military) section of VLIK. He had experience in anti-Soviet activities in Lithuania during World War II. As part of the project, he was to move to Munich. The VLIK Operational Section personnel in Sweden were to be integrated into the project, as were VLIK operational personnel assigned to the French intelligence service for the parachuting operations into Lithuania.
The First CIA Mission into Lithuania
On October 4, 1950, one team of three men was dropped by parachute into the area of Branischusen, Kaliningrad Oblast. The plane was an unmarked C-47 piloted by two Czech veterans of World War II. The first agents were Juozas Lukšas, Benediktas Trumpys, and Klemensas Širvys. The French intelligence service was initially selected for an intelligence mission in 1949, but the French decided to abandon the mission; the CIA took it over.
The first CIA team's mission was to "establish wireless transmission as well as secret writing communications with the American Zone of Germany, and reorganize the underground organization in LSSR into a support organization for American-controlled procurement activities.” The three men mentioned above had been trained at a camp in Kaufbeurren, and learned Morse code, radio communications, and sabotage. For the operation, they were given weapons (Schmeisser MP-32 sub-machine gun), grenades, radios, cyanide tablets, ten watches, 3,000 rubles, 2,000 dollars, and food.
Biographical Sketches of the First Three CIA Penetration Agents
Juozas Lukša(actual name), aliases: Juozas Adomaitis, Adam Mickiewicz, and Skrajunas, the underground name assigned in October 1947, when he was about to depart to the West.
Lukša was born on August 10, 1921, in Veiveriai, Lithuania. On March 4, 1941, while an engineering student at the University of Kaunas, he was pledged to the Lithuanian Activist Front, an underground, clandestine anti-Soviet resistance movement. On May 6, 1941, the NKVD arrested him, but on June 23, 1941, he was set free by Lithuanian partisans as the Soviets retreated before the German advance. He allegedly was involved in a war-time atrocity in Kaunas on June 27, 1941.
In May 1945, the Lithuanian Partisan Movement was organized to unite all partisan activities south of Kaunas. He became Chief of the Documents Section. Lukša was ordered to proceed south of Kaunas to contact independent partisan groups and unite them with the Lithuanian Partisan Movement (LPS). He failed in this mission since it was discovered that MKVD agents had penetrated the LPS. In September 1945, the LPS was reorganized and went underground.
From January 1946-April 1947, Lukša commanded a partisan group and acted as Chief of Press and Information. In April 1947, he was sent to Poland to establish contact with Lithuanian organizations outside the Iron Curtain. Upon his return, he was appointed Chief Intelligence Officer for the underground in his district. In December 1947, Lukša left Lithuania on a mission through Poland and eventually arrived in Sweden.
Lukša wrote a memoir under the pseudonym Juozas Daumantas, with the original Lithuanian title Partizanai už geležinės uždangos, translated as "Partisans behind the Iron Curtain." It was first published in 1950 in the USA. The book was later republished with title: "Fighters for Freedom, Lithuanian Partisans versus the USSR."
Lukša was in communication with the CIA by wireless transmission between November 16, 1950, and December 8, 1950. He also communicated with the CIA via secret writing letters between November 1, 1950, and January 14, 1951.
Benediktas Trumpys (Rytis) was born October 1, 1919, in Radoiliskis, Lithuania. He graduated from Siauliai high school in 1938. Subsequently, he was employed as a bookkeeper, railroad worker, and painter (in Pommern, Germany, from 1944 until Germany's capitulation). Until 1946, Trumpys was held in the Lubeck DP Camp. Between 1946 and 1949, he served with the 4204 Labor Service Company. Upon leaving the Labor Service Company, he was to inform his friends that clearance for his immigration to the US had come through, and he was taking free time before reporting to Bremerhaven.
He was killed by Lithuanian security forces on May 20, 1951, in a bunker in the Altoniškės forest of Zapyškis.
Klemensas Širvys (Sakalas, “Frank”) was born on February 4, 1926, in Kybartai, Lithuania. Until 1944, he was a high school student in Lithuania. Between 1944 and 1946, he was held in Hanau and Gunzen-Hausen DP camps. From 1946 until his recruitment by the CIA’s OSO, Širvys served in the 4204 Labor Service Company in Bamberg, Germany. He was captured on July 24, 1952, put on trial, and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment and five years of exile. He returned to Lithuania in 1970 and died in 2003 in Kybartai.
A Second CIA Mission into Lithuania
On April 18-19, 1951, for the second infiltration, a CIA doubleton team composed of Julijonas Būtėnas (“Steve”) and Jonas Kukauskas-Kukis (“Jack”) were dropped into the Kaunas area of Lithuania.
Juozas Lukša was informed on March 1, 1951, by a wireless message from the CIA that Kukauskas and Butenas were going to be dispatched: "Be prepared receive Steve and Jack in period 14-27 March." On a blind broadcast to Lukša on March 12, 1951, the CIA instructed him that the "March operation [was] delayed until May. Await instructions." Even if Lukša was not informed of the exact time of arrival of Kukauskas and Butenas, he did know the approximate time of arrival.
Their mission was to:
- Establish contact with the underground resistance forces in Lithuania;
- Reorganize the underground resistance forces along more practical lines;
- Establish reliable wireless transmission and secret writing communication between Lithuania and the American Zone of Germany;
- Procure positive and operational intelligence.
Būtėnas was the “jumpmaster” for the first parachuting of the three agents in October 1950. He had been a journalist in Lithuania. In 1939 he was admitted to the Lithuanian Union of Journalists. He became the head of the VLIK information office and taught Lithuanian refugees English. After WWII, he was in a displaced persons camp in Würzburg, Germany, home of VLIK.
Būtėnas was recruited for intelligence work in September 1949 through officials of VLIK, when he lived in an International Refugee Organization (IRO) camp in Pfullingen, Germany. He was initially recruited to act as a translator and agent instructor. From 1949, Būtėnas lived in a safe house in Munich with Lukša. Later, from about May 1950, he lived with all the agents trained for CIA missions, including with Jonas Kakauskas-Kukis. It was not until August 28, 1950, that he was assigned to a team for dispatch.
After they landed in Lithuania, Būtėnas first separated from Kukauskas-Kukis and contacted the underground headquarters in the Tauras Region. As one story goes, Būtėnas and Petras Jurkšaitis (Beržas, aka "Birch"), the commander of a partisan unit, and Kukauskas were in a partisan forest bunker when Lithuanian security forces (MGB) surrounded them on May 22, 1951. Būtėnas and Jurkšaitis were killed in the fighting. Kukauskas surrendered. Another story is that the two were killed in a farmhouse in the village of Altoniskiai by Lithuanian security forces. The farmer was supposedly drunk and gossiped with his neighbors, who informed the security forces. However, another version of the death is that Būtėnas bit into a cyanide pill and killed himself.
However, in April 1956, the Lithuanian language newspaper "Teviskes Ziburiai" (The Lights of Homeland), published in Toronto, Canada, reported that Būtėnas was alive. According to this report, he was in a forced labor camp, having been caught by security forces, put on trial, and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.
In any event, he was buried in an unmarked grave. There is a memorial cross with a parachute in Kazlų Rūda, Lithuania. On May 19, 1999, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus posthumously awarded Būtėnas the Order of the Vytis Cross, 3rd degree.
In February 1938, Kukauskas, then a student in Vilnius, attempted to cross the Polish border into Lithuania to deliver information to the Lithuanian Intelligence Service. He was apprehended by the Polish counter-intelligence, interrogated, and brought to trial. He was released because his act was determined to have been that of an "irresponsible boy" rather than an agent of an intelligence service.
In 1944 Kukauskas crossed Poland and arrived in Berlin. He later studied and the university in Frankfurt. In October 1946, he was recruited by the Operations Chief of Vlik for a mission organized by French intelligence. At Pfullingen, Germany, he was trained in communications until May 1947.
In May 1948, he was taken to Paris, where he was given intelligence training, including jump techniques by the French. There had been no contact with French representatives except for their instructors. In April 1950, after the French dispatch failed to materialize, Kukauskas was dismissed by the French case officer and escorted by a French representative to Strasbourg, France. There a representative of VLIK, sent him on to Munich. Jonas Kukauskas was then recruited by the CIA's Office of Special Operations and trained outside Munich.
Radio Game “Neman”
After being captured by the Lithuanian security force, Kukauskas agreed to cooperate with them in a radio game, "Neman," with the CIA. He was given the codename Balandis (“April”). A special ten-man department was created to direct this operation.
Kukauskas sent his first message on June 15, 1951. He reported that he and Būtėnas were separated, and Būtėnas had been killed, without giving details. He continued sending messages with general information until November 29, 1951, when he stopped. Kukauskas sent a message to the CIA again in April 1952 with the excuse that his silence was due to a faulty generator.
Kukauskas contacted Lukša and got him to agree to a meeting in Pabartupis village forest near Kaunas. Lukša was killed during an ambush by Lithuanian security forces.
The Project Renewal request for the Fiscal Year 1953-1954 included this comment:
"The following represents an approximate analysis of reports received on Lithuania since May 1952 … 57 messages were received from one Fl agent inside Lithuania, giving an accurate picture of the present resistance situation in that country."
"Since March 1953, three s/w letters received from our agent in Lithuania have established that he was probably not under Soviet control as of December 1952. In the three letters received, he reported extensive partisans' round-ups resulting from treachery by certain partisan leaders. In these encounters, his wit equipment was lost, and most of his partisan unit was destroyed.
He was last known to have been in hiding but in contact with an established mail-drop. Money was sent to assist this agent. Based on the letters received, there is some certainty in the assumption that this agent is not under Soviet control and that previous information on contacts in Lithuania sent by him may be used in future operations."
In March 1953, Kukauskas sent a message: “Strong local security measures in December 1952 resulted in the destruction of a large segment of the Lithuanian resistance movement. The agent himself was wounded in a skirmish with security troops and forced to go into hiding with friends.”
CIA later wrote, “In our last mission to Lithuania in April 1951, we dispatched two agents. One of the two agents was killed by MGB forces a. few weeks after arrival. The other agent succeeded in contacting the partisan forces, developing limited contact with legal living citizens, and maintaining continuous contact with the CIA via W/T and S/W for the past two years.” In July 1953, the CIA's Chief of the Soviet Russia Division wrote that Kukauskas stopped sending W/T messages in 1953 but continued sending secret writing letters. The CIA believed that Kakauskas was under KGB control, but they continued the operational game:
"The channels are used to obtain reactions to international events, elicit information on its modus operandi, and acquire intelligence information when we believe that it would be unprofitable for the RIS to practice deception."
The CIA decided to exfiltrate Kakauskas, even though he was assumed to be under KGB control:
"[B]ecause of the unusual length of time during which he allegedly managed to "live black" with little support, and also because of information obtained during debriefings. However, correspondence with him is being maintained, and he is being played "straight" with the hope of eventual exfiltration. He has always indicated a desire to return to the West."
Agents were recruited and trained, but the exfiltration attempt was never made. Kukaukas’s last known contact with the CIA was in the spring of 1956.
The text was adapted from the author’s book Cold War Frequencies: CIA Clandestine Radio Broadcasting to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (McFarland, 2021).
About the Author
Richard H. Cummings
Richard H. Cummings, a graduate of Boston University, was a Criminal Investigator for the U.S. Government, a Russian Linguist for the U.S. Air Force, and Director of Security at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in Munich. He is also the author of three books on early Cold War history.
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