West keeps tabs on Soviet mission vehicles

A British military police car follows a vehicle bearing the distinctive license plates of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission on the autobahn between Kassel and Hannover.

The Stars & Stripes
March 29, 1985

DARMSTADT, Germany -- Just as U.S. Military Liaison Mission vehicles are free to roam many areas in East Germany, the Soviet Military Liaison Mission, headquartered in Frankfurt, has specially marked Opel sedans that cruise around West Germany.

The Americans, British and French have reciprocal agreements with the Soviets allowing a limited number of military liaison officers in each other's territory.

The Soviet representatives can travel in the West in cars bearing special license plates with a yellow background, a large black number and a red Soviet flag.  The American, British and French missions have special vehicles for travel in East Germany.

The United States is issued 14 passes for travel in East Germany, under authority of the commander of the Group of Soviet Forces Germany, a USAREUR spokesman said.  Accredited military members are "guaranteed the right of free travel in East Germany," he said.

To monitor the locations of the Soviet cars and keep tabs on what the Soviets are observing, the United States, Britain and France have special "sighting desks" which receive and keep track of reports of sightings of the Soviet vehicles.

U.S. Army and Air Force members are issued special cards to help identify the cars and report sightings.  The cards show an example of the Soviet mission license plate and give instructions about how the Soviets should be treated, emphasizing courtesy and saying that "no force should be used or lives endangered."

A senior Army officer interviewed by the New York Times said he did not have a copy of the Soviet orders to its personnel, but he said he assumes they are similar.

"Generally, as a broad statement, there is an increase" in the number of sightings during exercises, a spokesman for the British Intelligence Security Group said last year.  About 3,000 sightings per year are reported in the British zone, where fewer than 10 Soviet liaison officers are assigned, the spokesman said.

In restricted areas, the Soviet cars are not permitted off autobahns -- not even in parking areas -- unless accompanied by U.S., British or French military police, the spokesman said.  An exception would be a brief stop to take care of "humanitarian needs," he said.

In non-restricted areas of West Germany, the Soviets can travel freely, he said.

All of the missions exchange maps that show permanent and temporary restricted areas in East and West Germany.  The intelligence and security offices for the Army and Air Force also have copies of the maps.

Under certain circumstances, the Soviet cars must be detained if possible, according to the instructions on the card:

  • If the car is in a permanent or temporary restricted area, but not on an autobahn.
  • If the passengers are taking close interest in any military installations, training, vehicles or equipment (such as taking notes, photographing, using binoculars or staying in a military convoy).
The British permanent and temporary restricted areas are protected by special details of military police, the spokesman said.  These police monitor the activities of the mission cars.

The American military has no special security forces for the American zone and must rely on reports by military members, an Army spokesman said.

The British zone is in northern Germany, the American in the south and southeast, and the French in the southwest, the British spokesman said.

Military members are asked to report sightings of these vehicles immediately to the U.S. sighting desk, according to the instructions on the card.  Reports of sightings in British or French zones are relayed to those nations' sighting desks.

The U.S. sighting desk phone number is military 2311-6066 or civilian 069-151-6066.

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Thanks to B. Knight for this article.

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