Sat, Nov 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Czechoslovakia spied on Trump to exploit US ties

Files show that the US president was the target of an extensive spying operation in the late 1980s by an intelligence service with ‘friends’ from the KGB

By Luke Harding  /  The Guardian, PRAGUE

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

The three visitors from the eastern bloc looked somewhat incongruous as they stood in front of Trump Tower in New York. It was September 1989. Leading the delegation was Frantisek Cuba, a bulky and bespectacled figure, the chairman of a showcase model farm in what was then Czechoslovakia. With him were his deputy, Miroslav Kovarik and the farm’s communist party boss, Pavel Cmolic.

The trio walked into the gleaming lobby and took the lift up to the executive floor. Their meeting was with then-real-estate businessman Donald Trump. For the men from behind the Iron Curtain, Trump was a celebrity capitalist. He was also the target of an extensive spying operation conducted by Czechoslovakia’s Statni bezpecnost (StB) intelligence service along with “friends” from the KGB.

The StB had been interested in Trump since 1977, when he married a Czechoslovakia-born woman, Ivana Zelnickova. News of the wedding reached the StB bureau in Zlin, the town in Moravia where Ivana grew up and where her parents lived. Ivana’s father, Milos Zelnickova, regularly gave the StB information on his daughter’s visits from the US and his son-in-law’s burgeoning career.

The StB’s work on the couple intensified in the late 1980s, after Trump let it be known he was thinking of running for president.

The StB’s first foreign department sat up. Inside the Soviet bloc, Czechoslovakia’s spies were reputed to be skilled professionals, competent and versatile English-speakers who were a match for the CIA and MI6.

Cuba was on a 14-day business trip to Brazil, the US and Canada. Trump, who had recently launched his Trump Shuttle, appears to have told his guests to buy a Sikorski helicopter, possibly from him and used by his airline for short hops.

Cuba invited Trump to visit the farm, Slusovice. Trump reportedly agreed.

Reporters were shown a two-page write-up of the encounter, based on details supplied by agent Jarda. Jarda was one of four StB collaborators who spied on the Trumps during the Cold War. Jarda’s real name is Jaroslav Jansa. It is unclear whether Jansa was in New York, or learned of the visit once the official delegation flew home.

Now aged 74, and living in an apartment bloc on the outskirts of Prague, Jansa is reluctant to talk about his past. When the Guardian and Czech magazine Respekt knocked on his door, he refused to open it.

In an e-mail, he said he was tired and wanted to be left in peace.

He added: “You are trying to put me in the tomb.”

Jansa’s shadow career began in summer 1986, when he met an StB officer in the town of Vsetin, files reveal. After a meal in the box-like Vsacan hotel, Jansa agreed to become a secret collaborator.

Regular meetings followed. They were noted in an agent file. He got modest amounts of cash — on one occasion, 29 crowns (US$5-US$7).

Jansa was one of tens of thousands of informers in the SSR, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. He spoke five languages, had a scientific background and was head of foreign cooperation at Slusovice. This meant he came into contact with prestige visitors, including congressional delegations from Washington and foreign TV crews.

The StB’s records are a window into a vanished age. As well as Trump, Jansa spied on a US diplomat based at the embassy in Vienna, James Freckmann. Jansa drove regularly to then-West Germany and Heidelberg.

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