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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART I: THE PERFECT SPY

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / March 11, 2001

Page 9 of 9

Continued from page 8

''It's obviously interesting to meet your father,'' says Peter Kolbe. ''It was somewhat difficult, of course. He was a European and I was a colonial boy. The war almost didn't touch me. My father had lived with the threat of death and intense psychological pressures. Then he was regarded as a traitor, and that is still the case.''

Peter Kolbe was a free spirit who had no stomach for sudden fatherly authority. ''He was obviously a very strong man. But he was obviously very German, somebody who believed people could be cowed by discipline,'' he says.

The younger Kolbe did get a taste of the intelligence life in postwar Germany. ''I met most of the CIA people in Berlin when I arrived. I did a bit of translating for him,'' he says. ''I read some lovely report about some king who was going to get kicked in the ass by some Colonel Nasser.''

Later, on a trip to Egypt, Peter Kolbe saw the posters of the new leader: Gamal Nasser. ''I had a good laugh.''

Such Third World intrigue was a hallmark of the CIA when Dulles was chosen to head the agency in 1953. He used backwater coups and rightist authoritarians in a global chess match with the Soviets and their own arsenal of leftist revolutionaries. He was ousted in 1961 for his role in talking President John F. Kennedy into the bungled attempt to topple Cuba's Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs.

Kolbe and his wife retired to Bern. They came to Cambridge in 1966 and visited Peter Kolbe and his wife and their new daughter. The younger Kolbe was conducting research at MIT at the time. ''I saw my father a number of times, but each time no more than a couple of weeks,'' says Kolbe, who has two grown children and two grandchildren in Sydney.

Fritz Kolbe and his wife then traveled to Manchester, N.H., and visited the family of his old friend Hermsdorf. Ronald Hermsdorf said Kolbe had lost none of his boxer's bounce. ''You know those Basque shepherds with the weathered faces? That was how I remember Fritz Kolbe. He was just a very, very tough little guy,'' he says.

During his trip, Kolbe contacted Dulles at his home in Washington. ''I am delighted to hear that you are in the country,'' Dulles wrote back. ''I have not been in the best of health... but that should not prevent our getting together.''

Kolbe and Dulles kept in touch. By 1968, they were old warriors left to their reflections. The voluble Dulles wrote books and gave speeches. Kolbe finally decided to write his memoirs. He wanted Dulles to round up those incredibly detailed dispatches that Kolbe had filed during World War II.

But it was too late. The intelligence bureaucracy had become calcified in a culture of secrecy even more sacrosanct than the secrets themselves. Even Dulles was locked out of the fortress he helped build.

''I do not have any authority with respect to the documents to which Fritz might desire,'' Dulles wrote a mutual acquaintance. ''I have never myself succeeded in getting my hands on the great pile of Foreign Office telegrams which I delivered to the State Department many years ago.''

Within seven months, Dulles was dead. Kolbe followed two years later. Late last year, Maria was buried beside him in Bern. She'd refused requests to talk about her husband. The legacy of one of the last century's greatest spies remained locked away. Until now.

Peter Kolbe has some of the letters that Dulles wrote his father. He's collected piecemeal accounts of the man's wartime exploits. Only recently was he able to locate the grave of the mother he never knew, on the outskirts of old East Berlin.

Fritz Kolbe's son spent his career conducting geological research and exploration, dealing with the hard, immutable facts of proven science. He can hardly fathom the illusory life his father lived. ''I'd be afraid of doing something like that,'' he says. ''You could never prove anything.''

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