American journalist discovers Czech communist plot to recruit him as a spy

Journalist and author Mark Baker talked to about the elaborate lengths the Czech State Security went to in order to make him one of their own. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 17.11.2023 14:00:00 (updated on 20.11.2023) Reading time: 5 minutes

Prague-based U.S. travel writer Mark Baker has a story to tell. This week, he's published – in Czech – five separate blogs on how the Czechoslovak State Security (StB) attempted to recruit him as a spy in the 1980s. This follows his earlier released English version, which paints an extraordinary picture of Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s.

In an interview with, he takes us through his recent discovery of a huge file compiled by the StB, extensively documenting several parts of his life. Assigned the code name INTER by the StB, Mark shared his story with us.

Tell us a bit about your life in the 1980s, what were you doing?

In the second half of the 1980s I was working at a publishing company called Business International (BI), based in Vienna. I was sometimes sent to Prague or Bratislava to research and interview people for political stories about the region. 

I needed a translator, and I was assigned an older Czech gentleman called Arnold. Not only did he translate everything for me, he also arranged all my transport. We ended up having a close relationship over the years.

How did you come to find out that you had a secret file?

During Covid-19, I found time to write a book on my time as a journalist 1980s Czechoslovakia, called "Čas Proměn" (Time of Changes). I sent copies to those who helped me during my research and writing, including Dr. Prokop Tomek from the Czech Institute of Military History.

A decade ago, with Tomek's help, I discovered Arnold's close collaboration with the StB. He served as a paid informant, playing a significant role in their top operations.

The front cover of Baker's surveillance file. Photo:
The front cover of Baker's surveillance file. Source: Surveillance Directorate of the SNB - Operative Files, arch. no. SL-2520 MV (cover name “Inter”)

So you found out you had a file before the book was published?

No. Around 2013, I applied to the Czech National Archives to check if, due to my close association with Arnold, I had a secret file about me. All results came back negative, and I simply believed that any covert file on my life in the 1980s did not exist.

After Prokop received my book, I got an e-mail around Christmas 2021 that truly rocked me. 

“Mark, I checked the National Archives…there is a file on you, and it is crazy.” 

Prokop uncovered a large file about me and my life, and the StB made my code name “INTER” – a reference to my employer.

And what was the main reason for the file?

In a nutshell, the StB were trying to recruit me into their ranks in order to spy on U.S. institutions. 

When you returned to Prague, what exactly did you find?

I went with Prokop to the archives to collect this file – remarkably, it was around 1,000 pages long, and I was also given a flash drive to view digitized documents. Almost all the documents were dated from around the middle of 1988 and beyond.

Here’s the thing: a lot of the file had actually been destroyed, and these were the only surviving documents! They likely collected a lot more data on me right up until the end of communism.

Taken from Baker's file, this shows how closely
Taken from Baker's file, this shows how closely the StB followed him. The text describes how Baker's address and phone number from a Viennese phone book did not match up with the details he had given to a StB link. Source: Surveillance Directorate of the SNB - Operative Files, arch. no. SL-2520 MV (cover name “Inter”)

So, you attracted attention from the summer of 1988 – what happened after that?

My file shows that in 1988 they were evaluating me as a potential recruit. Across the papers, I saw two acronyms that repeatedly cropped up: RS and RT. An RS was a person of interest, or a potential target. An RT was already an official target that the StB would make a move on. I was both – first an RS, and then an RT.

So what did they say about you?

“INTER has a weakness for attractive women, but does not get many,” was one of the more memorable statements about me. They would also outline the type of woman I would be attracted to. 

But how did they know that?

Probably from Arnold! We would travel a lot together, we spoke a lot – including personal issues – so he was most likely noting things down.

“They wanted to see what aspects of my personality they could exploit.”

At what point did they actually try to recruit you?

In May of 1989, the StB put together a memorandum – or plan – to actively get me to join the secret service. The entire operation was called “Oheň” (meaning fire in Czech), the aim of which was to infiltrate U.S. institutions in Europe. As a U.S. citizen with seemingly exploitable traits living in Vienna – a target city of the StB – I was the perfect candidate. 

How did they do this?

In the summer of 1989, the StB actually assigned an agent to watch my every single move for the entirety of one day. He noted the exact time I went to breakfast, who I had met (and when), and where I went. It was a very detailed one-day report.

“A secret service agent spied on me for the full day..tracking my every move. He even took secret photographs of my associate with whom I walking around, which I had no idea about.”

Were you monitored again?

The next time I returned to Czechoslovakia was in November 1989, just days before the Berlin Wall fell. This was when the StB would strike. Arnold and I spent a night at a Bratislava hotel, and during evening dinner a Slovak lady named Ina approached our table and showed interest in me. 

Nothing materialized, but in my file I found that she had actually been a spy. The aim was for Ina to lure me back to my hotel room, where secret microphones and cameras had, amazingly, already been set up: it was the perfect honeytrap. 

An example of day-long surveillance tracking Baker, with updates every few hours. Source: Surveillance Directorate of the SNB - Operative Files, arch. no. SL-2520 MV (cover name “Inter”)

Did you ever try to reach out to some people mentioned in your file?

The main point of contact would of course be Arnold, but he passed away in 2001. Apart from that, there are various StB officers and other spies mentioned that I could potentially meet. However, the main issue is that almost all names are not real; they are code names.

Baker with his associate, Arnold, covertly pictured in Prague's
Baker with his associate, Arnold, covertly pictured in Prague's Žižkov. Source: Surveillance Directorate of the SNB - Operative Files, arch. no. SL-2520 MV (cover name “Inter”)

Can readers living in Czechia, who may now have sneaking suspicious about spies after listening to your story, also check if they have their own file? How?

Yes, they can. They will need to contact the National Archives, and then provide some basic personal information. People also need to include why they think there might be a file on them. It may take some weeks or months to do. Readers can also contact me for some help in obtaining this. 

"When you look at the size of my file...all those papers, all those man hours, all that money spent on informants…it was an absolute waste. If you multiply my case by thousands, you see how much time was lost on nothing.”

What a story! Will you do anything more with it?

Yes, a lot of people have asked about this. I will release a second version of Čas Proměn in English, adding a lot of information about the newly discovered file. Some people have even suggested making a film out of this story! It was thanks to the book, after all, that I discovered the unexpected tales of my hidden alter ego.

You can read Mark Baker’s full experiences in 1980s Central Europe in Čas Proměn. Mark also publishes regularly – including a five-part story about the encounter with his StB file – on his blog.

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