Cold War Computing

Major Helen Carter has served for over 20 years in the British Army Intelligence Corps, including time working in Germany during the Cold War. She was involved in many different activities looking at the people working in and around the Rhine region of Germany. A particular focus was studying the behaviour and movement of soldiers and civilians who had visited ‘Eastern Block’ countries. Helen helped to establish whether they were involved in spying activity for the enemy.

As part of her role, she analysed large amounts of data, using computer databases to process the information and highlight which individuals were likely to be spies. In 2001, she used some of the early portable computers to gather and process information about the warring factions in Bosnia.

What work did you carry out in Germany with the Intelligence Corps?

'I had two tours in Germany, and my first tour was as a Corporal, working in the counter-intelligence wing, which was all about trying to identify where the Soviets were. I was looking for cases where the Soviets were involved in sabotage or subversion of our own people or trying to gather information and equipment - spying on us!'

Major Helen Carter

What were the computers like that you used in the 1980s?

'When you look back on it, it's all quite slow and painful but it was a new and unique way to use computers which had at been particularly used by the army up until that point at the British Army of the Rhine'

Major Helen Carter

How did you use databases to catch spies?

'We were in Germany building databases of information so we could capture spies. So that's actually recording lots of the really basic stuff like name address at a birth where a person works, which was quite random at mundane but when you build that up as a picture. Perhaps someone taking a job with the British Army in the North of Germany and then only doing that job for a couple of years, then moving to another job somewhere else for the British Army and at moving on to another job at all the time. That becomes a bit supicious and could start to build a picture of someone that is in fact...spying on the British army and its activities'

Major Helen Carter

What was your experience with computers prior to joining the Intelligence Corps?

'We need you to do this.... crack on it. And funny enough, it became very simple to do if you just supply a bit of logic and thought to how you gather the information.'

Major Helen Carter