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Cold War espionage paid off—until it backfired, East German spy records reveal

“But there’s a hidden cost, Meyersson says. Espionage seems to ‘eat up’ investment in research and development. For example, the authors’ model showed that increases in industrial espionage significantly reduced patent applications, a key proxy for research and development. ‘It’s a way to keep up,’ Meyersson says. ‘It’s not a strategy to become a world leader.’

That’s exactly what played out in East Germany, Macrakis says. Despite early successes, including the ‘reinvention’ of polyurethane and the reverse engineering of the ‘must-have’ mainframe computer of the 1960s—the IBM 360—industrial espionage hit a wall in the late 1970s and 1980s. That’s because a new focus on advanced computing—in particular, the country’s quest to create a 1-megabyte memory chip—required orders of magnitude greater investments in human intelligence and embargoed goods. Easy access to secrets had, over time, discouraged both state and private investment in research and development. ‘East Germany collapsed,’ she says. ‘Maybe they caught up a little bit, but in the end the whole computing thing [at least] was a fiasco.’”

Source: Cold War espionage paid off—until it backfired, East German spy records reveal | Science | AAAS

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