Intelligence shortcomings, as we
see, have a thousand fathers; secret
intelligence triumphs are orphans. Here is the unremarked story of "the
Farewell dossier": how a C.I.A. campaign of computer sabotage resulting in a
huge explosion in Siberia - all engineered by a mild-mannered economist
named Gus Weiss - helped us win the cold war.
Weiss worked down the hall from me
in the Nixon administration. In early
1974, he wrote a report on Soviet advances in technology through purchasing
and copying that led the beleaguered president - détente notwithstanding -
to place restrictions on the export of computers and software to the
Seven years later, we learned how
the K.G.B. responded. I was writing a
series of hard-line columns denouncing the financial backing being given
Moscow by Germany and Britain for a major natural gas pipeline from Siberia
to Europe. That project would give control of European energy supplies to
the Communists, as well as generate $8 billion a year to support Soviet
computer and satellite research.
President François Mitterrand
of France also opposed the gas pipeline. He
took President Reagan aside at a conference in Ottawa on July 19, 1981, to
reveal that France had recruited a key K.G.B. officer in Moscow Center.
Col. Vladimir Vetrov provided what
French intelligence called the Farewell
dossier. It contained documents from the K.G.B. Technology Directorate
showing how the Soviets were systematically stealing - or secretly buying
through third parties - the radar, machine tools and semiconductors to keep
the Russians nearly competitive with U.S. military-industrial strength
through the 70's. In effect, the U.S. was in an arms race with itself.
Reagan passed this on to William
J. Casey, his director of central
intelligence, now remembered only for the Iran-contra fiasco. Casey called
in Weiss, then working with Thomas C. Reed on the staff of the National
Security Council. After studying the list of hundreds of Soviet agents and
purchasers (including one cosmonaut) assigned to this penetration in the
U.S. and Japan, Weiss counseled against deportation.
Instead, according to Reed - a former
Air Force secretary whose fascinating
cold war book, "At the Abyss," will be published by Random House next month
- Weiss said: "Why not help the Soviets with their shopping? Now that we
know what they want, we can help them get it." The
catch: computer chips would be designed to pass Soviet quality tests and
then to fail in operation.
In our complex disinformation scheme,
deliberately flawed designs for
stealth technology and space defense sent Russian scientists down paths that
wasted time and money.
The technology topping the Soviets'
wish list was for computer control
systems to automate the operation of the new trans-Siberian gas pipeline.
When we turned down their overt purchase order, the K.G.B. sent a covert
agent into a Canadian company to steal the software; tipped off by Farewell,
we added what geeks call a "Trojan Horse" to the pirated product.
"The pipeline software that
was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was
programmed to go haywire," writes Reed, "to reset pump speeds and valve
settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline
joints and welds. The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion
and fire ever seen from space."
Our Norad monitors feared a nuclear
detonation, but satellites that would
have picked up its electromagnetic pulse were silent. That mystified many in
the White House, but "Gus Weiss came down the hall to tell his fellow NSC
staffers not to worry. It took him another twenty years to tell me why."
Farewell stayed secret because the
blast in June 1982, estimated at three
kilotons, took place in the Siberian wilderness, with no casualties known.
Nor was the red-faced K.G.B. about to complain publicly about being tricked
by bogus technology. But all the software it had stolen for years was
suddenly suspect, which stopped or delayed the work of thousands of worried
Russian technicians and scientists.
Vetrov was caught and executed in
1983. A year later, Bill Casey ordered the
K.G.B. collection network rolled up, closing the Farewell dossier. Gus Weiss
died from a fall a few months ago. Now is a time to remember that sometimes
our spooks get it right in a big way.