I recently came across an extraordinary story of Soviet industrial espionage and subsequent CIA wrong-doing – the Farewell Dossier. I heard about it through the French movie “Farewell” (2009), which is a fictionalized version of it. “Farewell” is a rather drab title, but the French title was worse – “The Farewell Affair” – since this is definitely not a romance. A full account was given in “Adieu Farewell – The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century” by Sergei Kostin, which has just been translated into English. The link includes the first 80 pages.
Farewell was the code name for Vladimir Vetrov, a Soviet KGB agent and engineer. During the 1960s and 70’s he had been evaluating technological secrets stolen from the West by a KGB office called Directorate T and its operational divsion Line X. They had planted agents in embassies all over the world, and had exploited the openings of Kissinger’s détente policy to visit Western factories and institutes.
By 1980 Vetrov had become disillusioned with the Soviet system. He unburdened himself to a French businessman friend, Jacques Prevot, whom he had met while working as a spy in France in the 1960s. He handed him ~4000 documents, including a list of all 250 Line X agents. He took no money for it. Prevot gave them to French intelligence, who verified that they were genuine. The French president, Francois Mitterand, then gave it directly to Ronald Reagan at a summit in July 1981.
From there it wound up in the hands of a CIA analyst named Gus Weiss. He had been worried about Soviet technical espionage for decades, and here was proof. They had stolen large chunks of their technology in radar, machine tools, computers, and semiconductors.
I actually had some contact with the last two. In the 80s I worked at DEC-Hudson, the microprocessor design center for Digital Equipment Corp. In 1983 US Customs seized a shipment of computer parts for a DEC machine, the VAX 11/782, that was destined for the USSR. They may well have learned about the plan from the Farewell Dossier. The 11/782 was one of the first multiprocessors, and we were rather flattered that it was a target. That prompted my colleagues to put some Russian text in the logo of VAX microprocessor that they were designing, as seen in the picture above.
Anyway, Weiss wanted to do more than just stop IP theft, and that’s where this story gets interesting. He wanted to turn the tables on Line X:
I met with Director of Central Intelligence William Casey on an afternoon in January 1982. I proposed using the Farewell material to feed or play back the products sought by Line X, but these would come from our own sources and would have been ”improved,” that is, designed so that on arrival in the Soviet Union they would appear genuine but would later fail. US intelligence would match Line X requirements supplied through Vetrov with our version of those items, ones that would hardly meet the expectations of that vast Soviet apparatus deployed to collect them.
If some double agent told the KGB the Americans were alert to Line X and were interfering with their collection by subverting, if not sabotaging, the effort, I believed the United States still could not lose. The Soviets, being a suspicious lot, would be likely to question and reject everything Line X collected. If so, this would be a rarity in the world of espionage, an operation that would succeed even if compromised. Casey liked the proposal.
The CIA met with various American companies and persuaded them to give bad plans and software to people connected with Line X:
Contrived computer chips found their way into Soviet military equipment, flawed turbines were installed on a gas pipeline, and defective plans disrupted the output of chemical plants and a tractor factory. The Pentagon introduced misleading information pertinent to stealth aircraft, space defense, and tactical aircraft.(4) The Soviet Space Shuttle was a rejected NASA design.
In the case of the pipeline turbines, it appears as though the bad designs led to an 3 kiloton explosion in the Trans-Siberian natural gas pipeline in 1982. That would make it one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever. That’s a charge leveled by Thomas C. Reed in his 2004 book “At the Abyss – An Insider’s History of the Cold War”. Reed was Secretary of the Air Force under Ford and Carter, and an organizer for Ronald Reagan. Others dispute the claim, saying that it was caused by bad construction, that there was little automation in use at that time, and that an open-air gas explosion couldn’t be that big.
Yet it’s an appalling story if true. The explosion was seen from space, but happened in a remote area, and it’s not known how many were killed by it. If it had happened in a densely populated area, thousands could have been killed, all over some random CIA machinations. People are killed all the time in gas explosions; it’s not something to fool with.
Weiss and the CIA were being too clever by half. As they suspected, all they had to do was let the Soviets know that the Line X material was compromised, and the whole operation would have been destroyed. They didn’t have to actually put out dangerously flawed tech. When the Soviets did find out about Farewell (they executed Vetrov in 1985), they were thrown in disarray. They no longer knew what to believe. In particular, they fell for Reagan’s Star Wars anti-ballistic-missile program, which was absurd on its face. The open US scientific community dismissed it out of hand, but Gorbachev couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t some secret tech behind it.
The CIA appears to be still be up to cyber-sabotage, if the reports about the Stuxnet and Conficker worms can be believed. Stuxnet was the worm that disabled a few Iranian uranium centrifuges in 2010, and a recent report by John Bumgarner, CTO for the US Cyber Consequences Unit think-tank, says that the immensely annoying Conficker worm of 2008 was a dry run for it.
If the CIA (and probably the Israelis) are running around smashing random computers, they’re in dire need of adult supervision. Not only are they failing to genuinely harm Iranian nuclear progress, not only are they causing huge aggravation for the general public, but they’re also inventing dangerous malware that can be used by non-state-sponsored criminals. Ask Eric Holder how Operation Fast and Furious turned out, where the ATF actually sold guns to Mexican drug cartels. If you give script kiddies the ability to actually damage industrial hardware, you could be looking at a lot more gas pipeline explosions.