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https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/aa83/2018-11-05/soviet-side-1983-war-scare

 

Washington, D.C., November 5, 2018 – Beginning in 1981, the KGB’s “main objective” became “not to miss the military preparations of the enemy, its preparations for a nuclear strike, and not to miss the real risk of the outbreak of war,” according to the text of a previously secret speech by then-KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov found in the Ukrainian KGB archives and published today by the National Security Archive.

The Andropov speech, Politburo-level warnings about the war risks from NATO exercises in the fall of 1983, and other previously secret Soviet documents and declassified U.S. sources included in today’s posting, confirm that ranking members of Soviet intelligence, military, and the Politburo, to varying degrees, were fearful of a Western first strike in 1983 under the cover of the NATO exercises Autumn Forge 83 and Able Archer 83.

Also published today is a previously confidential February 1984 Soviet General Staff Journal Voennaya mysl’ [Military Thought] article analyzing NATO military exercises including Autumn Forge 83 and Able Archer 83. The article opens with a warning from Soviet Politburo member and Minister of Defense Dmitry Ustinov just after the conclusion of Able Archer 83 in November 1983. Ustinov warned that NATO’s military exercises “are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from a real deployment of armed forces for aggression.” The article goes on to state that, due to the large scale and realistic nature of NATO’s military exercises in 1983, “it was difficult to catch the difference between working out training questions and actual preparation of large-scale aggression.”

Today’s posting addresses a key historiographical problem faced by researchers working on the 1983 war scare, namely the paucity of primary source evidence from the Soviet side beyond the material provided by KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky. The documents published today support Gordievsky’s descriptions of KGB efforts in Operation RYaN starting in 1981 to detect signs of a potential Western first strike, and show that concerns over war risks in the fall of 1983 reached as high as the Politburo and the General Staff.

The evidence published in this posting includes:

  • Text of Andropov’s 1981 speeches to KGB officers announcing the impetus behind Operation RYaN (Raketno-Yadernoye Napadenie, “nuclear missile attack”) – the Soviet human intelligence effort to detect, with the aim of preempting, a Western first strike.
  • Text of a 1983 meeting between General Secretary Andropov and West German politician Hans-Jochen Vogel, in which Andropov warned of nuclear miscalculation, stating “After all, at the button that activates the nuclear weapon could be a drunken American sergeant or a drug addict.”
  • U.S. State Department deliberations confirming that a U.S. Navy aircraft “probably did pass over” Soviet-claimed territory in the Kuril Island chain while conducting simulated bombing runs in April and May 1983. After the State Department rejected the démarche, the Soviet chargé d’affaires warned the United States “would bear responsibilities for the consequences.”
  • Ukrainian KGB summaries of public sentiment, including after the KAL 007 aircraft shootdown on September 1, 1983, confirming Western intelligence reports of a “fear of war [that] seemed to affect the elite as well as the man on the street.”
  • An October 1983 letter to all Soviet first secretaries in all regions and territories and the heads of all military districts and departments instructing them to increase border protection and internal preventative activities.
  • Minister of Defense Ustinov’s November 19, 1983 announcement in Pravda publicly acknowledging the Soviets' inability to tell a NATO exercise from an actual attack.
  • A February 1984 Voennaya mysl’ [Military Thought] analysis of NATO’s 1983 exercises, echoing Ustinov’s warning of the difficulty of distinguishing exercise from attack.
  • A previously secret September 1984 letter from KGB Chairman Viktor Chebrikov reiterating that the “most important” KGB activity was “not to miss the real threat of a nuclear strike.”
  • A 1989 update to a 1984 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Warning of War In Europe,” stating “we cannot rule out the possibility nevertheless, that during a crisis the Soviets might choose to launch a preemptive attack on NATO.”
  • A previously unpublished interview with Colonel General Victor Ivanovich Yesin in which he recounts his time serving in the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces during Able Archer 83. Although he never got close to launching his weapons, he states that his and other nuclear forces went on “combat alert” and that Chief of the General Staff of the USSR Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov and head of Strategic Rocket Forces Marshal Vladimir Tolubko were constantly monitoring the exercise.

Combined with previously published British and American intelligence depictions of an “unparalleled in scale” Soviet military reaction, including transporting nuclear weapons to delivery units, suspension of flight operations other than intelligence flights, and “round the clock” military preparedness, these Soviet sources further confirm the increased nuclear risk which was present during the 1983 War Scare and Able Archer 83.

While there is no evidence of an “imminent” Soviet launch of nuclear weapons in response to Able Archer 83, there is ample documentation that the East-West military-political confrontation and introduction of intermediate-range nuclear weapons by both superpowers into Europe decreased stability and increased the risk of war through miscalculation during the War Scare.

The 1983 War Scare, including the Soviet proclamations about fear of war, military reactions to NATO exercises, and introduction of a KGB program named “Nuclear Missile Attack,” which required intelligence agents’ to make their “main objective” reporting on Western plans for a first strike, should therefore be a topic of concern and study for nuclear, political, military, and intelligence historians.

Far from being a “non crisis” or a “war scare that wasn’t,” the 1983 US-Soviet confrontation is a profound representation of the “hair trigger” mindset toward which the nuclear arms race can push humanity. As the delegation of U.S. Senators that met Andropov in August 1983 wrote to their colleagues, “despite all its sophistication, modern military power can be used rashly and in an entirely self-defeating way.”

 

 

As one SS20 commander they cited there said, the tensions were not as high as in 1962. But you can argue that despite that it was potentially more dangerous, because only one side understood (or thought it understood) the stakes.

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Some useful new sources there. I'm not sure I agree with all the conclusions the NSArchive comes to, however. One of the problems with the conclusion the NSA reach, is that their own evidence shows that RYAN was ordered well before the "destabilising" NATO missile deployments they seek to blame for the War Scare. In fact, Andropov seems to have gone off the deep end on the basis of very little in 1981. You'd have to wonder whether, in fact, a more likely driver was him seeking to solidify his internal powerbase by drumming up a "besieged fortress" mentality. If you're head of the KGB and angling to be head of the CPSU then a massive project that only the KGB can lead to protect the USSR seems like a very astute political move.

 

Some of the other evidence cited, such as "Soviet fears of encirclement" could have been written at any time in the past century. It is hardly compelling or diagnostic. Nor is the Andropov - Vogel conversation, which is clearly an effort by Andropov to seed various thoughts in the mind of a Western politician, and not just anyone, someone who might have become Chancellor of West Germany in March 1983.

 

The evidence of Ustinov complaining publicly about NATO military exercises again could come from a Russian defence minister at any time in the last century. In fact, just this week we have heard almost identical tone from the Russian Defence Ministry re NATO exercises. There is nothing in the words of Ustinov quoted to indicate any particularly dramatic change at that moment.

 

The "world on the brink of war" thesis still requires some compelling evidence to support the claims made.

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The NSA captioning of this photo is... interesting:

 

A tank and an armored personnel carrier, just two of the 3,500 vehicles used in Autumn Forge, rumble through a small village. From Air Man.

 

 

13_a_tank_and_an_armored_personnel_carri

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  • Text of a 1983 meeting between General Secretary Andropov and West German politician Hans-Jochen Vogel, in which Andropov warned of nuclear miscalculation, stating “After all, at the button that activates the nuclear weapon could be a drunken American sergeant or a drug addict.”

 

The obvious reply to that would have been "Comrade, when it comes to drunken troops and nuclear buttons, it's not the Americans I'm worried about". :D

 

Of course after Helmut Schmidt, the SPD was pretty much on the anti-Doubletrack-train already anyway. What Vogel would have done in the (unlikely) case he became chancellor in the 1983 snap election provoked by Helmut Kohl in light of favorable poll numbers after the Liberals switched allegiance to CDU/CSU the previous year remains conjecture; actual national responsibilities in office tend to refocus the mind. However, as opposition leader his chief aim was reuniting the SPD after the controversy over the basing of Pershing II, and the party's special convention in November that year pretty unanimously decided to be against, voting thusly in parliament three days later. So Andropov was probably preaching to the choir two months ahead of the election anyway.

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  • Text of a 1983 meeting between General Secretary Andropov and West German politician Hans-Jochen Vogel, in which Andropov warned of nuclear miscalculation, stating “After all, at the button that activates the nuclear weapon could be a drunken American sergeant or a drug addict.”

 

The obvious reply to that would have been "Comrade, when it comes to drunken troops and nuclear buttons, it's not the Americans I'm worried about". :D

 

Of course after Helmut Schmidt, the SPD was pretty much on the anti-Doubletrack-train already anyway. What Vogel would have done in the (unlikely) case he became chancellor in the 1983 snap election provoked by Helmut Kohl in light of favorable poll numbers after the Liberals switched allegiance to CDU/CSU the previous year remains conjecture; actual national responsibilities in office tend to refocus the mind. However, as opposition leader his chief aim was reuniting the SPD after the controversy over the basing of Pershing II, and the party's special convention in November that year pretty unanimously decided to be against, voting thusly in parliament three days later. So Andropov was probably preaching to the choir two months ahead of the election anyway.

 

 

:D

 

Im actually reading a good book about Zuyev, the defector that brought the Mig29 across, and he raised some interesting points about drunkenness. He said that although they did have some amusing drinking games (including one where they all shout polar bear and all had to jump under the table...), he said in his opinion they drank much less than the British and the Americans. He was horrified at stories he heard from the Vietnam war about American pilots getting drunk up to 12 hours before a flight. And he was astounded to hear about British pilots getting drunk every night (as you can see in that Vulcan Video I posted). Apparently the VVS wouldnt allow drinking for 36 hours before a flight. Though he admitted one pilot that wrapped himself around the runway (an ex PVO pilot) was drunk. But it wasnt common according to him.

 

On the other hand, the VVS wasnt the Soviet Army, which certainly DID have a major problem.

 

Thats interesting on the West German perspective. At the time it was passed over here in the media, we were largely British centric over the GLCM deployment, so our Media doesnt change very much. :)

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Let's not overlook that Andropov wasn't a chekist but a diplomat so he knew full well how the world game was played.

 

He did, but he was ill. We really dont know what they were filling his system with to keep him alive. I can remember Anthony Eden was reportedly on several medications to alievate a bowel problem, and that seems to have had some serious impact on his decision making ability at the time of Suez.

Still, Andropov didnt launch. So he wasnt THAT ill. But the dangers here are self evident.

 

 

Some useful new sources there. I'm not sure I agree with all the conclusions the NSArchive comes to, however. One of the problems with the conclusion the NSA reach, is that their own evidence shows that RYAN was ordered well before the "destabilising" NATO missile deployments they seek to blame for the War Scare. In fact, Andropov seems to have gone off the deep end on the basis of very little in 1981. You'd have to wonder whether, in fact, a more likely driver was him seeking to solidify his internal powerbase by drumming up a "besieged fortress" mentality. If you're head of the KGB and angling to be head of the CPSU then a massive project that only the KGB can lead to protect the USSR seems like a very astute political move.

 

Some of the other evidence cited, such as "Soviet fears of encirclement" could have been written at any time in the past century. It is hardly compelling or diagnostic. Nor is the Andropov - Vogel conversation, which is clearly an effort by Andropov to seed various thoughts in the mind of a Western politician, and not just anyone, someone who might have become Chancellor of West Germany in March 1983.

 

The evidence of Ustinov complaining publicly about NATO military exercises again could come from a Russian defence minister at any time in the last century. In fact, just this week we have heard almost identical tone from the Russian Defence Ministry re NATO exercises. There is nothing in the words of Ustinov quoted to indicate any particularly dramatic change at that moment.

 

The "world on the brink of war" thesis still requires some compelling evidence to support the claims made.

 

I think we forget, quite how disturbing Reagan was in 1981. He was preaching about the death of the Communism, rollback everywhere he could engineer it. Now admittedly these were some sensative guys, but if you bear in mind how Trump sounds to us sometimes, (alright, all the time) its not hard to imagine how scared shitless they probably were. Everyone was. You only have to listen to some of the music at the time to have some idea how Reagan was viewed, not just in the Soviet Union, but everywhere.

In fairness he was far more intelligent and cautious than we believed. But his rhetoric wasnt. He just hadnt learned yet to stop talking on the inernational stage as if he was talking to the American heartland. So rather than view the start of the crisis as being less GLCM and Pershing 2 deployment, and more Reagan being elected, it does kind of make sense.

 

Certainly not 'case proven' though Ill be the first to admit admit. I really want to see what the reports were about Soviet warplanes bombed up with tactical nuclear weapons were in East Germany. Ive not seen anything about it in the USMLM reports, I idly wonder if the Brixmis reports would have anything about it.

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The NSA captioning of this photo is... interesting:

 

A tank and an armored personnel carrier, just two of the 3,500 vehicles used in Autumn Forge, rumble through a small village. From Air Man.

 

 

13_a_tank_and_an_armored_personnel_carri

 

To be fair, there is an APC in the photo :)

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The APC that shall not be named! :ninja:

 

This was interesting too. Personally I would have paid good money to see a fallout shelter for cows. :D

 

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170831-the-grim-and-chilling-magazine-for-nuclear-doomsday-preppers

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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  • 3 months later...

Thought this was interesting. Turns out the document where General Perroot's relates his perceptions of Soviet moves during Able Archer still exists. In the Indiana Jones warehouse. I wont hold me breath then...

https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/aa83/2019-02-28/national-security-archive-sues-dia-able-archer-83-document

 

 

Washington, D.C., February 28, 2019 – The National Security Archive today filed a FOIA lawsuit to compel the Defense Intelligence Agency to release documents likely containing a letter from former DIA director Leonard Perroots, warning of the danger caused by the 1983 NATO nuclear exercise Able Archer 83. The Archive filed suit after receiving no substantive response to the FOIA request six months since filing the request and being told our “unusual” request is 1,133rd within the DIA’s glacial and growing queue.

As the Archive’s pro bono attorneys, John S. Guttmann and Hilary T. Jacobs of Beveridge & Diamond, state in the complaint, “If Plaintiff’s request can be described as ‘unusual’ in any way, it is only ‘unusual’ in how easy it makes it for DIA to efficiently respond to its request by seeking only three pre-located boxes.”

The letter in question was written by Lieutenant General Leonard Perroots, who served as the Assistant Chief of Staff of Intelligence at Ramstein Air Base during Able Archer 83 (see links in left column). According to a declassified President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board report, Able Archer 83 tested new procedures for releasing nuclear weapons, including “pre-exercise communications that notionally moved forces from normal readiness … to a General Alert.”

In response to the exercise, the Soviet military initiated a “major mobilization” of their forces, including placing Soviet nuclear-capable air forces in Germany and Poland on heightened alert, conducting over 36 intelligence flights, and transporting nuclear weapons from storage sites to launch pads by helicopter. According to the PFIAB report, the Soviet response was “unparalleled” and had only previously been observed “during actual crises.”

After Perroots observed the signs of elevated Soviet military alert, he chose not to respond in kind, thus averting further escalation during this “War Scare.” According to the PFIAB report, Perroots and other officers in charge of the Able Archer 83 exercise deescalated the risk “by doing nothing in the face of evidence that parts of the Soviet armed forces were moving to an unusual level of alert.” The report credits his decision to act “correctly out of instinct, not informed guidance” for ending the nuclear tension.

Perroots rose to serve as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1985 to 1988. In 1989, he wrote a letter as a “parting shot before retirement” to US intelligence agencies –in all likelihood including the DIA– requesting further investigation into Able Archer 83 and stating his concerns with the intelligence community’s inadequate treatment of the Soviet Union’s response. Eventually, the PFIAB took up Perroots’ suggestion, writing a report which concluded, “In 1983 we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger,” and that “Soviet military leaders may have been seriously concerned that the US would use Able Archer 83 as cover of launching a real attack.”

In 2018 the National Security Archive identified the likely location of the Perroots correspondence as being within three specific boxes of documents held at the Washington Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, sometimes described as the real-life equivalent of the “Indiana Jones Warehouse.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has long failed to live up to its Freedom of Information Act requirements. According to the most recent federal reporting, the DIA’s oldest pending FOIA request is over fourteen years old and the average “complex” FOIA request has been pending at DIA for 656 days. (The DIA deems 97.8 percent of all FOIAs as “complex.”) When FOIAs are finally processed by DIA, they are usually over-redacted. These redactions include the relatively recent use of statutory exemption 10 USC 424 markings to censor material which was previously available to the public.

Unless the DIA revamps and improves its FOIA processes, requesters will increasingly turn to the courts to force the agency to comply with the law.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The NSA captioning of this photo is... interesting:

 

A tank and an armored personnel carrier, just two of the 3,500 vehicles used in Autumn Forge, rumble through a small village. From Air Man.

 

 

13_a_tank_and_an_armored_personnel_carri

That is an M-88 Recovery vehicle towing the tank.

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  • 4 months later...

Ive just been reading Ben Macintyre's new book 'The Spy and the Traitor', and there has been a little more information about the Able Archer Affair. The book covers the operational history of Oleg Gordievsky, and it suggest he DID provide evidence during the exercise to MI6, but that it wasnt responsible for the exercise being curtailed in any way. If it was curtailed, it may have been due to decisions made in NATO, when one USAF senior officer saw strange reactions from the Soviets.

 

Macintyre cites an unusual book ive never heard of before called 'The Great Cold War' by Gordon Barrass, a Whitehall civil servant, which may account for some of the unusual quotes he makes that ive not seen before. Its clear the KGB was sending out flash traffic to the London station, and the implication was they were expecting an attack, possibly with 10 days warning.

 

Excellent book btw. Read like one of the better John Le Carre's.

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  • 11 months later...

I dont know if this is of any interest, but I found a CIA report that shows heightened SS12 Scaleboard exercises throughout October 1983. As we can see from the date of the report, this is written on 4th November 1983, scarcely 3 days before Able Archer kicked off.

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP91T00712R000100140003-5.pdf

 

Perhaps this is just heightened tensions at the time, but its remarkable timing. Its almost as if they were expecting it.

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