The Blob

Friday, February 27, 2004

The Farewell Dossier

The full story of espionage by the U.S. and the former Soviet Union is only beginning to come to light. But in recent weeks, a remarkable story has surfaced about an audacious plan by the C.I.A. to stem the tide of technology plunder of U.S. secrets by the former KGB: The Farewell Dossier. It makes for riveting reading.

It is a story of 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. During a summit conference in Ottawa on July 19, 1981, President Fran├žois Mitterrand of France took then President Ronald Reagan aside 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."

The result of this was that the Soviets could no longer trust any of the technologies stolen from the west. They eventually fell further and further behind. There are many reasons why the former Soviet Union collapsed. But this was certainly one that is certainly astounding. The loss of natural gas resulting from the C.I.A. opedeprivedprieved the Soviets of badly needed hard currency at a critical time. It is a story of cunning by someone who was anything but the classic James Bond.

Reed, who served in the National Security Council from January 1982 to June 1983, said the United States and its NATO allies later "rolled up the entire Line X collection network, both in the U.S. and overseas." Weiss said "the heart of Soviet technology collection crumbled and would not recover."

However, Vetrov's espionage was discovered by the KGB, and he was executed in 1983.

Hell froze over

We all complain too much. We think we have it hard. But our troubles pale when compared to life in Hell: North Korea. The last place on Earth is no place to be if you run afoul of the authorities. In a country that is a prison all by itself, the system of gulags that dot North Korea have no equal anywhere else in the world. It is hard for westerners to comprehend the level of cruelty and the harshness of life that exists in these camps.

Cannibalism, infanticide, torture, slavery, rape, forced abortion and experimentation on humans with chemical weapons is the order of the day. Earlier today, Japanese television showed a smuggled video of one North Korean gulag. The commentary in this linked article is riveting, if not numbing reading. And an interview with a former commander of a vast North Korean slave labor camp on the BBC Television Website provides insight into the level of cruelty that is the norm.

It is estimated that the system of political prisons and labor camps in North Korea holds more than 200,000 people, and that, given the harsh conditions in these camps, some 400,000 prisoners have perished in the past three decades. In keeping with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung's dictate that class enemies "must be eliminated through three generations, parents, children, grandchildren and other relatives? of prisoners are also sent to the gulag; and forced abortion and infanticide are standard practice, as prisoners are considered subhuman and are not permitted to have children.

North Korea, of course, denies the existence of such camps, but recently published satellite photos of vast gulags, each holding over 50,000 prisoners, along with interviews of escaped prison guards who described grisly tales of torture and executions show the horrible truth that exists in this frozen Hell.

An in-depth report in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format, The Hidden Gulag, by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea can be downloaded here.

God is my Co-producer

All the controversy surrounding Mel gibbousness new flick, The Passion of the Christ sounds like he's getting absolutely crucified. As a friend of mine quipped, "I thought Hollywood loved the film - I read they were going to make a book out of it..." Then we heard of a woman who apparently went to visit God after seeing the film after suffering an apparent fatal seizure during the particularly graphic crucifixion scene.

It gets a bit more strange than that. An article at E! Online reported that God is apparently listed as one of the co-writers of the movie:

"According to the Internet Movie Database, he was speaking the Gospel truth. Early Wednesday morning, the site had God--the God, capital "G"--listed as a credited contributor to The Passion. By Wednesday noon, the credit was gone, but God's own personal page remained.

On it, God got props for writing the "novel"--presumably, the Bible--upon which gibbousness devout, if gruesome epic is based. The Passion was God's lone filmography entry, or at least it was until the Website purged that, too, leaving The Big Wannabe Screenwriter in the Sky with not much more than a fancy blank page.

An attempt to reach a real, live editor for comment at the Seattle-based was unsuccessful. No attempt was made to reach God. (We figured He was busy.)"

So let me get this straight: That would mean that God has a SAG card. And that would make God, um, well, Union.

The Teamsters are going to have a field day with this. Oh, God.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Opportunity lost

Today, the Washington Post presented the first of an outstanding two-part story on the hunt for Osama bin Laden prior to September 11. It is a very insightful look at a lost opportunity that could possibly have changed the course of history. The story points out how factions within the CIA and the Clinton White House failed to grasp just how dangerous bin Laden and Al Queda would prove to be, and the frustrations of mid-level CIA operatives to get Washington to understand before it became too late.

For those who complain about George Bush, what we have today may in part be an equal and opposite reaction to the laissez-faire policies of his predecessor. Sadly, despite some best efforts, the CIA and related groups were never able to penetrate the inner circle of Al Queda. And despite optimistic predictions my the US military, it will take a stroke of luck to finally snare bin Laden. The article shows the importance of never underestimating your enemy.