July 1982

by Edward Jay Epstein

WHEN Secretary of Defense Caspar W Weinberger revealed last April that
the Soviet Union had achieved superiority over
the United States in intercontinental missiles, he
provoked a furor in Congress over the status of
the nuclear balance. Weinberger's revelation also
pointed to an intelligence failure of unprecedented
proportions that extended back over two decades,
and that cast a great shadow of doubt over the
capacity of the United States to keep accurate track
of the Soviet military arsenal and therefore to verify
any arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union
in the future.

In 1961, the Soviet Union, despite all its bluff
and bluster, had deployed only four cumbersome
and unreliable intercontinental missiles. U.S. intelligence
had confidently asserted that there was no
way the Soviet Union could ever deploy the number
of missiles necessary to threaten the rapidly expanding
American missile force without providing
years of advance warning.

Such confidence then seemed fully warranted, as
U.S. intelligence had through its technical wizardry
found means of intercepting virtually all the Soviet
missile-testing data, or telemetry, and of determining
the accuracy of the missiles. It was on the basis
of this powerful array of intelligence about Soviet
activity that American leaders made crucial decisions
throughout the 1960's concerning the number,
location, and defense of America's missiles.
Yet in the event, these intelligence assumptions
proved to be seriously flawed. Even though its missile
testing was being relentlessly monitored by
America's electronic sentinels in space and on land,
the Soviet Union, without alerting U.S. intelligence,
managed to develop-and deploy-missiles
with multiple warheads accurate enough to attack
the most hardened missile silos in the United States.
How could such a massive development not have
been detected?

At first, explanations for this incredible intelligence
failure tended to focus on the errors of the
American analysts. The inability to see improved
Soviet missile accuracy was attributed either to the
prevailing disposition grossly to underestimate
Soviet technical competence, or to incorrect assumptions
about the method by which Soviet scientists
tested missile accuracy. The fault, in other words,
lay in self-deception.

However, when the data taken from the Soviet
missiles were studied in retrospect, with the help of
new and better methods of analysis, it appeared that
considerably more was involved in the intelligence
failure than American mistakes and self-deception.
This reanalysis suggested that the Soviet Union had
deliberately and systematically misled American intelligence
by manipulating and "biasing," as it is
called, the missile transmissions that were being intercepted.

In other words, by channeling doctored
data into our most sophisticated scientific spying devices,
Soviet intelligence had duped the satellites
and antennas on which American intelligence had
come to depend. The Soviets had thereby effected a
decisive change in the delicate balance of strategic
After nearly a decade of bitter debate within the
secret world of intelligence, the deception issue still
remains unresolved. Recently a plan was drawn up
by the National Security Council staff to place technical
as well as human spies under the scrutiny of a
centralized counterintelligence authority. The proponents
of this reorganization argue that without
such an "all-source" unit, able to piece together information from secret agents, surveillance cameras,
and the interception of coded messages and telemetry,
the various intelligence-gathering services
could again be easily deceived. The opponents of
this plan in the American intelligence agencies
doubt that the Soviets ever in fact orchestrated a
massive deception of our highly sophisticated monitoring
devices, and reject the proposed centralization
as unnecessary and destructive of morale. The
deep and intense divisions over this plan were reflected
in the sudden resignation of Admiral Bobby
Inman, who opposed it, as the Deputy Director of
the CIA.
Thus, at the core of the dispute is not merely a
jurisdictional struggle over who should test the
probity of exotic intelligence, but a powerful disagreement
over the vulnerability of American intelligence
to deception on matters of vital national
security. With a multibillion-dollar global intelligence
system at our command, have we nonetheless
been consistently misled by fraudulent bits of information?
And if so, is there anything we can do
to make certain it will never happen again?

DECEPTION among nations is not of course
a new subject in power politics. As
early as the 16th century Machiavelli concluded
that there were only two means for a nation to gain
its objective from an unwilling adversary: force or
fraud. Since the application of force entailed expending
resources and taking serious risks, Machiavelli
strongly recommended that a ruler should
"never attempt to win by force what he might
otherwise win by fraud." The basic economy of
power that Machiavelli described is, if anything,
even more relevant in an age of nuclear weapons.
To be successful, fraud requires changing an adversary's
perceptions of reality. It is commonly employed
in wartime to mislead an enemy into believing
that a military force is either stronger or weaker
than it is in reality; indeed, as the Chinese strategist
Sun Tzu wrote in the 4th century B.C.E., "All warfare
is based on deception." In peacetime, though
its applications are far less obvious, fraud still remains
an effective means of altering the geopolitical
balance of power. These peacetime frauds are usually
perpetrated on an adversary's intelligence-gathering
system on the presumption that the fraudulent
intelligence will eventually reach and influence decision-

Consider, for example, one such case that took
place in New York City in the 1960's and early 70's.
It began when a KGB officer working at the United
Nations Secretariat contacted the FBI and offered
to betray the Soviet Union by supplying secret information.
He claimed that the KGB had mistreated
him by taking back part of his UN salary,
and he asked the FBI to pay him for his services.
The FBI accepted his terms and gave him the code
name "Fedora." Since Fedora would continue to
work for the KGB while also working for the FBI,
he was considered to be a double agent.
Fedora told the FBI that the KGB had ordered
him to organize a spy ring in New York that would
ferret out American scientific secrets--especially
those involving defense and missile technology. By
reporting all the activities and targets of this scientific
spying to the FBI, he could provide American
intelligence with information about the priorities
of Soviet intelligence. As the relationship developed,
Fedora also acted as a "mole" in the KGB,
and passed on a continuous flow of secret data.
Later that year, the FBI had another Soviet
"walk-in," as a volunteer is called, from the UN. He
identified himself as an officer in Soviet military intelligence,
the GRU, and explained that he was in
New York, under UN cover, attempting to ferret
out American military secrets in overt literature.
He also offered to work for the FBI as a double
agent, and he was given the code name "Tophat."
For the next ten years, Fedora and Tophat provided
the FBI with dovetailing bits of information
on the development of Soviet weaponry which were
brought at times by J. Edgar Hoover directly to
the attention of the President and his National
Security Adviser. Some of these reports were indeed
responsible for provoking serious changes in the defense
strategy of the United States. In 1969, for instance,
Hoover in a personal briefing informed
President Nixon that the FBI had established
through super-secret sources (i.e., Fedora and Tophat)
that the Soviet Union was on the brink of
launching a crash program to develop chemicalbiological
weapons. Specifically, Fedora had learned
that Soviet leaders had been shocked to discover
that the United States had a decisive lead in this
field and believed that even with a crash program it
would take years to narrow the gap. It further appeared,
according to Tophat, that Soviet military
leaders were not eager to divert enormous resources
into the research necessary for chemical weapons,
and they were therefore requesting further intelligence
assessments of the American chemical-warfare
Just at the time this intriguing intelligence was
received, President Nixon was weighing the merits
of a unilateral cutback in the production of chemical
and biological weapons. The reports from Fedora
and Tophat now suggested that (with the Soviet
Union presumably far behind in development) the
United States could gain a definite advantage by freezing
chemical and biological weapons at their existing
levels. On November 25, 1969, President Nixon
announced accordingly that the United States was
ending production of these weapons in the hope that
the Soviet Union would similarly stop its production.
Shortly thereafter Fedora and Tophat reported
to the FBI that the Soviet crash program had
been abandoned. It was therefore assumed that the
United States had retained its lead in these weapons.
Four years later, when Israel captured Soviet
tanks and other equipment in the Yom Kippur
war, U.S. intelligence found that it had greatly underestimated
the Soviet capacity for chemical warfare.
The captured weapons provided the first actual
evidence of the development and the state of
the art of Soviet chemical weapons and defenses,
and the analysis of this equipment showed that the
United States was unquestionably behind rather
than ahead of the Soviet Union in chemical warfare.
Moreover, by working backward from the state
of manufacture of this equipment, it was further
established that the Soviet Union had possessed this
technology-and thus a lead-before 1969. Evidently,
then, the reports of Fedora and Tophat had
been inaccurate-and possibly fraudulent.
This and other developments led to a reassessment
of the FBI's sources. The CIA- had been suspicious
of both Fedora and Tophat from the outset, and
these disclosures reinforced its suspicions. And although
FBI counterintelligence officials, such as Assistant
Director William Sullivan, also doubted the
credentials of Fedora and Tophat, J. Edgar Hoover
insisted on accepting their reports as bona-fide in-,
telligence. It was not until after Hoover's death,
and a further reassessment, that the FBI admitted
that both agents, who had by then returned to the
Soviet Union, had actually been working under the
control of the KGB and feeding the FBI misleading

THE practice of systematically channeling
misleading information, such as that
supplied by Fedora and Tophat, into an adversary's
intelligence system for the purpose of warping its
decision-making process is called "disinformation."
Although the concept is ancient, the term originated
with the German general staff when it created
a "disinformation service" to mislead Germany's
enemies in World War I. Unlike ordinary misinformation,
which might be accidental and random, disinformation
was the purposeful shaping of information
to enhance the military strategy of the German
general staff. While the German Disinformation
Service restricted its scope of activities to sending
misleading radio transmissions to the enemy, the
purview of disinformation gradually expanded after
the war.
Soviet intelligence very quickly adopted the idea
of "dezinformatsiya" to its own purposes and redefined
it, as a recent KGB manual discloses, in the
following terms: "Strategic disinformation assists in
the execution of sate tasks and is directed at misleading
the enemy concerning questions of state
policy." As the manual makes abundantly clear,
strategic disinformation is in both peacetime and
wartime an instrument of Soviet policy. Just as
Clausewitz defined war as the accomplishment of
state policy by "the sword in place of the pen," disinformation
returns the accomplishment of state
policy in Soviet doctrine to the pen-albeit a poisoned
one. And since strategic disinformation is inseparable
from state policy, it is formulated at the
highest level of the Kremlin. Indeed, according to
General Jan Sejna, who had served on the Central
Committee in Czechoslovakia, and who defected in
1968: "The Soviet Politburo approves the long-term
global plan [for disinformation] for fifteen years
and beyond."
Whereas strategic disinformation is part and parcel
of a "political plan" formulated by the Soviet
Politburo, "tactical disinformation" is a mechanism
designed and operated by the KGB itself to manipulate
and control the adversary's interpretation of
its own intelligence. Although there are numerous
combinations and permutations available, the basic
device for manipulation consists of a loop of communication channels connecting the KGB with the
adversary's intelligence services. This loop requires
an input channel, through which the disinformation
messages are fed to the adversary, and a feedback
channel, through which the adversary's response and
interpretation of these messages are fed to the deceiver.
The input channels are relatively easy to organize.
At a rudimentary level, disinformation messages
can simply be put in the path of the adversary.
Thus Soviet intelligence in the 1950's left disinformation
documents in embassy safes in Washington
knowing that the FBI made a practice of burglarizing
and photographing the contents.
A more dependable channel for delivering messages
to the enemy is a double agent, such as
Fedora, who pretends to cooperate with enemy intellience
in order to win its confidence. At times,
when the message is of sufficient import, an intelligence
agent may even be dispatched to "defect"
physically in order to add to the credibility of the
disinformation. In addition to agents, electronic
taps and "bugs," or hidden microphones, can be
used as input channels for disinformation if they
are detected-and left in place. The effectiveness of
such electronic channels will depend of course on
the adversary's not realizing that its listening devices
have been discovered.

The establishment of the feedback in the loop is
a far more difficult enterprise. It has generally required
penetrating the heart of the adversary's intelligence
system by either planting a "mole" in
position where he learns and reports back interpretations
of the disinformation, or by intercepting
and breaking vital intelligence codes. However, now
that computerized encryption has rendered codebreaking
all but impossible, agents in place, or
moles, have become the chief means of feedback in
the deception loop.
The KGB was able to maintain its Fedora-Top-
hat deception for more than a decade precisely because
it had recruited a mole inside the New York
office of the FBI. According to William Sullivan,
without an inside source, the KGB could not have
constantly modified Fedora's messages so that they
conformed to the expectations of the FBI. While
Sullivan had traced the putative mole to the New
York office, he was unable to single him out. "At
the time I left the FBI in 1971, the Russians still
had a man in our office and none of us knew who
he was," he noted in his memoirs.
Feedback is an especially critical part of a continuing
deception. Without it, the success of disinformation
is problematic; with it, not only can the
success of the deception be immediately ascertained
but it can be modified to accommodate any of its
LENIN himself articulated the governing
L principle of Soviet disinformation in
the early 1920's. When his first intelligence chief,
Felix Dzerzhinsky, asked him what sort of disinformation
should be fed to the West, Lenin replied:
"Tell them what they want to believe."
Lenin, who had a natural genius for such manipulations,
realized the futility of using the disinformation
channels in an attempt to undermine the
fierce anti-Communist beliefs of Western leaders.
Instead, he recommended using these predispositions
to the Soviet Union's advantage by designing
the disinformation around the theme that
Communism was failing. Since Western leaders
wanted to believe that the Communist experiment
would soon collapse, there was a strong disposition
to accept the disinformation.

Lenin provided a credible context for the secret
disinformation campaign by declaring a New Economic
Policy (or NEP) in which pure Communism
would be replaced by a mixed system of
state socialism and private capitalism. He further
invited foreign capitalists to the Soviet Union,
and offered them concessions in mining and manufacturing
that would replace failing Communist
enterprises. Specifically, Lenin called in prominent
Western businessmen and told them that
Communism wasn't working in Russia.
Meanwhile, on the covert side, Soviet intelligence
organized a device for funneling disinformation
coinciding with this theme into the hands
of Western intelligence services. This was a supposedly
anti-Communist resistance group inside the Soviet
Union called the "Trust"-a name not without
irony since the sole purpose of the organization
was to deceive those who trusted it. Representatives
of the Trust contacted all the leading anti-
Soviet organizations in exile in Europe and offered
to help them steal Soviet secrets and arrange escapes
for their relatives and associates inside
Russia. Since the Trust was in reality a creature
of the Soviet intelligence service, it was easily able
to deliver all the services it promised. It thus soon
managed to convince these migre groups that it
represented a powerful anti-Communist force with
agents infiltrated throughout the Soviet government.
Once the Trust was accepted as credible, it began
to parcel out pieces of secret information to the
various anti-Communist groups which, in turn,
sold the information to the Western intelligence
services they were in contact with. Carefully orchestrated
by Soviet intelligence, these pieces of
disinformation tended to dovetail with and confirm
each other. The main theme was that the
Soviet government remained in power not because
of the appeal of Communism, but because Western
intervention had aroused Russian nationalism
in support of the government. Presumably if foreign
intervention subsided, Soviet officials and
army officers would themselves overthrow the
Communist government.
As Western governments came to accept this
convenient thesis, they ceased planning troop
landings, economic blockades, and less dramatic
forms of harassment. Moreover, they dissuaded
emigr6 groups based inside their borders from
undertaking campaigns of sabotage and subversion
within the Soviet Union, on the ground that
such acts would have the unintended effect of
delaying the overthrow of the government.
The Trust proved to be an enormous success
as a channel for disinformation. Not only did it
manage to quiet and anesthetize opposition to the
Soviet Union by holding out the promise of an
inside revolution; it also collected sums of money
from nine Western intelligence services for the
disinformation it provided which proved sufficient
to finance the Trust itself as well as almost all the
international activities of Soviet intelligence for
six years.
Finally, in 1927, after the end of the NEP and
the nationalization of almost all foreign concessions,
Soviet intelligence liquidated the Trust by
sending a false defector to Helsinki to reveal that
it had been a fraud from the beginning. This
revelation served the purpose of further demoralizing
and confusing the anti-Soviet opposition.
Deceptions like the Trust involve a remarkable
degree of cooperation, albeit unwitting, between
the deceived and the deceiver. Like a form of intellectual
jiujitsu, the disinformation takes full
advantage of the weight of an adversary's predispositions
in order to mislead it. If successfully deceived,
an intelligence service views the messages
it has received from the enemy as a triumphant
coup, and it therefore can be expected to resist
any subsequent efforts to debunk or discredit it
(as the FBI later did for so long with Fedora and
WITH the outbreak of World War II
came a new reliance on intelligence
-and its nemesis, disinformation. The radio signals, electronic data, and coded messages that
were intercepted to pinpoint the movements of
military units could also be fabricated by disinformation
experts in order to confuse and mislead
rival intelligence services. Since both real intelligence
and disinformation originate in the enemy
camp, with the only difference that the former
is meant to be kept secret and the latter disclosed,
they are extraordinarily difficult to separate. In
this sense, disinformation is analogous to cancerous
cells which the body's immunological system
cannot differentiate from healthy cells. The injection
of electronic disinformation managed, if
nothing else, to paralyze and confuse the gathering
of crucial military intelligence.
Strategic deception was used by almost every
participant in the war, with Britain and Germany
each successful in manipulating and misleading
adversaries through the use of controlled double
agents and misleading radio transmissions. As
the war progressed, deception-planning staffs in
Germany, England, America, and the Soviet
Union were attached to the high command, and
thereby became responsible for overall strategy.
William R. Harris, an analyst at RAND and a
leading expert on international deception, suggests
that this development "laid the institutional
foundation for the modern double-cross system."
This "double cross" involved feeding false or
biased data into enemy satellites, ground antennas,
and other "national technical means," as this
spying is euphemistically called. Harris writes:
Once deception planning was part of the strategic
planning process, the systematic targeting
of an adversary's technical means of collection
was inevitable. Unlike their counterparts in the
field, the planners at the political centers had
access to the most sensitive counterintelligence
resources. These resources included access,
through decryption of enemy ciphers, to key
intelligence and decision-making channels. This
feedback led deception planners to the targeting
of technical indicators, and especially those
that were most credible to an adversary.
Soviet intelligence in World War II lost little
time in exploiting the technical capacity of its
enemies to intercept Soviet communications. When
it found that German intelligence had tapped
into the cable links between the Soviet embassy
in Tokyo and Moscow, and had broken the diplomatic
ciphers, it neither closed down the tapped
line nor switched to using the same kind of "onetime"
codes which it used elsewhere (and were
unbreakable). Instead, it turned the compromised
communications to its own advantage by arranging
for its diplomats to transmit disinformation
messages in the code that it knew full well had
been broken. Feedback on German interpretations
of this Soviet disinformation was supplied
by a group of moles who had been recruited in
German intelligence

In general, the Soviets proved extremely proficient
at this new species of disinformation. For
example, in the summer of 1944, the Soviet deception
staff managed through fake radio traffic
and double agents to persuade German intelligence
that the Soviet offensive would come on the
flanks in Finland and Rumania, and not in the
center of the front in Byelorussia. Even though
the Soviets amassed an army of 1,500,000 troops in
Byelorussia, German intelligence was by this time
so focused on the flanks that it failed to see this
gigantic army. The Soviet offensive, which swept
through an area the size of West Germany, caught
the Germans totally by surprise.
THE wartime refinement of disinformation
provided Stalin with an extraordinarily
useful instrument for waging the cold war.
Swords could again be replaced by poisoned pens.
In the immediate postwar years, Soviet disinformation
focused on undermining American efforts to
organize opposition to Soviet rule in Eastern Europe.
In 1951, for example, Soviet intelligence organized
a fictitious underground "army" in Poland
known by the acronym WIN (which stood in
Polish for "Freedom and Independence"). Working
through Polish exiles in London, WIN contacted
the CIA and British Intelligence (SIS) and represented
itself as a group commanding thousands of
armed guerrillas in Poland. These claims were reinforced
by a number of double agents under Soviet
control, and by interceptions of police and militia
radio broadcasts in Poland, which seemed to confirm
that Soviet and Polish units were being
harassed by guerrillas.
Both the CIA and British SIS accepted WIN as
a bona-fide anti-Communist "army." Thus for
more than a year, the CIA parachuted to WIN
forces in Poland large caches of weapons, electronic
equipment, and gold bullion. It also put
its own agents and Polish dissidents directly in
touch with WIN commanders. In December 1952,
after arresting all the agents and dissidents who
had contacted WIN, Polish security forces announced
over the radio sufficient details about
WIN to make it clear to the CIA that it had been
duped by an intelligence fraud.
The WIN deception achieved a double success:
it lured virtually all the resistance groups inside
Poland into a trap; and it thoroughly demoralized
-and discredited-the exile groups outside Poland.
The fact that the CIA had inadvertently financed
the deception with gold bullion was an added bonus
to Soviet intelligence.
ALTHOUGH deceptions may employ a
highly convoluted series of actions,
they proceed from a basic theme that involves misrepresenting
either strength or weakness. "I make the
enemy see my strengths as weaknesses and weaknesses
as strengths," a commentator notes in Sun Tzu's
Art of War. In the case of both the Trust deception
of the 1920's and the Polish Home Army deception
in the late 1940's, the Soviet Union concealed
its political strength (and capacity for
repression) behind a mask of political weakness
and internal strife. This theme was reversed in
the 1950's, at least in the area of strategic weapons,
when Soviet leaders began misrepresenting
their weakness in intercontinental bombers and
missiles as strength. Not only did Soviet intelligence
attempt to mislead U.S. intelligence into
overestimating Soviet bombers and missile capacity
through the usual orchestration of double
agents, leaks from Soviet scientists at conferences,
and official statements; it also staged elaborate
"fly-bys" of bombers at parades in which the same
planes circled repeatedly over the reviewing stand
in order to give an exaggerated impression of
During this period, Soviet intelligence also attempted
to give the United States an impression
of strength in its capacity to manufacture nuclear
weapons. A German double agent, Heinz Felfe,
actually under the control of the KGB, provided
the CIA with a high-grade sample of uranium ore
supposedly from mines in Czechoslovakia which led
the CIA to revise upward its estimates of the number
of Soviet nuclear bombs. The Soviet projection
of intercontinental strength, which was characterized
as the "missile gap" in the election of
1960, succeeded in making the threats and bluster
of Khrushchev more credible. Moreover, by focusing
the attention of U.S. intelligence on the intercontinental
threat, the Soviets diverted attention
from the rapid expansion of their medium-range
bomber and missile forces that were deployed
against Eurasian targets during this same
A few years later, reversing the process once
again to convey an impression of weakness, the
Soviets misled the CIA into the belief that Soviet
missiles-and especially the giant SS-9-lacked
accurate guidance systems. From this it followed
that these missiles were not a threat to our landbased
ICBM force (the Minuteman complexes),
and thus there was no need to disperse or reinforce
the silos, or to attempt to develop an antiballistic
missile. Given these assumptions about the relative
inaccuracy of the Soviet guidance system, Secretary
of Defense McNamara concluded, as he testified
in 1963:
It is clear that the Soviets do not have anything
like the number of missiles necessary to knock
out our Minuteman force, nor do they appear
to have any present plans to acquire such a
capacity. If they were to undertake the construction
and deployment of a large number of
high-yield missiles, we would probably have
knowledge of this and would have ample time
to expand our Minuteman force, or to disperse
it more widely.
As it turned out, McNamara, along with the
entire American strategic establishment, was dead
wrong. Without "knowledge" by U.S. intelligence,
the Soviet Union did proceed to deploy a highly
accurate force that threatened to overwhelm the
Minuteman deterrent. How could U.S. intelligence,
with all its satellites, electronic sensors, and
other resources, have been led into missing or
misinterpreting such a massive development in
Soviet missile technology?
Albert Wohlstetter has suggested that the CIA
estimators tended to shape ambiguities in their data
toward a preconceived theory they held about Soviet
strategy, and the pressure toward "conformity"
and "consensus" overrode hostile evidence. Such
self-deception on the part of the CIA analysts does
not, however, preclude the possibility of their having
been misled by disinformation. Indeed, when a
feedback channel exists, preconceptions are an important
ingredient in the perpetration of an intelligence
fraud ("Tell them what they want to believe").
And there were at least two such feedback
channels in the early 60's, in the form of moles who
were eventually identified.
One was Jack E. Dunlap, employed at the headquarters
of the super-secret National Security Agency
(NSA) as an analyst with top-secret clearance and
also as the chauffeur for its chief-of-staff, Major
General Garrison B. Coverdale. In this latter capacity,
he was permitted to drive one of the few "noinspection"
cars off the closely-guarded base which
he used to smuggle out vast quantities of secret documents, including some that concerned the monitoring
of Soviet missile testing. After the leak was
discovered in 1963, Dunlap committed suicide.
Soviet intelligence also had an unparalleled channel
of feedback at the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in
the person of Colonel William Whalen. Colonel
Whalen, who had been recruited by Soviet intelligence
in the late 1950's when he was serving as a
military liaison officer, was the intelligence adviser
to the Army Chief of Staff, and in this capacity he
had a legitimate "need to know" on virtually any
question concerning U.S. (or Soviet) intelligence.
He could thus tap the combined intelligence resources
of the CIA, FBI, and NSA, as well as military
intelligence, on any matter of presumed interest
to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Up until his detection
and arrest in 1963, he supplied whatever information the KGB required concerning American
interpretation of intelligence information intercepted
from the Soviet Union. With this in hand,
the KGB could constantly adjust and modify its
stream of disinformation.
In short, since the intelligence establishment was
basing its estimates of the accuracy of Soviet guidance
systems on data intercepted from Soviet transmitters,
which the Soviets knew were being monitored,
and on reports from double agents under
KGB control, self-deception could only have been
one element of a well-executed scheme of disinformation.
To be sure, vital pieces of the puzzle were unavailable
until the early 1970's when new 'and
better methods were developed of photographing
and analyzing the craters caused by the impact of
Soviet warheads. These revealed a profound discrepancy
between the estimates of missile accuracy
garnered from the interception of Soviet telemetry
and the actual degree of accuracy as measured by
this new photoreconnaissance method. There
could be no doubt that American intelligence
had been misled by disinformation.
AT THE root of the entire problem was
a small device that measured gravity
called an accelerometer. Soviet missiles carried three
accelerometers, and it had been assumed that these
devices performed the critically important task of
determining the exact position of the missile in
flight. If these accelerometers were even a shade inaccurate, the missile could not accurately hit its
target. Since the CIA was able to intercept the signals
from these accelerometers during tests through
its ground antennas in Iran and Pakistan, it believed
that it had a constant indicator of accuracy. Although
the CIA presumed that Soviet intelligence
was aware that its telemetry was being intercepted,
it also assumed that these vital data could not be
falsified because they were needed for guiding the
Reassessments by the RAND Corporation and
other highly specialized think tanks under contract
to the CIA and the Department of Defense showed,
however, that since the three accelerometers provided
redundant instrumentation, it was technically
possible for the Soviets deliberately to distort the
data fr6m one accelerometer without losing the
ability to monitor the missile test accurately. Indeed,
a reanalysis of the telemetry data seemed to
indicate just such a "systematic bias"--or disinformation.
After studying this telemetry problem,
William Harris of RAND testified before the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He concluded:
With an understanding of the technical indicators
and methods of U.S. estimation of ballistic
missile accuracy, the Soviets managed to underrepresent
the accuracy of intercontinental ballistic
missiles.... Only systematic biasing of technical
indicators would produce the apparently
large errors in guidance....
The "technical indicators" he referred to were of
course the telemetry from the on-board accelerometers.
Assuming that the Soviets realized that we
were underestimating their missile accuracy-and
there was sufficient feedback from public as well as
intelligence sources during this period-the continued
biasing of the telemetry could only have
been disinformation.
In addition to thus "double-crossing" our electronic
devices, the Soviets, through the activities of
double agents under KGB control in the U.S., kept
the attention of U.S. intelligence focused on the accelerometers.
Fedora, for example, told the FBI
that the Soviet Union was having severe problems
constructing missile-guidance systems. Then, in the
mid-60's, he reported to the FBI that the KGB had
been assigned the task of buying an accelerometer
from an American company. As he was responsible
for stealing secrets on scientific and missile developments,
this KGB request came under his purview. A
few weeks later, a Soviet employee at the UN
named Vadim Isakov visited a dealer in surplus government
equipment in Paterson, New Jersey; producing
a shopping list, he offered to buy a $6,000
accelerometer made by the American Bosch Arma
Company, a miniature computer, and a titanium
pressure vehicle-devices that were all necessary to
missile guidance. The FBI, which had the entire
Soviet buying mission under surveillance, found
that Isakov seemed particularly anxious about the
accelerometers. Fedora meanwhile was asked by the
FBI to inquire into the need for this special equipment
on a trip he was making to Moscow. When he
returned to New York, he told the FBI the equipment
was needed because of a failure in the Soviet
missile program.
The pieces fit neatly together, and the FBI liaison
duly passed on the evidence of the Soviet missile
failure to the CIA's Directorate of Science and
Technology which found that it dovetailed with'
the analysis of the telemetry intercepts. Different
channels of secret information thus seemed to corroborate
one another.
It was not until late 1974 that the CIA began an
agonizing examination of the possibility that its satellites
and antennas were being "double-crossed" by
Soviet disinformation. A special "reading room" for
this super-secret data was set up for CIA counterintelligence specialists at the Directorate of Science
and Technology. Before the problem could be even
initially explored, the entire counterintelligence
staff was shaken up-and most of its key members
forcibly retired-in the wake of the firing (for other
reasons) of its chief, James Angleton, in December
DISINFORMATION, then, emerges as the
only plausible explanation of how the
Soviets achieved a strategic breakout of the missile
stalemate. The problem for the Soviet Union in the
early 60's was to increase its vulnerable and numerically
inferior missile force to a threatening levelwithout
provoking the United States similarly to
increase, or defend, its existing missile force. Moreover,
the Soviet Union had to effect this build-up at
a time when all its silo-construction and missiletesting
programs were being closely monitored by
the cameras and sensors of U.S. spy satellites. It was
able to accomplish this seemingly impossible task
because U.S. intelligence gravely underestimated the
truly threatening aspect of the Soviet missiles-their
potential for accuracy-on the basis of intercepted
test data and the reports of double agents that had
been deliberately falsified and that played into preconceptions
about the Soviet Union's technological

The likelihood that such a deception could have
been detected in a contemporaneous time frame
seems remote. Disinformations that mimic prevailing
preconceptions contain their own camouflage.
Moreover, as we have seen, such deceptions rapidly
become entangled and fused with the bureaucratic
interests of the intelligence services themselves, and
any effort to attack them becomes perceived as an
attack on the intelligence service itself. For example,
to ferret out evidence of the missile deception,
it would have been necessary to call into question
the credibility of such highly productive sources as
the satellites, antennas, and the moles working within
Soviet intelligence. Most career officers who tried
to do this found their careers at an end.
THUS, while Congress and the informed public
have been under the impression that satellites and
electronic wizardry can be relied upon for foolproof
intelligence, the story of the misestimates of Soviet
missile accuracy demonstrates that these "national
technical means" are at least as susceptible to Soviet
deception as less exotic means of intelligence-gathering.
The persistent denial of the problem of disinformation
serves only to increase its chances of success.
And without a radical reorganization of the
kind that is opposed by the CIA bureaucracy, it is
unlikely that any effective measures can be taken to
prevent our intelligence services and ultimately our
national leaders from being "double-crossed" again.
Their continuing vulnerability to Soviet disinformation
casts the most serious doubt on whether
"national technical means" can ever be sufficient to
verify Soviet compliance with any new arms-control

Disinformation, which aims at extending state policy,
is a very different concept in Soviet doctrine from propaganda. Whereas disinformation aims at misleading an
enemy government into making a disadvantageous decision, propaganda aims at misleading public opinion so that it resists the advantageous decisions of its government. The audience for disinformation is thus government decisionmakers, and the prime channel for reaching this audience is through the intelligence service upon which they rely for their secret information. The data itself are usually secret and, as a recent CIA study notes, "almost never receive public attention."

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