Skip to comments.The Farewell Dossier (How the CIA blew up the Trans-Siberian pipeline with pirated software)
Posted on 09/23/2010 10:49:25 AM PDT by E. Pluribus Unum
In 1982, operatives from the USSRs Committee for State Security known internationally as the KGB celebrated the procurement of a very elusive bit of Western technology. The Soviets were developing a highly lucrative pipeline to carry natural gas across the expanse of Siberia, but they lacked the software to manage the complex array of pumps, valves, turbines, and storage facilities that the system would require. The United States possessed such software, but the US government had predictably turned down their Cold War opponents request to purchase the product.
Never ones to allow the limitations of the law to dictate their actions, the KGB officials inserted an agent to abduct the technology from a Canadian firm. Unbeknownst to the Soviet spies, the software they stole sported a little something extra: a few lines of computer code which had been inserted just for them.
Over the years the scientists of the Soviet Union had proven themselves highly adept at engineering feats such as space flight, but they lacked the technical know-how of American industry in areas such as computers and microelectronics. So agents of the USSR had procured pipeline technology from outside sources in order to tap the Urengoi natural gas field in Siberia and transport its bounty to Europe. But none of the USSRs fellow governments were willing to sell the sophisticated control software largely due to the USs efforts to block the sale of Soviet gas in Europe.
In July 1981, during a conference in Ottawa, French President Francois Mitterrand took US President Ronald Reagan aside to share some intriguing information. Mitterrand told him of a mountain of secret Soviet documents which detailed the penetration of KGB spies in US industries. The source of these documents was Colonel Vladimir I. Vetrov, a fifty-three year old engineer working for the KGBs Directorate T, a department dedicated to the acquisition of Western technology. Vetrovs duties included the evaluation of the intelligence procured by the departments Line X field agents. Vetrov had become disillusioned with the Communist ideal, however, and in 1980 he defected and began supplying French agents with copies of Directorate T documents. The French assigned him the codename Farewell.
As members of the US Central Intelligence Agency began to receive and digest these documents, it became abundantly clear that the KGB was making up for their countrys computer technology shortcomings by employing a vast and efficient network of spies. During the Nixon administration the US government had favored a policy of diplomacy and cooperation known as détente, and the Farewell documents showed that Soviets had taken advantage of this openness as a means to insert hundreds of Line X operatives into visiting delegations. During a visit to Boeing, for instance, Soviet scientists secretly applied adhesive to the bottom of their shoes in order to covertly collect metal samples from the floor. The documents also indicated that one of the Soviet Cosmonauts working on the joint Apollo-Soyuz spacecraft project was a KGB operative.
In all, Vetrov provided approximately four thousand documents to the French comprising a collection of data which exposed an astonishing degree of Soviet subterfuge. Ironically, the US had not been engaged in a true technology race with the Soviet Union, rather the US researchers had been constantly attempting to outdo themselves as the KGB cunningly pilfered the progress. The defectors documents also provided a detailed list of all of the technologies the Soviets had set out to gain through such means, consisting primarily of radar, computers, machine tools, and semiconductors. By all evidence, the Line X agents had already fulfilled over two-thirds of the requirements.
Rather than immediately arranging the deportation of the 200+ covert KGB agents named in the Farewell documents, CIA officials opted to ply their counter-intelligence trade. Perhaps the most useful data to fall out of Vetrovs leaked intelligence was a list of the technologies which Directorate T was seeking but had yet to acquire. Working in concert with the US Defense Department and the FBI, the CIA began to organize a large-scale conspiracy to plant deliberately defective information for the Line X operatives to stumble upon. Inaccurate-yet-convincing plans for stealth aircraft, space shuttles, machine parts, and chemicals were peppered throughout US industry. Over the following months the polluted intelligence found its way into Soviet manufacturing and military, causing inexplicable problems in tractor factories, chemical production, and aircraft research among other things.
After the US government denied the USSRs request to buy the software to automate their new trans-Siberian pipeline, a KGB agent was covertly sent to a Canadian company to steal the software. A new batch of Farewell Dossier documents brought these efforts to the attention of the CIA, prompting US agents to tailor a special version of the software for the Soviets, and plant it at the company in question. Delighted at the ease of procuring the program, the Soviets tested their complete pipeline automation system and everything seemed to hum along smoothly. By about the middle of 1982, the pipeline was pumping massive amounts of natural gas across Kazakhstan and Russia to Eastern Europe, bringing in a tidy profit for the USSR government.
As satellites for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) watched from orbit, a massive explosion rocked the Siberian wilderness. The fireball had an estimated destructive power of three kilotons, or about 1/4 the strength of the Hiroshima bomb. Initially NORAD suspected a nuclear test, but there was only silence from the satellites which would have detected the telltale electromagnetic signature. US military officials who were not privy to the Farewell Dossier activities were understandably concerned about the event one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded but the CIA quietly assured them that there was nothing to worry about. It would be fourteen years before the real cause of the event would be revealed.
It was impossible for the CIA to predict which section of the pipeline would fail once their trojan horse released its payload, but fortunately the failure occurred in a remote location. In spite of the massive energy that was released when the line ruptured and ignited there were no injuries or deaths reported. But the Soviet economy itself was severely injured by the blast. When investigators in the USSR eventually discovered that the event had been triggered by sabotaged software, the KGB leadership were furious, but unable to lodge any official protest regarding the deliberate defect since that would also expose their own large-scale espionage efforts.
Upon realizing that the CIA was serving imitation intelligence, the other recent problems with US-derived designs were no longer so mysterious. Given the dramatic results of the pipeline bug, all of the burgled Western technology was immediately cast under suspicion, a situation which mired the Soviets borrowed progress in a pit of uncertainty and suspicion.
Colonel Vladimir I. Vetrov fed vital information to French intelligence officials for well over a year, ultimately providing over 4,000 photographed documents. In January 1982, however, the French intelligence agency stopped receiving any more information from him. Later they learned that he had been walking in a Moscow park when he stabbed a fellow KGB operative and a woman for reasons unknown. His espionage activities were exposed during the ensuing police investigation, and he was executed for treason in 1983 on 23 February 1985.
The following year, as the Soviet economy struggled to recover, the United States and NATO dealt a further blow to the USSR by executing a massive deportation of all of the Line X agents named in the Farewell Dossier. With their US and European technology-gathering network in shambles, their giant technology espionage machine ground to a halt.
The documents regarding the CIAs Farewell disinformation campaign were declassified in 1996, finally revealing the truth about the massive Siberian pipeline explosion fourteen years after it happened. The orchestrated subterfuge was one of the most successful US inter-agency efforts ever undertaken, and it was executed with such skill that it was never detected. Some condemn the deliberate explosion as thinly veiled terrorism given the lack of an open war with the Soviet Union, while others insist that ill-gotten goods are the plunderers problem. In any case, it clearly demonstrates that software piracy can have very serious consequences.
This was one of Reagan’s practical jokes.
What were the Sov’s going to do, complain that they stole toxic software?
This was very good, very humorous reading. I bet the CIA guys crapped their pants with laughter when the fireball went up.
This was already in the book - Reagan’s Secret War. Ivan was ripping us off at every opportunity. It said the blast was the largest non nuclear explosion ever recorded. Beautiful.
“If God wanted the Russian in space, he’d have given them two eyebrows”. - me
I doubt that story.
The Soviets were more than capable of blowing up their own stuff. Chernobyl, for instance.
What I wouldn’t doubt is the CIA taking credit.
You busy-bodies have busied your last body.
Timely article, what with the advent of Stuxnet.
Decade old news.
And yet, decades old news sometimes needs to be repeated, for the erudition of the masses and the not-so-gentle prodding of our enemies.
I doubt that we have the competency to pull something like this off today, and certainly know that we do not have the policy intent to do something similar.
The Commies are inside our compound today!
Great band! Loved their Christmas album. Tragic. Was it pyrotechnics gone bad?
I appreciate you posting this “old news” because I was but a child in 1982, and I have no memory of the pipeline explosion. The story made me think of the gasline explosion outside of San Francisco a few weeks ago. And then there’s the chatter from fed agencies about how there are rogue terrorists running around the country undetected. “We can absorb” a terrorist attack. Or so the president says.
Gee, ya think? I'd be really surprised if only one cosmonaut was a spy.
So, you’re saying that if I have a pirated copy of Lotus 123, my toilet might just suddenly explode?
Only if you pack it with dynamite first.
“I doubt that we have the competency to pull something like this off today, and certainly know that we do not have the policy intent to do something similar.”
We have the competency. What we also have is loose lips. By the time we would implement something like the pipeline blast, two days before it would be on page 1 of the ny times.
Tom Clancy may have adapted this incident into the opening of “Red Storm Rising”:
First the gasoline. He closed sixteen control valvesthe nearest of them three kilometers awayand opened ten, which rerouted eighty million liters of gasoline to gush out from a bank of truck-loading valves. The gasoline did not ignite at once. The three had left no pyrotechnic devices to explode this first of many disasters. Tolkaze reasoned that if he were truly doing the work of Allah, then his God would surely provide.
A small truck driving through the loading yard took a turn too fast, skidded on the splashing fuel, and slid broadside into a utility pole. It only took one spark . . . and already more fuel was spilling out into the train yards.
With the master pipeline switches, Tolkaze had a special plan. He rapidly typed in a computer command, thanking Allah that Rasul was so skillful and had not damaged anything important with his rifle The main pipeline from the nearby production field was two meters across, with many branch lines running to all of the production wells. The oil traveling in those pipes had its own mass and its own momentum supplied by pumping stations in the fields. Ibrahim’s commands rapidly opened and closed valves. The pipeline ruptured in a dozen places, and the computer commands left the pumps on. The escaping light crude flowed across the production field, where only one more spark was needed to spread a holocaust before the winter wind, and another break occurred where the oil and gas pipelines crossed together over the river Ob’.
“God almighty!” the chief master sergeant breathed. The fire which had begun in the gasoline/diesel section of the refinery had been sufficient to alert a strategic early-warning satellite in geosynchronous orbit twenty-four thousand miles above the Indian Ocean. The signal was down linked to a top-security U.S. Air Force post.
The senior watch officer in the Satellite Control Facility was an Air Force colonel. He turned to his senior technician: “Map it.”
“Yes, sir.” The sergeant typed a command into his console, which told the satellite cameras to alter their sensitivity. With the flaring on the screen reduced, the satellite rapidly pinpointed the source of the thermal energy. A computer-controlled map on the screen adjacent to the visual display gave them an exact location reference. “Sir, that’s an oil refinery fire. Jeez, and it looks like a real pisser! Colonel, we got a Big Bird pass in twenty minutes and the course track is within a hundred twenty kilometers.”
The state-of-the art in 1982 wasn't highly-modular software written to industry specs and built with easily available compilers. If they stole the source code they should have been able to locate any 'Easter eggs,' so this implies that the software stolen in this story would likely be in binary (already compiled) form in which case it's highly unlikely to have run 'as is' on the Soviet hardware.
Embedded control software (especially from the early 1980s) is highly specialized and customized to the specific hardware it is running on. If the software is expecting the valve control port is at address 0x00F7 then it darn well better be there in the hardware or the software isn't going to work.
Even we aren’t stupid enough to cause something that could kill a ton of people. I think the Russkies were just “inattentive to details” except when it came to vodka.
Oh, that big 1982 Siberian explosion?
Fort Worth Star-Telegram / The New York Times | 2/3/04 | William Safire
Posted on 02/03/2004 9:13:42 PM PST by Valin
“So, youre saying that if I have a pirated copy of Lotus 123, my toilet might just suddenly explode?”
Don’t be silly.
Your fingers will go through it.