After acting as a double agent for several years, Oleg Gordievsky, who was the head of Soviet intelligence in London, was arrested by the USSR. But he managed to escape to the United Kingdom and shared with Western intelligence the details of the Soviet “paranoia” or “hysteria” about the possibility that Washington would launch a surprise nuclear attack on the USSR.
This paranoia is fueled by the fact that NATO military exercises are more difficult to distinguish from a real deployment of forces for aggression and that Soviet intelligence is still traumatized by its failure to anticipate the German attack in June. 1941. and he wanted to avoid getting. to surprise again.
It is feared that Washington could use some military exercise to launch an unexpected nuclear attack.
According to Gordievsky’s testimony, in the early 1980s, the secret police and intelligence agency (KGB) of the Soviet Union began to follow up on signs that could indicate the intention of the United States to carry out full-scale aggression.
This third time, at the beginning of November 1983, the world was fortunately prevented from reaching a nuclear confrontation.
Documents recently released by the United States provide new evidence about how this episode, known as the 1983 war scare, was closer to unleashing a real atomic war than realized. -an until now.
In addition, the documentation shows how the United States military responsible for assessing and making decisions acted on the basis of incomplete information and years later realized how close they were to inadvertently provoking the a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union (USSR), which would have caused the dreaded “mutual assured destruction” of the two superpowers.
It all started with a war game. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) organizes military exercises, based on the hypothetical scenario of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe that unleashes a conflict that escalates until it culminates in a NATO nuclear attack. by the forces of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact (communist bloc). It is held every year on the same date at the beginning of November. It was a common practice.
On November 2, as a result of Soviet paranoia, the Air Force placed its fighter-bomber divisions in eastern Germany on high alert. All command and control posts of its divisions and regiments were reinforced with personnel and had to be available 24 hours a day, even a squadron of fighter-bombers from each regiment was ordered to carry nuclear bombs. . These ships have a warning of only 30 minutes before departure.
The Soviet Air Force also secretly suspended the routine flights of all its units in communist Europe during the days of the NATO exercise, but the US military did not notice this until a week later, on November 9. , when an aerial photo showed a Soviet Mig. -23 fighter-bombers at the East German air base fully armed and in ready position.
Now paranoia is contagious. The top brass wondered if they should respond to the Soviet moves.
The final aggravating factor was the fact that, unaware that the Soviet Union truly believed an attack on America was imminent, Washington had taken steps in the months leading up to the exercise directly which increases its fears.
On March 8, 1983, US President Ronald Reagan in a speech described the USSR as an “evil empire” and, just two weeks later, he launched his Strategic Defense Initiative – popularly called Star Wars -: a military program to build. a space defense system capable of preventing a nuclear attack against US territory. Both demonstrations increased Soviet paranoia.
Oleg Gordievsky, when he turned his back on the West, provided valuable information on how the USSR anticipated a nuclear attack from the United States.
Marshal Pavel Kutakhov, head of the Soviet Air Force, ordered the alert which included preparations for the “immediate use of nuclear weapons.”
At the time, officers of the Soviet Union’s secret police and intelligence agency (KGB) in Moscow were convinced that the exercise provided excellent cover for a planned attack and Soviet spies around the world were ordered to look for evidence. this.
This crisis developed in complete secrecy, to the point that – apparently – even the US military forces were not aware of the magnitude of the danger of confrontation with the Soviet Union. A miscalculation on either side can have fatal consequences.
This is a real risk. A 1990 report by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded:
“As it happened, the military officials in charge of the exercise minimized the risk by doing nothing in the face of evidence that parts of the Soviet Armed Forces had moved to an unusual level of alert.
“But these officers acted on instinct, not informed guidance.”