Farewell Dossier: Wrong in a Big Way

I've been pondering the Farewell Dossier, a sordid little Cold War episode that has suddenly, chest puffed out self-importantly, revealed itself.

Insiders now telling the tale dwell on the prologue (complete with high-minded indignation that the KGB might be spying on and stealing from hard-working Americans); and then gloss very, very hurriedly over the shocking ending (in which we apparently brought about a massive explosion in Siberia, with ghoulish indifference to whether it killed no one, someone, or thousands).

It seems that Ronald Reagan -- upset that Soviet spies were stealing our technology and Soviet gas exports stealing our markets -- approved a scheme to slip the KGB lots of Trojan Horse technology, which, as planned, caused a 1982 natural gas explosion in Siberia.

"In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval," writes Thomas Reed, Secretary of the Air Force under Reagan, in his new book "At the Abyss." "The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space."

"Now is a time to remember that sometimes our spooks get it right in a big way," crowed William Safire, the New York Times columnist (and former Nixon White House official), in describing "how a CIA campaign of computer sabotage resulting in a huge explosion in Siberia ... helped us win the Cold War."

For Reed and Safire, this sneak explosion was a manly triumph.

For me it's an occasion to ask: What the hell were they thinking? Was there any adult supervision in the Reagan White House?

With thousands upon thousands of U.S. and Soviet nukes aimed at each other, someone thought that slyly contriving a massive explosion on Soviet territory would be a clever game to play. This was criminal stupidity. It also fits the definition for an act of war.

Keep in mind, by the way, that this blast was designed to be traced to America -- or at least to stolen American technologies. The whole idea was to paralyze the Soviets with doubt: Could all stolen technology be a trap?

That's right: The Reaganites brought about an explosion that rocked Siberia -- and they left America's calling card, just so there'd be no doubt!

Safire characterizes the KGB as "red-faced." We'd caught them stealing our technology and had spanked them properly, and they couldn't even complain.

What a stupidly naive way to think about it. (As if the KGB could blush in shame.) They surely could have complained; they could have gone before the United Nations with a monster propaganda coup, complete with dead Siberian proles.

Or they could have responded in kind. If a massive Soviet-engineered explosion had ripped through Oklahoma or Louisiana in 1983, would this still be "a time to remember that sometimes our spooks get it right in a big way"?

Safire notes with complacent satisfaction that the three-kiloton Siberian explosion alarmed U.S. security elites worried about a nuclear exchange. Did it occur to no one that the Soviets might have assumed it to be a nuclear attack?

Incredibly, no one is following this line of questioning.

Instead, the discussion is focused -- with all the mind-numbing arrogant provincialism of a U.S. election year -- on what really matters: Whether Reaganite conservatives single-handedly destroyed the Soviet Union.

Matt Bivens is a former editor of The Moscow Times.