Able Archer and the Cost of Mistrust

It matters if one diplomat finds out another thinks his breath smells bad, it does in the relationship between the two people, scale it up it can matter in the relations of nations.  There was something about the truth speaking to power and tree shaking Edward Snowden is doing that truly disturbs me and I wanted to discuss it around a story.

It is now apparent about a 75% of Edward Snowden’s story is completely untrue.  From his CIA exploits in Switzerland, his salary, and his disclosure to China and Russia small bits of information along with big yarns of spin do nothing to help the impression one has about his integrity.

It’s fairly obvious the potential damage done to our relationship with Switzerland. We are currently trying to get them to drop veils of secrecy and help us chase down the 1% tax cheats an effort I’m sure Snowden didn’t help.  Thankfully the leadership in Switzerland seems to be laughing at Snowden’s story.   I want to compare what’s going on with what almost happened in 1983 during an exercise called Able Archer.  It’s my intention to show how close we came to all out nuclear Armageddon over the same themes of misinformation and mistrust that seems to infect both left and right.


It’s hard to describe the environment as I perceived it in the early 80’s. I think the best way is I thought we were all going to die.  Jimmy Carter had overseen an era of peacemaking.  I think the most serious military adventures he had were arming the Afghanistan opposition and a failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.  Reagan came in far different.  He had sold America that we had become for the most part worthless and weak.  When I was campaigning for the election of Walter Mondale and Ferraro in ’84 the kids chanted PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH.  He reauthorized the B-1 bomber increased all kinds of spending for everything, he even got the Congress to put billions in a program he called Star Wars that to this day we don’t know what it does.

He also changed the posture of America from the détente and Noble prizes of Nixon and Carter to one of basically bring it on.

All quoted material from this wiki article
The greatest catalyst to the Able Archer war scare occurred more than two years earlier. In a May 1981 closed-session meeting of senior KGB officers and Soviet leaders, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and KGB chairman Yuri Andropov bluntly announced that the United States was preparing a secret nuclear attack on the USSR.
To combat this threat, Andropov announced, the KGB and GRU would begin Operation RYAN. RYAN (РЯН) was a Russian acronym for "Nuclear Missile Attack" (Ракетное Ядерное Нападение); Operation RYAN was the largest, most comprehensive peacetime intelligence-gathering operation in Soviet history. Agents abroad were charged with monitoring the figures who would decide to launch a nuclear attack, the service and technical personnel who would implement the attack, and the facilities from which the attack would originate. In all probability, the goal of Operation RYAN was to discover the first intent of a nuclear attack and then preempt it.
Nations then and now depend on their intelligence forces to test the pulse and intentions of other nations they consider an enemy or competitor.  It’s been that way since there were kings let alone nation states; to be honest I don’t blame them.  I thought the President might do it.
Psychological operations by the United States began mid-February 1981 and continued intermittently until 1983.[citation needed] These included a series of clandestine naval operations that stealthily accessed waters near the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap, and the Barents, Norwegian, Black, and Baltic seas, demonstrating how close NATO ships could get to critical Soviet military bases. American bombers also flew directly towards Soviet airspace, peeling off at the last moment, occasionally several times per week. These near penetrations were designed to test Soviet radar vulnerability as well as demonstrate US capabilities in a nuclear war
Yes ladies and gentlemen we conduct psychological warfare.  We are right now trying to get Al Queda dudes to shoot themselves.  We tell lies we in the collective can be dishonest.  Could the fact that they know that we know what they know cause friction, or a spark?  I don’t know

Then the universe tossed in a little spice, something unexpected KAL 007.  It was a 747 headed to Korea and happened to pass over Sakhalin Island an extremely sensitive military area on the Soviet Union’s east coast.  Perhaps without all the previous provocations described before the Soviet’s wouldn’t have been so aggressive, but with them they splashed the jet.  269 people died including a Congressperson from Georgia.
On the night of September 26, 1983, the Soviet orbital missile early warning system (SPRN), code-named Oko, reported a single intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the territory of the United States.[23] Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who was on duty during the incident, correctly dismissed the warning as a computer error when ground early warning radars did not detect any launches. Part of his reasoning was that the system was new and known to malfunction before; also, a full scale nuclear attack from the United States would involve thousands of simultaneous launches, not a single missile. 
Later, the system reported four more ICBM launches headed to the Soviet Union, but Petrov again dismissed the reports as false. The investigation that followed revealed that the system indeed malfunctioned and false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites' orbits.
So we’ve set a stage.  The Soviets are paranoid because we’re making them.  They’ve shot down an airplane full of civilians so we feel like they’ve hit us after a fashion taking a Congressman with it, and the Soviet missile warning system is telling them we’re launching attacks on top of leadership that has become convinced we’re going to launch an attack.  What could possibly make this situation any more tense?  Enter Able Archer.
Thus, on November 2, 1983, as Soviet intelligence services were attempting to detect the early signs of a nuclear attack, NATO began to simulate one. The exercise, codenamed Able Archer, involved numerous NATO allies and simulated NATO's Command, Control, and Communications (C³) procedures during a nuclear war. Some Soviet leaders, because of the preceding world events and the exercise's particularly realistic nature, believed—in accordance with Soviet military doctrine—that the exercise may have been a cover for an actual attack.[24] 
[25] Indeed, a KGB telegram of February 17 described one likely scenario as such:

In view of the fact that the measures involved in State Orange [a nuclear attack within 36 hours] have to be carried out with the utmost secrecy (under the guise of maneuvers, training etc) in the shortest possible time, without disclosing the content of operational plans, it is highly probable that the battle alarm system may be used to prepare a surprise RYAN [nuclear attack] in peacetime.[26] 
The February 17, 1983 KGB Permanent Operational Assignment assigned its agents to monitor several possible indicators of a nuclear attack. These included actions by "A cadre of people associated with preparing and implementing decision about RYAN, and also a group of people, including service and technical personnel ... those working in the operating services of installations connected with processing and implementing the decision about RYAN, and communication staff involved in the operation and interaction of these installations."[27]

Because Able Archer 83 simulated an actual release, it is likely that the service and technical personnel mentioned in the memo were active in the exercise. More conspicuously, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl participated (though not concurrently) in the nuclear drill. United States President Reagan, Vice President George H. W. Bush, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were also intended to participate. Robert McFarlane, who had assumed the position of National Security Advisor just two weeks earlier, realized the implications of such participation early in the exercise's planning and rejected it. 
Another illusory indicator likely noticed by Soviet analysts was an influx of ciphered communications between the United Kingdom and the United States. Soviet intelligence was informed that "so-called nuclear consultations in NATO are probably one of the stages of immediate preparation by the adversary for RYAN".[29] To the Soviet analysts, this burst of secret communications between the United States and the UK one month before the beginning of Able Archer may have appeared to be this "consultation". In reality, the burst of communication regarded the US invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983, which caused a great deal of diplomatic traffic as the sovereign of the island was Elizabeth II

I hope a theme is developing in the compare and contrast thing.  Edward Snowden is currently telling both China and Russia information about our signal intelligence, but more ominously he may be telling tales of our intentions.  I should hope their agencies have the good sense to disregard what he says to the extent they can confirm with their own eyes or sources, but watching Americans react to him I don’t have a great deal of confidence they are.
The double agent Oleg Gordievsky, whose highest rank was KGB resident in London, is the only Soviet source ever to have published an account of Able Archer 83. Oleg Kalugin and Yuri Shvets, who were KGB officers in 1983, have published accounts that acknowledge Operation RYAN, but they do not mention Able Archer 83.[38] Gordievsky and other Warsaw Pact intelligence agents were extremely skeptical about a NATO first strike, perhaps because of their proximity to, and understanding of, the West. Nevertheless, agents were ordered to report their observations, not their analysis, and this critical flaw in the Soviet intelligence system—coined by Gordievsky as the "intelligence cycle"—fed the fear of US nuclear aggression.[39] 
According to Vitaly Shlykov, the Soviets started arming their nuclear weapons, and war was only averted because they malfunctioned when the wrong launch codes were entered[citation needed]. Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, who at the time was Chief of the main operations directorate of the Soviet General Staff, told Cold War historian Don Orbendorfer that he had never heard of Able Archer. The lack of public Soviet response over Able Archer 83 has led some historians, including Fritz W. Ermarth in his piece, "Observations on the 'War Scare' of 1983 From an Intelligence Perch", to conclude that Able Archer 83 posed no immediate threat to the United States
Do I know if Edward Snowden’s actions are currently causing cascades of paranoia and misunderstanding among the Chinese and Russians?  No but I didn’t know Able Archer happened until a solid 20 years or so after it happened.  I do know the world is not a benign place I know that China wants Taiwan; I know we’re about to step into close proximity with Russia and their relationship with Syria.

There are ways to begin discussion on civil rights or whatever is your passion which doesn’t include throwing geopolitical equations out of whack and when I see people saying its just discussion it always makes me think how do you know what’s actually being talked about and in other countries with other agendas. What is the cost of mistrust in a world of many moving parts and what happens when they crash?  I'm not sure I want Barack Obama making that call I'm really sure I don't want Eric Snowden or Glenn Greenwald doing it.



Namaste Friends






Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.