On July 19, 1981, the United States was informed of the Farewell dossier, a collection of documents that Colonel Vladimir Vetrov, an engineer and KGB defector code-named “Farewell,” gathered that proved the Soviets had been stealing American technological research and development.
In a private meeting, French President François Mitterrand told US President Ronald Reagan of the spy Farewell and his information. He offered the intelligence to the US.
Vetrov (photo) was an electrical engineer who had been assigned to evaluate information on Western hardware and software gathered by the “Line X” technical intelligence operation for Directorate T, the Soviet directorate for scientific and technical intelligence collection from the West.
He became disillusioned with the Communist system and began to work with the French at the end of 1980. Vetrov gave almost 4000 secret documents to France’s Directorate of Territorial Surveillance, including the complete list of 250 Line X officers stationed under legal cover in embassies around the world.
Soviet intelligence took advantage of US attempts to ease strains in US-Soviet relations during the Cold War. The US set up joint technical commissions to assess prospects for cooperation which allowed many Line X operatives access to US industries. On a visit to Boeing in the early 1970s a Soviet guest even applied adhesive to his shoes to collect metal samples.
According to reports from the CIA, such activities were suspected but had not be proven until the papers were presented.
The technology and research were in areas including computers, microelectronics, radar, and aerospace. Notably, the documents included a “shopping list” of sorts that outlined what technology and research Line X officers were to attempt to acquire in the coming years.
The information led to a potent counterintelligence response by CIA and the NATO intelligence services. The CIA and the Defense Department, in partnership with the FBI, set up a program to make modified technologies available to Line X officers. The response proved successful when contrived computer chips found their way into Soviet military equipment, flawed turbines were installed on a gas pipeline, defective plans disrupted the output of chemical plants, and the Soviet Space Shuttle was based on a rejected NASA design.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on July 19, 2012 and edited on July 19, 2017.