Cold War espionage describes the intelligence gathering activities during the Cold War (circa 1947-1991) between the Western allies (chief US, UK and NATO) and the Eastern Bloc (The Soviet Union and aligned countries of Warsaw Pact). Because each side was preparing to fight the other, intelligence on the opposing side's intentions, military, and technology was of paramount importance. To gather information, the two relied on a wide variety of military and civilian agencies.
While several organizations such as the CIA and KGB became synonymous with Cold War espionage, many others played key roles in the collection and protection of the section concerning detection of spying, and analysis of a wide host of intelligence disciplines.
Soviet espionage in the United States during the Cold War was an outgrowth in World War II nuclear espionage, and Cold War espionage was depicted in works such as the James Bond and Matt Helm books and movies.
During the Cold War, information was a key commodity. It was vital to know what the adversary was up to, and the possibility of using the hi-tech surveillance that is used today was not around. Instead of trusting technology, we relied on spies: people who infiltrated enemy territory and tried to discover information while staying undetected.
Espionage activities continued from prior to the beginning of the cold war in the late thirties- early forties, and all the way through the late 1960s and even continuing through today. These spies were decoding encrypted information, and using many skills to gain an advantage over other enemy countries.
The Cold War was all about gaining the advantage of information about the enemies' atomic weaponry. The Cold War was a state of political and military tension after World War II led by the United States (and the Western Bloc) and the Soviet Union (and the Eastern Bloc). Although the two powers never engaged in a full out war, both countries were constantly preparing for an all-out nuclear war. Thus the use of spies to gain insight into the knowledge of how far their enemies were advancing.
Cambridge Five: The Cambridge Five consisted of five members that were recruited from the University of Cambridge in the 1930s. There is debate surrounding the exact timing of their recruitment, but it is generally believed that they were not recruited as agents until after they had graduated. The group included Kim Philby (cryptonym 'Stanley'), Donald Maclean (cryptonym 'Homer'), Guy Burgess (cryptonym 'Hicks'), Anthony Blunt (cryptonyms 'Tony', 'Johnson'), and John Cairncross (cryptonym 'Liszt'). There were many others that were accused of being a part of the Cambridge Spy Ring, but these five members were collectively known as the Cambridge Five.
Portland Spy Ring: The Portland Spy Ring operated in England, as a Soviet spy ring, from the 1950s until 1961 when the core of the network were arrested by British Security Services. This spy ring was unique because they did not use the cover of an embassy as the cover for their spies. Its members included Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee, Gordon Lonsdale, and most famously Morris and Lona Cohen (cryptonym Peter and Helen Kroger).
Ware Group: Sleeper spy ring in US headed by J. Peters, first organized under Harold Ware, inherited by Whittaker Chambers (under orders from Peters), and also included: John Abt, Marion Bachrach (Abt's sister), Lee Pressman, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Charles Kramer, Nathan Witt, Henry Collins, George Silverman, John Herrmann, Nathaniel Weyl, and Victor Perlo. When Chambers defected in 1938, the Ware Group went dormant and then broke up. Harry Dexter White (below) contributed materials to Chambers but not as part of the Ware Group.
Silvermaster spy ring: The Silvermaster Spy Ring was led by Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the Treasury and the second most influential member of the Treasury department. His job was to aid placement of Soviet spies within the United States Government. The United States Treasury Department was successfully infiltrated by many Soviet spies, the most successful of which belonged to the Silvermaster Spy Ring. Harold Glasser, Elizabeth Bentley, and Nathan Silvermaster were other major members of the Silvermaster Spy Ring.
Atomic spies: While the Atomic Spies were not exactly a network of spies, the collective information that was obtained by this group of Soviet spies was critical to the Soviet Union's ability to build an atomic bomb. Many of the members of the Atomic spies group worked for, or around, the Manhattan Project, or the United States building of the atomic bomb. This group included:
|1939||Whittaker Chambers meets with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle; names 18 current and former government employees as spies or Communist sympathizers including Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Laurence Duggan, and Lauchlin Currie. Berle notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of Chambers's information in March 1940.|
|1941-08-10||The Soviet GRU reestablished contact with Klaus Fuchs, a German emigre scientist, who transferred from the British Tube Alloys nuclear research program to the US-led Manhattan Project in 1943.|
|1942||Nuclear espionage||US communist Jacob Golos put Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (and their associated communist cell) in direct contact with Soviet intelligence operatives in New York. The Rosenberg cell provided information on newest developments in electrical and radio engineering to the XY Line of the NKGB foreign intelligence.|
|1944||Nuclear espionage||Yuri Modin became the KGB controller of the "Cambridge Five" ring of atomic spies.|
|1945||Starting in November 1945, Elizabeth Bentley, under the code name 'Greogry', started naming almost 150 Union Spies; among those, at least 35 were in fact federal government employees.|
|1946-12-20||The Venona counter-intelligence program is first able to decode Soviet intelligence messages thereby discovering the Soviet spying activities within the Manhattan Project. During the program's four decades, approximately 3,000 messages were at least partially decrypted and translated.|
|1949||Nuclear espionage||A Mossad agent assumed, seeing CIA agent James Jesus Angleton dining with Cambridge Five mole Kim Philby, that the former had turned the latter into a triple agent.|
|1950||Klaus Fuchs voluntarily confesses to MI5 that he has been spying for the USSR. Fuchs identifies Harry Gold who identifies David Greenglass which in turn leads to the arrest and trial of the Rosenbergs.|
|1955||communications interception||Joint US/UK (CIA/SIS) Operation Gold puts a tunnel under the frontier in occupied Berlin to tap into Soviet army communications. Already aware of the plan through George Blake, the Soviets let the operation run rather than compromise their agent.|
|1959-06||Corona (satellite)||Under the covername Discoverer the camera-carrying Corona satellite missions start.|
|1959-10-15||Active measures||Ukrainian politician Stepan Bandera was assassinated on KGB orders.|
|1960||1960 U-2 incident||Pilot Francis Gary Powers' Lockheed U-2 spy plane was shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. The US is forced to publicly admit that they were operating surveillance missions over the USSR.|
|August 1960||Discoverer 14 is the first Corona mission to successfully take reconnaissance pictures from orbit and return them to earth.|
|1962||Oleg Penkovsky provides information to SIS and CIA about Soviet missile capabilities and deployment to Cuba. The Soviets are aware of his activities through their own agent within the NSA.|
|1962-10-26||Cuban Missile Crisis||Under the pseudonym of Aleksandr Fomin, the KGB Station Chief in Washington proposed the crisis' diplomatic solution.|
|1964||Operation Neptune||A ruse was used to indicate West Germany's spies remaining from World War II had been exposed.|
|1974||Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent becomes a double agent of MI6. In 1982, Gordievsky is given position as KGB's Resident in London in charge of intelligence gathering in UK.|
|1985-03-23||On a mission to photograph a Soviet tank storage building, US intelligence officer Major Arthur D. Nicholson was killed by a Soviet soldier.|
Weapons System 117L - Weapons System 117L was the first program designed to develop space-based reconnaissance satellite systems. Several satellite systems would be developed through this program including Corona, the Satellite and Missile Observation System (SAMOS), and the Missile Detection Alarm System (MIDAS).
SAMOS - SAMOS or the Satellite and Missile Observation system was one of the first of a series of short lived satellite systems developed by the United States, operated from October 1960 to November 1962. The SAMOS satellite system was one of the first systems developed through the WS-117L program. The system consisted of three primary components: visual reconnaissance, communications, and electronic intelligence gathering. Of the eleven launched attempted, 8 were successful. The program was likely cancelled because of poor image quality. The satellite could produce photos with 100 foot resolution. It was also heavily overshadowed by the Corona system operated by the CIA.
MIDAS - MIDAS or the Missile Defense Alarm System was a satellite system operated by the United States between 1960 and 1966. This system was designed to be made of twelve satellites, although only nine satellites were successfully launched. The system was designed to provide early warning of Soviet missile launches. The system was eventually cancelled because of the high price and because of the slow warning times. This system, however, would be directly responsible for technologies used in its successors.
Corona - Corona was among the first of a series of reconnaissance satellite systems developed through the WS-117L program. The Corona program was headed by the Central Intelligence Agency along with the Air Force. Corona satellites were used to photograph Soviet and other installations. The first successful Corona mission began on August 10, 1963. The Corona satellite system was expedited largely in part to the U-2 incident in 1960. All of the Corona missions, with the exception of the KH-11 Kennan program, would make use of photographic film, which would have to survive re-entry through the atmosphere and be recovered.
Keyhole - Keyhole was the designation for the initial Corona launches, which included KH-1, KH-2, KH-3, KH-4A, and KH-4B. The name was used because it is analogous to spying through the keyhole of a door. 144 satellites would be launched through this program, and 102 returned usable photos.
Keyhole/Argon (KH-5) - Argon was the designation the surveillance satellites,manufactured by Lockheed, used by the United States from February 1961 to August 1964. Argon made use of photographic film in a way similar of the original Corona satellites. Of the twelve known launches, seven were not successful for varying reasons.
Keyhole/Lanyard (KH-6) - Lanyard was the designation for the first, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to establish a high resolution, optical satellite system. This program would be led by the newly established National Reconnaissance Office, and operated from March-July 1963. Because it was only able to achieve a resolution similar to that of the KH-4 satellites, it was discontinued after only 3 launches.
Keyhole/Gambit (KH-7) - Gambit was the next of a series of satellites operated by the United States, by the National Reconnaissance Office, from July 1963 to June 1967. It was among the first successful Corona missions as it produced some of the first high resolution photos. These photos were typically of Soviet and Chinese missile emplacements. Gambit satellites would make use of a three camera system and missions would last typically up to eight days.
Keyhole/Gambit III (KH-8) - The Gambit III satellite system was amongst the longest serving satellite reconnaissance programs operated by the United States during the Cold War. This satellite system would operate from July 1966 to April 1984. Of the fifty-four launch attempts, only three would fail, all of which were attributed to rocket failure. The average mission time of the Gambit III satellite systems were thirty-one days. The Gambit III satellites would differ from the Gambit I satellites in that the Gambit III had a four camera system, which carried over twelve thousand feet of film, and were able to produce resolutions as small as four inches.
Keyhole/Hexagon (KH-9) - The Hexagon satellite system, commonly known as Big Bird, this satellite system was operated from 1971 and 1986. The Hexagon system was officially known as the Broad Coverage Photo Reconnaissance satellites. These satellites photographed large areas of the earth at a time with moderate resolution. These satellites were also used for mapping missions, which were used in map making. Three Hexagon missions also included electronic intelligence or ELINT gathering capabilities. These were used to eavesdrop on soviet communications and on soviet missile launches. Twenty launches were attempted, only one was unsuccessful. These satellites operated for an increasing duration of time, with the longest mission lasting 275 days.
Keyhole/Kennan (KH-11) - The KH-11 Kennan, which goes under the code name Crystal, was first launched in 1976, and missions are still ongoing to this day. According to leaked documents, this program is currently operation under the code name Evolved Enhanced Crystal. The Kennan satellite system was the first satellite system to use electro-optical imaging, which gives real time imaging capabilities. The resolution of these satellites is estimated to be as low as 2 inches. These satellites are unique in that they have been placed in sun-synchronous orbits, which allow them to use shadows to help discern ground features. These satellites became famous in 1978 when a CIA employee tried to leak the design of the satellite to the Soviets. He was tried and convicted of espionage.
Keyhole/Improved Crystal (KH-12) - The later KH-11 satellites have been called KH-12 improved Crystal or Ikon satellites. These satellites also had increased download times which allowed for faster processing of photos. It is also suspected that these satellites may have stealth technology to avoid detection by other satellites.
Vela - The Vela satellite system was developed to by the United States to ensure that the Soviet Union complied with the Partial Test Ban Treaty which was ratified in 1963. The satellites were designed to monitor for nuclear explosions in space and in the atmosphere by measuring for neutrons and gamma rays. A total of twelve Vela satellites were launched during the course of the Cold War. The Vela satellites became publicly famous because of the Vela Incident which occurred on 22 September 1979. It was theorized at the time that it was a nuclear test conducted by South Africa and Israel, but new evidence does not support this theory. They have also been used in the study of Gamma-Ray Bursts.
U-2 - The U-2 aircraft, known as the "Dragon Lady", was developed by the Lockheed Skunk Works, and was first flown on August 1, 1955. The aircraft was initially flown by the CIA, but control was later transferred to the Air Force. The aircraft was designed to fly at altitudes of 70,000 ft. The U-2 was equipped with a camera which had a resolution of 2.5 feet at an altitude of 60,000 ft. The first overflights of the Soviet Union by the U-2 began in May 1956. The aircraft became publicly prominent after a U-2 aircraft flown by Francis Gary Powers was hit by an SA-2 missile and crash landed in the USSR.
SR-71 - The SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range reconnaissance aircraft developed by Lockheed Skunk Works, and designed by Kelly Johnson. The aircraft is known for setting speed and altitude records. The SR-71 was equipped with optical and infrared imaging systems, electronic intelligence gathering systems, side looking airborne radar, and recorders for those systems which are listed. The aircraft required two personnel to pilot it, one to pilot the aircraft, and a Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO) to operate the systems.
Zenit (Zenith) - The Zenith Satellite program, was a satellite program developed by the Soviet Union and used from 1961 to 1994. During the course of its lifespan over 500 Zenith satellites were launched, making it the most used satellite system ever. The Soviets concealed the nature of the system by giving the satellites the Kosmos designation. The Zenith satellites had an advantage over the satellites developed by the United States, in that they could be reused. A total of eight variants would be developed for a variety of mission types, ranging from high-resolution photography to ELINT to cartographic and topographic missions.
Yantar - The Yantar satellites, designed to replace the Zenit satellite system, are among the newest Russian satellites. Yantar satellites have been launched as recently as 2015. Two variants of the satellite have been developed for high-resolution photography and for medium-resolution broad spectrum imaging.
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