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The Dead Hand

The Dead Hand


    The first full account of how the Cold War arms race finally came to a close, this riveting narrative history sheds new light on the people who struggled to end this era of massive overkill, and examines the legacy of the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that remain a threat today.
    Drawing on memoirs, interviews in both Russia and the US, and classified documents from deep inside the Kremlin, David E. Hoffman examines the inner motives and secret decisions of each side and details the deadly stockpiles that remained unsecured as the Soviet Union collapsed. This is the fascinating story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and a previously unheralded collection of scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies changed the course of history.

David E. Hoffman THE DEAD HAND The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

    To My Parents
    Howard and Beverly Hoffman
    “Science has brought us to a point at which we might look forward with confidence to the conquest of disease and even to a true understanding of the life that animates us. And now we have cracked the atom and released such energies as hitherto only the sun and the stars could generate. But we have used the atom’s energies to kill, and now we are fashioning weapons out of our knowledge of disease.”
—Theodor Rosebury, Peace or Pestilence: Biological Warfare and How to Avoid It, 1949

—————  PROLOGUE  —————

I. Epidemic of Mystery

    “Are any of your patients dying?” asked Yakov Klipnitzer when he called Margarita Ilyenko on Wednesday, April 4, 1979. She was chief physician at No. 24, a medium-sized, one-hundred-bed hospital in Sverdlovsk, a Soviet industrial metropolis in the Ural Mountains. Her hospital often referred patients to a larger facility, No. 20, where Klipnitzer was chief doctor. Klipnitzer saw two unusual deaths from what looked like severe pneumonia. The patients, he told Ilyenko, were “two of yours.” No, Ilyenko told him, she did not know of any deaths. The next day he called again. Klipnitzer was more persistent. “You still don’t have any patients dying?” he asked. Klipnitzer had new deaths with pneumonia-like symptoms. “Who is dying from pneumonia today?” Ilyenko replied, incredulous. “It is very rare.”
    Soon, patients began to die at Ilyenko’s hospital, too. They were brought in ambulances and cars, suffering from high fevers, headaches, coughs, vomiting, chills and chest pains. They were stumbling in the hallways and lying on gurneys. The head of admissions at Hospital No. 20, Roza Gaziyeva, was on duty overnight between April 5 and 6. “Some of them who felt better after first aid tried to go home. They were later found on the streets—the people had lost consciousness,” she recalled. She tried to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to one ill patient, who died. “During the night, we had four people die. I could hardly wait until morning. I was frightened.”
    On the morning of April 6, Ilyenko raced to the hospital, threw her bag into her office, put on her white gown and headed for the ward. One patient looked up at her, eyes open, and then died. “There are dead bodies, people still alive, lying together. I thought, this is a nightmare. Something is very, very wrong.”
    Death came quickly to victims. Ilyenko reported to the district public health board that she had an emergency. Instructions came back to her that another hospital, No. 40, was being set up to receive all the patients in an infectious disease ward. The word spread—infection!—and with it, fear. Some staff refused to report for work, and others already at work refused to go home so as not to expose their families. Then, disinfection workers arrived at hospital No. 20, wearing hazardous materials suits. They spread chlorine everywhere, which was a standard disinfectant, but the scene was terrifying, Ilyenko recalled. “There was panic when people saw them.”1
    Sverdlovsk, population 1.2 million, was the tenth-largest city in the Soviet Union and the heartland of its military-industrial complex. Guns, steel, industry and some of the best mechanical engineering schools in the Soviet Union were Sverdlovsk’s legacy from Stalin’s rush to modernize during World War II and after. Since 1976, the region had been run by a young, ambitious party secretary, Boris Yeltsin.
    Hospitals No. 20 and 24 were in the southern end of the city, which slopes downward from the center. Streets lined with small wooden cottages and high fences were broken up by stark five-story apartment buildings, shops and schools. The Chkalovsky district, where Ilyenko’s hospital was located, included a ceramics factory where hundreds of men worked in shifts in a cavernous building with large, high windows.
    Less than a mile away, to the north-northwest, was Compound 32, an army base for two tank divisions, largely residences, and, adjacent to it, a closed military microbiology facility. Compound 19, which comprised a laboratory, development and testing center for deadly pathogens, including anthrax, was run by the 15th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. On Monday April 2, 1979, from morning until early evening, the wind was blowing down from Compound 19 toward the ceramics factory.2
    Inside Compound 19, three shifts operated around the clock, experimenting with anthrax and making it in batches. Anthrax bacteria were grown in fermentation vessels, separated from the liquid growth medium and dried before they were ground up into a fine powder for use in aerosol form. Workers at the compound were regularly given vaccinations. The work was high risk.
    Anthrax is an often-fatal infection that occurs when spores of the bacteria Bacillus anthracis enter the body, either through the skin, ingestion or inhalation. The bacteria germinate and release toxins that can quickly bring on death if untreated. In Russia, the disease was known as Sibirskaya yazva, or Siberian ulcer, because of the black sores that form when it is contracted through cuts in the skin. In nature, the disease most commonly spreads through contact with infected animals, usually grazing animals such as cows, goats and sheep, which ingest the spores from the soil. The inhalation variety is dangerous to humans. Breathing the spores into the lungs can kill those infected if not treated. A single gram of anthrax contains around a trillion spores. Odorless and colorless, the spores are extremely stable, and can remain dormant for as long as fifty years or more. For these reasons, anthrax was well suited for a biological weapon. According to one estimate, 112 pounds of anthrax spores released along a 1.2-mile line upwind of a city of 500,000 residents would result in 125,000 infections—and kill 95,000 people.3

    What exactly happened at Compound 19 is still unknown. By one account, a filter was removed and not properly replaced, and anthrax spores were released into the air.4
    To the south, sheep and cattle in villages began to die. Anthrax had been present in rural areas in the past, although it was not common. At the same time, people started getting sick. The first records of those admitted to hospitals came on Wednesday, April 4, when Ilyenko got Klipnitzer’s phone call. “What was strange for us, it was mainly men dying, not many women, and not a single child,” she said.5 Ilyenko began keeping records of names, ages, addresses and possible reasons for the deaths, but she didn’t know what was happening, or why.
    On April 10, as the crisis deepened, Faina Abramova, a retired pathologist who had been a lecturer at the Sverdlovsk Medical Institute, was summoned to Hospital No. 40 and asked to autopsy a thirty-seven-year-old man who died over the weekend. He had been at Compound 32, the army base with the tank divisions, for reserve duty, gone home to a nearby village and, for no apparent reason, became suddenly ill. Abramova, a spirited professional, was puzzled by the case. The man did not show classic signs of influenza and pneumonia. But the autopsy showed infection of the lymph nodes and the lungs. Abramova had also noticed the man suffered from cerebral bleeding, a distinctive red ring around the brain known as “cardinal’s cap.”6
    “We started thinking what other diseases may cause this pathology,” she recalled. “We looked up the books, and we went through them all together, and it looked like anthrax.”
    That evening, Abramova attended a reception, which was also attended by Lev Grinberg, her protégé, a young pathologist with thick glasses, black hair and a beard. As they danced at the reception, Abramova whispered to him that she had autopsied the man earlier that day, and diagnosed his death as anthrax. Grinberg was stunned. “I asked, where in our godforsaken Sverdlovsk can we have anthrax?” he recalled.
    The next day, Grinberg saw the evidence for himself. He was instructed to go to Ilyenko’s hospital. “I saw a horrible picture,” he recalled. “It was three women, they had identical changes, sharp hemorrhagic changes in their lungs, in the lymph nodes, and the tissue of lymph nodes was hemorrhaging.” Abramova took samples and materials from the autopsies.
    Word of the outbreak reached Moscow. Late on April 11, Vladimir Nikiforov, a chief of the infectious diseases department at the Central Postgraduate Institute, located within the Botkin Hospital in Moscow, arrived in Sverdlovsk. Also arriving in the city was Pyotr Burgasov, the Soviet deputy minister of health, who had once worked at Compound 19, in the 1950s. On April 12, at 2 P.M., Nikiforov assembled all the doctors who had been involved and asked for their observations and the autopsies. Abramova was last to speak. She told him: anthrax.
    Nikiforov, an eminent, courtly scientist who had studied anthrax throughout his career, announced that he agreed with her. He reassured the doctors it could not spread from human to human. But from where had it come? Burgasov declared the source was contaminated meat from a village located 9.3 miles from the city. No one spoke up. No one knew for sure; the uncertainty was frightening.
    In Chkalovsky’s neighborhoods, residents were told to watch out for contaminated meat. A widespread vaccination program began; according to Ilyenko’s notes, 42,065 people were vaccinated in the days that followed. Broadsheet leaflets dated April 18 were distributed warning people not to buy meat outside the stores, to watch out for anthrax symptoms such as headaches, fever, cold and cough followed by abdominal pains and high temperatures, and not to slaughter animals without permission.7 Buildings and trees were washed by local fire brigades, stray dogs shot by police and unpaved streets covered with fresh asphalt.
    Ilyenko wrote in her notes on April 20, “358 got sick. 45 died. 214 in Hospital 40.” She was not asked to relinquish her notes, and kept them at home. The 45 who died at her hospital were only part of the story; the total number of deaths from anthrax was more than 60 people.
    Carried by the steady wind, the spores floated through the ceramics factory, south of Compound 19. Vladlen Krayev, chief engineer, was present when the outbreak began among his 2,180 employees. He recalled that the factory had a ventilator that sucked air from outside, pumping it into furnaces, and provided ventilation for the workers. In the first weeks, about eighteen factory workers died. The crisis stretched on for seven weeks, much longer than might be expected, given the two-to-seven-day incubation period for anthrax described in textbooks at the time.8
    Grinberg recalled that Nikiforov made an unusual decision, ordering that all the dead be autopsied even though government regulations prohibited autopsy for anthrax victims because the spores can spread. As Grinberg and Abramova worked through the long days, the two pathologists began to take notes out of sight. They wrote these notes on cards, and sometimes they wrote the official reports on carbon paper and kept the copies. “No one checked,” Abramova recalled. The head of the regional health department came and told them “not to talk too much about it, and don’t discuss it on the phone.”
    They conducted forty-two autopsies. They saw anthrax had damaged the lungs and lymph nodes. Grinberg said he suspected inhalation anthrax but didn’t know for sure. “Perhaps we didn’t know definitely, but we were not talking about it much. Honestly speaking, we were very tired, it was hard work, we had a feeling, myself for example, as if we were working under war conditions. They were feeding us, bringing us meals, to the center at No. 40. There was a huge amount of chlorine. Disinfection was done every day. And we were going home on the trams after the working shift, and people were rushing away because we smelled of chlorine. The way I remember it, on the 10th day, about the end of the second week, we were thinking about keeping this material, that it should be preserved and studied.”
    Although it was prohibited, Grinberg persuaded a friend who was a photographer to secretly take color photographs of the autopsies using East German slide film. Abramova also preserved tissue samples.
    In May, as the crisis eased, Nikiforov assembled all those who had participated in the hospital work and told them: the anthrax had come from tainted meat. But quietly, he told Abramova to keep investigating. He played a double game. In public, he was an official of the state, and loyal to the official story. But he also gave the pathologists a private signal to hide and protect their evidence. Nikiforov later died of a heart attack. “We are certain that he knew the truth,” Grinberg said.9
    But the people of the Soviet Union and the outside world did not.

II. Night Watch for Nuclear War

    The shift change began at 7 P.M. on September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel, arrived at Serpukhov-15, south of Moscow, a top-secret missile attack early-warning station, which received signals from satellites. Petrov changed from street clothes into the soft uniform of the military space troops of the Soviet Union. Over the next hour, he and a dozen other specialists asked questions of the outgoing officers. Then his men lined up two rows deep and reported for duty to Petrov. Their twelve-hour shift had begun.10
    Petrov settled into a comfortable swivel chair with arms. His command post overlooked the main floor of the early-warning station through a window. In front of him were telephones to connect to headquarters and electronic monitors. Out on the floor, beyond the specialists and their consoles, a large map covered the far wall. At the center of the map was the North Pole. Above the pole and beyond it—as it might be seen from space—were Canada and the United States, inverted. Below the pole stretched the vast lands of the Soviet Union. This was the path that nuclear missiles would take if ever launched. The map showed the location of Minuteman missile bases in the United States. Petrov knew those bases held one thousand intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads that could cross the Arctic and reach the Soviet Union in thirty-five minutes. On the main floor, a dozen men monitored electronic consoles with a singular mission: using satellites to spot a launch and give the leaders of the Soviet Union an added margin of ten minutes’ warning, or maybe twelve minutes, to decide what to do.
    Petrov, forty-four, had served in the military for twenty-six years, rising to deputy chief of the department for combat algorithms. He was more of an engineer than a soldier. He liked the logic of writing formulas, often using English-based computer languages. On most days, he was not in the commander’s chair but at a desk in a nearby building, working as an analyst, responding to glitches, fine-tuning the software. But twice a month, he took an operations shift in order to keep on top of the system.
    When Petrov first arrived eleven years earlier, the station was new, with equipment still in crates and the rooms empty. Now, it had grown into a bristling electronic nerve center. Seven satellites orbiting above the earth were positioned to monitor the American missile fields, usually for a period of six hours. Each satellite was a cylinder six feet long and five feet around, and sent streams of data to the command center.11 The brain of the center was the M-10, the best supercomputer that existed in the Soviet Union, which analyzed the data and searched for signs of a missile attack.
    The satellite system was known as Oko, or “Eye,” but the individual spacecraft were known to Petrov by simple numbers, one through nine. On this night, No. 5 was reaching the highest point of its orbit, about 19,883 miles above the Earth. From space, it scanned the very edge of the Earth, using infrared sensors to detect a missile launch. The satellite could spot the heat given off by a rocket engine against the black background of space, a delicate trick requiring the satellite to be in the right position, steady and aimed at the distant point where the Earth met the darkness of the cosmos. Of the whole fleet, No. 5 had the highest sensitivity, but its task was complicated by the time of day. The satellite was aimed at missile fields that were passing from daylight to twilight during Petrov’s shift. Dusk was often a blurry, milky zone that confused the satellites and computers. The operators knew of the challenge, and watched closely.
    Usually, each satellite picked up fifteen or twenty objects of interest, and the computers at Serpukhov-15 examined the data on each, checking against the known characteristics of a rocket flare. If it did not look like a missile, the objects would be discarded by the computer and a new target grabbed for examination. The computer ran continuous checks against the data streaming in from space. The satellites also carried an optical telescope, with a view of the Earth. This was a backup, allowing the ground controllers to visually spot a missile attack, but the images were dim—in fact, special operators had to sit in a darkened room for two hours so they could see through the telescopes.
    On this night, satellite No. 5 was bringing in more data than usual. Instead of fifteen to twenty targets, it was feeding the computer more than thirty. Petrov figured the elevated levels were due to the satellite’s heightened sensitivity. They watched it closely as it approached the apogee of its orbit, when it would be positioned to monitor the American missile fields. At 10 P.M., Petrov paused for tea.
    Petrov and his men had watched many test launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and from Cape Canaveral in Florida, as well as Soviet test launches from Plesetsk in northern Russia. With the satellites, they could rapidly detect the rocket’s bright flare moments after it rose into the sky; they had seen a few tests fail, too.
    For all the years Petrov worked at the early-warning center, they had been rushed. The satellite system was put into service in late 1982, even though it was not ready. Petrov and his men were told: it was an important project for the country, don’t worry about the shortcomings. They will be fixed later, you can compensate for the problems, look the other way for now. Petrov knew why they were in such a hurry. The United States and the Soviet Union threatened each other with missiles on hair-trigger alert. The two superpowers had between them about 18,400 nuclear warheads poised to be launched from missiles in silos, on submarines hidden under the seas and from bombers. And there were many smaller, or tactical, nuclear weapons arrayed along the front lines of the Cold War confrontation in Europe. In the event of a nuclear attack, a decision whether to retaliate would have to be made in minutes, and enormous efforts were made by each superpower to gain precious time for warning. With ground-based radar alone, which could not see beyond the curvature of the Earth, the incoming missiles might not be detected until the final seven to ten minutes of their flight. But with the early-warning satellites, a launch could be spotted sooner. The Americans already had stationed their satellites to watch over the Soviet missile fields. The Soviet Union was in a hurry to catch up. They rushed to build Serpukhov-15 and launch their own satellites.
    A fear haunted the old men who ruled the Soviet Union, led by General Secretary Yuri Andropov, a frail and paranoid former KGB chief who in the autumn of 1983 was suffering from kidney failure. The fear was a sudden attack that might destroy the entire leadership in Moscow before they could leave the Kremlin. If they could be decapitated, wiped out without warning by a surprise attack, their threat to retaliate was simply not credible. That is why Petrov’s mission was so important. The satellites, the antennas, the computers, the telescopes, the map and the operations center—they were the night watch for nuclear war.
    Petrov heard the rhetoric, but he didn’t believe the superpowers would come to blows; the consequences were just too devastating. Petrov thought the Soviet leaders were pompous and self-serving, and—in private—he was disdainful of the party bosses. He did not take seriously their bombast about America as the enemy. Yet the furor in recent months had been hard to ignore. President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” in March, and only a few weeks before Petrov’s night at the operations center, Soviet Air Defense Forces had shot down a Korean airliner in the Far East, killing 269 people.
    Petrov saw himself as a professional, a technician, and took pride in overcoming long odds. He understood the enormity of the task, that in early warning there could be no room for false alarms. His team had been driven hard to eliminate the chance for error. While they had tried strenuously to make the early-warning system work properly, the apparatus was still troubled. A system to make decisions about the fate of the Earth was plagued by malfunctions. Of the first thirteen satellites launched in the test phase from 1972 to 1979, only seven worked for more than one hundred days.12 The satellites had to be launched constantly in order to keep enough of them aloft to monitor the American missile fields. They often just stopped sending data back to Earth.
    At 12:15 A.M., Petrov was startled. Across the top of the room was a thin, silent panel. Most of the time no one even noticed it. But suddenly it lit up, in red letters: LAUNCH.
    A siren wailed. On the big map with the North Pole, a light at one of the American missile bases was illuminated. Everyone was riveted to the map. The electronic panels showed a missile launch. The board said “high reliability.” This had never happened before. The operators at the consoles on the main floor jumped up, out of their chairs. They turned and looked up at Petrov, behind the glass. He was the commander on duty. He stood, too, so they could see him. He started to give orders. He wasn’t sure what was happening. He ordered them to sit down and start checking the system. He had to know whether this was real, or a glitch. The full check would take ten minutes, but if this was a real missile attack, they could not wait ten minutes to find out. Was the satellite holding steady? Was the computer functioning properly?
    As they scrambled, Petrov scrutinized the monitors in front of him. They included data from the optical telescope. If there was a missile, sooner or later they would see it through the telescope. Where was it headed? What trajectory? There was no sign of it. The specialists who sat in the darkened room, also watching the telescope, spotted nothing. The computer specialists had to check a set of numbers spewing out of the hard-copy printer. Petrov scrutinized the data on his monitor, too. Could it be a technical error?
    If not, Petrov ran through the possibilities. If just one missile, could it be an accidental or unauthorized launch? He concluded it was not likely. He knew of all the locks and precautions—and just one person could not launch a missile. Even the idea of two officers conspiring to launch a missile seemed impossible. And if one missile was launched, he thought, what did that mean? This was not the way to start a nuclear war. For many years, he had been trained that a nuclear war would start only with a massive strike. He said it again, to himself: this is not the way to start a nuclear war.
    He had a microphone in one hand, part of the intercom system to the main floor. With the other hand, he picked up the telephone to call his commanders, who oversaw the whole early-warning system, including the separate radars. Petrov had to quickly reach his own conclusion; the supervisors would want to know what was happening. He had not completed his own checks, but he could not wait. He told the duty officer, in a clipped tone: “I am reporting to you: this is a false alarm.”
    He didn’t know for sure. He only had a gut instinct.
    “Got it,” the officer replied. Petrov was relieved; the officer did not ask him why.
    The phone was still in his hand, the duty officer still on the line, when Petrov was jolted again, two minutes later.
    The panel flashed: another missile launched! Then a third, a fourth and a fifth. Now, the system had gone into overdrive. The additional signals had triggered a new warning. The red letters on the panel began to flash MISSILE ATTACK, and an electronic blip was sent automatically to the higher levels of the military. Petrov was frightened. His legs felt paralyzed. He had to think fast.
    Petrov knew the key decision-makers in a missile attack would be the General Staff. In theory, if the alarm were validated, the retaliation would be directed from there. Soviet missiles would be readied, targets fed in and silo hatches opened. The Soviet political leadership would be alerted. There would be only minutes in which to make a decision.
    The siren wailed. The red sign flashed.
    Petrov made a decision. He knew the system had glitches in the past; there was no visual sighting of a missile through the telescope; the satellites were in the correct position. There was nothing from the radar stations to verify an incoming missile, although it was probably too early for the radars to see anything.
    He told the duty officer again: this is a false alarm.
    The message went up the chain.

—————  INTRODUCTION  —————

    This book is the story of people—presidents, scientists, engineers, diplomats, soldiers, spies, scholars, politicians and others—who sought to brake the speeding locomotive of the arms race. They recoiled from the balance of terror out of personal experience as designers and stewards of the weapons, or because of their own fears of the consequences of war, or because of the burdens that the arsenals placed on their peoples.
    At the center of the drama are two key figures, both of them romantics and revolutionaries, who sensed the rising danger and challenged the established order. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, abhorred the use of force and championed openness and “new thinking” in hopes of saving his troubled country. Ronald Reagan, fortieth president of the United States, was a master communicator and beacon of ideals who had an unwavering faith in the triumph of capitalism and American ingenuity. He dreamed of making nuclear weapons obsolete, once and for all.
    They were not alone. Many others with imagination, determination, guile and conscience sought to rein in the danger. The goal of the book is to tell the story of how the Cold War arms race came to an end, and of its legacy of peril—and to tell it from both sides. Too often in the past, the history has been obscured by American triumphalism, which reflected only one side, or by secrecy and disinformation in Moscow, which masked what really happened inside the Soviet Union and why. With fresh evidence, it is now possible to see more clearly the deliberations that unfolded behind closed doors in the Kremlin during Gorbachev’s tumultuous rule. It was there, in arguments, meetings, documents and phone calls, that Gorbachev, deftly maneuvering and cajoling, faced off against the entrenched and powerful forces of the military-industrial complex and began a radical change in direction. It was there Gorbachev decided to abandon whole missile systems; turn the Soviet Union away from global confrontation; cut military spending and troops in Europe; and take the blueprint for a colossal Soviet “Star Wars” missile defense system, which designers and engineers had laid on his desk, and bury it in his bottom drawer. It is also possible with the new evidence, especially diaries and contemporaneous documents, to see more clearly how Gorbachev and Reagan viewed each other, how their perceptions fed into actions and how they wrestled with their own internal conflicts, ideology and an enormous stockpile of mistrust to lead the world, haltingly, out of the years of confrontation.
    While nuclear weapons were the overwhelming threat of the epoch, another frightening weapon of mass casualty was being grown in flasks and fermenters. From 1975 to 1991, the Soviet Union covertly built the largest biological weapons program in the world. Soviet scientists experimented with genetic engineering to create pathogens that could cause unstoppable diseases. If the orders came, Soviet factory directors were ready to produce bacteria by the ton that could sicken and kill millions of people. The book explores the origins and expansion of this illicit, sprawling endeavor, for which Russia has yet to give a full accounting.
    Much of the writing about the end of the Cold War stops at the moment the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, or when the Soviet flag was lowered on the Kremlin in December 1991. This book attempts to go further. It begins with the peak of tensions in the early 1980s, leads us through the remarkable events of the Reagan and Gorbachev years and then shows how the Soviet collapse gave way to a race against time, an urgent search for the nuclear and biological hazards that were left behind.
    The book will begin with the “war scare” of 1983, a period of confrontation, anger and danger. But to understand it, we must first see the gathering storm in the decades that preceded it, a great contest of wills, a duel of deterrence. The atomic bomb was never used in combat in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, 1947–1991. Rather, the two sides held each other in a balance of terror by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons on missiles, submarines and strategic bombers. Over decades, the danger intensified as the weapons were invented and reinvented to carry enormous destructive power, enhanced by ever-faster delivery, superaccuracy and invulnerability.
    In the words of one of the early nuclear strategists, Bernard Brodie, the atomic bomb was the “absolute weapon” that would change warfare forever.1 The bomb greatly increased the chance that it would be regular people who would die at the start. As a group of six Harvard professors put it in a study in 1983: “For the first time in history, nuclear weapons offer the possibility of destroying a country before one has defeated or destroyed its armed forces.” And nuclear war would certainly come faster than any war in history. It might be over in a matter of hours. It might start before leaders could rethink their decisions or change their minds. It could lead to the death of millions of people even before a false alarm was discovered to be false.2
    At the outset of the Cold War, the United States threatened the Soviet Union with a single, devastating blow aimed at cities and industry. The first American nuclear weapons each weighed thousands of pounds, and were to be carried by lumbering strategic bombers that would take hours to reach their targets. By contrast, a half century later, the warhead on a missile could be delivered across oceans in thirty minutes. Rear Admiral G. P. Nanos, director of Strategic Systems Programs in the U.S. Navy, said in 1997 that if one drew a circle with a radius the length of the Trident submarine—560 feet—the warheads on a Trident II D5 missile could be accurately targeted into that circle from a distance of four thousand nautical miles.3
    But this achievement in power and deadly accuracy inspired a profound dread among those who might one day have to press the button launching those missiles.
    In the United States, a master plan for carrying out a nuclear war was first drafted in 1960, at the end of President Dwight Eisenhower’s term. The scope of the Single Integrated Operational Plan was awesome. Given adequate warning time, the United States and allies would launch their entire strategic force of about 3,500 nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, China and satellite states. Eisenhower dispatched his science adviser, George B. Kistiakowsky, to the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Offutt, Nebraska, on November 3–5, 1960, to study the newly drafted plan. Kistiakowsky reported back that the plan would “lead to unnecessary and undesirable overkill.” Eisenhower confided to Captain E. P. “Pete” Aurand, his naval aide, that the estimates—the sheer number of targets, the redundant bombs for each—“frighten the devil out of me.”4
    President John F. Kennedy was no less unsettled. Briefed on the war plan on September 14, 1961, he commented afterward to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “And we call ourselves the human race.”5
    Kennedy and his defense secretary, Robert S. McNamara, were uneasy with the Eisenhower-era idea of massive retaliation. They felt the threat of a single, enormous nuclear strike did not fit the more fragmented and complex competition they faced with the Soviet Union as tensions flared first over Berlin and then over Cuba. When the war plan was revised in the spring and summer of 1962, the new plan gave the president more flexibility and choices in waging a possible nuclear attack, including the ability to hold back forces in reserve, to avoid population centers and industry and to leave out some countries as targets. A key feature of the new plan, put into effect just before the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, was to aim largely at Soviet weapons, and not at cities and industry, an idea known as counterforce. If one thinks of cocked pistols aimed at each other, counterforce was an effort to shoot the gun out of the hand of the enemy.6 It seemed to be more humane to aim at missiles rather than cities, but counterforce also raised deeply disturbing questions. Could it make the use of nuclear weapons more tempting, since it implied a limited nuclear strike was possible? And to be successful, would the counterforce option have to be carried out first—to shoot before you were shot, to preempt an attack? This was the haunting fear of many decades to come, the idea of a disarming, bolt-from-the-blue first strike.
    While Kennedy wanted to spare the cities, McNamara realized over time that it was impossible to aim at every Soviet weapon without unleashing an expensive new round of the arms race, an escalation with no end in sight. As a result, McNamara shifted to a strategy that he called “assured destruction,” which required building the number of weapons needed to destroy 20 to 25 percent of the Soviet population and 50 percent of the industrial base. McNamara capped the number of Minuteman missiles to be built at one thousand. His analysts concluded, “The main reason for stopping at 1,000 Minuteman missiles, 41 Polaris submarines and some 500 strategic bombers is that having more would not be worth the cost.” McNamara hoped that the Soviets would also reach a plateau—and stop building.7 A critic of McNamara proposed adding “mutual” to “assured destruction” and the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction, known pointedly as MAD, was born. For many Americans, this idea of equal vulnerability and mutual deterrence came to define the Cold War.8

    Locked in global confrontation, the United States and the Soviet Union were each rooted in centuries of radically different history, geography, culture and experience. Peering through a veil of suspicion, the superpowers often wrongly judged each other’s intentions and actions. They engaged in deceptions that only deepened the dangers. As the Harvard professors observed in 1983, “The United States cannot predict Soviet behavior because it has too little information about what goes on inside the Soviet Union; the Soviets cannot predict American behavior because they have too much information.”
    An early but telling example was the so-called missile gap. The Soviet Union announced on August 26, 1957, the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range, and successfully launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit on October 4. For the next four years, Premier Nikita Khrushchev misled the West with claims that the Soviet Union was turning out missiles “like sausages,” that super-missiles were in “serial production” and “mass production.” John F. Kennedy raised alarms about the “missile gap” in his 1960 campaign, but found out that it didn’t exist.9 Khrushchev had concealed weakness—by bluffing.
    A disaster was narrowly averted in the Cuban crisis of October 1962, when Khrushchev took an enormous gamble by stationing nuclear weapons and missiles on the island. The brinksmanship ended as both Kennedy and Khrushchev exercised restraint. But long after Khrushchev withdrew the weapons, and after his ouster in 1964, the Cuban crisis lingered in the minds of Soviet leaders, who feared inferiority to the United States. Starting in the mid-1960s, Soviet missile production zoomed upward; hundreds were rolled out every year.
    The Soviet Union, looking through an entirely different prism than the United States, saw nuclear weapons as a blunt instrument for deterrence. If attacked, they would respond with crushing punishment. By many accounts, in the early decades they did not adopt the limited nuclear options that were embraced in the United States; they thought that the use of even one atomic bomb would trigger escalation, so they prepared for all-out war.10 They did not put much stock in the American idea that mutual vulnerability could lead to stability. They feared both powers would be constantly striving to get ahead, and they threw their resources into the quest. When the Soviet Union finally reached approximate parity with the United States in the early 1970s, the thinking began to change. Instead of threatening a preemptive first strike, as in the earlier years, they moved toward a posture of preparing for assured retaliation, a second strike. At this time they also began the first strategic arms control negotiations with the United States, and détente blossomed.11
    The Soviet buildup was driven by a powerful and hidden force, the defense industrialists. Leonid Brezhnev ruled by consensus over a dysfunctional group of aging sycophants, and by the mid-1970s, Brezhnev was in such ill health that he largely ceased to lead. The industrialists filled the vacuum. They had great influence over what weapons would be produced, by some accounts even more than the military. A striking example was the climax of an intense internal conflict over the next generation of intercontinental ballistic missile. In July 1969, at a vacation lodge near Yalta, a vexed Brezhnev assembled his top military leaders and missile designers. The competition pitted two of the most storied designers, Mikhail Yangel and Vladimir Chelomei, against each other. Yangel proposed a four-warhead missile, the SS-17, designed to fit in newly constructed, hardened silos, best to ensure retaliation if the Soviet Union were attacked, but expensive. Chelomei had initially proposed to upgrade his older SS-11 missile in existing silos, which were not hardened, but offered the military more warheads more cheaply, perfect for threatening a preemptive first strike at the enemy. At the time of the Yalta meeting, Chelomei shifted gears and proposed a new missile, the SS-19, with six warheads, which would also require new, expensive hardened silos. Mstislav Keldysh, president of the Academy of Sciences, who had Brezhnev’s confidence, was appointed to head a commission to resolve the dispute. At Yalta he took the floor and lamented that in all the rush to build missiles, the country had not even decided on a strategic doctrine: whether the purpose was to threaten a first strike, or to preserve the force for retaliation. But Keldysh could not settle the rivalry. In the end, all three missile options were approved at great cost, the kind of decision that would eventually bankrupt the Soviet Union.12
    In the 1970s, the United States began to deploy a Minuteman III missile that could carry up to three warheads instead of just one. The new device was called a Multiple Independently-targetable Re-Entry Vehicle, or MIRV, and it would allow each of the three warheads to aim at separate targets, leading to a new surge in the size of the arsenals. The Soviets matched and surpassed this technology, and in the mid-1970s began the deployment of a new generation of land-based missiles. One of them, the SS-18, could carry a payload seven to eight times as large as the American missile. In fact, there were plans at one point to put as many as thirty-eight warheads atop each giant SS-18.
    As the arsenals grew, so did the complexity of the U.S. war plan. On January 27, 1969, a week after taking office, President Richard Nixon went to the Pentagon for a briefing on the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP). “It didn’t fill him with enthusiasm,” recalled Henry Kissinger, then Nixon’s national security adviser and later secretary of state. In the event of nuclear war, Nixon was told, he would have three functional tasks: Alpha, for strikes on the most urgent military targets; Bravo, for secondary military targets; and Charlie, for industrial and urban targets. If the president ordered an attack of Alpha and Bravo, urban areas would be spared. All three would mean total war. But the choices Nixon would face in an emergency were mind-numbingly complex. There were five attack options constructed from the three main tasks, and as many as ninety lesser variations.13 On May 11, 1969, Nixon flew on the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, a Boeing 707 filled with communications gear, and participated in a nuclear war exercise. His chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, wrote in his diary, “Pretty scary. They went through the whole intelligence and operational briefings—with interruptions, etc. to make it realistic.” Haldeman added that Nixon “asked a lot of questions about our nuclear capability and kill results. Obviously worries about the lightly tossed-about millions of deaths.”14
    The same fears troubled Soviet leaders. In 1972, the General Staff presented to the leadership results of a study of a possible nuclear war after a first strike by the United States. They reported: the military had been reduced to one-thousandth of its strength; 80 million citizens were dead; 85 percent of Soviet industry was in ruins. Brezhnev and Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin were visibly terrified by what they heard, according to Adrian Danilevich, a general who took part. Next, three launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles with dummy warheads were planned. Brezhnev was provided a button in the exercise and he was to push it at the proper moment. Defense Minister Andrei Grechko was standing next to Brezhnev, and Danilevich next to Grechko. “When the time came to push the button,” Danilevich recalled, “Brezhnev was visibly shaken and pale and his hand trembled and he asked Grechko several times for assurances that the action would not have any real world consequences.” Brezhnev turned to Grechko and asked, “‘Are you sure this is just an exercise?’”15

    Recognizing the overwhelming destructive power of nuclear weapons, Nixon decided in 1969 that the United States would renounce biological weapons. In 1972, more than seventy nations, including the Soviet Union and the United States, signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, a four-page international agreement banning the development and production of biological weapons, and the means of delivering them. The treaty entered into force in 1975. But the Soviet Union promptly betrayed its signature on the treaty. Brezhnev approved a secret plan to covertly expand Soviet germ warfare efforts under the cover of a civilian enterprise. The Soviet program grew and grew into a dark underside of the arms race.

    The biological weapons treaty came at the peak of détente, Nixon’s policy to wrap the Soviet Union in a web of new international agreements and understandings that would make the Cold War manageable and less threatening. A centerpiece of détente was the signing of the SALT I agreement in Moscow on May 26, 1972, by Nixon and Brezhnev. The most significant part of this agreement was the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, which effectively ended the prospect of an expensive arms race in missile defenses.16 But on offensive arms, the long-range missiles that were growing in size and destructive capacity, the SALT I agreement was basically just a stopgap measure. It froze fixed launchers for land-based and submarine-based missiles on each side, but included no precise numbers of missiles or warheads to be frozen. The core argument for the SALT I treaty and détente was that equal levels of missiles and launchers were not as important as the overall strategic balance, and in that the two sides were roughly equal. If the United States stopped the cycle of building new missiles, the reasoning went, it was likely the Soviets would too. Kissinger said, “And one of the questions which we have to ask ourselves as a country is what in the name of God is strategic superiority? What is the significance of it, politically, militarily, operationally, at these levels of numbers? What do you do with it?”17
    Détente foundered in the late 1970s, in part on fears in the West that the Soviet Union was reaching for strategic superiority. A small band of defense policy conservatives and hawkish strategists in the United States raised alarms about Soviet intentions and actions. Albert Wohlstetter of the University of Chicago published a series of influential articles questioning whether the U.S. intelligence community had underestimated Soviet military spending and weapons modernization. Paul Nitze, who for a generation had been one of the “wise men” of the U.S. government, an arms control negotiator on SALT I and former secretary of the navy, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs in January 1976 that warned the Soviets were not satisfied with parity or essential equivalence in nuclear weapons, but “will continue to pursue a nuclear superiority that is not merely quantitative but designed to produce a theoretical war-winning capability.”18
    These claims—that the Soviet Union was seeking superiority over the United States and preparing to fight and win a nuclear war—could not be proven, but they gained a foothold in the United States at a time of deep uncertainty in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. In 1976, the Central Intelligence Agency carried out an extraordinary competition to examine Soviet intentions. It set up two separate teams to assess the available intelligence, pitting the agency’s own analysts against a team of outsiders. Both teams were given the same raw material. The CIA insiders were Team A, and the outsiders Team B. The outsiders were led by Richard Pipes, professor of history at Harvard, long a fierce critic of Soviet communism; the others on Team B were also drawn from critics of détente who had been warning of a Soviet quest for military superiority. When finished in November, the Team B report on Soviet intentions was unequivocal that Moscow was on a dangerous drive for supremacy, and that the CIA had badly underestimated it. Soviet leaders “think not in terms of nuclear stability, mutual assured destruction or strategic sufficiency, but of an effective nuclear war-fighting capability,” they wrote.19
    On the other side of the exercise, Team A did not share the shrill sense of alarm. They said the Soviets might want to achieve nuclear war-fighting capability and superiority, but that it wasn’t a realistic, practical goal. When completed, the overall yearly intelligence estimate hewed to Team A’s view that the Soviets “cannot be certain about future U.S. behavior or about their own future strategic capabilities relative to those of the U.S.” The State Department’s top intelligence official was even more cautious. Soviet leaders, he said, “do not entertain, as a practical objective in the foreseeable future, the achievement of what could reasonably be characterized as a ‘war winning’ or ‘war survival’ posture.”20
    In later years, many of the findings of Team B were found to have been overstated. Soviet missile accuracy and the pace of weapons modernization were exaggerated. But at the time, the conclusions seemed ominous, hammering another nail into the coffin of détente. In July 1977, Pipes wrote an article in the journal Commentary titled “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War.” Soon after work was finished on Team B, Nitze, Pipes and others helped to found an advocacy group, the Committee on the Present Danger, to raise public alarm about the Soviet military buildup. The committee’s board included Ronald Reagan, the former California governor, who had presidential ambitions and a base of support among social, economic and defense conservatives. The committee campaigned from 1977 to 1979 against a SALT II treaty, then under negotiation, distributing maps showing the American cities that could be destroyed by a single Soviet SS-18 missile.21
    The Soviet leadership, with Brezhnev ailing, blundered in this period, deploying the SS-20 Pioneer, a new generation of medium-range missiles in Europe, apparently not anticipating that this would lead to apprehension in the United States and among its allies. NATO responded with a proposal to negotiate, but also to deploy Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe as a counterweight. A new arms race was getting underway. The leaders in Moscow stumbled again with the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. President Jimmy Carter, who had signed the SALT II treaty with Brezhnev, pulled back the treaty from the Senate, and détente was dead.

    In the summer of 1980, Carter was facing a reelection challenge from Reagan and deepening tensions with Moscow. He approved two secret directives on nuclear war. Presidential Directive 58, signed June 30, called for a multibillion-dollar program to protect the president and other government leaders from a nuclear attack. Presidential Directive 59, signed July 25, put into effect a revised and expanded list of targeting choices a president would have at his disposal in the event of nuclear war. The new plan focused on attacking the Soviet political leadership, as well as military targets and war-supporting industry, and it envisioned limited nuclear strikes as well as a protracted conflict. Carter ordered upgrades for communications and improved satellites that would allow a president to choose military targets in real time after a nuclear exchange had begun. According to a senior Pentagon official, Presidential Directive 59 was developed in part to let the Soviet leadership know something very specific and frightening: they had been personally placed in the American nuclear crosshairs.22
    By 1982, the combined strategic arsenals of the superpowers held the explosive power of approximately 1 million Hiroshimas. Even with their huge arsenal, Soviet leaders feared they could perish in a decapitating missile attack before they had a chance to respond. They drew up plans for a system to guarantee a retaliatory strike. They envisioned a fully automatic system, known as the Dead Hand, in which a computer alone would issue the order to launch. But they had second thoughts, and instead created a modified system in which the decision to launch all the land-based missiles would be made by a small crew of duty officers surviving deep underground in a globe-shaped concrete bunker. The system was fully tested in November 1984 and placed on duty a few months later. At the climax of mistrust between the superpowers, one of them had built a Doomsday Machine.

    The book is based on interviews, memoirs, diaries, news accounts and archival materials. An invaluable source was a collection of internal documents from the Defense Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Revealed here for the first time, these papers shed new light on the decisions and thinking of key Soviet participants in the Gorbachev years. They show how Gorbachev stood up to the generals and the powerful military-industrial complex, and also how the Soviet Union concealed the germ warfare program. The papers were collected by Vitaly Katayev, an aviation and rocket designer by training. In 1974, Katayev was transferred from the missile complex in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, to become a staff man on the Central Committee, in the heart of the Kremlin decision making, where he remained for almost two decades, often writing meticulous entries in his journals and preserving sheaves of original documents. Katayev knew the missiles, the designers and the political leaders. Like many others in this story, he came to realize, from his own experience, that the arms race had become a competition of colossal excess.
    After the Soviet collapse in 1991, new and unexpected threats surfaced almost immediately. Rickety trains hauled nuclear warheads back from Eastern Europe and Central Asia into Russia; tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium lay unguarded in warehouses; microbiologists and nuclear bomb designers were in desperate straits. This book traces the struggle of individuals to seize the moment and contain the danger. They were only partly successful. Today, the weapons to destroy civilization, the legacy of the Cold War, are still with us. They are the Dead Hand of our time, a lethal machine that haunts the globe long after the demise of the men who created it.

—————  PART  —————

—————  1  —————

    On July 31, 1979, Ronald Reagan walked through a pair of twenty-five-ton blast doors at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command. Behind the doors were four and a half acres of chambers and tunnels surrounded by granite two thousand feet thick to shield it from an atomic bomb. Constructed of carbon steel plates, the fifteen buildings inside rested on 1,319 giant springs, each weighing approximately one thousand pounds, to cushion against shock. Built in the early 1960s, the complex was the nerve center of a system of satellites and radar for monitoring against a nuclear attack.1
    Reagan, who sought the Republican nomination in 1976 but lost to Gerald Ford, was preparing to run for president again. He had flown from Los Angeles for briefings about nuclear weapons. Martin Anderson, a policy adviser to the campaign, accompanied Reagan that day, along with Douglas Morrow, a screenwriter and producer who had known Reagan in his Hollywood days and suggested that Reagan see the facility.2 From the outside of the mountain, at the North Portal, entering a one-third-mile-long tunnel, Anderson recalled they didn’t think the complex looked very impressive. But once deep inside the mountain, standing in front of the huge blast doors, they began to sense the enormous scope. They were given briefings on the relative nuclear capabilities of the United States and the Soviet Union, and shown the command center, a room with a giant electronic map of North America. Anderson asked Air Force General James Hill, the commander, what would happen if a Soviet SS-18 missile were to hit within a few hundred yards of the command center. The Soviets had already deployed the SS-18 and an upgraded version was in flight tests. “It would blow us away,” Hill replied. When he heard this, “a look of disbelief came over Reagan’s face,” Anderson recalled. “The discussion continued, and we pressed the issue of what would really happen if the Soviets were to fire just one nuclear missile at a U.S. city.”
    Hill replied that “we would pick it up right after it was launched, but by the time the officials of the city could be alerted that a nuclear bomb would hit them, there would be only ten or fifteen minutes left. That’s all we can do. We can’t stop it.”
    On the flight back to Los Angeles, Reagan was deeply concerned. “He couldn’t believe the United States had no defense against Soviet missiles,” Anderson recalled. Reagan slowly shook his head and said, “We have spent all that money and have all that equipment, and there is nothing we can do to prevent a nuclear missile from hitting us.” At the end of the flight, Reagan reflected on the dilemma that might confront a U.S. president if faced with a nuclear attack. “The only options he would have,” Reagan said, “would be to press the button or do nothing. They’re both bad. We should have some way of defending ourselves against nuclear missiles.”3

    Reagan was a staunch anti-Communist and defense hard-liner. In the summer of 1979 he was speaking out in his syndicated radio address against the new SALT II treaty, saying it favored the Soviet Union.4 But on the threshold of a new campaign, his advisers felt there was a real chance that Reagan would frighten voters if he spoke openly about nuclear weapons and war. This risk was acknowledged in a memorandum that Anderson wrote in early August, a few weeks after Cheyenne Mountain. At this point, Reagan’s campaign had several part-time defense and foreign policy experts, but the only permanent policy adviser was Anderson, a conservative economist on leave from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Anderson had earlier written memos on the economy and energy. In the ten-page Policy Memorandum No. 3, “Foreign Policy and National Security,” he grappled with a way for Reagan to talk about nuclear strategy without alarming voters.
    Anderson acknowledged that Reagan’s strong views on national defense were regarded as a political liability, that people worried he was somewhat inexperienced and might plunge the country into “Vietnamlike wars” abroad. But, Anderson added, “The situation has now changed significantly.” The reason was that growing Soviet military power “has been increasingly perceived as a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.” Anderson cautioned that Reagan could not tackle this theme directly. He had to find a way to take advantage of the mood without frightening voters with an “overly aggressive stance that would be counterproductive.”
    Under the heading “National Defense,” Anderson sketched out three options for the campaign. One would be to continue the course the United States was on, relying on SALT II, and “try to appease and ingratiate ourselves with the Soviets.” Anderson dismissed this as “dangerous folly.” Another option would be for Reagan to argue the United States must “match the Soviet buildup,” sharply increasingly defense spending. But this has “serious problems,” he acknowledged, because it could alienate voters. “Substantial increases in the attack missile capability of the United States would be a powerful, emotional issue to deal with politically—especially by Reagan,” he cautioned. Then Anderson offered a third way, suggesting Reagan propose development of what he called a “Protective Missile System.” Anderson acknowledged missile defenses were outlawed by the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, but “perhaps it is now time to reconsider the concept.” Anderson argued that missile defense would be “far more appealing to the American people” than just nuclear retaliation and revenge.5
    Despite the recommendation of Policy Memorandum No. 3, in the campaign that unfolded in the next fifteen months, Reagan did not talk about missile defense. The subject was just too delicate. A statement on the topic was put into the Republican Party platform, but it was not part of Reagan’s campaign stump speech nor did it figure in his major campaign addresses on foreign policy.
    Nonetheless, Reagan held radical notions about nuclear weapons: he dreamed of abolishing them. Personally, he recoiled from the concept of mutual assured destruction, or MAD.6 Reagan also intensely disliked the idea that he, as president, would have to make decisions about nuclear weapons in the event of a sudden crisis. He worried that a nuclear explosion would lead to the end of the Earth and expressed belief in the biblical story of Armageddon. “I swear I believe Armageddon is near,” he wrote in his diary on the day Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.7 In his desk drawer, Reagan kept a collection of 3 × 5 cards. One carried a quotation from President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” address to the United Nations in 1953, in which Eisenhower pledged the United States would help solve “the fearful atomic dilemma—to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”8
    Alongside these views, other powerful convictions and experiences guided Reagan’s thinking. In his 1940 movie Murder in the Air, he starred as Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft, who stops a spy and saves a top-secret death-ray invention that can shoot down airplanes.9 It was fantasy, but Reagan put great faith in the power of American technology to solve problems, going back to his many years selling General Electric with the slogan “Progress is our most important product.” Reagan also distrusted treaties with the Soviet Union, influenced by a book written by a friend, Laurence W. Beilenson, a lawyer and founder of the Screen Actors Guild. The book argued that nations follow treaties only as long as it is in their interest to do so.10 From his experience in the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan was confident in his personal skills as a negotiator—a belief that if he could appeal to the human side of Soviet leaders, he could persuade them.
    All these ideas lived in peaceful coexistence in Reagan’s mind. He had a remarkable ability to hold many differing notions at the same time, deploying them as needed and concealing them if required. The stereotype of Reagan as a rigid ideologue does not explain these twists and turns, this untroubled shifting of gears, so central to his character. In 1980, he waged a campaign for the presidency on the grounds that the nation needed a large military expansion, including modernization of missiles, bombers and submarines that carried nuclear weapons. But he kept silent about his own notions that nuclear weapons should be abolished. The Great Communicator did not communicate his dreams about a world without the atomic bomb. His campaign advisers weren’t sure what to make of it when Reagan talked privately about abolishing nuclear weapons. “Nobody on the campaign staff raised any serious objections to his idea of reducing the stockpiles of nuclear weapons,” Anderson recalled, “but on the other hand, and it’s difficult as a former campaign staffer to admit this, nobody believed there was the slightest possibility it could ever happen. And when Reagan began to talk privately of a dream he had when someday we might live in a world free of all nuclear missiles, well, we just smiled.”
    For reasons of political tactics, Reagan in 1980 kept his focus on two topics that could be raised in campaign speeches without as much political risk: opposing the SALT II treaty and warning that the Soviets were driving toward military superiority.11 He voiced the alarms of Nitze, Wohlstetter, Pipes and others that the Soviets were posing a “window of vulnerability” for the United States. In a foreign policy address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on August 18, 1980, in Chicago, Reagan quoted approvingly Nitze’s remark that Kremlin leaders “do not want war; they want the world.” Reagan added, “For that reason, they have put much of their military effort into strategic nuclear programs. Here the balance has been moving against us and will continue to do so if we follow the course set by this administration. The Soviets want peace and victory. We must understand this and what it means to us. They seek a superiority in military strength that, in the event of a confrontation, would leave us with an unacceptable choice between submission or conflict.”12
    With his silky voice, slightly cocked head, crinkly smile, old-fashioned suits and gauzy nostalgia for an era of American leadership in the 1950s, Reagan projected a sense of purpose and unbridled optimism, and he conveyed it at a time of troubling doubts for Americans. On November 4, 1979, nine days before Reagan formally announced his candidacy for president, Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage. In December, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Voters were fatigued from Vietnam, Watergate, high inflation and energy shortages. From President Carter they had heard about the need for sacrifice and discipline; Reagan, by contrast, offered them a sky-is-the-limit vision that days of plenty could be returned to American life.13
    This optimism also ran through Reagan’s ambitions for competition with the Soviet Union. He believed that communism and socialism would ultimately give way to a victory of the American way. While others saw the Soviet Union as an unfortunate yet permanent bastion of global power, Reagan envisioned relentless competition aimed at overturning the status quo. “The great dynamic success of capitalism had given us a powerful weapon in our battle against Communism—money,” Reagan later recalled. “The Russians could never win the arms race; we could outspend them forever.”14 He declared in his 1980 campaign speech that he wanted to “show by example the greatness of our system and the strength of American ideals.” He added,
    The truth is we would like nothing better than to see the Russian people living in freedom and dignity instead of being trapped in a backwash of history as they are. The greatest fallacy of the Lenin-Marxist philosophy is that it is the “wave of the future.” Everything about it is primitive: compulsion in place of free initiative; coercion in place of law; militarism in place of trade; and empire-building in place of self-determination; and luxury for a chosen few at the expense of the many. We have seen nothing like it since the Age of Feudalism.
    Reagan’s description of the Soviet system as backward and restrictive was a penetrating insight. But there was also a hidden contradiction in this argument. How could the Soviet Union be threatening militarily while also “primitive” and rotting from within? How could it sustain a global arms race abroad while people stood in lines at home? The answer offered by many at the time was that the Soviet military had first claim on the country’s resources, and therefore the defense sector could fatten itself while the rest of the country suffered. This was true; hypermilitarization of the Soviet state did siphon off a huge portion of the country’s resources. But it was also true that, in many instances, the internal rot sapped military power. The Soviet defense machine was undermined by the very weaknesses Reagan spotted elsewhere in the system. A reckoning was coming for the Soviet Union. And even if he did not see every detail clearly, Reagan seemed to understand the big picture very well: the system as a whole was tottering and vulnerable.
    Soviet leaders had not trusted Carter, but they reacted with anger and paranoia to Reagan. At his first press conference as president, Reagan was asked if the Kremlin was still “bent on world domination that might lead to a continuation of the Cold War” or whether “under other circumstances détente is possible.” Reagan responded that détente had been a “one way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims,” and added that Soviet leaders “have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards. I think when you do business with them, even at a détente, you keep that in mind.”
    In Moscow, the aging leadership wanted most of all to preserve the strategic parity they felt they had achieved in the late 1970s, recalled Anatoly Dobrynin, former ambassador to Washington. “For all their revolutionary rhetoric,” he said, “they hated change….” They wanted some kind of military détente, even if political cooperation was out of the question, but the era of détente was over. Reagan didn’t believe in it. “In retrospect, I realize that it had been quite impossible for me at that moment to imagine anything much worse than Carter,” Dobrynin said. “But it soon became clear that in ideology and propaganda Reagan turned out to be far worse and far more threatening.”15
    Nonetheless, the Soviet Union was not at the top of Reagan’s agenda in his first year, which was devoted to driving Congress to approve lower taxes, budget cuts and defense rearmament. Reagan believed that before serious attention could be given to dealing with the Soviets, the United States had to first embark on a demonstrable military buildup. Reagan resumed building the B-1 bomber Carter had canceled, pushed ahead with a new basing mode for a new land-based missile, the MX, and with construction of a new Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile with more accuracy and range. Reagan also secretly approved more aggressive U.S. naval and air maneuvers aimed at the Soviet Union. His CIA director, William Casey, expanded covert actions around the globe aimed at hemming in the Soviets. But Reagan did not rush to advance superpower diplomacy. He did not meet or talk to Soviet leaders.
    After surviving an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, when he was shot by John Hinckley Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, Reagan began to think about what he could do to end the arms race. “Perhaps having come so close to death made me feel I should do whatever I could in the years God had given me to reduce the threat of nuclear war; perhaps there was a reason I had been spared,” he recalled later. In the first week after leaving the hospital, he took out a yellow legal pad and wrote a personal letter to Brezhnev, by hand. Still in his bathrobe and pajamas, Reagan passed it around to aides at a meeting April 13. The State Department didn’t like it and rewrote it into a stiff message. Reagan didn’t like the rewrite, and in the end, Brezhnev got two letters, one formal and one in Reagan’s hand.16 James A. Baker III, who was Reagan’s chief of staff, recalled that the letter was “Reagan 101: a sermon that basically said the Soviets had it wrong on economics, politics, and international relations, and that the United States had it right. It’s as if the president thought maybe Brezhnev didn’t know this stuff and that if he just heard it, he’d come to his senses.”17 Brezhnev replied in “the standard polemical form, stressing their differences,” without any effort to be personal, recalled Dobrynin. Reagan remembered “an icy reply from Brezhnev.”18

    At a private moment at an economic summit in Ottawa on July 19, 1981, French President François Mitterrand gave Reagan some stunning news. The French had recruited a defector in place in Moscow, whom the French had code-named “Farewell,” and he had provided a huge treasure trove of intelligence. Colonel Vladimir Vetrov was an engineer whose job was to evaluate the intelligence collected by the KGB’s technology directorate—Directorate T—responsible for finding and stealing the latest in Western high technology. A special arm of the KGB, known as Line X, carried out the thefts. Motivated to help the West, Vetrov had secretly photographed four thousand KGB documents on the program. After Mitterrand spoke to Reagan, the materials were passed to Vice President George H. W. Bush, and then to the CIA in August.
    The dossier “immediately caused a storm,” recalled Thomas C. Reed, a former Pentagon official who later worked on the National Security Council staff under Reagan. “The files were incredibly explicit. They set forth the extent of Soviet penetration into U.S. and other Western laboratories, factories and government agencies.”19
    Vetrov revealed the names of more than two hundred Line X officers in ten KGB stations in the West. “Reading the material caused my worst nightmares to come true,” said Gus Weiss, a White House official. “Since 1970, Line X had obtained thousands of documents and sample products in such quantity that it appeared the Soviet military and civilian sectors were in large measure running their research on that of the West, particularly the United States. Our science was supporting their national defense.”20
    Rather than roll up the Line X officers and expel them, Reagan approved a secret plan to exploit the Farewell dossier for economic warfare against the Soviet Union. The plan was to secretly feed the Line X officers with technology rigged to self-destruct after a certain interval. The idea came from Weiss, who approached Casey, who took it to Reagan. The CIA worked with American industry to alter products to be slipped to the KGB, matching the KGB’s shopping list. “Contrived computer chips found their way into Soviet military equipment, flawed turbines were installed on a gas pipeline, and defective plans disturbed the output of chemical plants and a tractor factory,” Weiss said. “The Pentagon introduced misleading information pertinent to stealth aircraft, space defense, and tactical aircraft.”
    Oil and gas equipment was at the top of the Soviet wish list, and the Soviets needed sophisticated control systems to automate the valves, compressors and storage facilities for a huge new pipeline to Europe. When the pipeline technology could not be purchased in the United States, the KGB shopped it from a Canadian firm. However, tipped by Vetrov, the CIA rigged the software sold from Canada to go haywire after a while, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to create pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds. One day, the system exploded. “The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space,” Reed recalled. The blast was starting to trigger worried looks in the U.S. government that day, he recalled, when, at the National Security Council, “Gus Weiss came down the hall to tell his fellow NSC staffers not to worry.” The explosion had been one of the first fruits of the Reagan confrontation.
    Soviet leaders were jittery. Sometime in 1981 they realized that the United States had been tapping one of their most secret military cables linking naval bases with commanders in the Far East. The tap in the Sea of Okhotsk had been placed by U.S. submarines in an operation code-named Ivy Bells. The Soviets may have been alerted when the U.S.S. Seawolf, a reconnaissance submarine, set down by accident right atop the Soviet cable. Also, in 1980, Ronald Pelton, who had worked at the National Security Agency, began selling information about Ivy Bells to the Soviets for money.21 On learning of the tap, the Soviets sent a scavenger ship and found the super-secret device, pulling it up from the ocean floor. There was no mistaking what it was: one part inside said “Property of the United States Government.”22
    In May 1981, Brezhnev denounced Reagan’s policies in a secret address to a major KGB conference in Moscow. An even more dramatic speech was given by Yuri Andropov, chairman of the KGB, who declared that the new U.S. administration was actively preparing for nuclear war. He said there was now the possibility of a nuclear first strike by the United States, and the overriding priority of Soviet spying should be to collect intelligence on the nuclear threat from the United States and NATO. Andropov announced that the KGB and the GRU, Soviet military intelligence, were launching a new program to collect intelligence around the world. It was code-named RYAN, the acronym of Raketno-Yadernoe Napadenie—nuclear missile attack. The GRU was responsible for monitoring any Western military preparations for a first strike on the Soviet Union, while the KGB’s task was to look for advance warning of an attack decision by the United States and its NATO allies. The first instructions went out to KGB residencies in November 1981.23

    When he was president, Reagan carried no wallet, no money, no driver’s license, “no keys in my pockets—only secret codes that were capable of bringing about the annihilation of much of the world as we knew it,” he said in his memoir. He carried a small, plastic-coated card in his coat which “listed the codes I would issue to the Pentagon confirming that it was actually the president of the United States who was ordering the unleashing of our nuclear weapons.” In an emergency, Reagan would have to choose options for responding to nuclear attack. “But everything would happen so fast that I wondered how much planning or reason could be applied in such a crisis,” he said. “The Russians sometimes kept submarines off our East Coast with nuclear missiles that could turn the White House into a pile of radioactive rubble within six or eight minutes. Six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to release Armageddon! How could anyone apply reason at a time like that?”
    In early 1982, Reagan got a closer and more disturbing look at the options. His national security adviser in the first year, Richard Allen, had resigned, and Reagan turned to a trusted friend, William P. Clark, who had been his executive secretary in Sacramento and later a California Supreme Court justice. Reagan and Clark shared a love of horseback riding through the California hills. At the White House, Clark cut an imposing figure, in dark suits and expensive, hand-tooled black cowboy boots. Clark had served as deputy secretary of state in 1981, but otherwise had little national security experience. Most importantly, he enjoyed Reagan’s confidence and shared the president’s political and social conservatism, and his strong anti-communism.
    When he became national security adviser, Clark brought Thomas C. Reed into the White House with him. Reed once designed nuclear weapons at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He served in Reagan’s gubernatorial offices during the first term in Sacramento, and ran Reagan’s 1970 reelection campaign. Reed also had experience in Washington; in 1973, he was the Pentagon director of telecommunications and command and control systems, where he worked on modernizing the nuclear communications systems. Later, he served as secretary of the air force under President Gerald Ford. He knew well the workings of global military communications linking NORAD and other military bases to the Pentagon war room.
    Reed saw a worrisome disconnect when he got to the White House. The network of communications with the president was a jumble of telephones, radios and hideouts dating from Eisenhower. When he examined the system to evacuate the president in the event of a nuclear attack, Reed was further alarmed; nuclear missiles could arrive before the president even got out of the White House in a helicopter. Carter’s directives in 1980 called for upgrades to the system of presidential command and control, and the creation of a steering group. Reed became chairman of the group, but found the Carter directive was mired in the bureaucracy, and the Defense Department was balking at taking any action.24 Reed said, “The system as I found it would have been headless within minutes of an attack.”
    This fear of decapitation of the leadership was just one sign of the immense tensions building at the time between Moscow and Washington. With rapid advances in weapons technology, a lightning strike could wipe out either party within minutes. The Americans worried about Soviet submarines carrying nuclear missiles off the East Coast, or surfacing in the Arctic. The Soviets were fearful of American missiles in Europe reaching the Kremlin. In the early summer of 1982, the Pentagon circulated a 125-page, five-year defense plan that called on U.S. forces to be ready to fight a protracted nuclear war, and to decapitate the Soviet leadership. The document asserted that American forces must be able to “render ineffective the total Soviet (and Soviet-allied) military and political power structure.”25
    The Soviets were especially worried about the Pershing II mediumrange missiles that the North Atlantic alliance was preparing to deploy in West Germany in 1983. The Kremlin feared these missiles had the range to reach Moscow, although the United States said they could not go that far.
    In February 1982, Reed learned that a regular high-level nuclear weapons exercise was planned for the coming weeks. The purpose was to test the ability of the National Military Command Center, the war room at the Pentagon that would receive first word from Cheyenne Mountain of a nuclear attack, to support the president and secretary of defense in a crisis. Reed seized on the exercise as a chance to get Reagan involved, and to force an overhaul of the antiquated system. On February 27, Reed, Clark and a few other White House staffers explained the basics to Reagan—how he would get information in a crisis, how he would be protected personally and how he would send messages out to the forces. “We described the ways in which the start of nuclear hostilities might appear,” Reed recalled, “the times available for response, and the forces at his disposal.”
    The formal exercise, code-named Ivy League, began on Monday March 1, 1982, in the White House Situation Room.26 Former Secretary of State William P. Rogers played the role of president. The reason for a stand-in was to make sure the real president didn’t tip his hand, revealing how he might react in an actual crisis. The exercise started with a threat briefing. Reed recalled, “An intelligence officer laid out the Soviet order of battle, then the warning systems began to report simulated missile launches and impact predictions. The minutes flew by until a screen in that cramped basement room began to show red dots on a map of the U.S.-simulated impacts. The first ones annihilated Washington, so this briefing was assumed to be taking place in some airborne command post over the central plains.”
    “Before the President could sip his coffee, the map was a sea of red,” Reed said. “All the urban centers and military installations in the U.S. were gone. And then, while he looked on in stunned disbelief, he learned that the Soviet air force and the second round of missile launches were on their way in. For the next half hour more red dots wiped out the survivors and filled in the few holes in the sea of red.”
    Rogers sat at the head of the table, and Reagan sat next to him. Rogers went through the plan, asking questions about how to respond, what options were available and how much time. Reagan was gripping his coffee mug, surprised at the suddenness of the destruction.27 “In less than an hour President Reagan had seen the United States of America disappear,” Reed recalled, adding: “I have no doubt that on that Monday in March, Ronald Reagan came to understand exactly what a Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S. would be like.”
    That evening, Reagan and his advisers and several senior Pentagon officials gathered once again in the Situation Room. This time, there was no stand-in president. Reagan was given a full and careful briefing on the Single Integrated Operational Plan, the secret nuclear war plan. The briefing was about the precise steps Reagan would have to take. According to Reed, Reagan didn’t know much about it, although he was first briefed on it after the 1980 election. “The SIOP briefing was as scary as the earlier presentation on the Soviet attack,” Reed said. “It made clear to Reagan that with but a nod of his head all the glories of imperial Russia, all the hopes and dreams of the peasants in Ukraine, and all the pioneering settlements in Kazakhstan would vanish. Tens of millions of women and children who had done nothing to harm American citizens would be burned to a crisp.”
    At a third meeting, attended only by Clark and Reed, the president rehearsed the procedures by which he would select options from the war plan and insert the authenticator code from the card in his pocket. Then the exercise ended. But, Reed said, “I have no doubt that in Reagan’s mind it was not over at all.” The exercise “was something that really had happened to him. It focused his mind on the need for protection from those red dots.”

    In early 1982, Reagan embarked on a radical plan to confront the Soviet Union from within. In the years of Cold War containment, no administration before had tried to exploit the Soviet Union’s internal tensions with a hope of toppling the regime or forcing it into dramatic change.28 On February 5 Reagan ordered a study of U.S. national security objectives and the Cold War, the first of his presidency. Reed, who oversaw the interagency work that went into the study, said Reagan had decided to go beyond the assumptions of the past. Words like détente, containment and mutual assured destruction were “out,” he said, and “the Cold War was no longer to be viewed as some permanent condition, to be accepted with the inevitability of the sun’s rising and setting.”29 At the time, this was an audacious idea. John Lewis Gaddis, the Yale professor and Cold War historian, recalled that when Reagan took office, the Soviet Union seemed an unyielding presence. “It was not at all clear then that the Soviet economy was approaching bankruptcy, that Afghanistan would become Moscow’s Vietnam, that the appearance of a Polish labor union called Solidarity portended the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, or that the U.S.S.R. would disappear in just over a decade,” he said.30
    The study led to a top-secret order, National Security Decision Directive 32, which Reed drafted. Titled “U.S. National Security Strategy,” the directive incorporated the long-standing Cold War policy of containment. But the Reagan directive also went further, and raised a new, more ambitious goal: to force the Soviet Union “to bear the brunt of its economic shortcomings, and to encourage long-term liberalizing and nationalist tendencies within the Soviet Union and allied countries.” Reagan wrote in his diary after a briefing on the Soviet economy, “They are in very bad shape and if we can cut off their credit they’ll have to yell ‘Uncle’ or starve.”31
    The extreme delicacy of Reagan’s directive was evident in the way Clark handled the paperwork. Reagan took the draft directive home with him to review on the evening of May 4, 1982. On May 5, at 9:30 A.M., in the presence of Reed and Clark, he signed it. But it was so explosive that Clark did not put it into the White House filing and distribution system until May 20. Clark apparently feared there would be interference from others in the cabinet.32
    Reagan had struck a confrontational approach to the Soviet Union from the outset of his presidency, from his first words about lying and cheating, to his rearmament program, and with the CIA’s covert actions in Afghanistan and Central America. The new directive accelerated this drive and made it the official policy of the United States.
    On May 9, Reagan turned to nuclear arms control in a commencement address at his alma mater, Eureka College, marking the fiftieth anniversary of his own graduation. In one eloquent passage, Reagan talked about the horror of nuclear war and vowed to “ensure that the ultimate nightmare never occurs.” He also used the address to make his first major proposal since taking office for controlling long-range nuclear weapons—including the ballistic missiles that were so fearsome and fast. He called for both the United States and Soviet Union to reduce their ballistic missile warheads to “equal levels, equal ceilings at least a third below the current levels,” and then specified that “no more than half of those warheads be land-based.” These words sounded equitable, but they were not. The Soviets had a much larger share of their warheads on land-based missiles, while the U.S. weapons were predominantly at sea and in the air. Reagan was often ignorant of such details, and nearly a year later, he confessed that he did not realize that the Soviet strategic force was heavily concentrated in land-based missiles. The Eureka speech underscored his passive management style, often more focused on performing than the details of governing.33
    Brezhnev wrote back to Reagan that the Eureka College proposal “cannot but cause apprehension and even doubts as to the seriousness of the intentions of the U.S. side.”
    While reading Brezhnev’s letter, Reagan jotted down in the margin, “He has to be kidding.”
    When Brezhnev complained that Reagan’s proposals were one-sided, cutting deeper into Soviet weapons than American ones, Reagan wrote, “Because they have the most.”
    At the bottom of the letter, Reagan added, “He’s a barrel of laughs.”34
    Across the United States, the nuclear freeze movement gained ground in 1982, inspired by antinuclear protests in Western Europe. Churches, universities and city councils in the United States were organizing to protest the nuclear arms race. A march from the United Nations to New York’s Central Park on June 12 drew three-quarters of a million people. Jonathan Schell published The Fate of the Earth, a best seller which declared that nuclear weapons threatened human existence and called for their elimination. The American Catholic bishops drafted a Pastoral Letter on War and Peace expressing fear of the nuclear arms race. Reagan went to Europe in early June concerned that he was being depicted “as a shoot from the hip cowboy aching to pull out my nuclear six-shooter and bring on doomsday.” Reagan recalled later that “I wanted to demonstrate that I wasn’t flirting with doomsday.” But he also used the trip to advance his confrontation with Moscow. A few days before departure, he wrote in his diary that he was fed up with those who advised him to go easy on the Soviets, so as not to upset the allies. “I finally said to h–l with it. It’s time to tell them this is our chance to bring the Soviets into the real world and for them to take a stand with us—shut off credit, etc.”35
    One of the most secret but daring thrusts by Reagan came on June 7. He met Pope John Paul II for fifty minutes in the Vatican library. Both had survived assassination attempts the previous year. Their talk centered on Poland, the pope’s birthplace, where the Soviet-backed regime had imposed martial law and outlawed the Solidarity movement. The journalist Carl Bernstein reported in 1992 that Reagan and the pope agreed on a plan to support Solidarity underground, smuggling in tons of equipment, including fax machines, printing presses, transmitters, telephones, shortwave radios, video cameras, photocopiers, telex machines, computers and word processors. The goal was to destabilize General Wojciech Jaruzelski, a pointed and direct challenge to the Kremlin.36 The pope’s authorized biographer, George Weigel, recalled that both Reagan and John Paul “believed that Communism was a moral evil, not simply wrongheaded economics. They were both confident of the capacity of free people to meet the Communist challenge. Both were convinced that, in the contest with communism, victory, not mere accommodation, was possible.” Weigel recalled the pope later said the Vatican had maintained a distance from the U.S. covert campaign in Poland, but he confirms the close coordination on intelligence. Weigel quotes the pope saying that while Reagan decided the policy, “My position was that of a pastor, the Bishop of Rome, of one with responsibility for the Gospel, which certainly contains principles of the moral and social order and human rights… The Holy See’s position, even in regard to my homeland, was guided by moral principle.”37
    On the day after seeing the pope, Reagan traveled to London for an open declaration of his policy, delivered to the British Parliament. He spoke in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords, calling for a “crusade for freedom.” His speech overflowed with optimism about the demise of totalitarianism and the triumph of individual endeavor over collectivism, and described anew his abhorrence of nuclear war. There was not much applause for these statements at the time. Britain was still fighting in the Falklands, which dominated the headlines, and the speech did not get the attention it deserved as one of the most important Reagan ever delivered.
    The boldest part of the address was Reagan’s assertion that Soviet communism would expire. “It may not be easy to see,” Reagan declared, “but I believe we now live at a turning point.
    In an ironic sense, Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis—a crisis where the demands of the economic order are colliding directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxism-Leninism, the Soviet Union.
    It is the Soviet Union which runs against the tide of history by denying freedom and human dignity to its citizens. It is also in deep economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the Soviet gross national product has been steadily declining since the ’50s and is less than half of what it was then. The dimensions of this failure are astounding: a country which employs one fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to feed its own people… Overcentralized, with little or no incentives, year after year, the Soviet system pours its best resource into the making of instruments of destruction.
    Reagan closed the address with a prediction that the “march of freedom and democracy” would “leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
    On a quick visit to Berlin two days later, Reagan drove to Checkpoint Charlie, the drab opening in the Berlin Wall. He stepped out of his limousine, surveying the thirteen-foot-high wall, stretching out in both directions, gray and pockmarked, East German guards looking back at him from their guardhouses. Of the wall, he said, “It’s as ugly as the idea behind it.”38

    On June 25, Reagan recruited George Shultz, the chairman of Bechtel, to be his new secretary of state, replacing Al Haig. Shultz had been in Europe and recalled thinking about the state of the world as he flew home for his first meeting with Reagan.
    “Relations between the superpowers were not simply bad,” he recalled, “they were virtually non-existent.”39

    At the same time, Reed, the National Security Council official, was growing more worried about the lack of a serious plan for the president’s command and control in the event of a nuclear alert. No one wanted to advertise it, but while the United States was spending billions to modernize strategic weapons, the means to command these forces was, in the words of one official, “the weakest link in the chain.”40 Furthermore, Reagan did not want to fly away in a helicopter if America was threatened with nuclear war. “I want to sit here in the office,” he told Reed. Referring to Vice President Bush, the president added, “Getting into the helicopter is George’s job.”
    On June 19, 1982, Reed got Reagan’s approval for a new effort.41 The result was a plan that, in the event of attack, would preserve the presidency as an institution, instead of the president himself. On September 14, Reagan signed a top-secret directive, titled “Enduring National Leadership.”42 Instead of running for the helicopter, the president would remain in the Oval Office, ready to make decisions, order retaliation or negotiate, while his potential successors would vanish to distant and safe locations. The overall effort was called “Continuity of Government,” and it became a massive secret government program. Reed said the plan was to give a designated successor “the world’s biggest laptop” from which he could continue to govern if the real president were killed. “You basically say, hmmm, things are getting dicey—vanish. The guy doesn’t go into the basement, he vanishes with a communications set, and a linkage to all the other arms of government so that he can be the president.” As Reed put it, “Our contribution was to survive the presidency, not the president.”
    After World War II, large underground installations were built outside of the capital. One was Mount Weather in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, seventy miles from Washington, and another was at Raven Rock Mountain, six miles north of Camp David on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. Both could serve as military command posts in the event of war. But the Reagan planners realized that a president might not make it to these bunkers in time. They devised a plan to dispatch three teams from Washington to separate, secure locations around the United States. Each team had to be prepared to proclaim a new American “president” and assume command of the country, according to author James Mann. If the Soviet Union was able to hit one team with a nuclear weapon, the next one would be ready. “This was not some abstract textbook plan, but was practiced in concrete, thorough and elaborate detail,” Mann said. Each time a team left Washington, usually for several days of exercises, it brought one member of Reagan’s cabinet who would serve as the successor “president.” The entire program—intended to be carried out swiftly, under extreme stress and amid the potential chaos of impending nuclear war—was extra-legal and extra-constitutional. It established a process of presidential succession, Mann pointed out, that is nowhere in the Constitution or federal law. A secret agency, the National Program Office, spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year to keep the continuity-of-government program ready.43

    On November 11, 1982, Reagan was awakened at 3:30 A.M. with word of Brezhnev’s death in Moscow. Two days later, he visited the Soviet Embassy to pay his respects, and wrote in the book of condolences, “I express my condolences to the family of President Brezhnev and the people of the Soviet Union. May both our peoples live jointly in peace on this planet. Ronald Reagan.” In Moscow, Yuri Andropov was elevated to be Brezhnev’s successor. His first comments reflected the dark mood of the Soviet leadership. “We know very well,” Andropov said, “that peace cannot be obtained from the imperialists by begging for it. It can be upheld only by relying on the invincible might of the Soviet armed forces.”44

    When Reagan had warned of a “window of vulnerability” in 1980, the most worrisome threat came from Soviet land-based missiles, especially the new generation, the SS-17, SS-18 and SS-19. By 1982, the Soviet missile force had grown to fourteen hundred launchers carrying over five thousand warheads. The U.S. missile force had 1,047 launchers and about 2,150 warheads.45 The fear was that in a first strike, just a portion of the Soviet force could wipe out nearly all the American missiles still sitting in their silos. Reagan struggled—as had Presidents Ford and Carter—to respond to the Soviet buildup with the development of a new-generation American super weapon, the MX, or Missile Experimental. The 100-ton MX would be three times more accurate than the Minuteman III, and carry ten warheads, each independently targetable. Under the original plan to deploy two hundred MX missiles, the Soviets would face the prospect of two thousand warheads raining down on their silos. That would begin to ease concerns about the window of vulnerability.
    But the MX ran into political opposition, especially over complex schemes to base the missile so it would not be vulnerable to a Soviet first strike. Reagan scrapped Carter’s idea of a vast racetrack. Reagan’s administration tried three different ideas, and in 1982 came up with “Dense Pack,” to base 100 MX missiles in super-hardened silos in a strip fourteen miles long and 1.5 miles wide in southwestern Wyoming. The thinking behind Dense Pack was that incoming Soviet missiles would commit “fratricide,” exploding so close to each other as to neutralize the impact and leaving much of the MX force intact. In an effort to build political support, Reagan delivered a nationally televised appeal for the MX missile on November 22, 1982, renaming it “Peacekeeper.” He acknowledged that people had become more fearful that the arms race was out of control. “Americans have become frightened and, let me say, fear of the unknown is entirely understandable,” he said. Despite his appeal, on December 7, the House voted to reject funding for the MX, and the next day the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General John W. Vessey Jr., revealed in Senate testimony that three of the five joint chiefs opposed the Dense Pack basing plan. The MX was in deep trouble, and the political deadlock worried U.S. military leaders.46 The MX was their answer to preserving the land-based leg of the strategic triad, the land-sea-air combination at the backbone of deterrence. That summer, Admiral James D. Watkins, chief of naval operations, had concluded the United States was heading into a dangerous dead end, what he called a “strategic valley of death.”47 Robert Sims, a retired navy captain who was then a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the joint chiefs had concluded “this is probably the last missile this Congress is ever going to go for. They were frustrated. They weren’t certain they would get the MX and they knew they couldn’t get anything after MX. So they said, ‘We’ve got to look beyond MX.’”48
    It was in this environment of political deadlock that Reagan began to look over the horizon. What happened next was a blend of old imaginings and fresh pragmatism, animated by Reagan’s faith in American high technology and a touch of science fiction. In the final months of 1982 and then early 1983, Reagan embraced a grand dream: to build a massive globe-straddling shield that would protect populations against ballistic missiles and make nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.” The missile defense was never constructed. It was nothing more than a ghost invention. But the concept preoccupied and puzzled the Soviet Union for years to come. To understand Reagan, it is important to understand the origins of the dream.
    As a boy, Reagan read fiction voraciously, including the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs, among them Princess of Mars, a story with visions of polished domes over cities and impregnable walls. By the time he reached young adulthood, Reagan abhorred warfare. At twenty years old, he wrote a wrenching sketch of combat while at Eureka College in 1931. The piece was titled “Killed in Action” and described a World War I trench battle scene.49 Reagan was appalled at the power of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Appearing before a leftist audience in 1945, he gave a dramatic reading of a poem, “Set Your Clock at U235,” by Norman Corwin, which referred ominously to “skies aboil with interlocking fury.”50
    To these ideas, Reagan added a philosophy of anti-communism, which he polished on the speaking circuit in the 1950s and 1960s. In one notable address, he outlined a strategy of pushing the Soviet economic system to collapse. It was the early 1960s, when Khrushchev and Kennedy were in power. Reagan fumed that Kennedy and the “liberal establishment of both parties” have been pursuing “a policy of accommodation with the Soviet Union.”
    “The theory goes something like this,” Reagan said. “As time goes on the men in the Kremlin will come to realize that dogmatic communism is wrong. The Russian people will want a chicken in every pot, and decide some features of decadent capitalism make for more plentiful poultry, while their system hasn’t even provided a pot. By a strange paradox us decadent capitalists will have discovered in the meantime that we can do without a few freedoms in order to enjoy government by an intellectual elite which obviously knows what is best for us. Then on some future happy day Ivan looks at Joe Yank, Joe looks at Ivan, we make bridge lamps out of all those old rockets, and discover the cold war just up and went away…”
    Reagan said disdainfully: “Our foreign policy today is motivated by fear of the bomb, and is based on pure conjecture that maybe communism will mellow and recognize that our way is better.” He wanted permanent competition with the Soviets, not “appeasement” and “accommodation.”
    “If we truly believe that our way of life is best aren’t the Russians more likely to recognize that fact and modify their stand if we let their economy come unhinged so that contrast is apparent?” Reagan said. “Inhuman though it may sound, shouldn’t we throw the whole burden of feeding the satellites on their slave masters who are having trouble feeding themselves?”51
    Reagan often tore out articles from Human Events, a far right-wing newspaper, and other sources, stuffing them into his pockets for later use in speeches. He frequently got facts wrong, as journalists liked to point out. But aside from his carelessness with details, there was a method. Reagan borrowed disparate ideas, radical as well as mainstream, and fastened them together.
    So it was with his vision of missile defense. The visit to NORAD in 1979 had rekindled the idea. Another prompt came from Daniel O. Graham, a retired army lieutenant general, a hawkish former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. Graham created a study group known as High Frontier, chaired by Karl R. Bendetsen, a former undersecretary of the army and retired chief executive of Champion International Corporation, a forest products company. Several of Reagan’s wealthy kitchen cabinet friends backed the effort and provided money to carry out the study. Reagan met at the White House for nineteen minutes with Bendetsen and two other members on January 8, 1982. Bendetsen handed the president a memo claiming the Soviets had already surpassed the United States in military offensive power, and urging Reagan to start a crash effort to research strategic defenses.52
    Yet another prompt came from Edward Teller, the theoretical physicist who founded the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and played a key role in the development of the hydrogen bomb. As California governor, Reagan had visited Livermore for a two-hour briefing on missile defense in November 1967. Teller, a Hungarian who fled fascism in the 1930s, had long dreamed of a weapon that could shoot down ballistic missiles in flight. At the time Reagan visited Livermore, the Johnson administration had announced plans to build a very limited missile-defense system, Sentinel. Later, Nixon redirected it to a larger system called Safeguard, a two-layered defense built to protect 150 Minuteman missiles in North Dakota. Safeguard was taken down in 1976, having become essentially useless against a Soviet missile force carrying MIRVs, which enlarged the potential number of incoming warheads beyond the ability of Safeguard.
    Nonetheless, Teller continued to nurse his dream of a weapon that could shoot down missiles. He claimed that nuclear weapons were about to make the leap to a “third generation,” the first generation being atomic bombs and the second the hydrogen bomb. The third generation, he said, would be nuclear-pumped X-ray lasers in space that could destroy ballistic missiles.
    Teller met with Reagan in the Oval Office for a half hour on September 14, 1982. Teller, then seventy-four years old, shook hands with Reagan. “Mr. President,” he said. “Third generation, third generation.” Reagan looked momentarily confused, as if Teller were preparing to talk about his relatives.53 Then Teller explained his vision of an X-ray laser that he called Excalibur. An effective missile defense would turn mutual assured destruction on its head, Teller said—and lead to “assured survival” instead. Reagan asked him if an American antimissile system could really be made to work. “We have good evidence that it would,” Teller replied. In his memoirs, Teller recalled feeling afterward that the meeting was not very successful; a National Security Council staffer “injected so many questions and caveats that I felt discouraged about the conference.”54 But Reagan had been listening. “He’s pushing an exciting idea,” Reagan wrote in his diary that night, “that nuclear weapons can be used in connection with Lasers to be non-destructive except as used to intercept and destroy enemy missiles far above the earth.” Reagan may not have fully grasped that Teller was talking about setting off nuclear explosions in outer space.55

    The MX political impasse weighed heavily on the Joint Chiefs of Staff when they filed into the White House Cabinet Room at 11 A.M. on December 22, 1982, to meet Reagan. At one point near the end of the meeting, Anderson said, Reagan asked the military leaders, “What if we began to move away from our total reliance on offense to deter a nuclear attack and moved toward a relatively greater reliance on defense?” After the chiefs went back to the Pentagon, Anderson said, one of them telephoned Clark, the national security adviser, and asked, “Did we just get instructions to take a hard look at missile defense?”
    “Yes,” Clark said, according to Anderson.56
    Soon after, on January 3, 1983, the president announced creation of a bipartisan commission to review the entire strategic weapons program and to recommend alternative basing modes for the land-based missiles. This was an attempt to break the political stalemate.57
    In the same weeks, Admiral James D. Watkins, the chief of naval operations, the top officer of the navy, accelerated his own search for answers. Watkins had no concrete suggestions for revising the structure of U.S. strategic forces, nor was he prepared to suggest a replacement for offensive nuclear deterrence, according to historian Donald R. Baucom.58 But Watkins and the other chiefs were notified they would meet with Reagan again soon. The joint chiefs were also looking for a way out of the political deadlock.
    On January 20, 1983, Watkins had lunch with a group of high-level advisers that included Teller, who described his hopes for the nuclear-pumped X-ray laser. Watkins found Teller intensely excited about the idea, predicting it could be ready in the next twenty years. Watkins did not favor the nuclear explosions in space, but he directed his staff to help him come up with a short, five-minute presentation he could make “which would offer a vision of strategic defense as a way out of the MX debate.” On February 5, Watkins presented it to the other chiefs in Vessey’s office and was surprised: the other chiefs went along, weary of the gridlock with Congress. They agreed the chairman, Vessey, would present it to the president.
    The day of the meeting with Reagan, February 11, was cold and snowy; road conditions were so bad that the joint chiefs had to take four-wheel-drive vehicles to the White House. The five military men sat on one side of the table and Reagan on the other, flanked by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the White House deputy national security adviser, Robert C. McFarlane. The son of a Democratic congressman, McFarlane was a career marine officer who had worked in the White House in the Nixon-Ford years, and was extremely sensitive to the intermingling of military affairs and national politics. McFarlane recalled that he was brooding in these months about what seemed like a political dead end. The nuclear freeze movement was popular, the MX was in trouble in Congress and the Soviets were building land-based missiles while the United States was stalled. McFarlane began to think they needed a technological way out of the impasse, such as missile defense. In January, he privately lunched with Watkins.59
    Weinberger did not share the enthusiasm of the chiefs for missile defense, and as he introduced the military leaders at the meeting, he told Reagan, “I don’t agree with the chiefs, but you should hear them out.”
    Then Vessey, the chairman, gave a presentation about the problems of the land-sea-air triad caused by the congressional votes. But in the last part of his talk, Vessey suggested that it was time to take another look at strategic defenses. “We move the battle from our shores and skies,” said the briefing paper from which Vessey read. “Thus, we are kept from the dangerous extremes of (a) threatening a preemptive strike, or (b) passively absorbing a Soviet first strike—we have found the middle ground.” This was “more moral and therefore far more palatable to the America people…” Watkins then spoke and strongly supported Vessey.
    McFarlane intervened to drive home the point: “Mr. President, this is very, very important.” He added, “For 37 years we have relied on offensive deterrence based on the threat of nuclear counter-attack with surviving forces because there has been no alternative. But now for the first time in history what we are hearing here is that there might be another way which would enable you to defeat an attack by defending against it and over time relying less on nuclear weapons.”
    “Do you all feel that way?” Reagan asked. One by one, the president questioned the chiefs, and they responded affirmatively. The chiefs had not proposed a crash program to build missile defense; they had only proposed taking a harder look at it, given the political obstacles they had all confronted in Congress. But Watkins asked a rhetorical question that captured all Reagan had been thinking. “Would it not be better if we could develop a system that would protect, rather than avenge, our people?”
    “Exactly,” Reagan said, seizing a slogan. “Don’t lose those words.”
    That evening, in his diary, Reagan wrote of the meeting with enthusiasm. He said that out of the session had come “a super idea. So far the only policy worldwide on nuclear weapons is to have a deterrent. What if we tell the world we want to protect our people, not avenge them; that we’re going to embark on a program of research to come up with a defensive weapon that could make nuclear weapons obsolete? I would call upon the scientific community to volunteer in bringing such a thing about.”60

    The next day, Saturday, February 12, 1983, the capital was buried in one of the heaviest snowfalls of the century. The Reagans invited Shultz and his wife, O’Bie, to an informal dinner at the White House. Talkative and relaxed, Reagan offered Shultz a look at his “real feelings, his beliefs and desires,” Shultz recalled. Reagan told Shultz of his abhorrence of mutual assured destruction. The Friday meeting with the joint chiefs was still on his mind. “How much better it would be, safer, more humane, the president felt, if we could defend ourselves against nuclear weapons,” Shultz said. “Maybe there was a way, and if so, we should try to find it.” What Shultz didn’t grasp was that Reagan was going to do something about it—soon.
    Reagan was also eager to test his own negotiating skills. Arms control talks with Moscow were deadlocked. In his diary, Reagan wrote, “Found I wish I could do the negotiating with the Soviets…” Shultz said Reagan “had never had a lengthy session with an important leader of a Communist country, and I could sense he would relish such an opportunity.” Shultz, seeking a thaw in negotiations, offered to bring Dobrynin to the White House for a meeting the following Tuesday. Despite objections from aides, Reagan agreed.
    When Dobrynin showed up at the State Department for a routine scheduled appointment with Shultz at 5 P.M., the secretary said he had a surprise: a meeting with the president. They left from the State Department basement garage, so as not to be noticed, and arrived at the East Gate of the White House, not usually used for official visitors, then went to Reagan’s living quarters. They talked intensively over coffee for nearly two hours. “Sometimes we got pretty nose to nose,” Reagan wrote.61 They ranged over many topics, including Reagan’s insistence that the Soviets sought world conquest, and Dobrynin’s rebuttal that “we are not proclaiming a world crusade against capitalism.” Reagan pressed Dobrynin to grant permission to emigrate for a group of Pentecostals who had taken refuge in the American Embassy almost five years earlier. Reagan promised not to embarrass the Kremlin or “crow” if the request was met. Dobrynin passed it on. “For the Soviet leadership, Reagan’s request looked distinctly odd, even suspicious,” Dobrynin recalled. “After almost three years in office and at his first meeting with the Soviet ambassador, the president actually raised only one concrete issue—the Pentecostals—as if it were the most important issue between us.” But Jack F. Matlock Jr., who was then Soviet specialist on the National Security Council, reflected later that the Pentecostals were “a testing point in Reagan’s mind.”
    “Ronald Reagan was intensely interested in the fate of individuals in trouble,” Matlock said. “He wanted to do everything in his power to help them. His harsh judgment of the Soviet leaders was based, more than any other single factor, not on the ideology he talked about so much, but on his perception of the way they treated their own people.”62

    In early 1983, at the lunch hour in London, a man often drove his car to an underground garage at a British intelligence safe house on Connaught Street, pulled a plastic cover over it to conceal the diplomatic license tags and went upstairs. The man was Oleg Gordievsky, and he was the KGB’s second-ranking official in the London office. He was also secretly an agent for the British and had been working with them for many years. Their relationship had begun in the 1970s, when Gordievsky was posted by the KGB to Denmark. Emotional, determined and realistic about the failures of the Soviet system, Gordievsky grew disillusioned with communism and fell in love with the West. “My feelings were immensely strong,” he recalled, “because I was living and working on the frontier between the totalitarian world and the West, seeing both sides, and constantly angered by the contrast between the two.
    “The totalitarian world was blinded by prejudice, poisoned by hatred, riddled by lies. It was ugly, yet pretending to be beautiful; it was stupid, without vision, and yet claiming to be fit to lead the way and pioneer a path to the future for the rest of mankind. Anything I could do to damage this monster, I gladly would.”
    When transferred back to Moscow from 1978 to 1982, he suspended his cooperation with the British, but resumed when he was posted to London in 1982. Gordievsky’s handler there was a man named Jack, and a woman, Joan. Originally they planned to meet once a month, but Gordievsky had so much to tell them, the frequency intensified to once a week. At first they spread out a big lunch for him, but later, with time so short, Gordievsky suggested just sandwiches and a can of beer. Gordievsky was known by a cover name, Felix.63
    Gordievsky said the British questioned him hard on political matters. He told them that by early 1983, the Soviet leaders were in a “a state of acute apprehension” about Reagan. The British generally didn’t show emotion in response to his comments, Gordievsky recalled. They sat still, writing in their notepads. They asked simple questions. But one day they were alarmed. Gordievsky had told them something stunning: the First Chief Directorate of the KGB in Moscow had sent instructions to the London station to watch for signs of preparation for nuclear war. This was RYAN—the global intelligence effort started by Andropov in 1981 to collect intelligence on a possible nuclear first strike—which was intensifying in early 1983.
    The British “were all under the impression of the prevailing American theory about the balance of the nuclear powers, and the balance will guarantee the peace,” Gordievsky recalled. They were dumbfounded that “the Soviet machine, the Politburo, the Central Committee, the Ministry of Defense,” were worried about “a sudden nuclear attack outside the context of a conflict. It was against all American theories, and also British.”
    In the face of these doubts, Gordievsky promised: “I will take a risk. I will put the documents in my pocket and come to the meeting, and you will make photocopies.” Soon, he brought them thirteen pages plus a cover memorandum detailing how the intelligence collection was to be carried out. Gordievsky recalled later that his chief handler, Jack, “was astonished and could scarcely believe” the papers, “so crass were the Center’s demands and so out of touch with the real world.”
    On February 17, a document marked sovershenno sekretno, or top secret, had arrived in London for the top KGB official, known as the resident. Arkady Guk was a boastful but ineffective resident who drank heavily. The importance of the document was indicated by the fact it was addressed to each resident by name, marked “strictly personal,” and ordered to be kept in his special file. The title of the document was ominous: “Permanent operational assignment to uncover NATO preparations for a nuclear missile attack on the USSR.”
    “The February directive for Guk contained unintentional passages of deep black comedy, which revealed terrifying gaps in the Center’s understanding of Western society in general and of Britain in particular,” Gordievsky recalled. For example, Guk was told that an “important sign” of British preparations for nuclear war would probably be “increased purchases of blood and a rise in the price paid for it” at blood-donor centers. He was ordered to report immediately any changes in blood prices. The KGB failed to realize that British blood donors are unpaid. Likewise, the KGB headquarters had a “bizarre, conspiratorial image of the clerical and capitalist elements in the establishment, which, it believed, dominated British society,” so Guk was ordered to watch for signs that the church and bankers had been given advance warning of nuclear war.
    The February instructions contained a staggering workload, page after page of demands. The London residency was supposed to watch the number of cars and lighted windows at government and military installations, and report any changes. It had to identify routes, destinations and methods of evacuation of government officials and their families, and devise plans to monitor preparations for their departure.64

    While the Soviets watched for signs of war preparation, Reagan decided to speak bluntly about his views of the Soviet system, as he had done in the British Parliament. He was worried about the expanding nuclear freeze movement. In early March 1983, he wrote in his diary, “I’m going to take our case to the people, only this time we are declassifying some of our reports on the Soviets and can tell the people a few frightening facts: We are still dangerously behind the Soviets and getting farther behind.” In his memoirs, he noted that Nancy Reagan tried to persuade him to “lower the temperature of my rhetoric.” He said he refused.65
    On March 8, Reagan flew to Orlando, Florida, for a speech to a group of evangelical Christian ministers. In the address, Reagan described the Soviet Union as “the focus of evil in the modern world” and urged the ministers to reject the nuclear freeze. “So in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals,” he said, “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourself above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
    The words “evil empire” came to embody Reagan’s view of the Soviet Union. He later recalled that he did it on purpose. “I made the ‘Evil Empire’ speech and others like it with malice aforethought; I wanted to remind the Soviets we knew what they were up to.”66
    Enthusiastic about what he heard from the joint chiefs about missile defenses in February, Reagan decided to announce his idea. The commission he had appointed on the MX was due to report in April, but Reagan pushed his staff to come up with an announcement on missile defense even before the commission was finished. The president was to deliver a nationally televised address about the defense budget on March 23. Although McFarlane had reservations about moving so quickly, he began to draft an insert for the address that would launch a research effort toward strategic defense. McFarlane typed the first draft March 19. It was a major change from decades of American reliance on offensive forces. The president did not consult Congress, the allies, or even the cabinet until the last minute. Nor did he consult the commission on strategic forces, which was still hard at work. McFarlane said it was Reagan’s idea to keep it under wraps to keep his potential opponents off-guard.67
    The idea had materialized largely outside the official policy-making channels. Just weeks before, Reagan signed a new directive on overall strategy toward the Soviet Union in the wake of Brezhnev’s death. The nine-page document covered all the key military, political and economic questions. Yet this key document, a foundation of American policy, included not a single word about missile defense.68 Likewise, by this point, Reagan had submitted four separate defense budget requests to Congress; none made a priority of missile defense.69 The joint chiefs were surprised; they had no idea that Reagan was going to act so quickly.70 Shultz heard of the proposal only two days before Reagan went on national television, and had grave doubts about it.71 Weinberger was opposed, and learned of it at the last minute, while traveling in Europe. Some of Reagan’s aides learned only on the day of the speech. Reagan’s diary shows that after Shultz objected on March 21, he rewrote the section on strategic defense; the next day he rewrote more of the speech—“much of it was to change bureaucratic into people talk.”72 Reagan said he was working on it “right down to deadline” on March 23. Among others, Teller had been invited as a guest to witness the broadcast, sitting on a folding chair in the East Room of the White House while Reagan spoke from the Oval Office.
    In the address, Reagan described yet again the window of vulnerability. The Soviets, he said, “have enough accurate and powerful nuclear weapons to destroy virtually all of our missiles on the ground.” Reagan said deterrence had worked—so far. He promised to keep negotiating with Moscow. But then Reagan said he wanted to offer another way.
    In words he had written by hand into the text, and which echoed what Watkins had said in their meeting, Reagan declared, “Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them?” Reagan said that in recent months, he and his advisers and the Joint Chiefs of Staff “have underscored the necessity to break out of a future that relies solely on offensive retaliation for our security.” Reagan added, “Over the course of these discussions, I have become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence.”73
    “Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base, and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.”
    Reagan then asked: “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” He summoned “the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
    The president then announced that, as “an important first step,” he was ordering up “a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.” He closed by saying, “My fellow Americans, tonight we’re launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history. There will be risks, and results take time. But I believe we can do it. As we cross this threshold, I ask for your prayers and your support. Thank you. Good night. And God bless you.”
    Reagan’s invention, his vision, was no more than these words. He had spent only twenty-nine minutes on television. Nothing he described about missile defense was in existence, no one in his government had formally proposed it, and whether anything so ambitious could be built was in serious doubt. But he had performed. “I made no optimistic forecasts—said it might take 20 yrs. or more but we had to do it,” Reagan wrote in his diary after the address. “I felt good.”

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    Four days after Reagan’s speech, Andropov lashed out. He accused the United States of preparing a first-strike attack on the Soviet Union, and asserted that Reagan was “inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it.” But Reagan’s hazy vision was not Andropov’s deepest fear. Rather, it was the looming deployment of the Pershing II missile in Europe, which the Kremlin thought could reach Moscow in six minutes. The Soviets felt events were turning against them.
    Starting in the late 1970s, under Brezhnev, the Soviet Union had deployed the Pioneer missile, known in the West as the SS-20, with 243 missiles aimed at Western Europe and 108 targeted on Asia. The Pioneer had a maximum range of 3,100 miles, more than enough to hit Paris and London, but it was classified as medium or intermediate range, less than the big intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Russian historian Dmitri Volkogonov said “astronomical amounts of money were spent” on the Pioneer. But, he added, “The short-sighted Soviet strategists had handed the Americans a knife with which to cut the Soviet throat.”1 In response to the Pioneer deployments, NATO decided in 1979 to station 108 single-warhead Pershing II and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe, in range of the Soviet Union, as a counterweight while seeking to negotiate. Reagan had proposed in 1981 to eliminate this entire class of medium-range missiles, but the Soviets refused and negotiations went nowhere.2
    By 1983, Andropov was consumed with the threat of the approaching Pershing II missile deployment, expected in West Germany in December. The Pershing II was feared for its accuracy and speed—the missile could fly at nearly Mach 8, greater than six thousand miles per hour, and carried high-precision guidance systems. The ground-launched cruise missile could fly under radars. These were the weapons that the Soviet leaders feared could lead to decapitation. The Pershing IIs were so worrisome that builders of the Moscow antiballistic missile system were urged to alter it to detect and intercept them.3
    Andropov and the Politburo met on May 31, the day after Reagan and leaders of the Western industrial democracies had concluded a summit in Williamsburg, Virginia. Although they quarreled privately over the missiles, the Western leaders issued a statement calling on the Soviet Union to “contribute constructively” to the arms control talks.
    The statement triggered irritation in the Politburo. According to minutes of the meeting, the aging Soviet leaders wrestled with how to stop the Pershing IIs and ground-launched cruise missiles. Not one word was spoken in the meeting specifically about Reagan’s antimissile speech or his grand dream. The Politburo members sounded uncertain, without new ideas. Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov insisted, “Everything that we are doing in relation to defense we should continue doing. All of the missiles that we’ve planned should be delivered, all of the airplanes put in those places where we’ve designated.”4
    Andropov’s fear of the Pershing II missiles ran through his instructions to the KGB to keep watch for signs of a nuclear attack. The February document that Gordievsky had leaked to the British described, in an attachment, how advance knowledge of a possible attack would give the Kremlin precious minutes to ready retaliation. The instructions said, “For instance, noting the launching of strategic missiles from the continental part of the USA and taking into account the time required for determining the direction of their flight in fact leaves roughly 20 minutes reaction time. This period will be considerably curtailed after deployment of the ‘Pershing 2’ missile in the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany], for which the flying time to reach long-range targets in the Soviet Union is calculated at 4–6 minutes.” The instructions added, “It is thus fully evident that the problem of uncovering the threat of RYAN must be dealt with without delay.”5
    Gordievsky said the KGB agents in London were constantly being urged by Moscow to spread propaganda against the Pershing II missiles. “We discussed it quite a lot in the meetings in the morning with the military attaché,” he recalled. “He said, ‘They fly from Britain to Moscow in eight minutes! And they penetrate underground bunkers.’ Apart from that, there were a number of telegrams. Develop a campaign! Develop a campaign! Use all your contacts in order to develop a propaganda campaign against the Pershings and the cruise missiles as well! They were very worried.” The Kremlin leaders “knew they would be the first to die, and didn’t want to die.”6
    The Soviet quest for intelligence about a possible attack also extended to East Germany. The KGB assigned a major role in the operation to East German intelligence under Markus Wolf. By the early 1980s, Wolf said in his memoirs, “with the U.S. rearmament program and the advent of the aggressive Reagan administration, our Soviet partners had become obsessed with the danger of a nuclear missile attack…” His intelligence service “was ordered to uncover any Western plans for such a surprise attack, and we formed a special staff and situation center, as well as emergency command centers, to do this. The personnel had to undergo military training and participate in alarm drills. Like most intelligence people, I found these war games a burdensome waste of time, but these orders were no more open to discussion than other orders from above.” In 1983, the East Germans completed five years of construction on project 17/5001, an underground bunker near the village of Prenden, outside of Berlin, to house the leadership in the event of nuclear war. The bunker was a sealed mini-town that would have protected four hundred people for two weeks after a nuclear attack.7
    Of Andropov’s fifteen months in power, half his time was spent in the hospital. During a working holiday in February 1983, Andropov’s health suffered a sharp decline. “He had had kidney trouble all his life, and now it seemed his kidneys had given up altogether,” wrote Volkogonov.8 The Kremlin doctor, Yevgeny Chazov, recalled that Andropov’s kidneys failed completely. Andropov’s doctors decided to put him on an artificial kidney. A special ward was set up for treatment twice a week at a Moscow hospital.9 Andropov started to have trouble walking. That summer, Andropov’s colleagues had an elevator installed in the Lenin Mausoleum so he would not have to endure the stress of walking eleven and a half feet up the steps.
    At the May 31 Politburo meeting, Andropov called for tougher propaganda against Reagan and the West. “We need to show more vividly and broadly the militaristic activities of the Reagan administration and countries of Western Europe supporting it,” he said. Andropov also suggested that such propaganda would “mobilize the Soviet people” on the economic front. But at the same time, there was a downside.
    “Certainly,” he said, “we shouldn’t frighten our people of war.”

    Ever since the previous autumn, as Andropov’s paranoia deepened about a possible nuclear missile attack from Western Europe, there had also been ominous new threats on the Pacific horizon. The United States carried out extensive war games, realistic and provocative, off the Soviet coast in the Far East. In late September 1982, two U.S. aircraft carriers, the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Midway, sailed within three hundred miles of the Soviet Union’s major Pacific Fleet base at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This was the only Soviet base in the Far East with direct access to the open ocean and home to the Delta-class ballistic missile–carrying submarines. The base was at the end of the sparsely populated Kamchatka Peninsula. After brushing by the peninsula, the American ships sailed south along the Kuril Islands, including four islands held by the Soviets since World War II but claimed by Japan, before entering the Sea of Japan on October 3. During the exercise, the Enterprise was the subject of extensive Soviet air, surface and underwater surveillance, according to the records of the commanding officer, R. J. Kelly.10 Later in the autumn, while in the Indian Ocean, the Enterprise happened upon a Soviet aircraft carrier, the Kiev. The commander decided to use the ship to carry out “a practice long-range strike against the surface force.” The Enterprise sent several aircraft on a mock attack against the Soviet ship. A navy intelligence official said the planes flew “seven hundred nautical miles toward the Kiev, made contact, visual contact, with the Kiev and then came back.”11
    In these war games, the Enterprise, a nuclear-powered supercarrier, 1,123 feet long, was the center of Battle Group Foxtrot, made up of a dozen ships, accompanied by bombers and refueling tankers in the skies and submarines below. They were secretly collecting electronic intelligence, watching how the Soviet forces responded, monitoring their communications and radar. The exercises reflected the “forward strategy” of the navy secretary, John Lehman, to confront the Soviets in waters close to home. Lehman said his “forward strategy” meant always “keeping the Soviets concerned with threats all around their periphery.” Lehman sought to build a six-hundred-ship navy, including fifteen carrier battle groups, and the navy had been a major beneficiary of Reagan’s rearmament program.12
    Reagan had also secretly approved psychological operations against the Soviets. The point was to show the United States could deploy aircraft carrier battle groups close to sensitive Soviet military and industrial sites, apparently without being detected or challenged early on. In the Pacific, the U.S. forces charged toward Soviet bastions to see how they would react. As one intelligence official put it, they wanted to go up Ivan’s nose.13
    In the weeks after Reagan’s speech on strategic defense, the United States ratcheted up the pressure. In April and May 1983, the U.S. Pacific Fleet conducted its largest exercises since World War II in the North Pacific, off the Kamchatka Peninsula. Forty ships, including three aircraft carrier battle groups, participated in a massive exercise code-named FLEETEX 83-1. The Enterprise left Japan on March 26 and was joined by the Midway four days later. They sailed north through the Sea of Japan and out the Tsugaru Strait together, meeting the U.S.S. Coral Sea on April 9. For about two weeks, all three carriers conducted a counterclockwise sweep of the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The exercise involved twenty-four-hour flight operations off the Enterprise, attempting to force the Soviets to react by turning on radars and scrambling aircraft to meet intruders. The exercise was explicitly aimed at rehearsal for antiaircraft and antisubmarine warfare, showing how the three-carrier battle group would support other forces in the event of all-out conflict. Watkins, chief of naval operations, later told Congress that such exercises were designed to show the Soviets that the United States would not be intimidated. “Our feeling is that an aggressive defense, if you will, characterized by forward movement, early deployment of forces, aggressiveness on the part of our ships, is the greatest deterrent we can have,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1984. “And the Soviets really understand that. We can get their attention with that concept… We can make a difference. Kamchatka is a difficult peninsula. They have no railroads to it. They have to resupply it by air. It is a very important spot for them, and they are as naked as a jaybird there, and they know it.”14
    On April 4, the Americans flew up Ivan’s nose. According to author Seymour M. Hersh, the Midway slipped away from the other carriers after shutting off all electronic equipment that could be monitored by the Soviets. The Midway steamed south toward the Kurils and the Soviets did not track it. A group of at least six navy planes from the Midway and the Enterprise violated Soviet borders by flying over the island of Zelyony in the Kuril archipelago, which stretches between Kamchatka and Japan. Hersh described it as “a flagrant and almost inevitable error, triggered by the aggressive fleet exercise and the demand of senior officers for secret maneuvers and surprise activities.” The navy subsequently told the State Department the flyover was an accident. But the larger, more aggressive maneuvers were clearly a part of Lehman’s deliberate strategy. The Soviets protested in a formal message to the American Embassy in Moscow on April 6.15

    At the time of the flyover, Gennady Osipovich, an experienced pilot, was stationed at an air base, Sokol, on Sakhalin Island, a long, thin volcanic peninsula that stretches north-south along the other side of the Sea of Okhotsk from Kamchatka. Osipovich, a stolid man with thick black hair streaked gray, was deputy commander of a regiment. For thirteen years he had been flying the Su-15 interceptor, a fast but fuel-guzzling, twin-engine fighter designed in the 1960s to stop enemy bombers in an attack. The interceptors could reach twice the speed of sound but not remain aloft for long; they had limited auxiliary fuel tanks. Moreover, once airborne, pilots had to follow precise orders for their every move from the ground controllers. The job of the interceptors was to scramble fast and stop the intruder. There was little individual discretion or initiative.16
    In the spring of 1983, Soviet pilots were haggard from the war of nerves with the Americans. They were constantly chasing and responding to spy planes that buzzed the Soviet borders. Osipovich had flown more than one thousand missions to intercept them. Unfortunately, the navy F-14 flyover of Zelyony Island in April caught them by surprise. According to Osipovich, the American planes zoomed in for fifteen minutes during a period when fog shrouded the island. The violation of the Soviet border brought trouble for the pilots; an investigating commission was established to probe how they failed. “After that incident,” Osipovich recalled, “a commission flew out to the regiment and gave us a dressing-down. They really berated us.” When the commission left, the commander told the pilots that if there was ever air combat over the Kurils, they would not have enough fuel to get back home and would have to eject from their planes somewhere over land to save their own lives. The stress was enormous. “For several weeks we kept our guns at the ready and waited,” Osipovich said. The tension only abated some in the months that followed. He was so stressed out, he said, that he was urged to take a vacation.

    After the three-carrier battle group exercise at the end of April, the Enterprise steamed for San Francisco Bay. The carrier had been away from a port for thirty days, the longest single stretch of the year. When the navy studied the Soviet reactions to the exercise, they were puzzled. While the Soviet air monitoring was heavy, the surface surveillance was “nearly non-existent,” Kelly noted in one report. Another commander recalled that despite the unique nature of the exercise—the only one using three carriers in decades—“the Soviet reaction was mild.” The Soviets sent their standard Bear and Badger aircraft by every other day. “The primary adversary for all considered was the weather,” the commander said, which included fog, low temperatures, high winds and low visibility.
    After the exercise, however, the Soviets learned much more about what the Americans were doing. The ship had sent 57,000 messages and received more than 243,000 during the year; encrypted electronic communications were the backbone of the navy’s system of command. In the communications room, some of the sensitive paper messages were quietly spirited away by Jerry Whitworth, forty-four, the senior chief radioman, a lanky, bearded sailor who had served more than twenty years. He hid the messages in his locker. Whitworth had been spying for the Soviet Union since 1976 as part of a ring led by another navy veteran, John Walker. Whitworth met Walker between two and four times a year, giving him twenty-five to fifty rolls of undeveloped film from a small Minox camera carrying some of the most ultra-secret information of the Cold War, including the cryptographic keys that unlocked the navy’s electronic communications around the world. Thus, for years, the Soviets had been reading the navy’s mail.17
    On this cruise, undetected, Whitworth stole paper copies of the messages about the fleet exercise. He also made tape recordings of his observations. “We’ve been playing a lot of games with the Russians while we were in the I.O.,” or Indian Ocean, he dictated one night. “There was a Russian carrier, Kiev… It was down there and we played a lot of games with her. And now we’re up in Japan and Korean area and we’ve been surveiled every day by the Russians. Every day. Flashed messages all over the place. They’ve been disrupting our flight operations too. Which pisses off the air devils. It kind of makes me laugh to tell you the truth…”18When the Enterprise returned to its home port in Alameda, California, on April 28, 1983, Whitworth possessed nearly the entire playbook of the exercise, including messages about the F-14 flyover. Whitworth had decided to end his espionage, but he had one more load of documents to share with Walker. Whitworth photographed about one-third of the messages he had taken from the ship with the Minox camera, but he deliberately put the lens out of focus so the film would be useless; he was holding back, perhaps as an insurance policy to get more money in the future. However, wanting to give Walker something valuable, he included the actual documents about the F-14 intrusion into Soviet airspace. They met June 3, 1983, and Whitworth gave Walker a large envelope filled with films and documents. Walker scribbled notes on the back of the envelope as Whitworth briefed him. “All messages… secret and one top secret,” Walker wrote. He delivered the film and documents to the KGB wrapped in a plastic garbage bag at a dead drop on June 12, 1983.
    At a time of profound worry about nuclear war, the Kremlin had been given an original, firsthand look at U.S. war games. Vitaly Yurchenko, a top KGB official who defected to the United States in 1985, told U.S. officials that the Walker spy ring was “the most important operation in the KGB’s history,” and had led the Soviets to decipher more than one million encrypted messages. Whitworth provided the Soviets with a full year of operational message traffic from the U.S.S. Enterprise, some of it top secret, and compromised the operations order for FLEETEX 83-1, a navy damage assessment later discovered.19 Among other things, Whitworth compromised the plans for “primary, secondary and emergency communications” to be used by the president to link up with military forces. The damage assessment found the information given the Soviets by the Walker spy ring would “give the Soviets an ability to make almost real-time tactical decisions because they knew the true strength of our forces, their plans for combat, the details of our logistic support and the tactical doctrine under which our forces operated.”20
    Four days after Walker’s drop of the plastic garbage bag of secrets to the KGB, Andropov told the Central Committee that there had been an “unprecedented sharpening of the struggle” between East and West. And Moscow KGB headquarters sent an alarmist telegram to residencies in the United States and other European capitals, stressing the high priority of the RYAN intelligence-gathering operation, and claiming the Reagan administration was continuing preparations for nuclear war.21

    Reagan was buffeted by one crisis after another in the spring and summer of 1983. On April 18, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was destroyed by a massive explosion, which killed seventeen U.S. citizens, including the senior CIA analyst for the Middle East, and forty others. When the caskets came home on Saturday, April 23, it was a traumatic moment for Reagan. “I was too choked up to speak,” he recalled. Shultz was pushing for greater engagement with Moscow while Clark was resisting. At one point Clark proposed to Reagan that he take over the Soviet account. Shultz threatened to resign. Reagan was “visibly shaken,” Shultz recalled, and asked him to stay on.
    In early July, Reagan decided to write a personal letter to Andropov, perhaps another test of whether he could reach out on a human level to a Soviet leader. Reagan drafted his letter in longhand. He wrote,
    Let me assure you the govt & the people of the United States are dedicated to the cause of peace & the elimination of the nuclear threat. It goes without saying that we seek relations with all nations based on “mutual benefit and equality.” Our record since we were allies in W. W. II confirms that.
    Mr. Sec General don’t we have the means to achieve these goals in the meetings we are presently holding in Geneva? If we can agree on mutual, verifiable reductions in the number of nuclear weapons we both hold could this not be a first step toward the elimination of all such weapons? What a blessing this would be for the people we both represent. You and I have the ability to bring this about through our negotiations in the arms control talks.
    Scratched out by Reagan, after the last words of his longhand draft, was another mention of his goal, “reduction talks that could lead to the total elimination of all such weap.” Had he sent the letter he wrote, it would have been an extraordinary document, the first time any president ever tabled such a sweeping proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons. But the letter never left the White House. The next morning, Reagan gave the draft to Clark, who consulted experts on the White House staff. They were astonished that Reagan would suggest wiping out all nuclear weapons. On July 9, Clark wrote to Reagan suggesting that references to nuclear weapons be taken out of the letter, so the Soviets wouldn’t be tempted to raise the ante at the stalled Geneva arms negotiations. Reagan agreed, and sent a formulaic letter to Andropov on July 11.22 Andropov and Reagan exchanged two more letters that summer, but nothing came of them. Andropov told a group of visiting U.S. senators that the Soviet Union would ban anti-satellite weapons if the United States would do the same, but the offer was brushed off by the Reagan administration. Reagan headed for his 688-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains. After August 12 he wrote nothing in his diary for the rest of the month. For two weeks, he concentrated on building a wood fence at the ranch. It was finished August 30, 1983.23
    Kremlin fears of a nuclear missile attack were growing ever more intense. On August 4 in Moscow, Andropov insisted at a Politburo meeting that “maximum obstructions” be put in the way of the deployment of American missiles in Europe. “We must not waste time,” he said.24 On August 12, new instructions from Moscow landed at the London residency. These instructions, marked “top secret” and signed by KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, were an attempt to figure out if the intelligence services of the West were somehow helping prepare for a nuclear attack.
    The sixteen-point checklist was largely a mirror image of the Soviet contingency plans for war with the West. The KGB agents in Bonn, Brussels, Copenhagen, London, Oslo, Paris, Rome and Lisbon were told to watch out for such things as “a sharp increase in the activity of all forms of intelligence,” especially on the readiness of Warsaw Pact forces; possible positioning of agents to awaken sleeper cells in the East to “operate in wartime conditions;” closer coordination between the CIA and Western spy agencies; an “increase in the number of disinformation operations” against the Soviet Union and its allies; “secret infiltration of sabotage teams with nuclear, bacteriological and chemical weapons into the countries of the Warsaw Pact;” and expanding the network of sabotagetraining schools and émigrés and setting up sabotage teams with them. The instructions strongly reflect the police state mentality of the KGB. They were looking for signs of what they would do in the event of war, such as imposing military censorship and postal censorship, or restricting people from using the telephone and telegraph.25
    When Gordievsky returned to London on August 18, 1983, after a long break in Moscow, he resumed meeting his British handlers. Gordievsky said he immediately passed to the British the latest KGB instructions on nuclear missile attack.26
    Gordievsky had once taken part in meetings at KGB headquarters about the RYAN operation, but he regarded the whole thing as foolish. “My reaction was very simple,” he said. “I said it was just another folly.” He found his KGB colleagues also took the demands from Moscow with skepticism. “They were not seriously worried about the risk of nuclear war,” he recalled, “yet none wanted to lose face and credit at the Centre by contradicting the First Chief Directorate’s assessment. The result was that RYAN created a vicious spiral of intelligence-gathering and evaluation, with foreign stations feeling obliged to report alarming information even if they did not believe it.” Gordievsky and others fed the vicious spiral: they clipped newspapers and passed the clippings along as intelligence.
    But when Gordievsky brought the cables from Moscow to the British, they took them quite seriously. They worried about the deep paranoia. They copied the documents and sent them to the CIA.
    The elements were now in place for a superpower miscalculation. Andropov had urgently raised the prospect of a nuclear attack in the telegrams about the RYAN intelligence-gathering operation. Reagan had escalated the rhetoric with his “evil empire” speech and announced his futuristic Strategic Defense Initiative in March. Documents from the U.S.S. Enterprise about the navy’s F-14 flyover and the provocative naval exercises off the Soviet coast in April were now in Soviet hands. The threatening Pershing II missiles were nearing deployment in Germany. The interceptor pilots on Sakhalin Island had already been burned once, and were warned not to let it happen again.
    Into this maelstrom of suspicions and fears flew a large, stray bird.

—————  3  —————

    When Korean Air Lines flight 007 left Anchorage at 4 A.M. local time on August 31, the crew was well familiar with the planned route across the Pacific, which came close to the airspace of the Soviet Union before crossing Japan and heading to Seoul. The pilot of the Boeing 747 was Captain Chun Byung-in, forty-five years old, a veteran of the Korean Air Force who had logged 6,619 hours flying jumbo jets, including eighty-three flights across the northern Pacific in the previous decade. His copilot, Son Dong-Hwin, forty-seven, had made the crossing fifty-two times. And the navigator, Kim Eui Dong, thirty-two, had made forty-four flights across the ocean. In addition to the flight crew, there were twenty cabin attendants, six Korean Air Lines employees transferring back to Seoul, and two hundred forty passengers, among them sixty-two Americans, including Representative Larry McDonald, an extreme right-wing Democrat from Georgia who was chairman of the John Birch Society.1
    The flight plan was to take R20, the northernmost of five passenger airline routes across the ocean. These highways in the sky were fifty nautical miles wide and one thousand feet high. Route R20 was nearest the Soviet Union. The flight’s departure from Anchorage was delayed to account for headwinds, and to bring the plane into Seoul’s Kimpo International Airport at precisely 6 A.M. on September 1.
    Soon after takeoff, an error was made. The autopilot was improperly set and the crew did not notice. Instead of picking up the Inertial Navigation System, which would have steered the plane on the proper route, the autopilot was instead set at a constant magnetic heading. This may have been caused by the failure to twist a knob one further position to the right.
    The flight began to drift northward of Route R20. About 50 minutes into the flight, the crew of KAL 007 reported crossing Bethel, the first waypoint, at 31,000 feet. They didn’t know it, but the plane was already 13.8 miles north of Bethel and outside the air route.
    As they crossed the ocean, Chun and his crew saw nothing amiss, according to their communications with air traffic controllers. After Bethel, at the next waypoint, they reported all was well, but they were sixty-nine miles north of their route. At the next spot, they were 115 miles off course. After five hours in the air, they reported passing another waypoint, when in fact they were 184 miles north, heading directly toward the Kamchatka Peninsula of the Soviet Union. At one point the flight crew exchanged messages with another passenger plane that reported dramatically different winds—this should have alerted them they were off course. But it did not. The voices in the cockpit showed no alarm. They talked about mundane matters. One of the crew remarked, “Having a dull time…”
    “I have heard there is currency exchange at our airport,” one said.
    “What kind of money?” answered another.
    “Dollar to Korean money,” came the response.
    “Captain, sir, would you like to have a meal?” asked a cabin attendant.
    “Meal, is it already time to eat?”
    “Let’s eat later.”

    Another plane flew in the sky that night, circling close to the Soviet Union, an RC-135 four-engine jet used for intelligence missions by the U.S. air force. The RC-135, a converted Boeing 707, was a familiar spy plane, known to the Soviets. Osipovich, the interceptor pilot, recalled he had chased it many times. The RC-135 flights were monitoring Soviet ballistic missile tests on an intelligence mission known as Cobra Ball. The plane was crammed with cameras and special windows down one side to photograph a Soviet missile warhead as it neared its target. The upper surface of the wing on the side of the cameras was painted black to avoid reflection. The RC-135s were based on Shemya Island, a remote rocky outcropping in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
    Soviet missile tests often aimed at the Kamchatka Peninsula. How the missiles landed could help the United States monitor arms control treaties and look for violations. The pictures could show how many MIRVs came from a missile and the final trajectory. The RC-135 planes flew in circular or figure-eight orbits with camera lenses aimed at the Soviet coastline, in anticipation of a test.
    On the night of August 31, a missile test was expected and the RC-135 loitered in the sky, waiting. The RC-135 had a wingspan of 130 feet, compared to the 747, which stretched 195 feet and 10 inches across. Both had four engines, located under the wings. The 747 featured a prominent hump on the front of the fuselage for the upper passenger deck. As the RC-135 circled, at about 1 A.M., the larger 747 flew by, seventy-five miles south.
    This was a critical moment of confusion for the Soviets. They had been tracking the RC-135 by radar. When the missile test didn’t happen, the RC-135 headed back to its base on Shemya Island, but Soviet radar didn’t see it turn and go home. On the way home, the RC-135 crossed the flight path of the 747 at one point. The Soviet radar somehow lost the RC-135 and picked up the 747, now unexpectedly heading directly for Kamchatka. The plane was given a number, 6065, and the track was annotated with an “81,” which meant one unidentified aircraft.2 It was the off-course Korean Air Lines flight, but the Soviet ground controllers thought it might be an RC-135. The radar tracked the plane as it approached Kamchatka, but not constantly. Radar contact was lost, and picked up again while the plane was about halfway over the peninsula.

    When the airliner approached Kamchatka, Soviet air defense forces were slow to react. Controllers were groggy, commanders had to be awakened, and there were radar gaps. Transcripts of ground control conversations show they spotted the plane just as it flew over the air defense forces base at Yelizovo. They scrambled four interceptors. These planes zigzagged in the air for twenty minutes but could not find the jet, which was actually north of them, and they were forced to return to base. The plane flew on, straight out over the Sea of Okhotsk and toward Sakhalin Island, about seven hundred miles away. Radar contact was lost at 1:28 A.M.

    The plane appeared again on Sakhalin Island radars at 2:36 A.M. Once again it was given the track number 6065. However, this time the annotation was changed to “91,” which meant one military aircraft.
    The command post duty officer at the Su-15 regiment at Sokol tried that night to use a long-distance phone operator to reach a radar station, Burevestnik. Located on Iturup Island in the Kurils, Burevestnik had sent a message saying that a target was approaching Sakhalin.3
    “Good morning,” the duty officer said to the long-distance operator, giving his secret code word, Oblako 535, and asking her to put through an urgent call to Burevestnik.
    “Yes, high priority, urgent,” he insisted when she asked for the code again.
    “Very well, wait,” she told him.
    She asked for his phone number, then for his name. He gave it, and she didn’t understand.
    He gave it again. He impatiently clicked on the receiver.
    Four minutes passed. “There is no answer,” she replied.
    “No answer?”
    “But why?”
    “I don’t know why, there is no answer.”
    “Did Burevestnik not answer?”
    “There was no answer at the number at Burevestnik.”
    “That cannot be…”
    The operator asked, “What is that? What kind of organization is that?”
    “It’s a military organization,” the duty officer said. “I need it now, operator, whatever it takes, but I must call there. It’s a matter of national importance. I’m not joking.”
    “Just a minute. Just a minute.”
    Five minutes after he started making the call, with the airliner flying eight miles a minute toward Sakhalin, the command post duty officer asked, “Well, what [is happening], eh?”
    “Calling, no answer.”

    Osipovich was napping at Sokol when the airliner approached Sakhalin. He was on duty, having taken the night shift so he could have the next day free; it was the first day of school and he was supposed to speak at his daughter’s class on the theme of “peace.” He ate and then dozed off watching television, and then awoke to check the guard.
    Unexpectedly, the phone rang as he was getting dressed. He was ordered to rush out to the Su-15 and prepare for takeoff. The weather was poor as a frontal system rolled into Sakhalin. At 2:42 A.M. Osipovich ran to the plane and took off, flying toward the ocean, climbing to 26,000 feet. His call sign was “805.” Soon another Su-15 was in the air, and then a MiG 23 from the Smirnykh air base, also on Sakhalin. Osipovich had no idea what was going on; perhaps it was an elaborate training mission?
    Soviet radar had resumed tracking the airliner and given it the same number as before, 6065. The conversations among ground controllers show they thought it might be an RC-135, although some had doubts. Not once in all the ground conversations nor in the transmissions to the pilots did anyone mention a Boeing 747. They directed Osipovich minute by minute toward the target, and told him: “The target is military, upon violation of State border destroy the target. Arm the weapons.”
    Osipovich at first could only see the target as a dot, two or three centimeters. He had studied the RC-135s and knew the various Soviet civilian airliners, but he later recalled he had never studied the shape of foreign aircraft such as the Boeing 747.
    A ground controller speculated, “If there are four jet trails, then it is an RC-135.” The 747 also had four engines.
    “805, can you determine the type?” Osipovich was asked by the ground controller.
    “Unclear,” he said.
    Confusion reigned on the ground. No one wanted to be responsible for allowing another intrusion like the one on April 4. The Sokol command post duty officer, speaking to a superior, was asked if the incident was serious. “Yes, it looks serious, like on the fourth, but a bit worse,” he replied.
    At 3:09 A.M. an order was given to destroy the plane, but then rescinded. The Sokol command post duty officer wondered if the Americans would really fly a spy plane directly into Soviet airspace. They usually circled outside territorial waters. “Somehow this all looks very suspicious to me,” he said. “I don’t think the enemy is stupid, so… Can it be one of ours?”
    He called another command center at Makarov, on the eastern tip of the island, to see what they knew about the plane’s flight. “It hasn’t bombed us yet,” was the reply.
    As he closed on the 747, about fifteen miles behind it, Osipovich saw his missile lock-on light illuminate. Yolki palki! he said, meaning “What the hell!” He turned off the missile lock-on and flew closer.
    At 3:14 A.M., the commander of the Far East Military District was given a report. He was told Osipovich was ready to fire, but “he cannot identify it visually because it is still dark.”
    “We must find out, maybe it is some civilian craft or God knows who,” said the commander.
    “The pilot sees only a shadow,” said another ground controller.
    “He cannot determine the type?”
    “No way…it is dark, dark.”
    Osipovich was now getting closer, 7.4 miles behind the airliner, which crossed Sakhalin. “It is flying with flashing lights,” he reported. Shortly after 3:12, Osipovich tried to contact the airliner by the Soviet friend-or-foe electronic identification system, but there was no response because the plane was civilian and did not carry a compatible military responder.
    The Soviet ground controllers asked Osipovich six times whether the airliner was showing navigation lights, on the assumption that a plane without them might be on a spy mission. At 3:18, Osipovich reported, “The air navigation light is on, the flashing light is on.”
    The Sokol ground controller told Osipovich to flash his lights briefly as a warning, and he did. Then, at 3:20, he was ordered to shoot a warning burst from his cannons. He did. There was no response. Then, unexpectedly, the airliner seemed to slow.
    Unbeknownst to the Soviets, at 3:20, air traffic controllers in Tokyo had given Captain Chun permission to climb from 33,000 to 35,000 feet, and this caused the airliner to slow. Cockpit voice recordings show Chun and his crew never knew what was happening around them. Investigators later concluded that the change in altitude was seen by the Soviets as an evasive action and reinforced the suspicion that it was an RC-135 spy plane.
    “805, open fire on the target,” ground control instructed Osipovich. But at that moment, Osipovich said he couldn’t because he had almost overtaken the airliner. “Well, it should have been earlier, where do I go now, I am already abeam of the target?” This statement that he was “abeam,” or alongside the airliner, suggested, to some, in retrospect, that Osipovich should have seen the 747’s distinctive hump. But investigators said radar tracks show that Osipovich was consistently behind the 747, and to the right. Osipovich also recalled later that his own plane “began to rock” at this point; he did not say why.4
    In the next radio transmission, Osipovich said, “Now, I have fallen back from the target.” He added the airliner was at 33,000 feet and on his left. He does not indicate his own altitude—above or below the 747. If he was below the 747, it would have been harder to see the plane’s hump.
    At 3:24, Osipovich’s radio crackled with orders: “805, approach target and destroy target!” The airliner was just slipping away from the Sakhalin coast. Osipovich recalled later it was at this point he had finally gotten a look at the plane, and he realized suddenly it was larger than an RC-135.
    “Soon I could see it with my own eyes,” he recalled. “It was a big plane, and I thought it was a military-cargo plane because it had a flickering flash-light. There were no passenger plane routes, and there had been no occasions of any passenger planes losing their way…I could see it was a large plane. It wasn’t a fighter plane, but either a reconnaissance plane or a cargo plane.”5
    He fired. At 3:25, two R98 air-to-air missiles streaked ahead, one a heat-seeker that locked onto a source of infrared radiation such as the engine exhaust, the other guided by a radar. They each carried forty-four pounds of high explosive designed to produce fourteen hundred steel fragments. The heat-seeking missile was fired first and took thirty seconds to reach the airliner. Osipovich saw an explosion.
    “The target is destroyed,” he reported.
    He broke away to the right. He was low on fuel, and landed back on the island.

    The explosion tore a hole in the plane five feet wide and the cabin pressure plunged. “What’s happened?” asked a surprised cockpit crew member at the blast. The missile had sliced through the control cables and the Boeing pitched up, pressing people into their seats. The engines remained on, but the speed brakes—the flaps that usually try to stop the plane on the runway—extended from the wing, the landing gear came down and passengers were told to put out cigarettes and prepare for an emergency descent. “Put the mask over your nose and mouth and adjust the headband,” the passengers were told on the public address system. The first officer radioed to Tokyo, barely able to speak through his mask. “Rapid compressions descend to one zero thousand.”
    At 33,850 feet, the plane leveled off and rolled, falling toward the sea at five thousand feet per minute. All were lost.

    Reagan was awakened in the middle of the night at Rancho del Cielo by a phone call from Clark about the missing plane. Nancy Reagan recalled her husband’s first reaction was, “My God, have they gone mad?” and “What the hell are they thinking of?”6
    Like punch-drunk fighters, the United States and Soviet Union began swinging wildly at each other in a melee of anger, indignation and error.
    An ultra-secret Japanese-U.S. listening post had monitored some of the radio transmissions from Osipovich to his ground controller. A portion of these intercepts were sent to Washington, translated and transcribed. The initial transcript showed Osipovich was guided to the intruder and included his declaration “the target is destroyed.” In Washington, these words seemed to shout from the page. They showed the Soviets were guilty of wanton murder. But the transcript was only a piece of raw intelligence, far from the whole story. It did not reflect the intense confusion among the Soviet ground controllers, nor the presence of the RC-135. All through the event, the Soviet military had never made a careful effort at identification, inflamed as they were by their fears of another flyover like the one in April. This climate of chaos and misjudgment on the ground was not reflected in the printed transcript of the radio intercept. The catastrophe was a window into the weaknesses of the Soviet military system, an example of how imprecise judgments and poor equipment could go terribly awry, but that was not what Reagan and his men saw in the transcript.
    In Washington, according to Seymour Hersh, a small group of analysts with air force intelligence realized within hours that the Soviets did not deliberately shoot down the airliner. These analysts prepared a secret presentation, using color slides, showing how the Cobra Ball mission may have led to the confusion. But in the heat of the moment, the presentation got little attention. The presentation made it to the White House twenty-three hours later, and even then made no impact amid the emotions of the day. As Hersh put it, the presentation “crash-landed.”7
    Shultz seized on the transcript of Osipovich to make a point. He wanted to go public with it. Shultz recalled in his memoir that, after an intense debate, he persuaded the CIA to let him use the transcript, even though it had come from ultra-secret intelligence gathering in Japan. For reasons that are unknown, Shultz did not wait until more complete information or transcripts could be examined. He apparently did not see the air force presentation.
    On September 1, at 10:45 A.M., Shultz appeared before reporters at the State Department. In remarks delivered in a cold fury, he declared, “The United States reacts with revulsion to this attack. Loss of life appears to be heavy. We can see no excuse whatsoever for this appalling act.” Shultz claimed the Soviets had tracked the airliner for two and a half hours, when in fact they had difficulty following it and lost track. He claimed unambiguously that the pilot was in position “with a visual contact with the aircraft, so that with the eye you could inspect the aircraft and see what it was you were looking at.” With the press conference, Shultz launched what became a major U.S. rhetorical offensive against the Soviets, accusing them of deliberately killing the people on the airliner.
    Reagan cut short his vacation and returned to Washington. He invited congressional leaders to the White House on Sunday for what became a dramatic, closed-door meeting. Reagan played an eight-minute tape, a fragment of the intercept in which Osipovich said “the target is destroyed.” Senator Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina Republican, said Reagan should seek revenge by expelling 269 KGB agents from the United States.
    The briefing also led to the first public acknowledgment of the presence of the RC-135. The House Majority leader, Jim Wright, D-Texas, told reporters after the briefing that he heard the spy plane mentioned on the tape. White House officials rushed to say Wright was wrong, but they acknowledged, in the process of the denials, that there had been an RC-135 in the skies the day of the shoot down, which made for front-page stories the next day in the Washington Post and the New York Times. On Monday morning, September 5, Shultz asked for a full intelligence briefing about the spy plane, which he got at 8 A.M. Later that day, the State Department sent a four-page background paper to all American embassies that claimed the RC-135 could not have caused the shoot down. “The Soviets traced the Korean aircraft and the U.S. aircraft separately and knew there were two aircraft in the area, so we do not believe this was a case of mistaken identity,” the background paper said. It was wrong, like so much else said about the incident.8
    Reagan recalled he wanted to spend the day by the White House pool. Instead, he sat in his damp trunks on a towel in his study rewriting a speech on a legal pad. The Osipovich tape had become a powerful propaganda bludgeon. Reagan said he rewrote the speech to “give my unvarnished opinion of the barbarous act.” During the address that evening, Reagan played part of the tape. “The 747 has a unique silhouette unlike any other plane in the world,” Reagan said. “There is no way a pilot could mistake this for anything other than a civilian airliner.” Reagan acknowledged there was an RC-135 in the air that night, but dismissed the possibility of confusion over it, saying it was back on the ground “for an hour when the murderous attack took place…”
    Reagan added, “And make no mistake about it—this attack was not just against ourselves or the Republic of Korea. This was the Soviet Union against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere. It was an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.”

    While Reagan and Shultz were shaking their fists at Soviet brutality, within two days U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded the whole thing was probably an accident. At the CIA, Douglas MacEachin, deputy director of the operations center, had been on vacation in Boston, and rushed back to headquarters. Using large maps, he and others spent hours charting every known fact about the stray airliner, including the radio intercepts. Within a few hours, MacEachin recalled, they decided the Soviets had made a mistake, the same conclusion air force intelligence had also reached.9 In fact, the Soviets had not been sure what the airliner was, and had probably confused it with the American RC-135.10
    The deputy CIA director, Robert M. Gates, later disclosed that this conclusion had been mentioned in the President’s Daily Brief—his morning intelligence report—on September 2. But some officials, he said, “just got carried away.”11

    Andropov learned of the shoot down early on the morning of September 1, while he was still at home on the outskirts of Moscow. He was told that a U.S. warplane had been downed over Sakhalin. He knew the rules: if a foreign plane was detected in Soviet airspace, the intruder must be given a visual or radio signal ordering it to land on Soviet territory, and if ignored, the nearest border command post could order the plane destroyed. It had happened before. According to Dmitri Volkogonov, the historian, the practice was always to deny a shoot down: “It came down by itself.”12
    At the Kremlin later in the day, just before a Politburo meeting, Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov approached Andropov and told him, “A plane’s been shot down. It turned out not to be American, but South Korean, and a civil aircraft, at that. We’ll find out more and report in greater detail.” Volkogonov said Andropov clearly had other sources of information, and replied, “Fine. But I was told there’d been a spy plane above Kamchatka. I’m flying to the Crimea later today after the meeting. I must have a rest and get some treatment. As for the plane, you sort it out.”
    Dobrynin recalled seeing Andropov that day. Looking haggard and worried, Andropov ordered Dobrynin to rush back to Washington to deal with the crisis, saying, “Our military made a gross blunder by shooting down the airliner and it probably will take us a long time to get out of this mess.” Andropov called the generals “blockheads” who didn’t understand the implications of what they had done. Dobrynin said Andropov “sincerely believed,” along with the military, that the plane had made an intrusion into Soviet airspace as part of an intelligence mission to check Soviet radars. But even that, Andropov said, was no excuse for shooting it down instead of forcing it to land.13
    After the three-hour Politburo meeting, Andropov went on holiday to Simferopol, where he stayed at one of several luxury villas reserved for the Soviet leadership. Accompanying him was not only his usual staff, but an entire medical facility. At this point, Konstantin Chernenko, long a weak acolyte of Brezhnev, took over running the Politburo meetings. Andropov never returned to the table.
    Dobrynin said Andropov “was actually ready to admit the mistake publicly” but was talked out of it by Ustinov. The Soviet reaction was to lie about the events and cover up. The first bulletin from TASS on September 1 did not even mention the plane being shot down:
    An unidentified plane entered the air space of the Soviet Union over the Kamchatka peninsula from the direction of the Pacific Ocean and then for the second time violated the air space of the USSR over Sakhalin Island on the night from August 31 to September 1. The plane did not have navigation lights, did not respond to queries and did not enter into contact with the dispatcher service.
    Fighters of the anti-aircraft defense, which were sent aloft toward the intruder plane, tried to give it assistance in directing it to the nearest airfield. But the intruder plane did not react to the signals and warnings from the Soviet fighters and continued its flight in the direction of the Sea of Japan.14
    The Politburo met again September 2, with Chernenko presiding. The Soviet rulers circled the wagons, and worried about whether to even admit the plane had been shot down. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko said he favored admitting that shots were fired but to insist “that we acted legally.” Defense Minister Ustinov then told the group, “I can assure the Politburo that our pilots acted in complete conformity with the requirements of their military duty, and everything stated in the submitted memorandum is the honest truth. Our actions were absolutely correct, insofar as the American-built South Korean aircraft flew 500 kilometers into our territory. It is extremely difficult to distinguish this aircraft by its shape from a reconnaissance aircraft. Soviet military pilots are prohibited from firing on passenger aircraft. But in this situation their actions were perfectly justified because in accordance with international regulations the aircraft was issued with several notices to land at our airfield.”
    Mikhail Gorbachev, a younger, rising star among the aging Politburo members, said, “The aircraft remained above our territory for a long time. If it went off track, the Americans could have notified us, but they didn’t.”
    Ustinov claimed the Korean aircraft had no lights. After firing warning shots, he said, the Soviet pilot “informed the ground that the aircraft was a combat one and had to be taken down.”
    Gromyko: “We cannot deny that our plane opened fire.”
    Viktor Grishin, then the Moscow party first secretary, asked, “And what was the South Korean pilot saying?”
    Ustinov: “We didn’t hear anything.”
    The KGB chief, Viktor Chebrikov, described the sea search, in waters up to 328 feet deep; Soviet ships and Japanese fishing vessels were in the area. “This means they can raise the plane’s black box, and we can too,” said Gromyko. The others worried aloud that evidence of a deliberate shoot down would come out. Gorbachev asked whether the Americans had detected the actual firing of the Soviet interceptor.
    Chebrikov: “No, they haven’t. But I want to re-emphasize that our actions were entirely legitimate.”
    Nikolai Tikhonov, a Brezhnev man and chairman of the Council of Ministers, said, “If we acted correctly, legitimately, then we have to say straight out that we shot this plane down.”
    Gromyko: “We have to say that shots were fired. This should be said straightforwardly, to prevent our adversary from accusing us of deception.”
    Grishin: “First of all, I’d like to underline that we should declare openly that the plane was shot down.” But he wanted the information dribbled out: first announce an investigation, and only later admit “the plane was fired at.”
    Gorbachev: “First of all, I want to say that I’m convinced that our actions were lawful. Given that the aircraft remained above the Soviet territory for about two hours, it is difficult to presume that this was not a pre-planned action. We must show precisely in our statements that this was a crude violation of international conventions. We must not wait it out silently at the moment, we must take up an offensive position. While confirming the existing version, we must develop it further, by saying that we are seriously investigating the current situation.”15
    In fact, the “existing version” was a lie. Gorbachev, said Volkogonov, “was concerned only about finding a way to extricate the leadership from an unseemly affair, and to shift the blame onto the other side.” The Politburo session reveals “a shocking lack of remorse—or even the expression of remorse—for the 269 victims of the crash,” Volkogonov added. “The tragic case of the South Korean Boeing became a pathetic symbol of Andropov’s rule.”16
    Moscow did not acknowledge the shoot down until September 6 and delayed an official explanation for three more days. The obfuscation only deepened suspicions in the West. By silence and untruths, the Soviets seemed to be behaving exactly as Reagan said, like an evil empire. They claimed the plane was carrying out a CIA mission, deliberately flying into sovereign Soviet airspace as a trick. Then, with disclosure of the RC-135 in Washington, the Soviet propaganda machine went into overdrive. On September 5, Pravda, the party newspaper, said Reagan’s statements were “permeated with frenzied hatred and malice towards the Soviet state and socialism…”17 On September 9, at a two-hour press conference, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov asserted that the regional air defense unit had identified the intruding plane as an RC-135. He insisted that the plane was on an intelligence mission.
    “The way this incident was dealt with throws light on the mentality of the Soviet leadership,” Volkogonov wrote later. “Andropov himself was silent on the issue for more than a month… The plane’s ‘black box’ had been found and brought to the surface. It was decided to say nothing of this, either to the world’s press or to Seoul, and Soviet ships were kept in the area for another two weeks to give the impression that the fruitless search was still going on.”

    Reagan’s speeches bristled with outrage and revulsion, but in actions, he did not ratchet up confrontation. He rejected Thurmond’s demand to expel the KGB agents.18 Shultz won Reagan’s approval to go ahead with a scheduled meeting in Madrid with Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Reagan did not want to close off nuclear arms control talks over the shoot down. “If anything,” Reagan recalled in his memoirs, “the KAL incident demonstrated how close the world had come to the precipice and how much we needed nuclear arms control: If, as some people speculated, the Soviet pilots simply mistook the airliner for a military plane, what kind of imagination did it take to think of a Soviet military man with his finger close to a nuclear push button making an even more tragic mistake?”
    In Madrid, Shultz raised the airliner in his private, first meeting with Gromyko. “The atmosphere was tense,” he recalled. “He was totally unresponsive.” A larger meeting that followed was “brutally confrontational,” Shultz recalled. “At one point, Gromyko stood up and picked up his papers as though to leave. I think he half-expected me to urge him to sit down. On the contrary, I got up to escort him out of the room. He then sat down, and I sat down.” Gromyko said it was the most tense meeting he had ever conducted in dealing with fourteen secretaries of state. Shultz said “the meeting became so outrageous and pointless that we just ended it.”
    The United States had attempted to embarrass Soviet officials and challenge their lies. The Soviet leaders saw the episode as a provocation, a deliberate attempt to trip them up.
    On September 27 in Washington, Gates, the deputy CIA director, delivered to Shultz an intelligence assessment that said relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were as “pervasively bleak” as at any time since Stalin’s death in 1953. Gates said the Soviet leaders feared Reagan’s administration more than any in history.19
    On September 28, Andropov issued one of the harshest condemnations ever of the United States, published in both Pravda and Izvestia and read on the evening television news broadcast. The Reagan administration, Andropov said, is on “a militarist course that represents a serious threat to peace… if anyone had any illusion about the possibility of an evolution for the better in the policy of the present administration, recent events had dispelled them completely.” According to Dobrynin, the word “completely” was emphasized. “The Soviet leadership had collectively arrived at the conclusion that any agreement with Reagan was impossible,” Dobrynin said.

    A few days later, in the Crimea, Andropov went for a short walk in the park; lightly dressed, he became tired, and took a breather on a granite bench in the shade. His body became thoroughly chilled, and he soon began shivering uncontrollably. Volkogonov quotes Chazov, who treated Andropov for several years, as saying that when he examined Andropov in the morning, he found widespread inflammation, requiring surgery. “The operation was successful, but his body was so drained of strength that the post-operative wound would not heal…His condition gradually worsened, his weakness increased, he again stopped trying to walk, but still the wound would not heal…Andropov began to realize that he was not going to get any better.”20 Chazov wrote in his memoir, “On Sept. 30, 1983 the final countdown on Andropov’s health began.”21

    In London, three “flash” telegrams from Moscow arrived in quick succession on Oleg Gordievsky’s desk on September 4. The first claimed that the shoot down was being used by the United States to whip up anti-Soviet hysteria. The second and third suggested that the airliner was on an intelligence mission. This story was later embroidered with bogus reports that the captain of the plane had boasted of his spying and shown friends the intelligence gear on the plane. None of the telegrams actually acknowledged that a Soviet interceptor had shot down the airliner. Two more telegrams followed a few days later urging KGB agents to plant stories that the Americans and Japanese were in full radio contact with the plane. At one point, it was falsely claimed, the pilot had radioed, “We’re going over Kamchatka.”22 Gordievsky recalled, “So manifestly absurd was this lie that many of my colleagues in the Residency were dismayed by the damage done to the Soviet Union’s international reputation.”23
    Guk, the KGB chief in London, had been in Moscow during the shoot down, and he later took Gordievsky aside and told him that eight of the eleven Soviet air defense radar stations on Kamchatka and Sakhalin were not functioning properly.24 Dobrynin heard a similar account from Ustinov in Moscow.25
    The telegrams from Moscow were passed to the British. Geoffrey Howe, then foreign secretary, recalled that one “very powerful impression quite quickly built up in my mind: the Soviet leadership really did believe the bulk of their own propaganda. They did have a genuine fear that ‘the West’ was plotting their overthrow—and might, just might, go to any lengths to achieve it.”26 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who also knew of the reports, visited Washington and met with Reagan on September 29. She found him worried that “the Russians seemed paranoid about their own security” and asking, “did they really feel threatened by the West or were they merely trying to keep the offensive edge?”27
    “We had entered a dangerous phase,” Thatcher recalled years later. “Both Ronald Reagan and I were aware of it.” Her reaction was to reach out to specialists. “What we in the West had to do was to learn as much as we could about the people and the system which confronted us,” she wrote in her memoirs, “and then to have as much contact with those living under that system as was compatible with our continued security.” In the days after the shoot down, Thatcher arranged a seminar at her country home, Chequers, with Soviet experts. A list of possible participants came to her from the Foreign Office. “This is NOT the way I want it,” she wrote on the list, demanding “some people who have really studied Russia—the Russian mind—and who have had some experience of living there.”28
    Eight scholars were invited, including Professor Archie Brown of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. Brown submitted a paper on the Soviet political system and power structure. At the seminar, Brown identified Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Politburo, as a likely future general secretary, saying he was “the best-educated member of the Politburo and probably the most open-minded,” and “the most hopeful choice from the point of view both of Soviet citizens and the outside world.”29
    Thatcher was listening.

    In the autumn, a wave of fear about nuclear war—a war scare—gripped both the Soviet Union and the United States. Soviet attacks on Reagan reached a fever pitch. According to Elizabeth Teague, a Soviet domestic affairs analyst at Radio Liberty, Soviet media in the years before 1983 had refrained from making personally abusive remarks about Western leaders. But after the Korean airliner was shot down, Soviet press portrayals of Reagan reached an unusually bitter level. “Reagan was described as dangerous, lying, unscrupulous, hypocritical, even criminal,” Teague recalled, “as a man who ‘scraped his fortune together’ by speculating in real estate while governor of California, defrauding the Internal Revenue Service, collaborating with the Mafia, and switching his political allegiances whenever it served his personal advantage.”
    “In short,” she added, “he was portrayed as a man who could not be trusted and with whom it was impossible to do business.”30
    The Soviet media repeated over and over again that the danger of nuclear war was higher than at any time since World War II. This may have been an outgrowth of Andropov’s demand in the spring for tougher propaganda to oppose the looming Pershing II deployments, and to rally the Soviet people for still more sacrifice at home. A documentary film shown on national television portrayed the United States as a dangerous “militaristic” power bent on world domination. The forty-five-minute film contrasted scenes of U.S. nuclear explosions and various U.S. missiles with scenes of war victims, Soviet war memorials and declarations of Moscow’s peaceful intentions. An internal letter to Communist Party members warned of a deterioration of relations with the United States over the next several years.31 Svetlana Savranskaya, a university student in Moscow that autumn, recalled the war scare was very real, especially for older people. They were taken into shelters once a week for civil defense lessons. They were told they would have only eleven minutes to find shelter before the bombs would arrive from Europe. “I remember going home and looking up at a map and asking, how long would it take the missiles to hit from the United States?” she said.32
    At Camp David for Columbus Day weekend, Reagan watched the videotape of a forthcoming made-for-television movie, The Day After, about a fictional nuclear attack on a typical American city, Lawrence, Kansas. The film, starring Jason Robards, was scheduled for nationwide broadcast in November. It portrayed a bucolic and happy Midwestern town, the home of the University of Kansas, with boys playing football in the late-afternoon sun, a farm family preparing for a wedding, games of horseshoes in the backyard—the America that Reagan had long idealized. Then, in the background, news reports carry word of a crisis in Europe that blossoms into a full-scale nuclear alert. “We are not talking Hiroshima here,” says one character in the film. “Hiroshima was peanuts.” The crisis quickly spins out of control and European cities are hit with tactical nuclear weapons. Then, all eyes of Lawrence, Kansas, are cast skyward as America’s Minuteman missiles are fired at the Soviet Union from nearby military bases. The B-52s take off. Within thirty minutes, the Soviet missiles arrive and hit Lawrence, setting off the blast, heat and fallout of nuclear explosions. In the second half of the film, Robards, who plays a hospital surgeon, roams through a devastated landscape. He turns pale and his hair falls out from the radiation. He sees sickness, disease and lawlessness. When Robards urges a pregnant woman who survived the blast to have hope, she retorts, “Hope for what? We knew the score, we knew all about bombs and fallout, we knew this could happen for forty years and no one was interested! Tell me about hope!”
    The film highlighted many of the fears of the day about nuclear war. It called attention to nuclear winter—that after a nuclear blast, the climate would change and snow would fall in summer.
    In his diary, Reagan wrote:
    Columbus Day. In the morning at Camp D. I ran the tape of the movie ABC is running on the air November 20. It’s called “The Day After.” It has Lawrence, Kansas wiped out in a nuclear war with Russia. It is powerfully done, all $7 mil. worth. It’s very effective & left me greatly depressed. So far they haven’t sold any of the 25 spot ads scheduled & I can see why…My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent & to see there is never a nuclear war.33
    Edmund Morris, Reagan’s official biographer, said the film left Reagan “dazed” and produced the only admission he could find in Reagan’s papers that he was “greatly depressed.” Four days later, he said, Reagan was “still fighting off the depression caused by The Day After.”34

    The next day, October 11, Jack F. Matlock Jr., the top Soviet specialist on the National Security Council, met a Soviet journalist he had known in earlier tours in Moscow. Sergei Vishnevsky, fifty-three, was a veteran columnist from Pravda. Matlock assumed he was bringing a message of some kind—Vishnevsky had good party connections and perhaps KGB connections too. “His trade is propaganda and his specialty the U.S.,” Matlock wrote in a memo afterward. They met at a cafeteria across the street from the Old Executive Office Building.
    Vishnevsky was direct, so intent on making his points that he did not stop to debate Matlock on anything. His message: “The state of U.S.-Soviet relations has deteriorated to a dangerous point. Many in the Soviet public are asking if war is imminent.” Vishnevsky told Matlock he was worried that Andropov’s September 28 statement “was virtually unprecedented and is a reflection of the leadership’s current frustration…” While the point of the Andropov warning was, in part, to prepare the Soviet people for belt-tightening, Vishnevsky said “the leadership is convinced that the Reagan administration is out to bring their system down and will give no quarter; therefore they have no choice but to hunker down and fight back.”35
    Vishnevsky said the Soviet economy was “a total mess, and getting worse,” and the leadership needed to lessen tensions to concentrate on economic matters. Moreover, he said, the Soviet leadership saw Reagan as increasingly successful, with the American economy improving and Reagan likely to run for reelection in 1984. The Soviets now realized they could not stop the Pershing II missile deployments, due in two months. Nor did they know what to do about these events; they were locked into their positions by their own truculence. Reagan’s reaction to the Korean airliner incident left Soviet leaders “wallowing in the mud.”

    In October, Reagan was given a fresh briefing on the ultra-secret SIOP, the Single Integrated Operational Plan, the procedures for nuclear war. This was the sixth generation of the war plan, known as SIOP-6, which took effect on October 1, 1983. The new plan reflected the desire to give the president options to fight a protracted nuclear war.36 Reagan wrote in his diary: “A most sobering experience with Cap W and Gen. Vessey in the Situation room, a briefing on our complete plan in the event of a nuclear attack.”37
    Reflecting later in his memoirs, Reagan recalled, “In several ways, the sequence of events described in the briefings paralleled those in the ABC movie. Yet there were still some people at the Pentagon who claimed a nuclear war was ‘winnable.’ I thought they were crazy. Worse, it appeared there were also Soviet generals who thought in terms of winning a nuclear war.”38
    Shultz told Reagan in mid-October all the recent arms control proposals had gone nowhere. “If things get hotter and hotter, and arms control remains an issue,” Reagan told Shultz, “maybe I should go see Andropov and propose eliminating all nuclear weapons.” Shultz reminded him that it wasn’t likely Andropov would give up nuclear weapons. “Without an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the Soviets are not a superpower.”
    Very suddenly, Reagan was swept into one of the most chaotic and uncertain periods of his presidency. Clark resigned as his national security adviser, to become secretary of the interior. Reagan promoted Clark’s deputy, Robert C. McFarlane, who had spent most of his time in previous months negotiating the Lebanon crisis. Across Western Europe, antinuclear rallies brought 2 million people into the streets to protest against the plan to deploy the Pershing II missiles.
    On October 23, at 6 A.M., a lone driver steered a yellow Mercedes truck through the parking lot at the U.S. marine encampment at the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon. The truck, laden with the equivalent of over twelve thousand pounds of TNT, blew up and killed 241 U.S. military personnel and injured one hundred others, the most severe military death toll in Reagan’s presidency.39 When McFarlane woke him in the middle of the night with the news, Reagan’s face turned ashen. McFarlane recalled “he looked like a man, a 72-year-old man, who had just received a blow to the chest. All the air seemed to go out of him. ‘How could this happen?’ he asked disbelievingly. ‘How bad is it? Who did it?’” Then, on October 25, Reagan ordered U.S. forces to invade the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, on grounds that American students on the island were imperiled by instability following a coup.40 On October 27, Reagan led the memorial service at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for the Marines lost in Beirut. He was, McFarlane recalled, “clearly heart-broken.”
    In the middle of it all, a secret written analysis from the CIA was brought to Reagan. It contained Gordievsky’s reports about RYAN, the KGB intelligence-gathering operation for signs of a nuclear attack. McFarlane recalled it reached Reagan in October, amid the Grenada and Lebanon crises, although the precise date is not known.41 Thatcher knew of the Gordievsky information as well, and may have told Reagan about it on her visit a few weeks earlier.
    McFarlane was at first unsure whether the Soviets were as paranoid as it seemed in the Gordievsky materials. “It raised questions in my mind about whether this apparent paranoia was real, or a propaganda scheme being fed to Western Europe to drive a wedge between us and the allies,” McFarlane said. The presence of Foreign Minister Gromyko in the Politburo, he felt, was reassuring—with four decades’ experience in dealing with the United States, surely Gromyko knew that the United States would not launch nuclear war. But McFarlane said he grew more worried when separate intelligence reporting from Prague and Budapest showed that people were “genuinely alarmed about this.” McFarlane said on reading the material “I thought it was plausible that it was the real deal.”42
    On October 28, Matlock sent a short, worried note to McFarlane. The American ambassador in Moscow, Arthur Hartman, had reported on an unsettling meeting with Gromyko. “The major thrust of Gromyko’s comment,” Matlock said, “was that the Soviet leaders are convinced that the Reagan administration does not accept their legitimacy, and that therefore it is not prepared to negotiate seriously with the USSR, but is actually dedicated to bringing down the system.” While Matlock noted there may be a “large self-serving element” in this argument, “I believe it is an argument used in policy debates among the Soviet leadership.”43

    Driven by fears of a nuclear attack, in November 1983, construction crews were furiously excavating a deep underground bunker in the Ural Mountains for a new top-secret command center for the Strategic Rocket Forces. When complete, from this sheltered burrow the commanders could manage a nuclear war. Twice a day, explosions echoed through the mountains as construction crews burrowed deeper and deeper into the granite. Tunnels already reached thousands of feet into the rock, but the project was far from complete. Water filled the dim passageways. The first electronic gear was being brought into the depths of the cavity for tests. The code name for the bunker was Grot, or grotto in Russian. The excavation at Grot, and the extensive underground bunkers for the leadership in Moscow, provoked worry and puzzlement among the American intelligence analysts. They wondered, what were the Soviets thinking? That they could survive and fight a nuclear war?

    Soviet paranoia reached a zenith at the time of a planned NATO exercise in Europe scheduled for November 2–11. The exercise, Able Archer ’83, was designed to practice the procedures for a full-scale simulated release of nuclear weapons in a European conflict. The Soviets had long feared that training exercises could be used as a disguise for a real attack; their own war plans envisioned the same deception. According to Gordievsky, two features of Able Archer ’83 caused particular alarm in Moscow. First, the procedures and message formats for the shift from conventional to nuclear war were quite different from those on previous exercises. Second, this time, imaginary NATO forces were to be moved through all the alert phases, from normal readiness to general alert. The exercise may have been misinterpreted by the KGB as a real alert.44
    In the original scenario of the Able Archer exercise, high-level officials were to play a role, including the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with cameo appearances by Reagan and Bush. If the Soviets knew this, it may have contributed to their anxiety. McFarlane recalled that on learning in general of Soviet worry about the exercise, he asked the president to pull out, and Reagan agreed. “It wasn’t a hard sell,” McFarlane recalled. Reagan felt puzzlement and anxiety.45
    On November 5, Moscow sent to the KGB residency in London a detailed checklist of possible preparations for a surprise nuclear attack. By this time, the KGB had established a “Strategic Section” in the Moscow headquarters for evaluating intelligence from RYAN.46 The telegram from Moscow warned that once a decision for a surprise nuclear attack had been made, there would only be seven to ten days before it was carried out, and that a close eye should be kept on British government officials and their workplaces for hints that something was underway.
    On the night of November 8 or 9, flash telegrams were sent from Moscow to Soviet intelligence agents across Western Europe, mistakenly reporting an alert at U.S. bases. The telegrams gave two possible reasons for the U.S. alert. One was concern for the security of U.S. bases in the wake of the Beirut bombing. That might be normal and understandable. The other reason, Gordievsky said, was that it marked the start of preparations for a nuclear first strike. The Soviet intelligence agents were to report urgently on the reasons for the American “alert” and other indicators of war planning.47
    During the Able Archer exercise, Gates recalled, there was considerable activity by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact military forces. Soviet military weather broadcasts were taken off the air during the exercise. Units of the Soviet Fourth Air Army had gone to increased readiness, and all combat flight operations were suspended from November 4 to 10, he added. Tensions eased slightly at the end of the exercise on November 11.

    The superpowers did not trip a wire into war, but Reagan crossed a bridge of his own. For the first time, uncharacteristically introspective, he acknowledged that the Soviet leaders may have harbored true fears of attack. He wrote in his diary November 18: “I feel the Soviets are so defense minded, so paranoid about being attacked that without being in any way soft on them, we ought to tell them no one here has any intention of doing anything like that. What the h–l have they got that anyone would want. George is going on ABC right after its nuclear bomb film Sunday night. It shows why we must keep on doing what we’re doing.”
    When ABC broadcast the film The Day After on November 20, it drew 100 million viewers, then the second-largest audience in history for a single television program. The first Pershing II missiles were deployed in Germany three days later, on November 23. The Soviets then walked out of the arms control talks in Geneva.
    Reagan later recalled in his memoir, “Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. In fact, I had difficulty accepting my own conclusion at first.” He said he felt “it must be clear to anyone” that Americans were a moral people who, since the founding of the nation, “had always used our power only as a force for good in the world.” After World War II, the United States rebuilt the economies of its former enemies, he noted.
    “During my first years in Washington,” Reagan said, “I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with the Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike; because of this, and perhaps because of a sense of insecurity and paranoia with roots reaching back to the invasions of Russia by Napoleon and Hitler, they had aimed a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons at us.”

    In December, Reagan was thinking anew about his dream of eliminating all nuclear weapons. “This is his instinct and his belief,” Shultz told his aides at the State Department. “The president has noticed that no one pays any attention to him in spite of the fact that he speaks about this idea publicly and privately.”48 Shultz promised Reagan to study the idea. Reagan told Shultz on December 17 that he wanted to make a major speech about his desire to get rid of nuclear weapons. Reagan drafted a letter to Andropov on December 19 saying “we do not seek to challenge the security of the Soviet Union and its people.”49
    When Reagan spoke on January 16, 1984, many journalists assumed that it was the opening salvo of his reelection campaign. Reagan felt rejuvenated by his success with the Pershing II missiles, and he had decided to run for a second term. But this was not the only motivation. Reagan had read the top-secret reports from Gordievsky about Soviet war fears; he had personally rehearsed the nuclear war plan, the SIOP; and he had experienced a real crisis with the Soviets over the KAL shoot down. His own desire to eliminate nuclear weapons burned even more intensely than before. “Something has happened to the man,” a White House official said of Reagan.50
    In the address, which was broadcast also to Europe, Reagan did not refer once to an “evil empire” nor to communism falling into the dustbin of history. He did not talk about changing the Soviet system from within. Rather, he declared, “We do not threaten the Soviet Union.” He stressed “dialogue,” “constructive cooperation” and “peaceful competition.” And he declared, “My dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.”
    Then Reagan delivered the ending he had written himself:
    Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, oh, say, in a waiting room or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and Sally. And there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted.
    Would they then debate the differences between their respective governments? Or would they find themselves comparing notes about their children and what each other did for a living? Before they parted company, they would probably have touched on ambitions and hobbies and what they wanted for the children and problems of making ends meet.
    And as they went their separate ways, maybe Anya would be saying to Ivan: “Wasn’t she nice. She also teaches music.” And Jim would be telling Sally what Ivan did or didn’t like about his boss. They might even have decided they were all going to get together for dinner some evening soon.
    Above all they would have proven that people don’t make wars. People want to raise their children in a world without fear and without war. They want to have some of the good things over and above bare subsistence that make life worth living. They want to work at some craft, trade or profession that gives them satisfaction and a sense of worth. Their common interests cross all borders.
    If the Soviet Government wants peace, then there will be peace. Together we can strengthen peace, reduce the level of arms and know in doing so that we have helped fulfill the hopes and dreams of those we represent and, indeed, of people everywhere. Let us begin now.
    Reagan had turned a corner. He was ready for the next act in the great drama.

    Two days after Reagan’s speech, Gordievsky got another telegram from Moscow on the RYAN intelligence-gathering operation. The spymasters were still searching for signs of nuclear war. The KGB believed that clues to a possible nuclear first strike could be found by looking at banks, post offices and slaughterhouses. The KGB urged its agents to check out “mass slaughter of cattle and putting meat into long cold storage.”

    On January 2, 1984, Fritz W. Ermarth became the national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union, taking up a key position attempting to synthesize intelligence from many different sources to guide policy makers. Ermarth had previously worked on Soviet issues at the CIA and the White House National Security Council. Almost immediately, the deputy director for intelligence, Gates, gave him an urgent assignment: to write a Special National Intelligence Estimate on the tense situation with the Soviet Union. “The issue was terribly important,” Gates recalled. “Had the United States come close to a nuclear crisis the preceding fall and not even known it? Was the Soviet leadership so out of touch that they really believed a preemptive attack was a real possibility? Had there nearly been a terrible miscalculation?”
    Ermarth’s report was finished May 18, 1984. He concluded that the war scare did not lead the Soviets to fear nuclear attack. Ermarth said “we knew a lot about Soviet and Warsaw Pact war plans. In effect, we had many of their military cook books.”51 Thus, he said, the United States could easily compare what the Soviets were doing with the real war plans. “This permitted us to judge confidently the difference between when they might be brewing up for a real military confrontation or, as one wag put it, just rattling their pots and pans.” He concluded they were just rattling the pots and pans.
    Ermarth’s report declared at the outset: “We believe strongly that Soviet actions are not inspired by, and Soviet leaders do not perceive, a genuine danger of imminent conflict or confrontation with the United States.”52 Ermarth said that there were plenty of other explanations for Soviet behavior, including a propaganda campaign. The Kremlin may have been seeking ways to raise anxiety about the deployment of the Pershing II missiles and encourage the antinuclear movement in Western Europe. Ermarth took note of the heightened Soviet alerts during Able Archer, but he didn’t think much of them. His conclusion was: “Although the Soviet reaction was somewhat greater than usual, by confining heightened readiness to selected air units, Moscow clearly revealed that it did not in fact think there was a possibility at this time of a NATO attack.”53
    Ermarth knew about Gordievsky’s materials and RYAN. But there were a few important secrets that Ermarth did not know. When he wrote the estimate, he did not know the full extent of the provocative, top-secret U.S. naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean during the spring of 1983. The navy had not told him.54 “I tried to find out more about it but was unsuccessful,” he said. “I think some sort of junior people in the office of naval intelligence just said, ‘You’ve got to understand, we’ve got some stuff going on here we can’t talk about.’” Among other things, Ermarth said he didn’t know about the F-14 flyover.55
    Gates concluded that, in retrospect, the CIA had missed an important turning point. “After going through the experience at the time, then through the post-mortems, and now through the documents, I don’t think the Soviets were crying wolf,” he wrote in his memoirs. He added of the Soviets, “They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous. And U.S. intelligence had failed to grasp the true extent of their anxiety.”56 Although it remains classified, a review of the CIA’s performance on the war scare came to a similar conclusion in 1990.57
    The war scare was real.

—————  4  —————

    In the years after World War II, the United States built an offensive biological weapons program, but it was abandoned by President Nixon in 1969. Three years later, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was signed, prohibiting the development and production of germs for warfare. The Soviet Union joined, and became one of the three nations to serve as a depository, or custodian, of the agreement. Then, in an audacious turn, Soviet leaders secretly broke their obligations and expanded research on offensive biological weapons through a vast and concealed complex of laboratories and institutes disguised as civilian facilities. Codes were created to keep track of all the pathogens and branches of the program. Bacteria were identified by the prefix “L.” Plague was L1, tularemia L2, brucellosis L3 and anthrax L4. Viruses were “N.” Smallpox was N1, Ebola was N2, Marburg N3 and so on. One part of the effort was called “Project Factor,” which was shortened from “virulence factor,” or “pathogenic factor.” Virulence is the relative ability of a pathogen to cause death. Boosting the virulence of bacteria and viruses made them more lethal. In parallel to Factor, other projects included “Bonfire,” a quest to create a new generation of germs that would resist antibiotics, while “Flute” attempted to fashion mind-altering compounds—a weapon that might cause a whole army to go crazy.1 “Ferment” was the name given to a drive for genetic engineering. Chemical weapons were “Foliant.”Separately, Soviet scientists were also working on germs to wither crops and devastate livestock. This was called “Ecology.”2
    In 1984, Sergei Popov was among the scientists at the forefront of Project Factor. He was thirty-four years old then, a bright young researcher, tall with a genial manner and a slightly reedy, pleasant voice. Popov worked in a scientific institute at Koltsovo, a small town amid the forests in western Siberia, twenty miles southeast of a much larger city, Novosibirsk. In the long Siberian winters, he rose when it was still dark and cold to get his young daughter ready for school. He described himself as a disciplined person, not strongly against authority, vaguely hopeful in the future of socialism, but aware of its deficiencies. He and his wife, Taissia, were both dedicated scientists, drawn to Koltsovo in 1976 by the promise of greater opportunity for research. Around him, the institute was growing quickly. Dozens of new buildings were being constructed, and modern equipment installed. The formal name was the Institute of Molecular Biology, and it later became known as Vector. In microbiology, “vector” refers to a vehicle for transferring fragments of DNA from one cell to another.3
    Popov had grown up nearby, in Novosibirsk, and earned his university degrees there. Just south of the city was Akademgorodok, or Academic Town, which included the Novosibirsk State University and dozens of prestigious institutes for research into physics, mathematics, geology, chemistry and social sciences. With wide boulevards lined with pine, birch, spruce and cedar, and a large concentration of scientists, Akademgorodok was known for relatively free thinking in contrast to the stifling, ideological atmosphere of Moscow. The son of railway engineers, Popov was attracted to mathematics as a youth. His parents recognized his talent and sent him to a special school with an advanced program in mathematics. As a teenager, he was interested in chemistry. When he was sixteen years old, he decided to design his own rocket fuel. He succeeded, but it exploded in his face and eyes; a piece of glass got stuck in his eyelid, and acid burned him from head to toe. His scars eventually healed.
    In 1984, at Vector, Popov was head of the chemistry department. He was facing a new challenge, the dawn of an ambitious quest to penetrate the secrets of the smallpox virus. Four years earlier, the World Health Organization had triumphantly announced that smallpox had been eradicated from the face of the Earth. Millions of lives had been spared. But what the outside world didn’t know was that smallpox was an object of experimentation for the scientists at Vector.
    The virus, which had killed more people than all the wars of the twentieth century combined, was itself to be made into a weapon of war.

    When he started at Koltsovo, Popov was dreaming only about science. He and his wife were lured by the promises of Lev Sandakhchiev, a compact, intense, chain-smoking scientist of Armenian descent who was assistant scientific director of Vector, and became director in 1979. Sandakhchiev was known to many as a restless hustler for his fledgling institution. He offered them salaries that were 50 percent higher than elsewhere. He had plentiful job vacancies, which meant they could expect career advancement; he persuaded the authorities to allocate foreign currency to him for purchasing reagents and equipment; and he could offer them a good apartment, which was scarce elsewhere. Popov knew the location well, and as he rode his bicycle around, he marveled at the construction, including a new nine-story apartment building. Something big was happening here. Sandakhchiev told them they would be engaged in applied science, taking academic discoveries and creating useful products. Sergei and Taissia arrived with high hopes. “It was very attractive, and we knew nothing about biological weapons at that time,” Popov said. “Nobody even said a single word about it. It’s not like we were invited to do some kind of biological weapons research. No, no. Not at all. So we were completely naïve and we did not understand what was going on. And we were invited to join a new institution, and that was it.”
    Sandakhchiev was in a hurry. He wanted to push the frontiers of genetic engineering in biological weapons. The sprawling facility included special departments for every step: to develop and produce culture media; to grow cells for the production of viruses; to grow the viruses; to isolate and manipulate DNA; to isolate the necessary enzymes; to test the results on animals, and more. His institute did achieve some gains in civilian research, but at the core, it was a laboratory to discover new methods of using viruses to kill people on a massive scale.
    After earning his doctorate at Novosibirsk State University in 1976, Popov became a junior scientist in the chemistry department at Vector. Chemistry was vital to unwrapping the secrets of genes. In the first year or two, he recalled, the scientists were given basic training in microbiology. They practiced growing viruses using harmless species variants, known as bacterial phages. In 1978, Popov was promoted to head of the chemistry department, and he began to learn the true goals Sandakhchiev had in mind. He got his clearance for access to top-secret information. “And at that point I became irreversibly involved in the biological weapons program.”
    “So it was quite innocent,” he recalled. “They said, you are in the position of a department head, and you need to understand that in addition to academic research, we need to develop some military projects to defend our country.” Popov was prohibited from travel abroad without special permission. They asked him to sign a statement promising to keep the deepest secrets. “That was the beginning,” he said, “a very critical step. I committed myself. I signed the papers because there was no choice. Everybody was polite and nobody insisted, but I know very few people in my position who refused to cooperate. The refusal would be a kind of suicide, meaning the KGB would be after you for the rest of your life, and you would never get a decent job. I admire those people who had the courage to say ‘no.’ They were more mature than I was.”
    Popov said he also had doubts about whether germs would ever be used in war, even as he became more deeply involved. “I never believed those weapons could ever be used. I always believed they would never be used, because it was so absurd, everything was so absurd and so self-destructive.” He said it would be “ridiculous” to use germs on a battlefield, the impact being so unpredictable. He added, “The only justification for me to be involved in this absurdity was that I was pushed… There was a popular saying that if they fire you, there will be just one place to find a job. It will be the Western Siberia Hat Company.” That was a metaphor for a humiliating dead end. At Koltsovo, by contrast, promising research challenges, facilities, and opportunity beckoned.
    The KGB had a large presence at the institute, supervising documents, watching management, keeping an eye out for spies. Each employee went through a meticulous background check. Links to the outside world were forbidden, and contacts with foreigners rare. “And there was great, great suspicion regarding somebody who came from abroad,” Popov recalled. “The KGB instructed us how to deal with the visitor, the KGB assigned a special person to follow every step of that visitor, and everybody who contacted that visitor fell under the KGB’s suspicion, so it was a lot of trouble to even talk to the foreigner.” Some scientific articles from overseas journals were distributed, but general Western literature was prohibited. Suspicion was rife. Once, the scientific secretary of the institute was accused of reading literature about yoga, Popov recalled. “And also he had been noticed standing on his head. Head down, and legs up, and that was clearly unacceptable for a person in his position. Although he did it purely at his leisure at home, his abnormal behavior raised the suspicion that if he was capable of doing something like this, he could not be trusted. He was dismissed.”
    The true purpose of Koltsovo was concealed with a “legend,” or cover story. “The so-called open legend provided to everybody was that the purpose of the institute was to push the development of industrial microbiology. And we wanted to know how to modify microbes, how to make them producers of different kinds of biological substances. It was a legitimate goal, which covered up the biological weapons program, because its purpose sounded exactly like the peaceful program. There was only one exception—those modified microbes had, ultimately, to be killers.”
    Amid all the secrecy, Popov recognized a fault in the cover story. A normal institute of this size would be a source of dozens or hundreds of scientific papers in the professional journals. But Popov said scientists were severely restricted in what they could publish. Any paper had to say nothing about their real work, and fit the cover story. “It had to be a confusing, or misleading, or irrelevant story,” he said. The dearth of serious papers from a facility with thousands of research workers would be suspicious. If not making discoveries for science, what were they doing? But Popov was told by high-level officials that the United States had a hidden biological weapons program too, and he believed it. There was hardly any discussion of the 1972 treaty. “You know, the overall perception was that we were quite undeveloped, which was mainly true,” Popov said, reflecting on his thinking in those times. “We thought about ourselves as a country that needed to develop its own capability in terms of biological weapons. We feared being without them, and nobody essentially ever doubted that the Americans had the best biological weapons. And think about the predominant social mentality of the Soviets at that time. Who ever doubted that Americans were always cheating on us? Nobody did, simply because we always did—and expected others would be stupid not to behave in the same way.”

    Viruses are extraordinarily small, submicroscopic particles, hundreds of times smaller than a grain of sand, that infect a biological organism and cause disease. They were first discovered by Dmitri Ivanovsky, a Russian microbiologist, in 1892, and six years later by Martinus Beijerinck, a Dutch microbiologist and botanist. Ivanovsky was trying to understand why tobacco mosaic disease, in the sap of tobacco plants, could not be captured by a porcelain filter that trapped bacteria. He realized that the disease particle was so small that it was passing through the filter. Viruses are barely life-forms, consisting of nothing more than a protein shell and bits of genetic material and sometimes a membrane. But they can be destroyers, carrying incredibly high virulence and contagiousness. They have caused smallpox and influenza epidemics. They work by infecting a host cell, then directing the cell to replicate and produce more viruses. Unlike bacteria, they cannot be treated with antibiotics.
    Sandakhchiev’s dream was to build viral demons the world had never known—viruses that would attack troops or populations. But there were formidable hurdles to be overcome in this still-backward realm of Soviet science. The researchers had to learn to walk before they could run, and one of the early challenges was to synthesize genetic material, to make artificial DNA. At the time, methods were known in the West for creating simple genes, but the Soviet Union was still far behind. In the first six months of 1980, Sandakhchiev sent Popov on an extraordinary mission. Popov went to the University of Cambridge, England, to the famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology, a center of many of the world’s advances in microbiology, to absorb and copy the technology for DNA synthesis and bring it back. Travel abroad by a participant in the Soviet bioweapons program was highly unusual, and Popov’s trip had to be approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. Popov went alone, without his family, posing as a civilian researcher for six months, studying intensively, and returned to Koltsovo with the know-how. He also had been given a glimpse of life in the West—something he never forgot.4
    When he returned to Koltsovo, laborious and time-consuming synthesis of DNA got underway. The fragments of genetic material had to be fabricated from nucleotides, the fundamental units of nucleic acids, one by one. For a small gene, this might be feasible. For example, somatostatin, a growth regulatory hormone, is a tiny protein, only fourteen amino acids long. Scientists could synthesize it by making a DNA chain forty-two nucleotides long. But more complex genes could require hundreds or thousands of nucleotides. In his laboratory, Popov recalled, he often had more than fifty scientists with doctorate training engaged in this arduous work. “The labs were filled up with flasks, bottles of solvents and reagents, people standing in front of numerous fume hoods, doing that tedious, step-by-step chemical procedure.”
    Yet the restless Sandakhchiev pushed him hard to synthesize enough genetic material to make artificial viruses. “From the beginning it seemed like a crazy idea,” Popov said, “but Sandakhchiev was a master of ambitious projects who set high goals. While we were struggling with making DNA fragments of 15 to 20 units long, he dreamed about thousands. We understood that in order to really speed things up we had to do the synthesis automatically. Sandakhchiev came up with the idea to build a huge warehouse or factory with automatic robots assembling DNA of different viruses. One virus a month, that would be an ideal productivity. And you could assemble biological weapons one after another.”
    The World Health Organization campaign against smallpox had taken more than a decade to complete. Now Sandakhchiev was proposing to create a new virus every month.
    “There was a green light given to Sandakhchiev’s idea,” Popov recalled. “What if the Soviet Union would be able to produce disease agents one after another? Agents with unbelievable efficacy, and without a means of protection against them? That was his brilliant idea.” Popov was told to study how to construct a “synthesizer,” an assembly line—what would it take? Sandakhchiev was interested in making SV40, a virus that causes cancer in monkeys, since the genetic sequence was the only one already known. It was more than five thousand nucleotides long. Popov told him it would require two or three years. Sandakhchiev was disappointed; he still wanted a new virus every month. “To me it sounded like extreme stupidity,” Popov said, but “Sandakhchiev clearly understood the rules of the game with the Soviet military lobby. He stunned the generals with crazy, crazy, crazy ideas, well ahead of others.”

    In the early 1980s, Popov and others at Vector, in conjunction with another institute in Moscow, genetically engineered an agent to create artificial interferon, an antiviral substance produced in the body.5 Popov was decorated with a high state award for his work on interferon. Interferon was a valuable civilian invention, and part of Vector’s cover story. Meanwhile, behind the curtain, Vector began to study smallpox, hoping to give it new life as a biological weapon.
    The smallpox virus is called Variola. The most severe and common is Variola major. Over the course of human history, Variola major claimed hundreds of millions of lives, and caused the most feared of deadly scourges. Historically, Variola major had an overall fatality rate of about 30 percent.6 Those who contracted smallpox suffered terribly. Jonathan Tucker, who has written extensively on smallpox, described it this way: “After a two-week incubation period, smallpox racked the body with high fever, headache, backache, and nausea, and then peppered the face, trunk, limbs, mouth and throat with hideous, pus-filled boils. Patients with the infection were in agony—their skin felt as if it was being consumed by fire, and although they were tormented by thirst, lesions in the mouth and throat made it excruciating to swallow.” For those who survived, the disease ran its course in two or three weeks. But it was highly transmissible, spread in the air by talking or sneezing, and remained contagious in clothing and bed linens. As recently as 1967, the disease sickened between 10 and 15 million people each year in forty-three countries and caused an estimated 2 million deaths.7
    A long campaign to eradicate smallpox ended with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of success May 8, 1980. The WHO recommended the end of vaccinations worldwide. “The conquest of smallpox,” Tucker said, “the first—and so far, only—infectious disease to have been eradicated from nature by human effort, was among the greatest medical achievements of the twentieth century.”
    Now, at Vector, Popov urged Sandakhchiev to consider smallpox for reengineering in Project Factor, instead of re-creating SV40 or making artificial viruses. Why not invent something new out of smallpox? Smallpox was simple to grow, easily aerosolized, caused a disease with a high mortality and was stable in storage.
    Popov did not at this point work directly on the dangerous smallpox virus, but used models with related viruses, such as vaccinia or ectromelia, mousepox. The models acted like a stand-in for the real thing. Popov recalled the institute was also coming under pressure from Moscow to produce results. It had been established almost ten years earlier and Sandakhchiev was being criticized for not producing more dramatic breakthroughs. “We were pushed very hard by the Central Committee to accelerate,” Popov recalled. “There were promises and big investments in the program, but no output. And that’s when Factor became a focus of my research.”
    As he began trying to manipulate some microbes, Popov faced a serious difficulty. It was hard to get organisms to increase the amount of toxin they discharged. They could emit a small amount, but if he tried to make them more productive, there was an unexpected side effect: the microbe became less poisonous. The virulence of the organism would decline, instead of increasing. “If we made them good producers,” he said, “we often ended up with poor killers.” Through years of work, Popov searched for a solution.
    His work eventually took him in a slightly different direction. Working with others, he found a way to set off a biological trigger, or switch, to deceive the body’s immune system. Normally, when there’s a disease, the body attacks it. But in this new concept, if the microbe is made to appear similar to the human body, the immune system would be triggered not only against the invader, but to attack the healthy person, to turn on itself. This made the genetically engineered organism a powerful killer—without having to produce more of the poison.
    “The idea was to subvert the natural regulation of the human body and direct it against itself,” Popov explained to me. “All this would require only a biological switch, or signal, which the body is expected to follow.”
    The body’s immune system could be fooled to attack the body itself.
    There were different possible targets considered in the research, Popov said, but a decision was made to have the immune system turn against the body’s nervous system. Thus, if developed into a real weapon, it would cause victims to suffer in two waves. The first might be smallpox. But then, perhaps after a period of recovery, the body would turn on its own nervous system, and the victims would be paralyzed and die. The second wave would be unexpected; no vaccine could stop the process. “As a weapon, the thing would be absolutely untreatable,” he said. “Absolutely untreatable, because first of all it may come as a surprise after the initial disease has gone away, the person may recover completely. And then the new wave of disease would be the death response…”
    In 1985, Popov built what is known as the “construct” of his idea, a piece of DNA that would be inserted somewhere into a genome. It was only the start, but it was significant enough that Sandakhchiev no longer needed the earlier proposal to manufacture large quantities of artificial DNA. They could make the deadly agents with just small bits of genetic material. And it became clear that a whole new generation of agents for potential use in weapons was beckoning.
    At Koltsovo, scientists like Popov broke through barriers of knowledge, but building actual weapons was the job of the military, which maintained its own separate laboratories. Vector was a research facility. The “customer” was the 15th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. Periodically, the customer came to visit Vector, to check on progress. And there was finally something to tell them.

    Secluded in the forests outside of Moscow, another scientist was fighting his own battle. While Vector sought to alter viruses, Igor Domaradsky attempted to reengineer the genetic makeup of bacteria into an unstoppable warrior. Domaradsky walked with a slight limp; he had suffered polio as a child, and tuberculosis and malaria as an adult. He had a reputation for being irritable, hard to contain, and he later called himself a troublemaker, an inconvenient man. He was always restless. He yearned for the rewards of scientific discovery but worked in service of weapons of death.8
    In 1984, he was fifty-nine years old. During the week, he lived alone in Protvino, a small town one hundred miles south of Moscow. He drove through the mixed forests of birch and bogs each day to start work at a secret laboratory. The location was called Obolensk, after ancient princes who once ruled the forests. He was fond of the drive, and often, in winter, came face-to-face with roaming elk. He remembered when Obolensk was carved out of the woods. At first, there were temporary “huts,” long, crude one-story barracks for researchers. By the early 1980s, the modern Korpus No. 1 rose out of the forest. Outwardly, it appeared to be another eight-story, boxy Soviet office building. But inside it was 400,417 square feet dedicated to the study and manipulation of dangerous pathogens. The third floor was devoted to especially hazardous materials. Massive airlocks and seals guarded against leaks.9 Obolensk itself was dark and marshy, and Domaradsky considered it a privilege to have his apartment ten miles to the south in Protvino, in the fresh air near the banks of the Oka River.
    The laboratory at Obolensk was known as Post Office Box V-8724, one of dozens of closed Soviet cities and laboratories devoted to Cold War military work.10 Domaradsky worked in the laboratory during the week, living in his Protvino apartment, and drove two hours back to Moscow to see his family on weekends, sometimes lingering in the city on Monday. His wife, Svetlana Skvortsova, was a talented actress and teacher who thrived in Moscow’s rich cultural life. Domaradsky worked in lonesome isolation.
    The enforced solitude caused him to ponder all that he had done. In the apartment, he began collecting papers and hiding notes of his life’s work, making illicit photocopies so the evidence of his achievements would not be destroyed by the secret services that watched over him.
    On weekday mornings, Domaradsky switched on the radio in his apartment to listen to Radio Free Europe, the BBC and Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster, which were easier to receive in the countryside than in the big cities. “Nobody bothered me, and I luxuriated in my freedom to listen to foreign radio, learning a great deal of news about the USSR and the world that was not available in Moscow.” He would then put on a record of his favorite music. Sometimes he went skiing, in the mornings or evenings after work, through a park and forest. Food shortages were common, but Domaradsky was permitted to shop at the small elite “Ryabinka” grocery store for directors of a nearby physics institute. While Soviet citizens were in lines for the basics, the store carried such rare commodities as instant coffee and caviar, delivering them to his door and taking his order for the next delivery. He felt well off, but his science was difficult, and its goals, he knew, were dreadful.
    Tularemia, commonly known as “rabbit fever,” is caused by a bacterium that is highly infectious. It is formally known as Francisella tularensis and is found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares. In the early 1980s, the microbe became the object of Domaradsky’s research. He yearned to work on several other pathogens at the same time, but the Soviet bosses wanted results from tularemia. He was searching for a way to make tularemia into an agent that would infect people while resisting both antibiotics and vaccines. He was searching for an unstoppable supergerm.
    In general, the Soviet military preferred to use contagious pathogens like the smallpox virus and plague because they could cause epidemics. The military would simply light the spark, and the disease would spread like wildfire on its own. Tularemia is not contagious, and thus cannot be passed from human to human. Yet the military retained interest in tularemia because it required as few as ten microorganisms inhaled or ingested to infect someone.11 Tularemia is also stable and easy to aerosolize; the microorganism can survive for weeks at low temperatures.
    Unlike viruses, which are nothing more than a few genes and protein, with perhaps a membrane, bacteria live inside rigid outer walls. The wall is critical to the cell’s survival, giving it structure and support. Without it, the cell dies. In the 1930s and 1940s, antibiotics were developed that could attack bacteria; the first was penicillin. These drugs could slow or even kill the bacteria in several ways: weaken the cell wall, inhibit its growth or stop its replication. Antibiotics helped defeat infections that have threatened man through the centuries. Diseases such as rheumatic fever, syphilis and bacterial pneumonia became easily treatable. These miracle medicines held promise that some diseases could be wiped out. By the 1940s, there were dozens of antibiotics, but then came another twist: bacteria acquired resistance to them. Within a few years, many of the powerful wonder drugs were losing their efficacy. The remaining bacteria were no longer vulnerable to antibiotics, as a result of natural selection—those which were genetically able to resist the drugs had survived. Over time only the resistant bacteria remained, and the drugs lost their effectiveness.12
    The goal of Domaradsky’s research was to build a new microbe that would be resistant to many antibiotics. As an instrument of war, it would slice through helpless populations or armies like a scythe. According to Ken Alibek, who rose to become deputy director of the Soviet bioweapons program in the late 1980s, Domaradsky had once proposed to develop a strain of tularemia that would stand up against a whole spectrum of antibiotics, overcome vaccines and at the same time not lose its virulence. “The Soviet army wasn’t satisfied with weapons resistant to one type of antibiotic,” Alibek said. “The only worthwhile genetically altered weapon, for military strategists, was one that could resist all possible treatments.”13 The generals wanted a strain that could resist up to ten different antibiotics at once, Alibek recalled. The proposal was audacious, complex and difficult to fulfill.
    Domaradsky had little to work with. Knowledge in the Soviet Union about the tularemia microbe was scant. “We had no data on its biochemistry or its genetics,” he said. Domaradsky persuaded the Moscow authorities to let him recruit the best researchers in the country for his project.
    By his own account, Domaradsky’s long struggle was complicated by constant pressure from the Soviet leadership, which wanted results delivered on a rigid schedule of five-year plans. The biological weapons program was under the purview of a powerful agency, the Military Industrial Commission, which set down deadlines that Domaradsky found infuriating. By 1984, he had been working on the tularemia idea for nearly eight years. Every month, the bosses arrived from Moscow in official cars, driving up to Obolensk with sirens wailing and lights flashing. The visitors, impatient, wanted to know how the project was going, and turned to Domaradsky. His research was slow and painstaking. “That microbe does not recognize genetic information, nor does it possess the right genes for antibiotic resistance on its own,” he said of tularemia. While Domaradsky reported making progress toward conquering resistance to antibiotics, he said, “we were nowhere near” the second goal of creating a germ that could also overcome vaccines.
    Once, Domaradsky bitterly fought with his bosses when they suggested changing the outward appearance of the germ by attaching another organism, staphylococcus, to the tularemia bacteria. “This amounted to trying to stick a piece of the staphylococcus germ directly onto the surface of the tularemia cells, which could not possibly have worked,” he recalled. The creation would never replicate. “It’s a little like sticking the wings of a crow onto a cat and hoping the cat will produce flying kittens,” Domaradsky scolded.
    Domaradsky had been appointed scientific director of Obolensk in 1978. Four years later, a new general director was appointed, Major General Nikolai Urakov, who had come from a military laboratory in Kirov. Urakov was tall, his hair always combed in a swoop back from his forehead, a man of military style and bearing. He loved expressions such as “master the situation!” and “burn with a white-hot iron!,” which meant to utterly destroy something.
    While Domaradsky treasured his independence, and was eager to follow his curiosity into different subjects, Urakov tried to force progress on the tularemia project, and refused to let Domaradsky work on other pathogens. He made Domaradsky’s life miserable, sometimes calling meetings about tularemia on Saturday so the scientist could not visit his family in Moscow. “Being a soldier to the marrow of his bones, Urakov respected only force and brooked no arguments,” Domaradsky complained years later in his memoir. “For me and my colleagues, however, the most difficult aspect of Urakov’s regime was the complete neglect of fundamental science. Everyone who has ever dealt with the genetics of bacteria knows how complicated it is to produce a new strain, indeed to create a new species! In order to make Urakov realize this, we reported to him every detail of our work: how we obtained different variants, and the methods we used.” But Domaradsky said the director would not listen.
    “I don’t need your strains! I need just one strain!” Urakov declared. “We are not playing here, we are making a weapon!”
    In the laboratory, Domaradsky faced a huge obstacle: if a bacterium acquired some new characteristic, it could lose others. This happened to tularemia. “Having become resistant to several antibiotics, the strain lost its virulence, which was unacceptable to the military,” he said. If the virulence fell, or if a test animal managed to survive a day longer, the military regarded it as a serious setback. “The desired bioweapons strain had to be fully virulent and deliverable in aerosol form. One germ cell had to be enough to start a lethal infection in a monkey,” Domaradsky said. “Furthermore, the infection had to be incurable.”
    Domaradsky came up with a fresh approach. He suggested taking two strains, both of which had lost virulence because of genetic engineering, but both having gained resistance to different antibiotics, and combining them into one super-germ. The pair, working together, might compensate for what each had lost in the genetic engineering. Domaradsky called this the “binary” approach, and had high hopes for it. The result might be “a rapidly growing, extremely virulent, and essentially untreatable disease, which would bring about the same result as if we had managed to produce a single super strain with its virulence and other properties intact.” He estimated the pair might be resistant to six or eight antibiotics at once. “This would make countering a biological weapons attack all but impossible,” he said, “especially on a large scale.”
    But Urakov stubbornly rejected his plan.

    As a young man, Domaradsky experienced the hardships and horrors of the early decades of the Soviet Union. Born in Moscow in 1925, he grew up in Saratov, along the Volga River, where his father had been sent after arrest and imprisonment during Stalin’s Great Terror. A grandfather was also arrested. Domaradsky never forgot the persecution of his relatives, the cruelty and violence of the system and the hunger of those early years. In late 1942, Domaradsky’s family fled to safety in Kazakhstan. In 1943, at seventeen years old, Domaradsky was summoned by the military for duty, but he was rejected because of the polio limp. He decided to study medicine and returned to Saratov after the war. By 1950, he had graduated from university and was assigned a research job at the All Union Anti-Plague Institute in Saratov, known informally as Mikrob.
    Plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, has long been feared in Russia, and epidemics swept southern parts of the country in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a result, the Soviet Union established a network of specialized institutes to prevent and control plague outbreaks, and the Mikrob institute became the nerve center for the whole country, organizing investigations of the steppes and the deserts. Rodents such as marmots, gerbils and prairie dogs carried plague and it sometimes flared into epizootic outbreaks, an epidemic among animals that could spill over into human populations. The agent, Yersinia pestis, is transmitted from sick rodents to humans through fleas. In the field, Soviet plague-control researchers had to be microbiologists, epidemiologists, zoologists, parasitologists and sometimes general practitioners.
    The biochemistry of the plague microbe had not been studied in the Soviet Union. For his doctorate, Domaradsky decided to examine the organism’s protein metabolism. He successfully defended his doctorate in 1956. Within a year, at thirty-one years old, he was appointed director of the anti-plague institute at Irkutsk in Siberia, which handled plague control and research for the entire Far East. In 1964, he was transferred to the anti-plague institute in Rostov-on-Don. It was a time of turmoil. The focus of the institute was being shifted from routine work on plague control to devising new ways to defend against biological weapons. This was Domaradsky’s first, tentative step into the world of germ warfare. The search for defenses against biological attack was known as “Problem No. 5.”14
    In the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s, both superpowers built arsenals of biological weapons from existing, known pathogens. Domaradsky viewed his work as a contribution to civil defense, a prudent measure to protect the population in the event of attack, just as underground bunkers would protect citizens from nuclear bomb fallout. The move to Rostov gave Domaradsky a rich opportunity to research the plague microbe just at the moment when microbiology was resurfacing in the Soviet Union.
    Genetics expanded rapidly in the West with the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins in 1953. In the decades that followed, scientists found ways to manipulate DNA in the laboratory. But in the Soviet Union, this was known only to a few Soviet scientists through smuggled journals and reports.
    The field was paralyzed for a generation, starting in the 1930s, because of the influence of Trofim Lysenko, an agronomist who claimed that the acquired characteristics of plants and animals could be altered by tailoring their environment, and then passed from one generation to the next. Lysenko denied the fundamentals of genetics. He became a member of the Academy of Sciences, and his critics were persecuted and sent to the prison camps, including the great botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. By the 1950s, genetics disappeared as a discipline in the Soviet Union. Lysenko’s downfall came only a year after the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev as Soviet leader in October 1964.15
    Lysenko had left few scientists untouched. Domaradsky recalled that he had to insert some “rubbish” into his own doctorate dissertation to conform with Lysenko. But with Lysenko’s influence fading in the early 1960s, Domaradsky could push more deeply into the genetics of plague. At the Rostov laboratories, Domaradsky and his researchers made a major advance in understanding the nature of plasmids, strands of genetic material found in bacteria that carry the codes for such things as virulence and antibiotic resistance. Plasmids are used in genetic engineering because they can replicate without harming the organisms they come from and can be transferred into another bacterium, even of a different bacterial species. Domaradsky considered one of his triumphs the development of an antibiotic-resistant strain of plague that could be used for vaccines. It was developed for civil defense, he told himself; the Rostov institute had never been working directly on weapons. “On the other hand, there was a dark side to that research,” Domaradsky later acknowledged, “though I did not realize it at the time.” The dark side was that his discovery could just as easily be applied to Yersinia pestis to create a new, killer plague.

    For centuries, humans have sought to use toxins and toxic agents in war. The very terms “toxic” and “toxin” are derived from the ancient Greek toxikon pharmakon (arrow poison). The first biowarfare was conducted with what are called fomites—the crude use of filth, animal carcasses and contagion as weapons. These have been used to contaminate wells, reservoirs and other water sources of armies and civilian populations under attack since antiquity, through the Napoleonic era and into the twentieth century.16
    In World War I, advances in science and military technology gave rise to widespread use of chemical weapons. The use of German chlorine gas at Ypres on April 22, 1915, opened an epoch of horror. Over the next three years, 113,000 tons of chemical weapons agents were used in battle, killing more than 91,000 and wounding 1.2 million.17 In the aftermath, 128 nations signed an international agreement, the Geneva Protocol, on June 17, 1925, pledging never to use chemical or biological agents in war. The United States, despite being the country that championed the treaty, did not ratify the agreement at the time, and many nations signed but said they would reserve the right to retaliate with chemical weapons as a deterrent.18
    The Geneva Protocol was little more than a no-first-use agreement. It did not stop basic research, production or possession of chemical and biological weapons, and there were no provisions for inspection.
    Chemical weapons consist of inert substances, such as arsenic, while biological weapons are made from living things, such as bacteria and viruses. A third category are toxins, which are isolated from living organisms, but unlike bacteria or viruses, they can’t replicate.
    In the years that followed the Geneva Protocol, the race to discover biological weapons did not stop.
    Japan’s quest was horrific. After reading of the Geneva accord in 1927, a Japanese military scientist, Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii, traveled the globe, and concluded Japan should arm itself with the weapon others were forsaking. The Japanese biological weapons program included four biological warfare units in China between 1936 and 1945. The largest of them during World War II was known as Unit 731, at Ping Fan in occupied Manchuria. Japan cultivated deadly bacteria and carried out large-scale, open-air testing of live pathogens, including anthrax as bacterial slurry in bombs. Japan also tested pathogens on prisoners of war. The precise death toll is not known but was in the thousands, and perhaps more if various epidemics are included. Japanese aircraft also dropped ceramic bombs containing plague-infested fleas, and grain to attract rats, in a series of field tests of aerial biological bombs on eleven Chinese cities in 1940. In the end, the military effectiveness of the Japanese weapons remains unclear. But the toll in death and suffering overall was large.19
    For Russian troops in the wars at the turn of the twentieth century—the Russo-Japanese war, World War I and the civil war of 1918–1921—infectious diseases transmitted naturally caused far greater casualties than battlefield wounds. Typhus was feared the most; an epidemic during the civil war made a deep impression on the military commanders—disease had been more deadly than bullets. The Red Army looked for methods to defend against disease, but also experimented with biological weapons.20 A British spy, in a secret intelligence report sent to London, described open-air tests of a crude aerial bomb in October 1926 on Kulali Island in the Caspian Sea. The bomb contained ampoules of tetanus bacilli in a steel cylinder, with blades that would cause it to rotate as it fell. At the right moment, the bomb exploded and the germs were broadcast out—the tests showed they were spread up to five hundred meters away and did not lose their virulence.21
    In 1928, a full-scale biowarfare program was ordered by the Soviet Union’s Revolutionary Military Council. The decree ordered the transformation of typhus into a battlefield weapon. The main biowarfare laboratory was located in Leningrad. One hundred miles north, at a prison camp on Solovetsky Island in the White Sea, additional tests were made in the 1930s with typhus, Q fever, glanders and melioidosis.
    At the start of World War II, with the German advance, all the Soviet germ warfare facilities were hurriedly evacuated eastward by rail to the city of Kirov, where the whole effort was reassembled in the regional hospital.
    At war’s end, the Soviet Union had acquired and weaponized a group of biological warfare agents they referred to as the golden triangle: plague, anthrax and cholera. Soviet troops had overrun the Japanese biological weapons headquarters in Manchuria in 1945. They found buildings destroyed by the retreating Japanese, but they seized prisoners and documents. In 1949, the Soviets tried a dozen Japanese prisoners who testified about germ warfare experiments. Details of the Japanese biological weapons program were sent to Moscow, including “blueprints for biological warfare assembly plants, far larger and more complex than our own.” Stalin ordered the Japanese plans to be used to build a military research facility in Sverdlovsk. Yet another laboratory run by the military was opened in the city of Zagorsk, north of Moscow, in 1953 for the study of viruses. And a remote base for germ warfare testing, which had been used in 1937–1938, was reactivated in the Aral Sea in the early 1950s.22
    Through the 1950s and 1960s, American intelligence agencies struggled to learn more about Soviet biological weapons, but without much success. There was a tantalizing hint about the island in the Aral Sea. It was first identified as a potential bioweapons testing site by Walter Hirsch, a captured German chemical warfare expert who mentioned the site in a 1951 report he wrote for the United States.23 The American intelligence community then examined everything they could find about the Aral Sea, but came up with nothing. A 1954 CIA intelligence estimate declared:
    The USSR has the technical knowledge, trained personnel, and facilities necessary for a program of research and development in biological warfare, and we believe that such a program is almost certainly in progress. Firm evidence on the subject is, however, exceedingly scanty, and is likely to remain so because of the ease with which such a program can be concealed. Our estimates must be almost exclusively of what the USSR is capable of accomplishing in this field, rather than of what it has in fact accomplished.24
    In 1957, high-altitude photography of the island in the Aral Sea by U-2 spy planes showed more than 150 buildings, grouped into two settlements about two and a half miles apart. Still, intelligence analysts found the photos inconclusive. Another U-2 photo run was made in 1959. The photos offered no more clues; the U.S. analysts still had doubts. They said the facilities seemed too crude for testing of biological weapons. In 1965, the Soviet program still remained a mystery. A CIA study that year concluded: “Despite a considerable expenditure of time and resources, the pursuit of intelligence on biological warfare activities in the USSR has been unrewarding. There is no firm evidence of the existence of an offensive Soviet BW program.” The CIA analysts were puzzled because they expected to find a Soviet germ warfare program, but had not. They titled their report “The Enigma of Soviet BW.”25

    The United States entered the search for biological weapons early in World War II, following Great Britain, which feared the Axis powers would use the weapons. In October 1941, Secretary of War Henry Stimson asked the National Academy of Science for advice about the dangers. The response in February 1942 was that biological warfare was feasible.26 In May, a small civilian agency was set up, the War Reserve Service, under George W. Merck, chairman of Merck & Company, the pharmaceutical company, to begin developing a biological weapons program. In December, the army’s Chemical Warfare Service took over and prepared a large-scale research and development program. By April 1943, ground was broken for a research facility at Camp Detrick, Maryland, a small air national guard training site forty-five miles north of Washington. In December 1943, the Office of Strategic Services had received “inconclusive” intelligence that Germany might use biological weapons, perhaps putting anthrax or Botulinum toxin in their cross-channel rockets.27 The U.S. program was expanded, and more fully integrated into the War Department. Alarm about a possible German biological weapon led British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to ask the United States for 500,000 anthrax munitions. The army refitted a plant at Vigo, Indiana, in 1944 for the production of anthrax spore slurry. The Vigo plant was equipped with twelve 20,000-gallon fermenters, capable of producing fill for 240 four-pound anthrax bombs an hour. The plant underwent safety tests, but the war ended before production began.28 The Germans never weaponized biological agents; it turned out the Japanese program was much more active. During the war, the American biological weapons program was conducted with the secrecy equivalent of the Manhattan Project, and details were unveiled only in January 1946 by Merck. One aspect that remained hidden until later was the United States grant of immunity from prosecution to the leaders of Japan’s notorious Unit 731 in exchange for details about their research.29
    During the Korean War, extensive propaganda from the Soviet Union and China accused the United States of using biological weapons in Korea. Documents declassified in recent years show that although the United States attempted to accelerate and acquire biological weapons during the war, the effort to create a viable weapons program was unsuccessful.30 After the war, the program expanded with the Cold War and competition with the Soviet Union. A facility built at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for large-scale fermentation, concentration, storage and weaponization of microorganisms began production in 1954. Human experimentation using military and civilian volunteers started in 1955. Biological bombs were detonated inside a one-million-liter hollow metallic spherical aerosolization chamber at Fort Detrick, Maryland, known as “the 8 ball.”31 An open-air testing site was built at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. In May 1962, the army created a biological and chemical warfare coordinating organization, the Deseret Test Center, located at Fort Douglas, Salt Lake City, Utah. This center served as the headquarters for the biological warfare test operation. The United States carried out as many as 239 open-air trials between 1949 and 1969. Among them, American cities were unknowingly used as laboratories to test aerosols and dispersal methods; the test sites included tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.32 These field tests were carried out with harmless microbes that simulated the behavior of biological warfare. In the 1950s, an American program known as St. Jo developed and tested bombs and delivery methods for possible wartime use of anthrax weapons against Soviet cities. One hundred seventy-three test releases were made of noninfectious aerosols in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Winnipeg, Canada, cities chosen to have approximately the same climate, urban and industrial development and topography as Soviet cities. The weapon to be used was a cluster bomb holding 536 biological bomblets, each containing thirty-five milliliters of anthrax spore slurry and a small explosive charge.33Much more ambitious tests with live agents were used in sea trials carried out in 1965 and 1968 against monkeys as targets on ships and islands in the Pacific Ocean. The 1968 test showed that a single airborne dissemination tank could disperse a virulent infectious agent over nearly a thousand square miles.34 British trials using simulants between 1963 and 1969 also showed that if released by a ship or airplane along a hundred-mile-long line, significant concentrations of bacterial aerosol had passed more than fifty miles inland after a few hours. The trials confirmed that aerosolized bacteria could remain viable for several hours in the open, with 80 percent of the population infected up to forty miles, and half the population infected between forty and eighty miles inland.35
    There was growing concern among scientists about the use of chemical and biological weapons in war. On February 14, 1967, some five thousand scientists, including seventeen Nobel Prize winners and 129 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, asked President Lyndon Johnson in a petition to “re-establish and categorically declare the intention of the United States to refrain from initiating the use of chemical and biological weapons.” Among those who organized the effort were Matthew Meselson, professor of molecular biology at Harvard University. The petition prompted a White House effort to draft a statement saying the United States would not be the first to use biological weapons in the future, but the military objected, and Johnson never issued the statement.36
    Then came an accident. It involved a chemical weapons test but had much broader repercussions. At 5:30 P.M. on Wednesday, March 13, 1968, an air force jet roared over a circular target grid laid out at Dugway Proving Grounds on the Utah desert floor and sprayed 320 gallons of the lethal nerve gas VX. As the plane zoomed up, a valve failed to close. The deadly VX continued to pour from the plane, was picked up by wind gusts and spread as far as forty-five miles away. Within three days, thousands of sheep in the Skull and Rush valleys were sickened or died.37 The incident came to light only a year later when revealed in a television newsmagazine broadcast.38 Representative Richard McCarthy, a Democrat of Buffalo, New York, who saw the broadcast, began to challenge the army, angered by the secrecy surrounding chemical and biological weapons. “The rule seemed to be: tell as little as possible, and if you get caught in a mistake, fabricate your way out of it,” McCarthy said. Although some scientific research results from the U.S. program were openly published, there were also secret parts, including the Pacific Ocean field tests.
    Nixon had just taken office. His new defense secretary, Melvin Laird, a former eight-term congressman from Wisconsin, aware of the congressional mood, wrote to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that “it is clear the administration is going to be under increasing fire” from Congress. Laird urged a full-scale review of American germ warfare policy.39
    Nixon faced huge protests at the time over Vietnam. The United States had used herbicides such as Agent Orange to defoliate forests and destroy rice crops, and tear gas to force out North Vietnamese fighters from bunkers, drawing international condemnation. Also, that summer the United Nations issued a startling report by fourteen scientists emphasizing the powerful impact of biological weapons, which, if used, could transform a society and its environment. The scientists said that in an attack, biological weapons would infect a wide area. The use of ten tons of agent might cover 38,610 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Indiana. The notion of using biological weapons in war “generates a sense of horror,” the scientists said. “Mass disease, following an attack, especially of civilian populations, could be expected not only because of the lack of timely warning of the danger but because effective measures of protection or treatment simply do not exist or cannot be provided on an adequate scale.”40 The World Health Organization, providing the scientific and medical details for the UN panel, estimated that 110 pounds of dry anthrax, if used by a single bomber against a target city in a suitable aerosol form, would affect an area far in excess of 7.7 square miles, “with tens to hundreds of thousands of deaths.”41
    On November 25, 1969, Nixon announced the United States would unilaterally stop all offensive biological weapons research and destroy the stocks, while maintaining a program of defensive research. He also pledged no first use of chemical weapons, but said the United States would retain them. He vowed to finally send the 1925 Geneva Protocol to the Senate for ratification and he endorsed a British proposal for a follow-up treaty to limit biological weapons. It was the first time in the Cold War that an entire class of weapons was discarded unilaterally.42
    Why did Nixon do it? He appears to have acted, at least in part, out of a personal desire to show that he was a more effective leader than his predecessors had been, especially Kennedy and Johnson. Nixon asserted to Kissinger the decision “wouldn’t have been possible without Nixon trust. And… Eisenhower didn’t even suggest these things.”43 According to diaries kept by his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, Nixon called Haldeman the night of the announcement and wanted to talk politics, urging Haldeman to convene a staff meeting for the next day so Kissinger could emphasize at the meeting that President Johnson could not have attained all Nixon had done—including the biological weapons decision—because Johnson “didn’t have the confidence of the people or the world leaders.”44
    Nixon also adopted the view that nuclear weapons were the supreme deterrent and made biological weapons unnecessary. In his briefing for members of Congress, Kissinger’s written talking points said, “We do not need BW for deterrence when we have nuclears.” After Kissinger’s press briefing, Nixon asked Kissinger in their phone conversation “if he was able to get across the point on deterrent, and K said he had.” White House speechwriter William Safire, who drafted Nixon’s renunciation, asked the president whether a few biological weapons should be retained as a deterrent. “We’ll never use the damn germs, so what good is biological warfare as a deterrent?” Nixon replied. “If somebody uses germs on us, we’ll nuke ’em.”45
    Nixon was also urged by scientists to give up biological weapons. Meselson, who knew Kissinger from Harvard, submitted a memorandum to him in September 1969, saying the United States should ratify the Geneva Protocols, outlawing the use of chemical and biological weapons in war. Meselson wrote, “Very small quantities of disease germs would be sufficient to cover large areas: a light aircraft can deliver enough to kill populations over several thousand square miles.” Medical defenses can be “rendered ineffective” against germ warfare, he said, and “reliable early warning systems have not yet been devised.” As a deterrent to attack, he added, the United States already had nuclear weapons. Thus, “we have no need to rely on lethal germ weapons and would lose nothing by giving up the option to use them first.” Meselson added, “Our major interest is to keep other nations from acquiring them.”46
    Separately, scientists on a panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee finished a report in August urging Nixon to scrap offensive biological weapons research and destroy the stockpiles.47
    Nixon announced his decision in the Roosevelt Room of the White House after informing congressional leaders. In his talking points for the press and members of Congress, Kissinger said, “Control and effectiveness of BW agents is questionable.”48 Nixon adopted this argument in his announcement: “Biological weapons have massive, unpredictable, and potentially uncontrollable consequences. They may produce global epidemics and impair the health of future generations.”49 In fact, the American and British trials had shown biological weapons could be well-controlled strategic weapons. Nixon had omitted the related category of toxins from his first statement, but on February 14, 1970, renounced them as well.

    A few months after the toxins announcement, Laird sent an inventory of the U.S. biological weapons arsenal to the White House. It included 220 pounds of anthrax dried agent. According to Laird’s list, the U.S. also had 804 pounds of dried tularemia bacteria and 334 pounds of the incapacitating agent Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis virus, dried, with another 4,991 gallons in liquid suspension. Also in liquid suspension were 5,098 gallons of Q fever. The list said the United States had filled 97,554 munitions with toxins, biological agents or simulants.50 The United States also stockpiled 158,684 pounds of wheat rust and 1,865 pounds of rice blast, both to be used as anti-crop weapons. No missiles were armed with biological warheads, although a bomblet-containing warhead for the short-range surface-to-surface Sergeant missile had been designed. There were eight aircraft sprayers.51 General Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told Nixon at the National Security Council meeting that the Pine Bluff facility could go into production on thirty days’ notice.52 The military arsenal was destroyed by 1973, although the CIA was admonished during a congressional hearing two years later for illegal retention of extremely small amounts of toxin samples.
    In his original declaration, Nixon expressed hope that other nations would follow the U.S. example. The Soviet Union did not.53

—————  5  —————

    Ground zero for testing smallpox and other biological weapons in the Soviet Union was a hot, arid and sandy island, isolated and remote. It was named Vozrozhdeniye, or Rebirth Island, and located in the middle of the Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest inland sea in the world. In the early 1970s, the sea was drying up. Rivers that fed the sea had been diverted for cotton irrigation by Soviet planners. The shoreline receded and water deteriorated, while pesticide runoff increased, threatening birds, fish and small mammals with extinction.
    In mid-July 1971, a Soviet civilian research ship, the Lev Berg, named after a famous Russian biologist and geologist, set sail from Aralsk, a city of fifty thousand then at the northern tip of the sea. On those summer days, the mission of the Lev Berg was to sample the ecological damage. The ship left July 15 and made a long circle around the shoreline. Winds across the water always drifted in a southerly direction. On July 31, the Lev Berg was south of Vozrozhdeniye Island. The ship then returned to home port August 11. A twenty-four-year-old woman who had worked on the deck of the ship, hauling nets and archiving samples, went home and became very ill. In the weeks that followed, she came down with smallpox, then spread it to nine other people in Aralsk. Three died, including two infants under one year old.1
    No direct evidence exists that a smallpox test was the reason for the outbreak, but a senior Soviet official, Pyotr Burgasov, said years later that a test had been conducted there. At the time of the smallpox outbreak, Burgasov was Soviet deputy minister of health.2 He recalled: “A highly potent smallpox formula was being tested on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea…
    Suddenly I got a report saying that deaths from unknown causes had been registered in the town of Aralsk. Here is what happened: A research vessel from the Aralsk Shipping Company came within 15 kilometers of the island (it was forbidden to approach closer than 40 kilometers) and a lab assistant went out on deck twice a day, taking plankton samples. Smallpox pathogen—a mere 400 grams of the formula had been exploded on the island—“got” her; she contracted smallpox, and when she returned home to Aralsk, she infected several more people, some of them children. There were no survivors. When I had pieced together the facts, I called the chief of the USSR General Staff, asking him to forbid Alma-Ata–Moscow trains to stop in Aralsk. Thus a nation-wide epidemic was prevented. I called Andropov, KGB head at the time, and told him about the exceptionally potent smallpox formula developed on Vozrozhdeniye Island. He ordered me to keep mum. This is what real bacteriological weapons are like! Minimum effective range: 15 kilometers. You can easily imagine what would have happened had there been not just one lab assistant, but 100 or 200 people around at the time.3
    The smallpox outbreak was hushed up by the Soviet authorities and never reported to the World Health Organization.

    In 1971, the same year as the Aralsk outbreak, a renewed diplomatic effort was made to strengthen international control over germ warfare. The 1925 Geneva Protocol had covered both chemical and biological weapons. The British proposed at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to separate germ warfare from chemical weapons, and to tackle biological weapons first. The idea was that it would be easier to ban germ warfare before moving on to chemical weapons.4 Nixon’s decision to close down the American biological weapons program had given a new impetus to negotiations.
    The Soviet Union had long insisted on an “immediate and simultaneous ban” on both biological and chemical weapons. But in March 1971, they suddenly agreed to split the two issues. The Soviet Union and the United States approved a new treaty prohibiting biological weapons, which was sent to the United Nations in August and approved unanimously by the General Assembly in December. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was signed in London, Washington and Moscow on April 10, 1972. The four-page agreement banned the development and production of biological weapons, and the means of delivering them. Specifically, Article 1 declared:
    Each state party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain: (1) Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; (2) Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.
    But just as the Geneva Protocol a half century earlier had been weak, so was the new biological weapons treaty. It lacked on-site inspection mechanisms, because the Soviets had refused to accept any. It did not prohibit research if carried out for defensive purposes. At the time, Western diplomats reasoned it was better to get the treaty signed without verification than to have no agreement at all. The treaty simply left it up to each country to police itself. There were no penalties for cheating. There was no organization to monitor compliance.
    Nixon had little faith in the new treaty. He was reluctant to even attend the signing ceremony. On the day he signed it, Nixon privately told Kissinger it was a “silly biological warfare thing which doesn’t mean anything,” and the next day, speaking to Treasury Secretary John Connally, he called it “that jackass treaty on biological warfare.”5
    The Biological Weapons Convention, which took effect on March 26, 1975, was the first post–World War II disarmament treaty in which an entire class of weapons was to be done away with. But the hopes for it were in vain.

    In the winter months of 1972, Igor Domaradsky was recuperating from tuberculosis at a rest home outside of Moscow. One day, an official car arrived unexpectedly to pick him up. Domaradsky was driven to the Soviet health ministry in Moscow, and then to the Kremlin. High-Ranking officials told him that he was being officially transferred from Rostov to Moscow to work for an organization involving microbiology. They were vague about what Domaradsky would do. That summer, in preparation, he defended a new doctorate dissertation in biology. “Had I known what was in store for me I would not have wanted to do it,” he recalled later of the move to Moscow, “and I would certainly have refused.”6 He was assigned to work at a government agency, Glavmikro-bioprom, which was a shortened name for the main directorate of the microbiological industry. Originally, the agency was created to help improve agriculture and medicine, such as creating artificial sweeteners and proteins. When Domaradsky got a small office there, he recalled, he wasn’t sure why.
    In the West, genetics and molecular biology were accelerating. The experiments of cutting, pasting and copying DNA fragments by Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen in California were pushing the science of molecular biology to new levels. Many of the advances came just as Domaradsky was transferred to Moscow. The 1973 experiments of Cohen and Boyer marked the dawn of genetic engineering.7
    Soviet leaders made a momentous decision. Up to this point, their germ warfare program had been a military one. They had signed the new biological weapons treaty. But in deepest secrecy, they decided to violate the agreement, and to expand their pursuit of offensive biological weapons to exploit the new advances in genetic engineering. In the past they had used natural pathogens for weapons. Now they rushed to modify nature and create dangerous new agents. Domaradsky was recruited to be at the center of the program.
    The germ warfare effort was far different from the nuclear arms race. Both superpowers formally negotiated on nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons were legal by the rules of the day. The countries made treaties, set limits and went to great lengths to regulate the competition by arms control negotiations, which they discussed in the open. To protect against cheating, they created verification regimes. But when the Soviet leaders expanded their biological weapons program in the early 1970s, they moved into a dark underside of the arms race. The Soviet program was illegal by the terms of a treaty that Soviet leaders had signed. They broke their own promises, and there was no regulation, verification or enforcement. Their actions give the lie to decades of Soviet propaganda about seeking disarmament. Almost every participant in the Soviet program has said they assumed the United States was also cheating. But in fact the U.S. program had stopped.
    At the time, Brezhnev was influenced by a leading molecular biologist, Yuri Ovchinnikov, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He and several colleagues persuaded Brezhnev to harness the new genesplicing technology for offensive military purposes. According to Ken Alibek, who became deputy director of the Soviet biological weapons program, Ovchinnikov “understood the significance of what he had read in Western scientific journals, and he knew that there were no Soviet laboratories, and few Soviet scientists, equipped to match that level of work.” When it came to convincing the military of the value of this new quest, Alibek said, “Ovchinnikov was persuasive. The most skeptical military commander would have to agree that it was dangerous, if not outrageous, to be behind the West in anything. Ovchinnikov found an influential ally in Leonid Brezhnev. The onetime metallurgical engineer who led the Soviet Union for eighteen years until his death in 1982 regarded the magisterial akademiks of the Soviet scientific establishment with a respect bordering on awe. Ovchinnikov was soon giving private lectures on genetics to Brezhnev and his aides. Slowly the message sank in.”8
    The message was: they had to catch up. As part of the effort, Domaradsky recalled that several prominent Soviet scientists scoured the West for literature on molecular biology and genetics. Among them was Victor Zhdanov, a noted virologist who had initially proposed the global campaign to eradicate smallpox in 1958. Zhdanov won the high regard of Western scientists, and was often permitted to travel abroad. Domaradsky described Zhdanov as sophisticated and worldly. But Zhdanov was also aware of the terrible secrets—plans for a new generation of Soviet biological weapons.
    In microbiology, a fine line exists between research that offers the promise of improved human life—better vaccines, drugs and agricultural products—and research that could be used to exploit human vulnerability to toxins and infectious disease. In the early phases, the same laboratory can be used for either purpose. Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel laureate, wrote that in biological weapons, the “underlying science is unalterably dual-use.” This allowed the Soviet leaders to hide their weapons program.9
    In 1973, soon after the treaty was signed but before it took effect, Brezhnev established a new organization, Biopreparat. The cover story would be that Biopreparat was making medicines and vaccines. But the truth was that Biopreparat was the dual-use mechanism for a recharged and ambitious Soviet effort to discover new offensive biological weapons. Under the cover of civilian pharmaceuticals, Biopreparat would be researching the most dangerous pathogens known to man. To guide it, Brezhnev ordered the creation of a secret, inner council. Brezhnev put the respected virologist Zhdanov in charge of the council, and Domaradsky was named deputy director.
    Within the council, Domaradsky was also put in charge of a “special department” for planning biological weapons development. He had frequent contact with the military bioweapons laboratories, government ministries, Academy of Sciences, and security services. He was now at the “brain center” of the germ warfare research program. The code word for the new offensive weapons drive was “Ferment.” Eventually, it grew to employ tens of thousands of workers and received the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.10
    In 1974, the Soviet government issued another decree, this one public, seeking to accelerate Soviet work in microbiology. “The meaning of this order was clear,” Domaradsky said, “to let the nation and the world know that we had at last awakened and resolved to overcome our backwardness in this field.”11 But once again, the open decree was intended to conceal the truth. The Biopreparat-run laboratories were secretly intended for weapons work and were being erected at Koltsovo and Obolensk. By Alibek’s account, it was the most ambitious Soviet arms program since development of the hydrogen bomb.12
    In his new assignment, Domaradsky was to work in the shadows. All documents concerning Ferment were transported with armed escort in special vehicles. Meetings of the council were held in a specially soundproofed hall, which was checked for bugs by the security services before every meeting. Domaradsky’s subscriptions to scientific literature had to be screened in advance by the security service. He was prohibited to travel outside the Soviet bloc, and often not even there. “I knew too much,” he acknowledged. The travel restrictions, often imposed on those with access to top-secret materials, nonetheless caused him embarrassment. “I had to think up some reason for turning down pressing and very tempting invitations from my foreign colleagues.” He would say he had broken his leg, or come down with an illness, or he had “family problems.” Once, he was on the verge of leaving for an international conference on microbiology in Munich. At the very last minute, the KGB man accompanying the delegation stopped Domaradsky in the street, told him he could not go and demanded his ticket and travel money back.
    Domaradsky and his researchers held ten “inventor’s certificates,” for introducing genetic material into plague, but these papers were classified. Keeping such papers secret was common procedure. Domaradsky was given only a number and date of registration. To see his own certificates he had to enter a special security room and could not take any documents out.
    Domaradsky was deeply conflicted. He desired to explore science, yet was aware he was contributing to instruments of death. The pathogens he developed would eventually be turned into weapons, although he did not deal with the actual bombs, just the germs. “I found the science of Problem Ferment intriguing indeed,” he said. “The attraction of that science seemed more important to me than what was to be done with its results.” He added, “Compromising with my conscience seemed, at the time, like a small price to pay.” Domaradsky said his family’s long struggle with persecution had taught him to be ready to bend. “To survive, I had to hide my true attitude toward the Soviet regime from childhood; I learned quite early to adapt myself to this regime.”
    Moreover, Domaradsky felt a “vaulting pride” at being in the heart of the Soviet effort. He had a secure Kremlin phone, car and good salary. “We saw ourselves engaged in patriotic work,” he said, “advancing the study of molecular biology, immunology, and genetics in the Soviet Union, where these fields had been allowed to languish.” He knew of the treaty prohibiting biological weapons, but assumed Americans were also cheating.
    At the core of the entire bioweapons effort, Domaradsky was in position to see the paperwork, talk to the military and visit the laboratories. As Biopreparat took shape, Domaradsky drafted a plan, approved in 1975, to expand the drive for genetically engineered germ weapons in five major directions, including resistance to antibiotics. This was a key turning point. Programs got underway to transfer the genes from various deadly agents into the cells of bacteria, or into the DNA of viruses, to boost the pathogenetic factors. Domaradsky wanted to inject the genetic material directly into plague. These programs were called “Bonfire” and “Factor.” While Domaradsky worked as deputy director of the council in Moscow, the council also set up a parallel program to use genetically altered viruses and germ weapons to devastate crops and livestock, Project “Ecology.”
    As a young man, Domaradsky had admired the heroic workers of the anti-plague institutes, who protected the public from scourge. Now, the same institutes were quietly dragged into the search for agents of killing. According to Domaradsky, the “Problem No. 5” for civil defense became a cover story for weapons work. The institutes were asked to gather dangerous pathogens they found on the steppe, and to study what made them virulent, so they could be fed into the Biopreparat flasks.
    The Biological Weapons Convention entered into force on March 26, 1975. That June, Alexei A. Roshchin, the Soviet ambassador to the disarmament committee in Geneva, declared: “At the present time, the Soviet Union does not have in its possession any bacteriological (biological) agents or toxins, weapons, equipment or means of delivery specified in Article 1 of the Convention.”13
    Whether Roshchin was aware of the reality is unknown, but Domaradsky certainly knew the truth. “I knew that I was part of a system that was out of control, but I could not think of an alternative way to live my life,” Domaradsky reflected later. “Like my colleagues, I faced a terrible choice: remain with a corrupt and non-functioning system, doing work of (at best) a certain moral ambiguity, or sacrifice my entire scientific career.”
    Soon after the biological weapons treaty was ratified, U.S. intelligence satellites picked up signs of unusual new factories being built in the Soviet Union. William Beecher, the military correspondent of the Boston Globe, reported that satellites detected six potential biological warfare facilities. The plants “feature extremely high smokestacks and refrigerated storage bunkers associated with germ warfare production,” Beecher wrote.14
    Then in April 1979 came the Sverdlovsk anthrax epidemic. Fragmentary reports began to reach the West. The intelligence community had long suspected a secret Soviet biological weapons program existed. Now perhaps there was evidence.
    The first reports began filtering into the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency through Soviet émigrés. A top-secret CIA intelligence report on October 15, 1979, cited an unnamed Soviet émigré as saying that three close friends had told him in May “of an accident at a biological warfare (BW) institute in Sverdlovsk which resulted in 40 to 60 deaths. Other sources have also heard rumors of such an accident.” The report was vague, but noted there was “a suspect BW installation in Sverdlovsk” and that “two reports of the accident suggested a disease that also affects cattle, and one source identified the bacterial agent anthrax as a possible cause.”15
    In December, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan. The SALT II treaty was endangered. If the Soviets were found to have violated the five-year-old biological weapons treaty, it would be yet another serious setback to ratification of the nuclear arms agreement.
    Unexpectedly, fresh intelligence arrived in Washington about Sverdlovsk. A secret CIA report on January 28, 1980, said: “Recent intelligence strengthens allegations that an accident at a BW installation caused civilian casualties in southern Sverdlovsk during April 1979.” This report added the claim of a possible explosion at the plant that caused the release. The report said that “pathogenic bacteria allegedly escaped into the air and spread over industrial and residential areas of southern Sverdlovsk.” The report also took note that, “An announcement about an anthrax epidemic in a public health context appears to have been designed to prevent a possible panic among Sverdlovsk’s million-plus population. The magnitude of the epidemic and the causative organism remain conjecture.”
    In January and February 1980, a practicing surgeon from a Sverdlovsk hospital gave U.S. intelligence agencies a new and more detailed account, which the Defense Intelligence Agency described in a top-secret report March 3. Although some details were vague, the surgeon was correct about many specifics. He said the accident occurred inside a military installation where “dispersible biological weapons” were produced. He said that in April 1979 there had been a “loud explosion which was attributed to a jet aircraft”—this later turned out to be an error—and he noted that within four days, victims had been arriving at Hospital No. 20.
    He also recounted the symptoms of the victims, the deaths of workers at the ceramics factory, the decision to send patients to hospital No. 40 and the announcement that tainted meat caused the outbreak. He added, “This explanation was not accepted by the doctors in attendance because the fatalities were caused by the pulmonary type of anthrax as opposed to the gastric or skin anthrax which would be more likely if one had eaten or handled contaminated beef.” The intelligence agency concluded in the report that the information “presents a very strong circumstantial case for biological weapons activity” at the facility.
    In Moscow on Monday, March 17, 1980, the U.S. ambassador, Thomas Watson, raised the Sverdlovsk anthrax epidemic in a quiet inquiry with the Soviet Foreign Ministry.16 The ministry did not respond right away. In Washington on Tuesday, March 18, a State Department spokesman, responding to questions from journalists, read out a public statement saying there were “disturbing indications” that “a lethal biological agent” might have hit Sverdlovsk in 1979 and this had raised questions “about whether such material was present in quantities consistent with” the biological weapons treaty. The Soviets were surprised by the State Department’s public announcement, which they hadn’t expected.17 The Soviet response came on Thursday, March 20, that the outbreak was caused by contaminated meat.18 The issue was extremely sensitive because that same week in Geneva, diplomats from fifty-three countries were winding up the first five-year review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. They were on the verge of approving a final declaration. The U.S. ambassador to the talks, Charles Flowerree, told his Soviet counterpart, Victor Israelyan, about the message of concern over Sverdlovsk delivered in Moscow.
    The Soviets decided to keep stonewalling. On Friday, March 21, acting on instructions from Moscow, Israelyan made a public statement to the conference. He reassured the conference there was nothing to worry about. “There are no grounds whatsoever” for the questions raised by the United States, he said. “In March–April 1979 in the area of Sverdlovsk there did in fact occur an ordinary outbreak of anthrax among animals, which arose from natural causes, and there were cases where people contracted an intestinal form of this infection as a result of eating meat from cattle which was sold against the regulations established by the veterinary inspectorate.”19
    The same day, after this statement, the conference approved a final declaration on the Biological Weapons Convention. The treaty was working, the member states declared. No one had filed any complaints about violations. Indeed, the word “violation” did not even appear in the final declaration. All the nations that signed the treaty reaffirmed their “strong determination for the sake of all mankind” to avoid biological weapons.20
    A week later, the United States passed a secret message back to Moscow, saying that “reports available to us indicate a prolonged outbreak of pulmonary anthrax in Sverdlovsk, involving a large number of fatalities. Based on our experience, we would expect an outbreak of anthrax resulting from contaminated meat to have been of relatively short duration and to have resulted in only a small number of fatalities.”21
    In Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency turned to experts, including Matthew Meselson, the Harvard molecular biologist who had earlier urged Nixon to outlaw biological weapons. Meselson got a call from Julian Hoptman, the CIA’s longtime analyst of biological weapons. For a week, Meselson stayed at Hoptman’s home, and, with secret clearances, worked at Hoptman’s office at CIA headquarters. They pored over the raw intelligence reports, but the evidence was ambiguous. Hoptman had located the practicing surgeon from Sverdlovsk mentioned in the DIA report, who had emigrated to Israel, and interviewed him. But other sources traveling through Sverdlovsk heard nothing about an epidemic. It turned out the report of an explosion was not correct, but there were many unanswered questions, especially about the diagnosis. In notes he made from that week, Meselson wrote, “The main technical question in my mind at this point concerns the diagnosis of respiratory anthrax.” Was the anthrax inhaled by the victims, which might point to biological weapons dispersed in an aerosol, or was it ingested by them, which could be explained by distribution of bad meat? Or was it some other respiratory disease altogether?
    A related puzzle was why the cases continued for seven weeks. The textbooks Meselson consulted had suggested the incubation period for anthrax was a few days. If there was a single cloud of spores, there should have been a rapid fall-off of new cases. Instead, people kept getting sick for quite some time. In his work in Hoptman’s office, Meselson concluded that they needed to know much, much more before they could reach a conclusion. Where did the victims work when they were exposed? Where did they live? Which direction were the winds blowing? What would they learn if they plotted all the victims on a map, and then drew an ellipse from Compound 19—how many would be inside that ellipse? And what was going on at Compound 19? Did the local authorities respond with drug therapy, and if they did, was it effective? Why were there so many fatalities if they had drugs readily available? At this early stage, Meselson was cautious, and probing. Meselson also learned that a Northwestern University physicist, Donald Ellis, had been on an academic exchange program with his family in Sverdlovsk at the time. He tracked down Ellis, who recalled he heard nothing about the epidemic. This added to Meselson’s sense of caution.22
    Biological weapons were the ultimate challenge for spies, soldiers and scientists. From space, satellites could photograph intercontinental ballistic missile silos, and they could be counted. But germs were another matter. A satellite might spot an unusual building compound, like the one in Sverdlovsk, but seeing flasks in laboratories proved nearly impossible. That is why understanding Sverdlovsk was so important. It was a tantalizing bit of genuine evidence. With Sverdlovsk, the enormity of the Soviet germ warfare program had been glimpsed, but was still not proven.
    After the Sverdlovsk accident, Soviet officials shipped a large supply of anthrax bacteria out of the city to a distant storage facility at Zima, near Irkutsk in Siberia. They wanted to get anthrax production running again, but they needed a new location. They knew Compound 19 would be suspect. Compound 19 was a military facility; now the Soviet officials wanted to hide the anthrax production more carefully. The best cover was Biopreparat, the supposedly civilian pharmaceutical enterprise. In 1981, Brezhnev approved relocating the Sverdlovsk facility. The destination was a remote desert town, Stepnogorsk, in northern Kazakhstan. This was a Biopreparat operation, and Ken Alibek was chosen to run it.23
    Alibek was an ethnic Kazakh. After graduation from the Tomsk Medical Institute as a military doctor, he was assigned to a biopesticide factory at Omutninsk in western Russia, a training ground for those who would work on biological weapons.24 From the start, he recalled, “there were no orientation lectures or seminars, but if we had any doubts as to the real purpose of our assignment, they were quickly dispelled.” They were asked to sign a pledge of secrecy, then called in one by one to meet their KGB instructors.
    “You are aware that this isn’t normal work,” the officer told Alibek as he sat down, more a declaration than a question.
    “Yes,” Alibek replied.
    “I have to inform you that there exists an international treaty on biological warfare, which the Soviet Union has signed,” the officer said. “According to that treaty no one is allowed to make biological weapons. But the United States signed it too, and we believe the Americans are lying.”
    “I told him, earnestly, that I believed it too,” Alibek recalled. “We had been taught as schoolchildren and it was drummed into us as young military officers that the capitalist world was united in only one aim: to destroy the Soviet Union. It was not difficult for me to believe that the United States would use any conceivable weapon against us, and that our own survival depended on matching their duplicity.”
    The officer nodded at Alibek’s comment. He was satisfied. “You can go now,” he said. “And good luck.”
    Many years later, Alibek remembered those five minutes as the first and last time any official brought up a question of ethics for the rest of his career.25
    Alibek was sent to Stepnogorsk in 1983. The new germ warfare plant was attached to a civilian facility, the Progress Scientific and Production Association, which made pesticides and fertilizer and provided a cover story. Within a few weeks of his assignment, Alibek was summoned to Moscow for briefings. Biopreparat had moved to a headquarters at No. 4a Samokatnaya Street, an elegant building with tall, arched windows, once the home of the nineteenth-century vodka merchant Pyotr Smirnoff. Inside, Alibek was shown a secret decree Brezhnev had signed in 1982. “An intelligence officer pulled the decree from a red folder tied with a string, placed it gravely on a desk, and stood behind me while I read,” he recalled. “I already knew the gist of the order: we were to transform our sleepy facility in northern Kazakhstan into a munitions place that would eventually replace Sverdlovsk.”
    The weapon was to be the “battle strain,” known as Anthrax 836. “Once I’d worked out the technique for its cultivation, concentration, and preparation, I was to develop the infrastructure to reproduce it on a massive scale—a goal that had eluded our military scientists for years. This meant assembling batteries of fermenters, drying and milling machines, and centrifuges, as well as the equipment required for preparing and filling hundreds of bombs.”26
    “My job in Stepnogorsk was, in effect, to create the world’s most efficient assembly line for the mass production of weaponized anthrax.”
    Officially, Alibek was deputy director of Progress, the civilian enterprise, but he had a secret title as “war commander” of the entire installation. “I was expected to take control of the factory during what the army called ‘special periods’ of rising tensions between the superpowers. Upon receipt of a coded message from Moscow, I was to transform Progress into a munitions plant. Strains of virulent bacteria would be pulled from our vaults and seeded in our reactors and fermenters. Anthrax was our main agent at Stepnogorsk, but we also worked with glanders and were prepared to weaponize tularemia and plague.” The pathogens would be poured into bomblets and spray tanks and loaded onto trucks for shipment to a railroad station or airfield. “I was to maintain production until I received an order from Moscow to stop, or until our plant was destroyed.”
    Alibek said he took seriously the prospect of a Cold War confrontation with the United States. Reagan’s election and military buildup were alarming. “Our soldiers were dying in Afghanistan at the hands of U.S.-backed guerrillas, and Washington was about to deploy a new generation of cruise missiles in Western Europe, capable of reaching Soviet soil in minutes. Intelligence reports claimed that Americans envisioned the death of at least sixty million Soviet citizens in the case of a nuclear war.
    “We didn’t need hawkish intelligence briefings to persuade us of the danger,” he added. “Our newspapers chafed over Reagan’s description of our country as an evil empire, and the angry rhetoric of our leaders undermined the sense of security most of us had grown up with during the détente of the 1970s. Although we joked among ourselves about the senile old men in the Kremlin, it was easy to believe that the West would seize upon our moment of weakness to destroy us.”
    On a plain nine miles from Stepnogorsk, an old uranium-mining town, the Progress enterprise was lined with high gray walls and an electric-wire fence. The surrounding land had been stripped of all vegetation, partly as a safeguard in the event of a leak. The barren space served as a security zone to stop intruders. Motion sensors were everywhere. Inside, dozens of buildings were arranged on a grid of narrow streets. New buildings rose off the desert floor. Building 221 was the main production facility; building 231 for the drying and milling of agents. Building 600 was the research center and housed the largest indoor testing facility built in the Soviet Union up to that time.27 It had two giant stainless steel testing chambers hidden inside. One was to test the decay rate and dissemination capacities of aerosol mixtures contained in Soviet germ bombs. The second one was for testing animals.
    “Bioweapons are not rocket launchers,” Alibek explained in his memoir. “They cannot be loaded and fired. The most virulent culture in a test tube is useless as an offensive weapon until it has been put through a process that gives it stability and predictability. The manufacturing technique is, in a sense, the real weapon, and it is harder to develop than individual agents.”
    To weaponize anthrax, Alibek and his workers began with freeze-dried spores in stoppered vials, stored in metal trays in a refrigerated vault, each positioned over a soft towel soaked in disinfectant, labeled with its own tag identifying the strain. No one was allowed into the vault alone; at least two people, a lab technician and a scientist, had to be present when a vial was taken down from the shelf, checked against a list and wheeled on a metal cart into the laboratory. There, the scientist put nutrient media into the vial, and then drew the mixture out and transferred it to larger bottles, which were left in heated boxes to incubate for one or two days. The liquid culture was then siphoned off into large flasks, which were connected to air-bubbling machines, turning it into a light froth. The oxygen allowed the bacteria to grow more efficiently. At this stage, it looked translucent and light brown, like Coca-Cola, Alibek said. “Each new generation of bacteria is transferred into progressively larger vessels, until there is enough anthrax to pipe under vacuum pressure into a room containing several fermenters,” he recalled. The giant fermenters incubated the substance for one or two days longer, and the bacteria continued to multiply before being put into centrifuges and concentrated. In the end, after mixing with stabilizing substances, the mixture would be loaded into munitions. The grounds were dotted with underground bunkers for storage and filling the bombs, and laced by rail lines to haul them away. If the order were given, Stepnogorsk was to make 300 tons of anthrax a year.28

—————  6  —————

    In the final weeks of his life, Andropov had few visitors. One of them was Mikhail Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Politburo, who had been Andropov’s protégé. They met for the last time in December 1983. “When I entered his room he was sitting in an armchair and made a weak attempt to smile,” Gorbachev recalled. “We greeted each other and embraced. The change since my last meeting with him was striking. I saw a totally different person in front of me. He was puffy-faced and haggard; his skin was sallow. His eyes were dim, he barely looked up, and sitting was obviously difficult. I exerted every effort to glance away, to somehow disguise my shock.”1
    Within days of this meeting, Andropov prepared remarks he was scheduled to give to a Central Committee plenum. The text was typed up as usual, but Andropov was too ill to appear in person. He wrote an additional note of six paragraphs in his own hand. He called one of his top assistants, Arkady Volsky, to his bedside December 24 and gave him the note. Andropov had written in the last paragraph: “For reasons which you will understand, I will not be able to chair meetings of the Politburo and Secretariat in the near future. I would therefore request members of the Central Committee to examine the question of entrusting the leadership of the Politburo and Secretariat to Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.” Volsky was stunned. He consulted two other aides, and they, too, were taken aback. Until then, Konstantin Chernenko had been considered the number two leader in the party. Andropov was proposing to skip Chernenko and go right to Gorbachev to lead the country. The aides took the precaution of photocopying Andropov’s note, and then submitted it to the Central Committee apparat to be typed and included with Andropov’s other remarks for distribution before the meeting.
    Two days later, at the plenum, Volsky opened the red-leather-covered portfolio and discovered the last paragraph written by Andropov was missing. When he protested, he was told to keep quiet. The aging dinosaurs at the helm of the Soviet Union—Chernenko, Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov, and Chairman of the Council of Ministers Nikolai Tikhonov—had quietly blocked Andropov’s attempt to name Gorbachev his successor. The old guard had kept their grip on power.2
    Andropov died February 9, 1984, and the ailing Chernenko was chosen as his successor. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher flew to Moscow for the funeral, arriving on February 13 in the bitter cold. On the day of the funeral, she met Chernenko for a short, private meeting. He read rapidly from a text, stumbling over his words from time to time. Thatcher recalled that she had been urged to wear fur-lined boots; at the Andropov funeral, guests had to stand for a long period in the cold. The boots had been expensive, she said. “But when I met Mr. Chernenko, the thought crossed my mind that they would probably come in useful again soon.”3
    At seventy-two years old, Chernenko had never been more than a shadow of Brezhnev as his chief of staff and a party apparatchik. Suffering from an advanced stage of emphysema, Chernenko faltered during his televised inaugural speech from a podium atop Lenin’s tomb, running out of breath in the middle of sentences. He was unable to hold a salute to the military parade as it passed before him in Red Square. At one point during Andropov’s funeral, Gromyko turned to Chernenko and instructed him in a whisper—loud enough to be picked up by microphones—“Don’t take off your hat.”4 Two weeks later, in another televised address, Chernenko stumbled, lost his breath, paused for half a minute and, when he resumed, skipped an entire page of his text. Chernenko was a transitional figure, and his colleagues sensed it. “Whom did we acquire in the post of General Secretary?” asked Gorbachev. “Not merely a seriously sick and physically weak person but, in fact, an invalid. It was common knowledge, and immediately visible with the naked eye. It was impossible to disguise his infirmity and the shortness of breath caused by emphysema.”5
    Anatoly Chernyaev, who was then deputy director of the International Department in the Central Committee, recalled that when Chernenko was to meet the king of Spain, aides wrote out his main points on small cards, with no long sentences, so that Chernenko would seem to be talking and not reading. “That was in the beginning,” Chernyaev said. “Later, Chernenko couldn’t even read the notes anymore, but just stumbled through them with no idea what he was saying.”6
    What if the ailing Chernenko had to make a decision about nuclear attack? For the Soviet leadership, the ultimate catastrophe would be a bolt-from-the-blue first strike that would destroy the Kremlin in minutes. There was a special underground train out of the Kremlin to the war bunkers—but what if they were facing sudden death, if the missiles were only minutes away, a decapitation? With the leaders gone, who would order retaliation? Who would transmit the orders? How would they communicate to the remote missile command posts and submarines? If decapitation were swift and powerful, perhaps they would not be able to retaliate; and if so, they were vulnerable. Soviet fears of decapitation were real, fed by actions in the United States. The directive signed by President Carter in 1980 for protracted nuclear war, P.D. 59, had deliberately singled out the Soviet leadership as a target. The deployment of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in late 1983 seemed to further reinforce the threat of weapons that could reach the Soviet Union in a matter of minutes.
    In early 1984, just as Chernenko took power, Valery Yarynich, then forty-seven, a colonel in the elite Strategic Rocket Forces, was quietly transferred to a new position as a deputy department chief in the Main Rocket Armaments Directorate. Yarynich was a master of communications channels and methods who had worked for two decades setting up cables, radio systems and satellites which linked the rockets, troops, commanders and the political leaders in Moscow. He had a serious demeanor and a sense of purpose. When there was a break in a vital communications link for the Strategic Rocket Forces, Yarynich was the one they trusted to fix it quickly. He was transferred to a sensitive, ultra-secret new project for decision making and communications in the event of nuclear war.
    In the early days of the Soviet nuclear weapons program, communications were primitive. Getting word to the troops—and the missiles—was time-consuming. Yarynich witnessed the cumbersome procedures. Born in 1937 to the family of a Soviet naval officer at Kronshtadt, near Leningrad, Yarynich graduated from the Leningrad Military Academy of Communications in 1959, two years after Sputnik. That December, the Strategic Rocket Forces was established as a separate service, and the giant, cumbersome R-7 liquid-fueled intercontinental missiles were put on combat duty. Khrushchev was boasting that the Soviet Union was turning out missiles like sausages. Yarynich served in the first Soviet division of intercontinental ballistic missiles, at Yurya, north of Kirov. They were just building the rocket base when he arrived, carving it out of the forest. At the end of 1960, Yarynich moved up to the corps headquarters in Kirov, where five new missile divisions were being formed.
    At the time, the Soviet general staff transmitted orders to the missile commanders by radio and cable, using code words in a system called “Monolit.” The system relied on special packets prepared in advance and kept under strict control in a safe at the command posts, to be opened in an emergency. Yarynich recalled that during drills, in a decisive moment, an unfortunate duty officer often failed to open the packet fast enough with scissors because his nervous hands were shaking so badly. Precious minutes were wasted. The problem of using scissors was considered serious enough that experts were asked to come up with a new method. “The packet was constructed with a pull-string, on which an operator could tug to immediately open it up,” Yarynich recalled. The whole system was slow and cumbersome. Monolit had another, more serious shortcoming. The orders could not be recalled—there was no way to cancel.7
    In late October 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, Yarynich was sent as a communications officer to supervise at a rocket division near Nizhny Tagil, 860 miles east of Moscow in Siberia. At the peak of the confrontation, the crews received an unmistakable signal through the Monolit system. The code word was “BRONTOZAVR.” The word was a signal: switch the command system from peacetime to combat alert status. A telegraph typed it out, and Yarynich took the paper tape from one of the young women who served as operators. The word was unmistakable, he remembered. “Oh God,” he said. “BRONTOZAVR!”
    “Never before had we sent it out,” he recalled. “It was a signal to cut open the packages.”
    Inside the packages were new call signals and frequencies for radio communications in the event of nuclear war. “It was a wrong idea in my view, because to change frequencies and call signals when the war is breaking out meant to mess everything up,” Yarynich said. “Still, that was the procedure. So, our job was to introduce this new radio information immediately, everywhere, on receiving the order.”
    Yarynich recognized immediately the message was not a drill. He handed the tape to a colonel on duty. “You understand?” Yarynich asked. The man was shaking. They had never received this command, even during exercises. The missiles at Nizhny Tagil were not yet fueled, so they would not be launched soon, yet the switch to combat alert was met with dread. “It was strangely quiet,” Yarynich recalled. “I cannot forget the mixture of nervousness, surprise and pain on the faces of each operator, without exception—officers, enlisted men, women telephone operators.” In the end, the Cuban crisis was defused, and in Nizhny Tagil, the “BRONTOZAVR” alert expired. But the problem of command and control of nuclear weapons grew more intense as the Soviet leaders threw their resources into building a new generation of missiles, which required new methods of control—the paper packets were obsolete.

    The first attempt to automate the command and control system was ready by 1967. It was called “Signal,” and it could transmit thirteen fixed commands from headquarters to the troops, such as telling them to escalate to a higher readiness. The new system could also transmit a cancel order. While a vast improvement over the paper packets, the Signal system did not command the weapons, but rather sent orders to the troops, and they in turn had to operate the weapons. This was still cumbersome and time-consuming. As pressure increased for more speed and streamlining, a second stage of automation was developed in the mid-1970s, known as “Signal-M.” It reached all the way from the top decision-makers to the lowest level in the field. The installation of the new, faster Signal-M came as the Soviet Union put on duty the new generation of missiles, including the giant SS-18. This was the first time the Soviet nuclear command and control featured a remote-control button that could be pushed to launch.8
    In the Soviet system of the 1970s, the General Staff oversaw the weapons at sea and on bombers, while the Strategic Rocket Forces supervised land-based missiles. At the time, Soviet leaders sitting in the Kremlin did not have a nuclear “football” carried around everywhere they went. The launch apparatus remained with the military branches. The political leaders shared control with the generals.
    Yarynich, who worked on Signal-M, often pondered the profound psychological calculus of nuclear weapons command and control. How would real people behave when they had to press the button? How would they make a decision about whether to inflict utter devastation in just minutes? Yarynich recalled another episode he experienced in the mid-1970s when he was working on command and control systems for nuclear weapons. A malfunction occurred in the alert system. An erroneous message was automatically transmitted from the top down to the command posts of all rocket divisions: go one step to a higher alert. Most duty officers in the command posts failed to obey. “People didn’t believe it,” Yarynich said. “We were not at war.” Instead of summoning troops from their barracks to combat sites, they began telephoning their superiors to find out if the message was genuine. Only a lone duty officer, a lieutenant colonel, actually put his unit on alert. The incident revealed a great deal of reluctance in the rocket forces to push any buttons. The duty officers knew, Yarynich said, that “one could not act blindly.”
    In order to give a Soviet leader additional precious minutes to make a launch decision, the military strove to build super-fast communications to carry messages from the headquarters right to the missiles themselves. In 1985, Signal-M was upgraded to a computerized system known as Signal-A, which allowed missiles in remote silos to be retargeted directly by the Strategic Rocket Forces main staff. Several different flight plans were stored at the launcher and could be chosen remotely. It would take only ten or fifteen seconds to load a flight plan.9 The significance of this was that Soviet authorities would gain speed and bypass uncertainty—the human kind—on the ground. They would skip over any troops who, lacking discipline and burning with curiosity, might be tempted to pick up the phone to ask what was going on. The military designers were being pushed all the time to make the launch system as fast as possible. “The designers said we need it—now it is five minutes, then it will be three, and soon it will be 20 seconds,” Yarynich recalled.
    In addition to speed, the designers wanted fail-safe, ironclad security. They knew the flaws of Soviet industry, and the potential for error. Yarynich said they devoted just as much effort to guarding against failure or cheating as they did to gaining speed; they built in rigid procedures, constantly checking for anomalies, up and down the chain.
    In 1985, the Soviet designers finished work on a nuclear “football,” in this case a briefcase known as the Cheget. Three were prepared: to accompany the general secretary of the party, the defense minister and chief of the General Staff. However, the Cheget was for information only; it could not be used to launch, and did not have a button to press. The officer carrying the Cheget would plug into a wider communications network, known as Kavkaz, designed just for the national leadership. Then the general secretary could give permission to the military, also plugged into Kavkaz, to launch. This “permission command” would then be transformed into a “direct command” by the General Staff. The direct commands were authenticated, and if proven correct, would become “launch commands” sent to the missiles.
    Over the years, as Yarynich worked to build and strengthen these communications systems, he came to see the hair trigger as a dead end, that neither side could gain an edge by just shaving minutes off the decision process. But in 1984, he was doing his job, caught up in the quest for speed.
    In the event of nuclear explosions, communications links would be vulnerable to disruption, especially between the headquarters and the missile silo. The Soviet military designers wanted to eliminate that uncertainty. All the previous experience had shown that the traditional cables, radio and satellite channels they had built to carry the data might be suddenly incinerated. They also feared the electromagnetic pulse that would precede a nuclear attack could wipe out all standard communications equipment. Some other means to control the missiles in time of war had to be found.
    One answer was the survivable underground command post in the Ural Mountains, known as Grot, carved out of a mass of granite. The designers had searched long and hard for a site that would allow radio signals to penetrate through the rock. The granite was perfect. Grot was situated at a mountain place known locally as Kosvinsky Kamen, east of Moscow and north of Sverdlovsk.10 While the mountain bunker was intended to shield the commanders from nuclear war, the designers also created a parallel plan for safely broadcasting the launch orders—via missiles soaring high above the earth.
    Missiles had always been a Soviet strength, so it was natural to turn to them to solve the problem of wartime communications. The designers conceived robot-like command missiles that could be kept in super-hardened silos, and then launched quickly at the onset of nuclear war. Instead of a warhead, the command missiles would carry a special nose cone of electronics. Once in flight, safely above the war conditions on the ground, the command missiles would broadcast a message to all the remaining nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles in their silos below: “launch!” Should all else fail, the retaliation command would get through. There was one drawback: the command missiles might take thirty minutes to complete the mission; at that point, all the intercontinental ballistic missiles might be destroyed. Nonetheless, a decision was made to build the system. In utmost secrecy, the Soviet military and civilian designers won approval to start work in 1974. The Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, one of the leading Soviet missile builders in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, was given responsibility for the command rocket.11 The electronics were created at the Special Design Bureau of the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, an elite engineering and computer institute. Colonel General Varfolomei Korobushin, first deputy chief of the rocket forces main staff, was in charge of the project for the military. Taken together, the new bunkers and rockets were one of the most creative, astonishing and frightening inventions of the Cold War. It was called Perimeter.12
    When Yarynich was transferred to the new job in January 1984, he was assigned to Perimeter—then approaching the final year of testing.
    In the logic of nuclear alert, the fate of the Earth would rest on human decisions made in a few fleeting minutes. If Soviet leaders feared an imminent attack, they had three choices. The first option was preemption, to attack first. But such a strike had almost no chance of success—it was just not possible to wipe out the land and sea legs of the American missile force with a preemptive strike. The second option was to launch immediately when a warning was received that enemy missiles were on the way—a warning that would come from the infrared satellites, and then, ten to fifteen minutes later, from ground-based radars. To launch on a warning was to take extraordinary risks. What if the warning was wrong? What if a radar had mistakenly seen a flock of geese? Or if an early-warning satellite had mistakenly seen a glint off the clouds? These kinds of errors were common to both superpowers. No one wanted to launch nuclear missiles because of a flock of geese. Nonetheless, in the tense standoff of the early 1980s, launch on warning was not dismissed out of hand. The third option was to retaliate only when under attack. Among the Soviet leadership, this was also considered a realistic scenario, especially after they achieved rough parity in missiles with the United States in the 1970s. But launch under attack carried its own risks: what if they didn’t survive to retaliate? In this supreme test of human behavior, a hair-trigger decision to launch a nuclear missile attack was one that theorists and planners simply could not fathom nor reliably predict. It was almost impossible to know whether a leader would launch on warning, and take the risk of firing too soon, or wait for an attack, and take the chance of decapitation and destruction.
    Out of such imponderable choices arose yet another aspect of Perimeter. What if the ailing Chernenko could not decide whether to shoot first, or be shot? What if he was wiped out before he could decide? The Soviet designers responded with an ingenious and incredible answer. They built a Doomsday Machine that would guarantee retaliation—launch all the nuclear missiles—if Chernenko’s hand went limp.
    In effect, the designers created a command system—a switch—that gave Chernenko the option not to decide on retaliation. If he turned on the switch, the system would pass the decision to someone else. Thus, an ailing general secretary might avoid the mistake of launching all missiles based on a false alarm. Should the enemy missiles actually arrive and destroy the Kremlin, the general secretary could be certain there would be retaliation. According to Yarynich, the logic was to take the immense burden of a sudden, shoot-or-die decision off the shoulders of the Soviet leader, especially someone as feeble as Brezhnev or Chernenko. If retaliation was necessary, that decision would be slightly delayed and transferred to a survivor. The immense burden was shifted to a few duty officers who might still be alive in a concrete bunker. They would face the big decision about destroying what remained of the planet.
    This was not only a concept, but an elaborate program which took a decade to build. It was Perimeter.
    Buried within the idea was an even deeper and more frightening concept that the Soviet leaders considered: a totally automated, computer-driven retaliatory system known as the Dead Hand. It would still function if all the leaders and all the regular command system were destroyed. Computers would memorize the early-warning and nuclear attack data, wait out the onslaught, and then order the retaliation without human control. This system would turn over the fate of mankind to computers. The details remain very sketchy. Katayev, the Central Committee staff man, described it as a “super project,” but said it was eventually abandoned. The Soviet designers and leaders could not go that far. Yarynich confirmed that a totally automatic system that would work without the participation of any human element at all was considered in the early 1980s, but the military rejected the idea of launching without one last human firewall. “It was complete madness,” Yarynich said.13
    The Perimeter system, however, was constructed. In the early moments of a nuclear crisis, the order might come from the General Staff, or perhaps from the underground command post at Grot, to activate the system. The actual switching-on mechanism is not known. In peacetime, relatively junior duty officers sit in the specialized bunkers. In a crisis, they might be augmented or replaced by experienced high-level officers, but, more likely, under a surprise attack, regular duty officers would be present. The bunkers are known as shariki, spheres or globes. Built of hardened concrete, they were buried so far underground that they could survive a nuclear attack on the surface.14
    Deep in the globes, the officers had a checklist of three conditions to monitor as the minutes ticked by. Condition 1: Verify the Perimeter system was activated. This activation meant that the military commanders or the Kremlin had given advance permission for the system to fire. Condition 2: Check whether contact had been lost with the military and political leaders. If the lines went out, if the hand was dead, this meant decapitation. Condition 3: Determine whether nuclear detonations were being felt by a network of special sensors that measured light, radioactivity, seismic shocks and atmospheric overpressure.
    If all three of these conditions were met—the system was activated, the leaders were dead and the nuclear bombs were detonating—then from inside the globe, the officers were supposed to issue a command to launch the Perimeter command rockets, which would fly for about thirty minutes and order all the remaining nuclear-armed missiles of the Soviet Union to launch, aimed at the United States.15
    The officers buried in the globe were the last human decision-makers in a chain that was now ultrafast and largely automated. If they acted as they had been ordered, Perimeter would unleash a spasm of destruction. “Thus, there was no need for anyone to push a button,” said Korobushin. Much would rest on the thinking of the officers in the globe. Yarynich often wondered whether the men in the bunkers at this point would follow orders or defy them. Did the men in the bunker give it one last layer of sanity, the possibility of saying no to mass destruction? Yarynich thought they did. “We have a young lieutenant colonel sitting there, communications are destroyed, and he hears ‘boom,’ ‘boom,’ everything is shaking—he might fail to launch. If he doesn’t begin the launching procedure there will be no retaliation. What’s the point of doing it if half the globe has already been wiped out? To destroy the second part? It makes no sense. Even at this point, this lieutenant colonel might say, ‘No, I won’t launch it.’ No one will condemn him for it or put him before a firing squad. If I were in his place, I wouldn’t launch.” But Yarynich added that no one could predict how the duty officer would react in such an extraordinary moment, at the edge of the abyss.
    Another way to look at Perimeter, however, is more ominous: the duty officers are just another cog in an automatic, regimented system. If the duty officers are drilled over and over again to follow the checklist, and if the highest authorities had given the permission from the top, and if all three conditions on the checklist are met, wouldn’t they naturally do as they had been trained to do? In the sharik, there would be no communications with the outside world, no negotiations or appeals, no second-guessing, and no recalling the command rockets once they were launched.
    If the Americans had known of Perimeter—if they realized that decapitation of the Kremlin would trigger near-automatic retaliation—it might have given them pause. It might have been a deterrent. But in the peculiar dark world of the arms race, the Soviets treated the Perimeter project as super-secret, and tried to mask what they had invented. The Perimeter command missiles were cleverly disguised to look like ordinary missiles so they could not be detected by satellites.
    “We hid it,” Yarynich said. “We should have announced from the very beginning, here it is, we are having trials. But we hid it. If you don’t know about it, it’s bad. It means you might take a decisive step, and then what?” This prospect worried Yarynich for many years.
    On November 13, 1984, the Soviet military carried out a major test of Perimeter. The Leningrad design bureau simulated the General Staff command post. A signal was sent to a low-frequency transmitter in Moscow. Then the signal was transmitted to the command rocket at the Kapustin Yar test range on the banks of the Volga River in southern Russia. The command rocket took off and flew toward Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan. Along the entire flight, the command rocket delivered the launch order, as a test, and receivers were listening across the country. During the test, Yarynich watched reports come in; some signals were stronger, others weaker.
    Among other locations, the command rocket signal was received by an intercontinental ballistic missile located at the Tyuratam test range, also in Kazakhstan. The missile was poised to launch. In conditions of nuclear war, it would have lifted from the silo immediately, but the Soviet officials delayed it during the test because they suspected American satellites were monitoring every move. A while later, the big missile launched and flew to the Kamchatka Peninsula, hitting a target there.16
    The test was a success, and the system was put on combat duty in the new year, 1985.

—————  7  —————

    Ronald Reagan opened 1984 with bold declarations of an American renaissance. “America is back” with “renewed energy and optimism,” he said in the State of the Union address on January 25. He urged the American people to “send away the hand-wringers and doubting Thomases,” and added, “The cynics were wrong—America never was a sick society.” Polls showed Reagan enjoyed high public approval ratings. The mood of the country was upbeat despite the collapsed nuclear arms talks with the Soviets, a misadventure in Lebanon and record budget deficits. Reagan’s optimism had been a tonic for the debilitating years of Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostages and the energy crises of the 1970s. A deep recession had wrung hyperinflation out of the economy, and growth was rebounding. An American high-technology revolution was taking hold. Reagan formally announced he was seeking reelection January 29. His campaign was framed by inspirational television commercials, including one titled “Morning Again in America,” which opened with glimpses of a farmhouse, followed by scenes of a wedding party and of an elderly man raising the American flag while young faces watched in adoration. As the flag filled the screen to the sounds of soft and stirring music, an announcer said, “It’s morning again in America … And under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is stronger, and prouder, and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?”
    After the tense months of the previous autumn, Reagan wrote repeatedly in his diary early in 1984 that he had come to realize Soviet leaders might have a genuine fear of the United States, and he yearned to talk them out of it. He acknowledged “my own attitudes toward the Soviets were changing a little.”1 The president of Yugoslavia, Mika Spiljak, visited Reagan at the White House February 1, and the president asked a lot of questions about the Soviet Union. “He believes that coupled with their expansionist philosophy they are also insecure & genuinely frightened of us,” Reagan wrote in his diary. “He also believes that if we opened them up a bit their leading citizens would get braver about proposing changes in their system. I’m going to pursue this.”
    At Andropov’s funeral in Moscow, Chernenko had sent a conciliatory signal during a talk with Vice President Bush, saying, “We are not inherently enemies.” Reagan had yet to see a Soviet leader face-to-face and wondered if he should meet Chernenko. “I have a gut feeling I’d like to talk to him about our problems man to man & see if I could convince him there would be material benefit to the Soviets if they’d join in the family of nations, etc.,” he wrote February 22.
    When Suzanne Massie, author of several books on Russian culture and history, came by to see Reagan on March 1, after a trip to Moscow, Reagan expressed admiration for her insights and said “she reinforced my gut feeling that it’s time for me to personally meet with Chernenko.”2
    The next day, Reagan held a high-level meeting to plan next steps with the Soviets. The secret gathering, kept off Reagan’s public schedule, brought together all of Reagan’s top cabinet and staff advisers on Soviet affairs. Reagan announced at the opening of the meeting he wanted to arrange a summit, to show Chernenko he was not the sort of person who would “eat his own offspring.” But the session wandered off, and ended without a decision.3 “I’m convinced the time has come for me to meet with Chernenko along about July,” Reagan wrote that night.4 On March 5, Reagan met West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Reagan recalled, “He confirmed my belief the Soviets are motivated, at least in part by insecurity & a suspicion that we & our allies mean them harm. They still preserve the tank traps & barbed wire that show how close the Germans got to Moscow before they were stopped. He thinks I should meet Chernenko.”
    Reagan concluded that he needed a “more hands-on approach” to the Soviets. He sent a seven-page letter to Chernenko. “I tried to use the old actor’s technique of empathy: to imagine the world as seen through another’s eyes and try to help my audience see it through my eyes,” he said. “I said it was my understanding that some people in the Soviet Union felt a genuine fear of our country.” The letter ended with a handwritten postscript, recalling “Soviet losses in warfare through the ages.” He added, “Surely those losses, which are beyond description, must affect your thinking today. I want you to know that neither I nor the American people hold any offensive intentions toward the Soviet people.”5
    But Chernenko didn’t reciprocate, and rejected a summit. Reagan and Chernenko exchanged a half-dozen letters in the spring of 1984, to no effect. After a strategy session on the Soviets March 23, Reagan concluded: “I think they are going to be cold & stiff-necked for a while.”

    In Moscow, the KGB director, Vladimir Kryuchkov, opened a conference at headquarters saying that RYAN—spotting preparations for nuclear attack—was still the overwhelming overseas intelligence priority. Kryuchkov declared that the risk of nuclear war had reached “dangerous proportions,” the Pentagon was driven by “the fantastic idea of world domination” and the White House was engaged in “the psychological preparation of the population for nuclear war.” Kryuchkov’s speech text landed on Gordievsky’s desk in London. It said the top priority was to get a copy of the secret war plans of the United States and NATO.6 Another urgent priority for Gordievsky and the London office was to monitor field exercises involving the cruise missiles stationed at the Royal Air Force base at Greenham Common. But according to Gordievsky, the London office had no intelligence sources for this; they sent British press reports to Moscow instead.7
    Early in 1984, Reagan had signed an order formally launching the research effort into his Strategic Defense Initiative.8 In the Kremlin, however, Soviet leaders were still worried about the threat from Pershing IIs and the ground-launched cruise missiles. The Pershing IIs were fast, but the cruise missiles more numerous. While 108 Pershing IIs would be deployed in West Germany, the plan was to station 464 cruise missiles in Belgium, Britain, Italy, Netherlands and West Germany. The cruise missile was a modified navy sea-launched Tomahawk, about twenty-one feet long, each carrying a single nuclear warhead. It would fly at 550 miles per hour to a target as far as 1,350 miles away. The ground-launched cruise missile was a wonder of technology. It could soar at high altitudes over hostile territory and then swoop down to fifty feet above ground level and be steered toward its target with a sophisticated, terrain-sensitive and radar-avoiding guidance system. The Soviets had nothing like it.9
    In Moscow, Anatoly Chernyaev, deputy director of the International Department of the Central Committee, attended a briefing June 4 given by Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, who was then deputy chief of the Soviet military’s General Staff. “It was amazing,” Chernyaev said, with “missiles homing in on their targets from hundreds and thousands of kilometers away; aircraft carriers, submarines that could do anything; winged missiles that, like in a cartoon, could be guided through a canyon and hit a target 10 meters in diameter from 2,500 kilometers away. An incredible breakthrough in modern technology. And, of course, unthinkably expensive.”10
    On June 28, Herbert E. Meyer, vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, a think tank inside the CIA, sent a memo to CIA director William Casey titled “What Should We Do About the Russians?” Meyer noted the war scare of the previous year, and the paralysis in Moscow. He also saw the Soviet system under deep internal strain. “Decades of overemphasis on military production have wrecked the country’s civilian industrial and technological base,” he said.
    More precisely, the Soviets have failed miserably to generate the kinds of innovations on which modern economies are increasingly dependent: robotics, micro-electronics, computerized communications and information-processing systems. Even if the Soviets could develop such systems, they could not deploy them without losing the political control on which the Communist Party depends for its very survival. For after 40 years of fear among Western intellectuals that technology would lead inexorably to Big Brother societies throughout the world, it now turns out that technology, in the form of personal computers and the like, has put communications and information processing beyond the control of any central authority. Unwilling and unable to develop and deploy innovations like these—as we in the West are doing with such robust enthusiasm—the Soviet Union can now produce little but weapons.11
    Reagan tried a back-channel gambit to reach Chernenko in April. Brent Scowcroft, who had been President Ford’s national security adviser, carried a letter from Reagan to Chernenko on a private trip to Moscow.12 He never got to see Chernenko, however. The letter went undelivered. “He believes the Soviet cold shoulder is due in part at least to their not wanting to help me get re-elected,” Reagan noted after talking to Scowcroft on his return.13 Scowcroft told reporters, “If you compare the political or psychological atmosphere between the two powers, it’s as bad as it’s been in my memory.”14
    When the Soviets announced May 8 they would boycott the upcoming Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Reagan concluded that Chernenko wasn’t completely in control, and the lion of the old guard, Gromyko, was running foreign policy.15 In June, the Soviets proposed opening talks on space weapons, but when Reagan asked to include ballistic missiles, Chernenko refused. “They are utterly stonewalling us,” Reagan wrote in his diary. Reagan cared about his reelection campaign, but his horizon was longer than just the vote. If “America was back,” then in his own mind, it was time to engage the Soviet Union. Reagan still did not have a Soviet partner, his first term was almost over and the paralysis in the Soviet elite was even worse than Reagan could have imagined at the time.16
    On August 11, 1984, at Rancho del Cielo in California, Reagan prepared for his Saturday radio address. He often made wisecracks in the warm-up, considered off the record by reporters and technicians present. Asked for a microphone check on this day, the president said, “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” The remark soon leaked, and made headlines around the world, once again reinforcing the caricature of Reagan as a reckless gunslinger. TASS denounced the remark as “unprecedentedly hostile toward the USSR and dangerous to the cause of peace.” The president was chagrined. “Doing a voice level with no thought that anyone other than the few people in the room would hear I ad-libbed jokingly something about the Soviets,” he admitted in his diary. “The networks had a line open & recorded it and of course made it public—hence an international incident.”
    On August 13, two days after the radio gaffe, at a lunch in Los Angeles, Shultz suggested, very tentatively, that Reagan invite Gromyko to the White House after the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September. The president quickly agreed. “It’s the right thing to do,” Reagan said. “Try to work it out.”17 The meeting was arranged; it would be Reagan’s first with any member of the Soviet Politburo since becoming president. Reagan wrote in his diary, “I have a feeling we’ll get nowhere with arms reductions while they are suspicious of our motives as we are of theirs. I believe we need a meeting to see if we can’t make them understand we have no designs on them but think they have designs on us. If we could once clear the air maybe reducing arms wouldn’t look so impossible to them.”
    Reagan spent most of Saturday, September 22, working on the speech he was to give the following Monday at the United Nations. It was “ticklish,” he acknowledged. “I don’t want to sound as if I’m going soft on Russia but I don’t want to kill off the Gromyko meeting before it takes place.” In his speech, Reagan offered not a word of criticism of the Soviet Union; the “evil empire” was gone. As he spoke from the podium, Reagan was watching the faces of Gromyko and the Soviet representatives, sitting in the front row, right below the microphone. “I tried to catch their eyes several times on particular points affecting them,” he recalled. “They were looking through me & their expressions never changed.”
    Reagan finally got his chance to talk to Gromyko eye-to-eye in the Oval Office on September 28. They lectured each other. At one point, Gromyko recalled, Reagan reached into a side drawer and pulled out some charts on nuclear weapons. As the meeting broke for lunch, Reagan asked Gromyko to remain behind in the Oval Office. They spoke alone, in English, without interpreters. Gromyko had said the world was sitting atop a huge mountain of nuclear weapons that should be reduced. “My dream,” Reagan said, “is for a world where there are no nuclear weapons.”18
    Reagan escorted his guest down the long colonnade from the West Wing to the main White House mansion for a reception. Gromyko was amazed at the number of “English long-case clocks” in the White House and wondered if Reagan was a collector. A small chamber orchestra played classical music. Reagan introduced Nancy. At the end of the reception, Gromyko took Nancy aside and said, “Does your husband believe in peace?”
    “Of course,” she replied.
    “Then whisper ‘peace’ in your husband’s ear every night,” he said.
    “I will, and I will also whisper it in your ear,” she said. And with that she leaned over with a smile and whispered softly, “Peace.”19
    At the end of the visit, the Soviet Embassy called Don Oberdorfer, diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post, and asked for a photograph of Reagan talking to Gromyko that appeared in the morning paper. It showed Reagan’s hands on both of Gromyko’s arms. The photo was rushed over to Gromyko before his departure. Gromyko had first come to Washington forty-five years earlier. Although no one knew it then, this was his last trip to the White House. Reagan had finally met a member of the Soviet Politburo, but had yet to find one with whom he could do business.20

    Although Reagan wanted to talk to the Soviet leadership, he also approved policies to directly challenge the Soviet Union. At the behest of CIA director Casey, he vastly expanded proxy wars against Soviet influence in the Third World. In 1984, covert U.S. support for the mujahedeen fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan reached a major turning point. The secret aid pipeline from the United States and Saudi Arabia, through Pakistan, suddenly bulged; by one account the total had tripled to hundreds of millions of dollars, in a matter of weeks.21 At the same time, Reagan wanted to channel money to guerrilla fighters, known as contrarevolucionarios, or contras, who were opposing the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Reagan called the contras the “moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers” and he cast Nicaragua’s Sandinista junta, led by Daniel Ortega, as the front line in the war on communism. But Congress had cut off the aid to the contras, and money was running out in 1984. Reagan instructed McFarlane, his national security adviser, to keep the contras alive, “body and soul.” That summer, McFarlane reassured Reagan that Saudi Arabia had pledged $1 million a month into a secret bank account for the contras. The driving force in Afghanistan and Central America was Casey. “By the end of 1984, Casey’s covert war in the Third World against the Soviet Union and its surrogates was in full swing,” recalled Gates, who was then his deputy.

    In the summer of 1984, the RYAN operation seemed to expire. Gordievsky said anxiety in Moscow about nuclear war “was visibly declining.”22 Chernenko didn’t share Andropov’s sense of alarm and paranoia about nuclear attack. Although there were no arms control negotiations that year, Soviet officials protested with increasing frequency about what they called “militarization of space.” Shultz said Dobrynin brought up kosmos—the Russian word for outer space—at every meeting.23 This was aimed directly at Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, although the actual program was barely getting started. By one account, that summer the program comprised two dozen people working out of a dilapidated office building in Washington.24
    Reagan’s dream got a lucky break that summer. The army, in a program started in the 1970s, was studying rocket interceptors, and created an experiment, using a test interceptor with an infrared homing device and computer. It was called the Homing Overlay Experiment. The first three tests had failed. In the fourth and last test on June 10, 1984, the interceptor was launched from Meck Island in the Kwajalein Islands, and more than one hundred miles high, it locked onto a Minuteman missile carrying a dummy warhead. The interceptor found the Minuteman in part because the dummy warhead was heated up for the test, and the Minuteman turned sideways, to be easier to detect. The missile was destroyed. The Pentagon announced the test was a stunning success. “We do know that we can pick them up and hit them,” a spokesman said. The Kremlin was rattled.25

    Reagan’s reelection campaign aired one commercial that hinted at voter fears about the arms race. It was a thirty-second spot written by the same team that created “Morning Again in America.” But this commercial had a darker undertone, one that warned of uncertainty. The goal was to acknowledge the danger but also suggest there might be a way out. The ad shows a grizzly bear wandering in the forest. “There is a bear in the woods,” the announcer says in a tone of seriousness and authority. “For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some say the bear is tame. Some say it’s vicious. Since no one knows, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear, if there is a bear?”26
    On November 6, 1984, Reagan was reelected in the largest electoral-vote landslide in U.S. history. He won 59 percent of the popular vote, carried 49 states and received 525 electoral votes to 10 for Walter Mondale.
    Between the summer vacation and the election, Shultz had been talking privately to Reagan about the work of a second term. Shultz could not tell if Reagan absorbed what he said, but he kept lecturing. He told Reagan the Soviet Union was caught in an inconclusive leadership struggle, from one generation to another, bound up in a stagnating economy and “extreme distrust verging, in some instances, on paranoia” about the United States. It wasn’t clear how the leadership succession would be resolved, Shultz said, but one of the most promising candidates was a member of the younger generation, a man with a broader view—Mikhail Gorbachev.27

—————  PART  —————

—————  8  —————

    Five weeks after Reagan was reelected, Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, were driven from London through rolling English farmland to Chequers, the elegant official country residence of the British prime minister. Margaret Thatcher and her husband, Denis, greeted the Gorbachevs just before lunch on Sunday, December 16, 1984. It was a highly unusual gesture for a Soviet official to take his wife abroad. Gorbachev had asked Chernenko’s approval before doing so. On their arrival, Thatcher noticed Raisa had chosen a well-tailored, Western-style suit, gray with a white stripe, “just the sort I could have worn myself.” After posing at the entrance for the press photographers, with Gorbachev standing at the far left of the group next to Raisa, Thatcher very conspicuously repositioned the group so she would be standing next to Gorbachev. Then she extended a welcoming handshake.1
    For more than a year, Thatcher had been searching for clues to the next generation of Soviet leaders. Thatcher was intrigued about whether the dour older generation would give way to a new, younger field. She had enormous faith in the power of the individual, and believed that in a dictatorship that repressed individual initiative, some could still make a difference, as had dissidents Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and others. Thatcher wondered if one person at the very top could change the Soviet system from within. In her memoir, she recalled that she was determined to “seek out the most likely person in the rising generation of Soviet leaders and then cultivate and sustain him.” Her foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe, said Thatcher carried out a “deliberate campaign to get inside the system.”2 Thatcher remembered what Professor Archie Brown had told her at the Chequers seminar: Gorbachev was the most open and promising man in the leadership. She invited Brown to come back to No. 10 Downing Street on December 14, just before Gorbachev’s visit, to brief her again.3
    “I spotted him,” Thatcher said of Gorbachev, “because I was searching for someone like him.”

    In the KGB residency in London, Oleg Gordievsky worked hard for weeks in advance of Gorbachev’s arrival. So many demands poured in from headquarters in Moscow! Gordievsky realized the KGB chiefs saw Gorbachev as a rising star and wanted to demonstrate they were behind him. “The KGB was backing him because he was a new man, a man for the future, an honest man who would fight corruption and all the other negative features of Soviet society,” Gordievsky recalled. Moscow bombarded the London residency with requests for material that could be useful for the visit: about arms control, NATO, the economy, Britain’s relations with the United States, China and Eastern Europe. Although he had never met Gorbachev, Gordievsky sensed a voracious appetite for new information. “He wanted to be brilliant, know all about Britain, and make an impression, and then come to Moscow and show everybody that after Chernenko he was the best candidate,” Gordievsky said.4
    Gordievsky was not only writing reports for Moscow, but also feeding information to his British handlers. They, too, were intensely interested in Gorbachev, the rising star. Gordievsky gave the British valuable early warning about what Gorbachev would ask and what he would say. At the same time, Gordievsky passed back to Moscow the materials he was given by the British. Gordievsky was a channel for both sides at a critical moment in history. He was almost perfect for Thatcher’s mission. The British knew what their agent was doing, but the Soviets did not.
    The days of Gorbachev’s visit were frantic for Gordievsky. “Every evening we were under pressure to produce a forecast of the line the next day’s meetings would take, and this of course was impossible to discover from normal channels. I therefore went to the British and asked urgently for help: could they give me an idea of the subjects Mrs. Thatcher would raise? They produced a few possibilities, from which I managed to concoct a useful-looking memorandum; but the next day’s meeting was much more fruitful. When I asked for a steer on Geoffrey Howe, they let me see the brief which the foreign secretary would be using in his talks with Mr. Gorbachev. My English was still poor, and my ignorance was compounded by nervousness and lack of time, so that I had to concentrate hard to remember all the points.”
    “Back at the station, full of excitement at my little coup, I sat down at a typewriter… and hacked out a rough draft, allegedly based on my general sources and what I had gleaned from newspapers,” Gordievsky said. He was momentarily deflated when it was rewritten by another KGB man into something much less precise. He appealed to the acting chief, Leonid Nikitenko, who saw Gordievsky’s version and sent it direct to Gorbachev, “verbatim.”

    After stepping into the mansion at Chequers, Gorbachev spoke to Thatcher over drinks in the Great Hall. He had risen to become Soviet agriculture chief, and inquired about farms he’d seen on the drive from London. The lunch table was set with Dover sole, roast beef and oranges, but they hardly touched the food. Gorbachev and Thatcher immediately fell into a vigorous debate. Gorbachev claimed the Soviet Union was reforming its economy. Thatcher, skeptical, lectured him about free enterprise and incentives. Gorbachev shot back that the Soviet system was superior to capitalism, and, according to Thatcher’s account, he declared that the Soviet people lived “joyfully.” Thatcher pointedly asked: then why are so many denied permission to leave? Gorbachev replied these people were working on national security matters. Thatcher didn’t believe it.
    When they got up and left the dining room, Raisa went with Denis to look at the Chequers library, where she took down a copy of Hobbes’s Leviathan. Malcolm Rifkind, who accompanied her to the library, recalled she discussed her favorite contemporary British novelists, including Graham Greene, W. Somerset Maugham and C. P. Snow.5
    In the main sitting room, Thatcher and Gorbachev got down to business. Thatcher recalled that the content of Gorbachev’s remarks was unsurprising. What grabbed her attention was the refreshingly open style. “His personality could not have been more different from the wooden ventriloquism of the average Soviet apparatchik,” she said. “He smiled, laughed, used his hands for emphasis, modulated his voice, followed an argument through and was a sharp debater.” They talked for hours. Gorbachev did not consult prepared papers—he referred only to a small notebook of jottings, handwritten in green ink. “As the day wore on,” she added, “I came to understand that it was the style far more than the Marxist rhetoric which expressed the substance of the personality beneath. I found myself liking him.”
    Gorbachev was well prepared. He quoted Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum that Britain had no permanent allies or enemies, only permanent interests. “This was remarkable most of all for the precisely effective way it was deployed—and by this ‘non-expert’ in foreign policy,” said Howe, who attended. He quoted Gorbachev as adding, “It is up to us to identify the interests we have in common.”6 Thatcher steered Gorbachev toward the topic of the arms race. After a year of impasse, the negotiations were to reopen in Geneva in three weeks, the first since the Soviets had walked out during the 1983 war scare.
    At this moment, Gorbachev reached into his suit pocket. He unfolded a diagram he had brought with him, the size of a newspaper page. The page was filled with 165 boxes containing five thousand small dots, except for the center box, which had only one. The single dot in the center represented the explosive power of 3 million tons of bombs dropped by the Allies during the six years of World War II. The other dots represented the 15 billion tons of explosive power in the American and Soviet nuclear arsenals.
    Gorbachev’s diagram, which had been published in the New York Times as an advertisement by antinuclear businessmen the previous February, might have been dismissed as a piece of agitprop, a gimmick.7What was significant was not so much the dots and squares on the page, but the obvious enthusiasm of the man who was using it to make his point. Gorbachev was knowledgeable, unhesitating and demonstrative.
    In Moscow, Gorbachev at this point had participated in the high-level internal discussions of military and foreign policy issues, such as the war in Afghanistan, the deployment of the Pioneer missiles, the shooting down of KAL 007 and the strategic arms negotiations. But little was known outside the Soviet Union of his views. He had never spoken out so openly on disarmament and foreign affairs as he began to do in Britain. Throughout the visit, he called attention to the dangers of nuclear war and emphasized Soviet fears of an arms race in space. He promised “radical reductions” in nuclear weapons and signaled that the Soviets were serious about returning to the Geneva talks. He confidently parried criticism about human rights and Afghanistan. In substance, Gorbachev did not change Soviet policy, and in the meeting with Thatcher, he went out of his way to cite Chernenko as the source of his authority.8 But his style spoke volumes. He seemed to promise a more flexible approach, a sharp contrast with the rigidity of the past.
    Gorbachev felt the conversation with Thatcher was a personal turning point.9 He recalled vividly the diagram he presented at Chequers. He said he told Thatcher that all the weapons in one box on that page would “suffice to blow up the foundation of life on Earth. And it turns out that it can be done another 999 times—and what’s after that? What, blow it up one million times? That is absurd. We were possessed by the absurd.”
    “It had been accumulated already, stored already—including inside of me—that something needed to be done,” he said of the threat of nuclear war. “To describe it in one word, or one sentence: that something needs to be done.” But Gorbachev acknowledged it was difficult for him, back then, to imagine what that would be. Even as he unfolded the paper with all the squares and dots in front of Thatcher, he had no idea how to reduce the nuclear arsenals. He wondered, “How could all of it be stopped?”
    Thatcher wasn’t impressed with the Gorbachev diagram, but remembered he carried off the presentation with “a touch of theatre.” Gorbachev also warned of the dangers of a “nuclear winter” that would follow a war with atomic bombs.10 But Thatcher said, “I was not much moved by all this.” She responded with a heartfelt lecture on the virtues of nuclear deterrence: the weapons, she said, had kept the peace. This was one of her core beliefs. Thatcher was “eloquent and emotional,” Gorbachev remembered.
    Thatcher also knew Gorbachev might give her a message for Reagan. She listened closely when he spoke about Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Privately, Thatcher had little confidence in Reagan’s dream of making nuclear weapons obsolete, but kept her counsel. What caught her ear at Chequers was the urgency in Gorbachev’s voice. The Soviets, she concluded, “wanted it stopped at almost any price.” She told Gorbachev there was no way Britain would be split from the United States. Gorbachev was supposed to leave at 4:30 P.M., but remained until 5:50 P.M. As his car pulled away, Thatcher recalled, “I hoped that I had been talking to the next Soviet leader.”

    Officially, Gorbachev came to London as head of a Supreme Soviet delegation, but his reception and performance were anything but low-key. He charmed his hosts and captured the imagination of Britain. Television had never looked kindly on any Soviet leader, but Gorbachev thrived on the attention. “Red Star is born,” the Daily Mail said of Raisa. The Gorbachevs stopped in the cavernous reading room of the British Museum to see the place where Karl Marx had written Das Kapital, and they toured Westminster Abbey, seeing the graves of medieval kings, memorials to national poets, taking interest in the stained glass windows and the architecture.
    On Monday, Thatcher gave an interview to the BBC. In her first answer to a question, she declared:
    “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”11

    Gorbachev’s visit was interrupted by news of the sudden death in Moscow of Dmitri Ustinov, the defense minister. Gorbachev flew home. Without Ustinov, there would be a new leadership vacuum. Chernenko was so ill he could not attend Ustinov’s funeral, and Gorbachev faced still more uncertainty in the Kremlin. “The leadership of the country was in a deplorable state,” he said.
    Thatcher visited Reagan at Camp David on December 22, 1984. In preparation for the visit, the president had in his pocket seven note cards of talking points. The second card said, “Understand Gorbachev was impressive.” And, “What are your impressions?”12 Thatcher delivered a detailed report on the lunch at Chequers: human rights, economics, arms control. Thatcher said Gorbachev was more charming and more open to discussion and debate than his predecessors. She recounted how Gorbachev had zeroed in on the Strategic Defense Initiative. In response, Reagan opened up with a fulsome description of his great dream as both a technological quest and a moral imperative, with an ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. It was the first time Thatcher had heard Reagan talk about it directly, and she later confessed she was “horrified.” But she listened.
    She also relayed to Reagan what Gorbachev had said to her: “Tell your friend President Reagan not to go ahead with space weapons.”13

    To understand the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, who, with Reagan, would change the world in the years ahead, we must first reach back a half century into the tumultuous events that confronted his people and his country, from Stalin’s terror and the unimaginable losses of World War II, through the hardships, thaws, triumphs and stagnation of the postwar years. All of these directly touched Gorbachev. In his early life, there are few clues he would later become a catalyst of immense change. He was a child of the Soviet system, hardly a radical. But one thread is visible through it all. Gorbachev, over a long period of time, saw a reality that was strikingly different from the artificial world portrayed by the party and the leadership. As he rose through the ranks, he accumulated insights and revelations about the huge chasm between how people actually lived and the stuffy slogans of those who ruled. Raisa, too, grasped the depth of this chasm, and reinforced Gorbachev’s determination to change it.
    Gorbachev’s doubts were sown incrementally, over a generation, and for many years kept to himself. His first reaction to a disappointment or failure was always to strive to improve the system. He was never in a frame of mind to tear it down. By the time he became Soviet leader, he had fully absorbed the abysmal reality, but had limited understanding of how to fix it. His greatest skill was in political maneuvering to achieve his goals. He tried to rescue the system by unleashing forces of openness and political pluralism, hoping that these would heal the other maladies. They could not.
    Gorbachev’s achievements in ending the Cold War—braking what he called the speeding locomotive of the nuclear arms race, allowing a revolution in Europe to unfold peacefully, ending the confrontation in the Third World—were not his first objectives. They grew out of his desire for radical change at home, rooted in his experience as a peasant son, a young witness to war, a university student during the thaw, a party official in the stagnation years and, most importantly, out of his own deep impressions about what had gone wrong.
    Gorbachev did not set out to change the world, but rather to save his country. In the end, he did not save the country but may have saved the world.

    Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born March 2, 1931, in the small village of Privolnoye, in the black earth region of Stavropol in southern Russia. His parents, Sergei and Maria, worked the land; life in his village was little changed over centuries. From childhood, Gorbachev remembered “adobe huts with an earthen floor, and no beds at all”—people slept near the oven for warmth.14 Gorbachev spent much of his childhood as the favorite of his mother’s parents; he often lived with them. They kept books of Marx, Engels and Lenin on a shelf, but also a Russian Orthodox religious icon. His maternal grandfather, Pantelei, was remembered by Gorbachev as a tolerant man, and immensely respected in the village. In those years, Gorbachev was the only son; a brother was born after the war, when he was seventeen years old. He seems to have had a happy childhood. “I enjoyed absolute freedom,” he recalled. “My grandparents made me feel like the most important member of the family.”
    The country was soon plunged into suffering and tragedy. Famine struck the Stavropol region in 1933, when Gorbachev was just two years old. Stalin had launched the mass collectivization of agriculture, a brutal process of forcing the peasants into collective farms and punishing those known as kulaks, who were somewhat better off. A third to half of the population of Privolnoye died of hunger. “Entire families were dying, and the half-ruined ownerless huts would remain deserted for years,” Gorbachev remembered. Stalin’s purges took millions of lives among the peasantry in the 1930s.
    Gorbachev’s family was touched by the purges, too. His grandfather on his father’s side, Andrei, rejected collectivization and tried to make it on his own. In the spring of 1934, Andrei was arrested and accused of failing to fulfill the sowing plan set by the government for individual peasants. “But no seeds were available to fulfill the plan,” Gorbachev recalled of the absurdity of the charge. Andrei was declared a “saboteur” and sent to a prison camp for two years, but released early, in 1935. On his return, he became a leader of the collective farm.
    Two years later, grandfather Pantelei was also arrested. The charges were similarly absurd, that he had been a member of a counterrevolutionary organization and sabotaged the collective farm’s work. The arrest was “my first real trauma,” Gorbachev recalled. “They took him away in the middle of the night.” His grandfather was treated badly. Pantelei was finally released one winter evening in 1938, and returned to Privolnoye. Sitting at a hand-planed rustic table, he told the family how he had been beaten and tortured. Pantelei said he was convinced that Stalin did not know of the misdeeds of the secret police, and he did not blame the Soviet regime for his misfortunes. Pantelei never discussed it again. Gorbachev was only seven years old at the time, but later said the events left a deep, lasting impression on him. He held the secret of Pantelei’s ordeal privately, and only discussed it in the open a half century later.
    By the late 1930s, both grandfathers were back at home, and village life seemed to be on an upswing. The families spent Sunday picnics in the woods. Then, on one of these Sundays, June 22, 1941, came terrifying news. A radio announced: the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union.
    Gorbachev’s father was soon off to the front. He bought his ten-year-old son an ice cream, and a balalaika for a keepsake. Women, children and old men sobbed as the soldiers left. A massive snowfall that first winter put Privolnoye into deep isolation. There were no radios and newspapers seldom arrived. Gorbachev remembered that he “skipped from childhood directly into adulthood.” In the summer of 1942, the village fell under German occupation for four and a half months. The war devastated the countryside; they had no seed, no machines, no cattle. Famine spread in the winter and spring of 1944. The family was saved when Gorbachev’s mother, then thirty-three years old, sold his father’s last belongings, two pairs of boots and a suit, in a neighboring town for a 109-pound sack of corn.
    In the summer of 1944, the family received a letter from the front. It contained family photographs and an announcement that Sergei Gorbachev had been killed in battle in the Carpathians. “The family cried for three days,” Gorbachev recalled. Then another letter came from his father saying he was alive. Both letters were dated August 27, 1944. Four days later, yet another letter—Sergei was indeed alive! How did it happen? His father later told Gorbachev that after an ambush, his unit had found his bag alone. He was missing and assumed dead. They sent the first letter to the family. Only days later did they discover him alive, but seriously wounded. Sergei told his son this confusion was typical of the chaos of war. “I have remembered this all my life,” Gorbachev later wrote.
    In the early spring of 1943, Gorbachev was with other children, roaming the countryside, when they came to a remote stretch of forest between Privolnoye and a neighboring village. “There we stumbled upon the remains of Red Army soldiers, who had fought their last battle there in summer 1942. It was an unspeakable horror: decaying corpses, partly devoured by animals, skulls in rusted helmets, bleached bones, rifles protruding from the sleeves of rotting jackets. There was a light machine gun, some hand grenades, heaps of empty cartridges. There they lay, in the thick mud of the trenches and craters, unburied, staring at us out of black, gaping eye-sockets. We came home in a state of shock.”
    Gorbachev was fourteen years old when the war ended. “Our generation is the generation of wartime children,” he said. “It has burned us, leaving its mark both on our characters and on our view of the world.”

    After the war, Gorbachev worked in the fields each summer, “back-breaking labor twenty hours a day.” In high school, he was a good student and threw himself into the drama club and sports. School records showed Gorbachev had received top grades in Russian literature, trigonometry, history of the Soviet Union, the Soviet constitution, astronomy. He graduated in 1950 with a silver medal.15 For those long summers in the fields, he had also won an award, the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. This was a rare award for a schoolboy and most certainly helped Gorbachev win a place at Moscow State University, the most prestigious in the country, in the law department.16
    Arriving in the capital in September 1950, at nineteen years old, the peasant boy was disoriented for the first few months in the bustling metropolis. Freshmen students lived twenty-two to a dorm room; for a few kopeks they could buy tea in the cafeteria, with unlimited free bread on the tables.
    Gorbachev joined the Communist Party in 1952. To be a Communist then was to be a Stalinist. The first two years of his university life coincided with Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitan campaign, aimed at Jewish scholars and writers. This was an eye-opener for Gorbachev. He recalled that one morning, a friend, a Jew, had been confronted by a shouting, taunting mob and then crudely shoved off a tram. “I was shocked.”
    By his own account, Gorbachev was taken with Soviet ideology, like many of his generation. “Communist ideology was very attractive for young people then,” he recalled. “The front-line soldiers came back from the war, most of them young people, filled with the pride of victory.” The younger generation hoped that war, famine and the Great Terror were things of the past, and believed they were building a new society of social justice and people power.17
    Stalin was part of this fabric of belief. Stalin’s “Short Course” of the history of the party was held up to students as “a model of scientific thought,” Gorbachev recalled.18 The students “took many of the professed theses for granted, sincerely convinced of their truth.” Gorbachev was a leader of the Communist Youth League, known as the Komsomol. In high school he had written a final exam paper in which the title was borrowed from a song, “Stalin—our combat glory.”
    But Gorbachev also was restive, and twice caused a stir by mildly speaking out against authority at the university. Once he wrote an anonymous note to a lecturer who mechanically droned on by reading Stalin’s work verbatim to the class. This was disrespectful to the students, Gorbachev said, since they had already read the book. Gorbachev admitted to writing the note, which touched off an investigation, but no action was taken.
    When Stalin died on March 5, 1953, Gorbachev joined the huge mourning crowds in Moscow’s streets. He was “deeply and sincerely moved by Stalin’s death.” But in the years that followed, Gorbachev came to see Stalin differently. On February 25, 1956, Khrushchev delivered his famous “secret speech” at the 20th Party Congress denouncing Stalin’s personality cult and use of violence and persecution. Only after the speech, Gorbachev recalled, “did I begin to understand the inner connection between what had happened in our country and what had happened to my family.” His grandfather Pantelei had said that Stalin didn’t know of his torture. But maybe Stalin was the one responsible for the family’s pain.
    “The document containing Khrushchev’s denunciations circulated briefly within the party, and then it was withdrawn. But I managed to get my hands on it. I was shocked, bewildered and lost. It wasn’t an analysis, just facts, deadly facts. Many of us simply could not believe that such things could be true. For me it was easier. My family had itself been one of the victims of the repression of the 1930s.”19 Gorbachev later frequently called Khrushchev’s speech “courageous.” It was not a total break with the past, but it was a break nonetheless. He felt once again as if illusions about the system were falling away. Gorbachev saw this as a reason to be hopeful, but he was also aware that many people, especially those in an older generation, were skeptical and downright confused. Not everything was clear for Gorbachev, either. How could everything they had believed in be wrong?
    While at the university, Gorbachev met and married Raisa Titorenko, a bright philosophy student. In the two years after Stalin’s death, Moscow began to open up to new ideas, often expressed in literature. Ilya Ehrenburg’s novel The Thaw, a title that came to define the era, was published in 1954. Gorbachev met a young Czech student at the university, Zdeněk Mlynáář, who became Gorbachev’s best friend in those years, and they enjoyed stormy debates late into the night in their dormitory room. The university experience began to open Gorbachev’s eyes, but at the same time, “for me and others of my generation the question of changing the system in which we lived did not arise.”

    Upon graduation in the summer of 1955, Gorbachev returned to Stavropol, where he found new evidence of the gap between rhetoric and reality. Many saw this but did nothing; what was different about Gorbachev was his capacity to be shocked by it. During his university days he held a summer job in a local procuracy in Stavropol, but was appalled by the arrogant behavior of the apparatchiks.20 In a letter to Raisa written then, he described them as “disgusting.” He added, “Especially the manner of life of the local bosses. The acceptance of convention, subordination, with everything predetermined, the open impudence of officials and the arrogance. When you look at one of the local leaders you see nothing outstanding apart from his belly.”
    Gorbachev decided on a career with the Komsomol, the party’s youth division, as deputy head of the “agitation and propaganda department.” This was a conformist career path. Gorbachev threw himself into the work, honing his speaking skills, often making trips around the region to exhort young people to believe in the party.21 The job brought him face-to-face with the bleakness of daily life, especially in the backwater rural corners of the Soviet Union. On one trip, he went to the most remote cattle farm in the region. After hiking through thick mud, Gorbachev arrived at a village of low, smoke-belching huts and blackened fences along the River Gorkaya Balka, and was shocked at what lay before him: poverty and desolation. “On the hillside, I wondered: ‘How is it possible, how can anyone live like that?’” Gorbachev’s impressions were shaped and deeply reinforced by his strong-willed wife, Raisa, who researched and wrote a thesis on peasant life in these years. She may have seen more of these desolate villages than he did. She trudged in boots and rode by motorcycle and cart through the bleak Russian countryside to carry out her research.22

    Gorbachev moved up in Stavropol, first through the city organization and then to become the highest-ranking party official in the region. In these years, in the 1960s and 1970s, he again felt the disparity between the way people lived and the empty party slogans and rhetoric. In farming and industry, the heavy hand of the state stifled individual initiative. Theft, toadying, incompetence and malaise were everywhere. Central planning was both intrusive and woefully inefficient. Once, he toured a collective farm in Stavropol. There were “magnificent crops of both grain and fodder.” Gorbachev was pleased, but asked the chairman of the collective farm, “Where did you get the pipe to do the irrigation?” The man just smiled. He had diverted the pipe from somewhere, on his own, and Gorbachev knew that his success had nothing to do with socialism.23
    It is important to recall that the most daring changes in the centrally controlled Soviet economic system at the time were extremely modest, such as demonstrations of self-financing, or khozraschyot, the idea that a factory or farm could retain its own profits. Sweeping challenges to the system were just not possible; even minor experiments in individual initiative were snuffed out. This is the world Gorbachev knew. The bureaucrats at central planning in Moscow arrogantly issued orders to do this and that, and on the ground in farms and cities, the orders often made no sense. The demands were ignored, statistics faked, budgets swallowed up with no result, and anyone who deviated was punished. From 1970 to 1978, Gorbachev was first secretary of the Communist Party in Stavropol, the highest-ranking official in the region, an expanse between the Black and Caspian Seas with the most fertile lands in all of Russia. Gorbachev was essentially the governor, but wielded much more power than an American governor. Regional party bosses were a key power bloc in the Soviet system and could affect how Moscow decisions were implemented. As first secretary, Gorbachev joined an elite group at the pinnacle of Soviet society. He was eligible for special privileges—good housing, food, transport—and was a full member of the Central Committee in Moscow. In the Brezhnev years, a party first secretary was “a prince in his own domain,” as Robert G. Kaiser of the Washington Post described it.24But Gorbachev was something of a populist. By one account, he often walked to his office and informally listened to people on the streets. He was a regular at theater performances and encouraged the local press to be less driven by party ideology.25 Gorbachev was “as pragmatic an innovator as the conservative temper of the times allowed.”26 For example, he supported a farming plan to give autonomy to groups or teams of workers, including families, even though it was viewed with suspicion by the Moscow bureaucrats. In 1978 Gorbachev wrote a lengthy memo on the problems of agriculture that called for giving “more independence to enterprises and associations” in deciding key production and money issues. But there is no evidence that these ideas ever took root very widely, and Gorbachev was definitely not a radical. He joined other party bosses in lavishing obsequious praise on the 1978 volume of Brezhnev’s ghostwritten memoirs of war, Malaya Zemlya, a blatant effort at self-glorification. Words of the state and party lost their meaning, but it was mandatory for Gorbachev and others to keep repeating them.
    Gorbachev realized as regional party boss that something much more serious was wrong with the Soviet system than just inefficiency, theft and poor planning. The deeper flaw was that no one could break out with new ideas. Gorbachev bridled at being “bound hand and foot by orders from the center.”27 He concluded that a “hierarchy of vassals and chiefs of principalities was in fact the way the country was run.” In a reflection many years later, he said bluntly, “It was a caste system based on mutual protection.”

    The outside world, too, offered Gorbachev fresh evidence of the contrast between reality and the party line. When his university friend MlynááY visited Stavropol in 1967, he surprised Gorbachev with a warning that Czechoslovakia was “on the verge of a major upheaval.” In the year that followed, MlynááY became a figure in the liberalizing movement in Czechoslovakia, headed by Alexander Dubček, which led to the Prague Spring and the drive to create “socialism with a human face.” This fling with democracy was crushed by Soviet tanks and Warsaw Pact troops on the night of August 20–21, 1968. Gorbachev has acknowledged that in 1968 he supported the invasion as a party official in Stavropol. But Gorbachev saw a different reality a year later when he visited Prague. On this trip, he did not see MlynááY, but he realized people sincerely believed in the liberalization and hated the Soviet leadership in Moscow. While the KGB line was that external factors were at work, Gorbachev saw that the impetus was internal. On a factory tour in Brno, workers refused to even talk to Gorbachev. “This was a shock to me,” Gorbachev said. “This visit overturned all my conceptions.” In Bratislava, he saw walls densely covered with anti-Soviet slogans. “From that time on, I began to think more and more about what was going on in our country, and I came to an unconsoling conclusion: there was something wrong…” But he kept these thoughts to himself, and Raisa.28 Throughout the 1970s, Gorbachev traveled several times to the West, including Italy, France, Belgium and West Germany. What he saw in these relatively prosperous democracies was far different from what he had been shown in Soviet propaganda books, films and radio broadcasts. “People there lived in better conditions, and were better off than in our country. The question haunted me: why was the standard of living in our country lower than in other developed countries?”

    The Stavropol town of Kislovodsk was favored by the Soviet elite for its soothing spas and mineral springs. The Soviet KGB chief, Yuri Andropov, who suffered kidney ailments, often retreated to a KGB lodge there. He and Gorbachev shared a holiday at the mineral springs in August 1978. Andropov had taken notice of Gorbachev as a potential future leader. They climbed in the nearby mountains, and spent many hours sitting around an open bonfire, cooking shashlik under the star-studded skies. Andropov, who had wide-ranging interests, often talked to Gorbachev about affairs of state, and they listened to tape recordings of Vladimir Vysotsky and Yuri Vizbor, who strummed a seven-string guitar and sang of people’s everyday problems. This must have been an amazing scene: two party bosses enjoying the music of bards whose works were largely distributed on bootleg tapes. Andropov, head of the secret police since 1967, became one of Gorbachev’s mentors and tutors.
    In Moscow, Gorbachev was elected a secretary of the Central Committee and put in charge of agriculture.29 Full of enthusiasm, he went to see Brezhnev about farm policy. But Gorbachev, forty-eight years old, found the Soviet leader, then seventy-one, almost lifeless in his Kremlin office. “Not only did he not take up the conversation, but he showed no response at all, neither to my words nor to myself,” Gorbachev recalled.
    As a junior member of the Soviet ruling elite, Gorbachev soon discovered that the final years of Brezhnev’s rule were filled with such scenes. Some Politburo meetings lasted no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes, so as not to tire the chairman. “It was a sad sight,” recalled Gorbachev. The country was in serious trouble economically as the oil boost of the late 1970s began to give out. The war in Afghanistan, launched by a coterie around Brezhnev, turned into a quagmire. The hopes of détente in the 1970s evaporated, and the superpower tension escalated. Food shortages grew at home. During the first four years that Gorbachev was secretary for agriculture in Moscow, there were four successive bad harvests and massive Soviet grain purchases abroad.30
    From the time Gorbachev arrived in Moscow in November 1978, through the early 1980s, a simmering power struggle unfolded between an old guard, bastions of the party and military, and a handful of reformers, most of whom were academics with fresh ideas but no power base. When Brezhnev died, Andropov promoted a group of younger officials, including Gorbachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, an experienced factory manager from Sverdlovsk. Andropov put Gorbachev in charge of economic policy for the whole country. Gorbachev solicited ideas from the academic reformers. Now, at least the reformers had an umbrella—Gorbachev would listen to them.31
    True to his background in the KGB, Andropov tried to rejuvenate the country with police-state methods, such as arresting people seen as loafers on the street during working hours. Gorbachev told him this was a dubious practice, that people were making jokes about it, but Andropov wouldn’t listen. He brushed Gorbachev off, saying, “When you get to my age, you’ll understand.”
    What brought these two men together was a shared understanding of the plight of the system. Gorbachev recalled that Andropov was determined to root out the ills of the Brezhnev era, including “protectionism, in-fighting and intrigues, corruption, moral turpitude, bureaucracy, disorganization and laxity.” But as historian Robert English pointed out, it was extraordinarily hard to make change “in an ossified, militarized Party-state system,” especially given the latent power of the hard-liners.32In the end, Andropov ran out of time. Gorbachev wrote later that Andropov could not have really carried out drastic change; the years with the KGB left him unable to break out. “He was too deeply entrenched in his own past experience; it held him firmly in its grasp,” Gorbachev said.
    It fell to Gorbachev to become the agent of change, and his time was coming.
    A turning point came in May 1983, when Gorbachev went to Canada for a seven-day visit as head of a parliamentary delegation. Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet ambassador there, saw an opportunity to show Gorbachev how the West worked, and to offer his own deep concerns about the direction of the Soviet Union. In Alberta, Gorbachev was fascinated by a discussion with a wealthy farmer who had a 4,942-acre spread. Gorbachev quickly got to talking and discovered the farmer’s herd produced a milk yield of 4,700 kilograms each cow per year. The yield of Soviet cows was 2,258 kilograms.33 The farmer had two homes, cars and aluminum grain towers, and told Gorbachev he worked a long, hard year without vacations. Canada offered Gorbachev a prosperous counterpoint to Soviet agricultural failure.
    The key moment of the visit was out of public view, on the evening of May 19, at the Ontario farm of Eugene Whelan, the Canadian agriculture minister. Whelan had invited Gorbachev for dinner, but was delayed in arriving. His wife, Elizabeth, greeted the Soviet guests after they drove in on a long, bumpy dirt road. Waiting around, Gorbachev and Yakovlev decided to take a private stroll, alone, in a nearby orchard. Yakovlev had been the Central Committee propaganda chief in the early 1970s, but had written an article with radical ideas for a newspaper—and was sent to diplomatic exile in Canada. He was a reformist whose enthusiasm for change only deepened as he witnessed the collapse of détente and the stagnation of the late Brezhnev years. Yakovlev, then fifty-nine years old, was angered by the over-militarization of Soviet society, and he believed markets could offer improvements to socialism. Most of all, he later recalled, he had made freedom his “religion.” In the walk in the orchard, it all spilled out.
    “We had a lot of time together,” Yakovlev recalled. “So we took a long walk on that minister’s farm and, as it often happens, both of us were just kind of flooded, and let go. I somehow, for some reason, threw caution to the wind and started telling him about what I considered to be utter stupidities in the area of foreign affairs, especially about those SS-20 missiles that were being stationed in Europe and a lot of other things. And he did the same thing. We were completely frank. He frankly talked about the problems in the internal situation in Russia. He was saying that under these conditions, the conditions of dictatorship and absence of freedom, the country would simply perish. So it was at that time, during our three-hour conversation, almost as if our heads were knocked together, that we poured it all out.”34
    Two weeks later, Yakovlev was asked to return to Moscow to head up a prestigious think tank, the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, where he would become a pioneer of the new thinking.

    The Kremlin paralysis under Chernenko was grave. Politburo meetings were difficult to convene. Fifteen or twenty minutes before the start time, 11 A.M., a phone call came and Gorbachev was told that Chernenko was so sick he could not attend. Would Gorbachev take the chair? This left Gorbachev little time to prepare, and it was awkward in front of the other, more senior members. By the end of 1984, “Chernenko had dropped out altogether,” Gorbachev recalled. With no one in charge, the suspicions and infighting worsened. According to Yakovlev, hard-liners launched an offensive against some of the liberal think tanks, threatening a purge that would have silenced them.35
    Gorbachev’s sense of gloom was reinforced at a December soul-searching talk with Eduard Shevardnadze, who was the first secretary of the party in the republic of Georgia, just to the south of the Stavropol region. Like Gorbachev, Shevardnadze was a high-ranking official and a man with clear vision about the country’s problems. They met at a barren park on the deserted shore near the Black Sea’s Cape Pitsunda. Strolling down a path beneath the trees, they talked openly, holding nothing back. “Everything’s rotten,” Shevardnadze said. “It has to be changed.”36
    That winter was terrible. Yegor Ligachev recalled that because of massive snows and bitter cold, industry in the country began to break down. Fifty-four of the largest electric plants were on the verge of shutdown because 22,000 freight cars carrying coal were stopped dead on the tracks, their cargo frozen solid.37
    In early December 1984, Gorbachev prepared to give a critical speech at a party conference on ideology. The Soviet elite was dejected and Gorbachev wanted to offer badly needed new ideas. Months of work had gone into refining his speech, with help from Yakovlev. The participants had already arrived in Moscow. Then Gorbachev got a call from the ailing, cautious Chernenko at 4 P.M. Alarmed at the new ideas Gorbachev planned to offer in the speech, Chernenko insisted the conference should be postponed for some vague reason about not being fully prepared. Gorbachev was indignant. The participants had already arrived! What was Chernenko thinking? “OK,” the Soviet leader backed down. “Have it, but don’t make too much noise.” In fact, Gorbachev’s December 10 address offered hints of dramatic change to come. He talked about restructuring—perestroika.
    On February 24, 1985, Chernenko was shown voting on television in an election. Chernenko was seen accepting his ballot, voting, accepting flowers from a well-wisher and shaking hands. He raised his hand up to his brow and said “Good.” End of broadcast. Anatoly Chernyaev, the deputy of the International Department at the Central Committee, watched with disgust. “A man half-dead. A mummy,” Chernyaev wrote in his diary. Two days later, Chernenko was shown on television again. This time he appeared wan and held on to a chair for support as an election official handed him a document. He was wheezing. “It was a terrible show,” Chernyaev wrote.38 The only other official in the room in both broadcasts was Viktor Grishin, seventy, the Moscow party chief, a member of the Politburo’s old guard who seemed to be making a bid for power, positioning himself standing next to Chernenko. But Grishin’s move swiftly backfired. The sight of the ill Chernenko was a reminder, if one was needed, that it was time for change.

    On the evening of Sunday, March 10, Gorbachev returned home from work and took a call from the Kremlin doctor, Yevgeny Chazov. Chernenko had died of heart failure and complications from emphysema at 7:20 P.M. Gorbachev, who had been passed over in the transition after Andropov, wasted little time. A Politburo meeting was called at the Kremlin for 11 P.M. Three voting members, including two old Brezhnevites, were out of the country and would not make it back.
    About twenty minutes before the meeting started, Gorbachev met Gromyko, the foreign minister, lion of the old guard, in the Walnut Room, where full voting members of the Politburo often gathered before formal sessions. Gromyko was the key figure in deciding who would be the next general secretary. Earlier, Gromyko had sent a private emissary to Gorbachev with the message that he would back him in the succession struggle, in exchange for being allowed to retire as foreign minister and take up a sinecure position as chairman of the Supreme Soviet. The back channel was through Gromyko’s son, Anatoly, and Gorbachev’s reformist adviser, Yakovlev.39
    When Gorbachev and Gromyko met in the Walnut Room, they reconfirmed the understanding reached earlier.
    “Andrei Andreyevich, we have to consolidate our effort, the moment is crucial,” Gorbachev recalled saying to Gromyko.
    “I believe everything is clear,” Gromyko replied.
    When they had all assembled, Gorbachev informed the Politburo of Chernenko’s death. Usually, the person chosen to head up the funeral commission was the one who would be the next general secretary. The question of the funeral commission arose. There was momentary hesitation in the room: Would Grishin make a play for it?
    In fact, before the meeting, Gorbachev had already made a gesture to Grishin, who declined to head the commission.
    “Why the hesitation about the chairman?” Grishin said now, in front of the Politburo members. “Everything is clear. Let’s appoint Mikhail Sergeyevich.”
    The old guard had died. Gorbachev became head of the commission and the next day would become the new general secretary. Precisely why Grishin did not fight is not known, but he may well have realized, or sensed, that he had no chance, that Gromyko would support Gorbachev.
    Gorbachev was a shining light in a dusky hall. Five of the ten voting members of the Politburo that day were over seventy, three in their sixties and only two in their fifties. Not only was Gorbachev, at fifty-four, the youngest member of the Politburo by a full five years, he was thirteen years younger than the average age of the voting membership.40 Plans were hurriedly made through the night for the transition, which would include a Politburo meeting and then a Central Committee plenum March 11 to ratify the choice.
    Gorbachev went home at 4 A.M. He was then living at a large dacha outside of Moscow. Raisa was waiting up. Suspicious of KGB listening bugs, they went out in the garden, as they did almost every day. They strolled the paths for a long time just before dawn. Spring had not yet come, there was snow on the ground. Raisa recalled the air felt very heavy. They talked about the events and the implications. Gorbachev told her he had been frustrated all the years in Moscow, having not accomplished as much as he wanted, always hitting a wall. To really get things done, he would have to accept the job.
    “We can’t go on living like this,” he said.

    At the next day’s session, Gromyko delivered a strong testament to Gorbachev, speaking in a way that was not customary on such occasions, without notes and without hesitation. “I shall be straight,” Gromyko began. Gorbachev is the “absolutely right choice.” Gorbachev had “indomitable creative energy, striving to do more and do it better.” Gorbachev respected “the interests of the party, the interests of the society, the interests of the people” above his own, he said. Gorbachev would bring experience of work in the regions and the center, and ran the Politburo while Chernenko was ill. This required knowledge and stamina. “We won’t make a mistake if we choose him,” Gromyko said.
    After the agonizing years of stagnation, death and disappointment, Gorbachev was chosen first and foremost as the best hope to get the country moving.41 Georgi Shakhnazarov, who had served Andropov and would later advise Gorbachev, recalled that Gorbachev’s rise was not a certainty. Gorbachev did not have a sterling biography that made him the natural choice, and the Politburo might have chosen another, such as Grishin, to muddle through. But Shakhnazarov felt there was one factor that, while not official, could not be ignored. “People were desperately tired of participating in a disgraceful farce… They were tired of seeing leaders with shaking heads and faded eyes, knowing the fate of the country and half the world was entrusted to the care of these miserable semiparalytics.”42

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    When Reagan was awakened March 11, 1985, at 4 A.M., with word that Chernenko had died, he asked Nancy, “How am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians if they keep dying on me?” Four leaders—Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev—had guided the Soviet Union over its first six decades. Now it had the third new leader in three years. Perhaps no one really knew at this early point that Gorbachev would become a revolutionary. But at first, Reagan missed the signs. He was blinkered by his own deep anti-communism and his own long-held ideas about the Soviet system, and hampered by lack of good intelligence. To the United States, the Kremlin remained a black box. Reagan and many of those around him could not imagine a Soviet leader carrying out radical reform from above. Shultz saw promise in Gorbachev, as had Thatcher in Britain, but Reagan’s circle was riven by disagreement, and there was no consensus that this was a man they could do business with.
    Among the hard-liners, Robert Gates, then the deputy CIA director for intelligence, felt that Gorbachev was a tough guy wearing a well-tailored suit. Underneath, he saw trouble, and did not want to be fooled. In the weeks before Gorbachev took power, in February 1985, Gates wrote a memo to one of the CIA’s leading Soviet experts. “I don’t much care for the way we are writing about Gorbachev,” Gates said. “We are losing the thread of what toughness and skill brought him to where he is. This is not some Gary Hart or even Lee Iacocca. We have to give the policy-makers a clearer view of the kind of person they may be facing.” Gates said he felt that Gorbachev was the heir to Andropov, the former KGB chief, and to Suslov, the onetime orthodox ideology chief. Thus, Gates said, Gorbachev “could not be all sweetness and light. These had been two of the hardest cases in recent Soviet history. They would not take a wimp under their wing.”1
    Reagan found this analysis very appealing. The assumption was based on years of imagining a Soviet monolith—that all leaders were alike, that the system could not change. Reagan met with U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Arthur Hartman. “He confirms what I believe that Gorbachev will be tough as any of their leaders,” Reagan recalled. “If he wasn’t a confirmed ideologue he never would have been chosen… by the Politburo.”2
    Yet Reagan was capable of holding multiple views at the same time. He still dreamed of eliminating nuclear weapons, even if he had doubts about the new Soviet leader. He mentioned elimination of nuclear weapons as “our common goal” in one of his first letters to Gorbachev.3Reagan also listened to Shultz, who urged him to use “quiet diplomacy” with the new Soviet leader. As Reagan recalled it, this meant “the need to lean on the Soviets but to do so one on one—not in the papers.”4
    Five years into his presidency, Reagan was still surrounded by intense feuds and conflicts among those who served him. Tempers were raw over a Soviet blunder in East Germany. On March 24, an American army officer, Major Arthur D. Nicholson Jr., was shot by a panicky Soviet sentry while in a restricted area. As with the Korean airliner, the clumsy Soviet response to the incident made it even worse. The shooting “has to be called murder,” Reagan wrote in his diary.5
    At a White House breakfast April 27, Reagan’s top cabinet members argued over whether to allow the secretary of commerce to visit Moscow on a trade mission. Casey and Weinberger were opposed. Shultz wanted to engage Moscow, and thought Reagan did too. “The scene was bizarre,” Shultz said. “Here was the president ready to lead the charge to engage with the Soviets. At the same time, his secretary of defense and director of central intelligence were leading their own charge in exactly the opposite direction.”6 Tired of the disputes, Shultz told Reagan he wanted to resign by summer. Reagan talked him out of it, saying he needed Shultz to deal with the Soviets.7 Reagan decided to let the trade mission go ahead, but sent a tough, private message to Gorbachev.8
    The Central Intelligence Agency devoted about 45 percent of its analytical manpower to the Soviet Union.9 But for all the attention to weapons and research programs, the agency had little understanding of the new man in the Kremlin. Shultz later recalled that “our knowledge of the Kremlin was thin, and the CIA, I found, was usually wrong about it.”10 Gates acknowledged that the CIA had scant inside knowledge. “We were embarrassingly hungry for details” from the British and Canadians who had met Gorbachev on his visits, and others who knew him, Gates said. These sources described Gorbachev as stylistically more open than Soviet leaders had been, but “unyielding” on the issues. Gorbachev was “an innovative, dynamic communist, not a revolutionary,” Gates concluded. The CIA’s first assessment of Gorbachev, titled “Gorbachev, the New Broom,” was sent to Reagan on June 27. The study portrayed Gorbachev as gambling on a campaign against corruption and inefficiency, but “not radical reform,” at home. The study said Gorbachev had already demonstrated that he was “the most aggressive and activist Soviet leader since Khrushchev.”11 When this paper went to Reagan, however, Casey attached a cover note that was far more skeptical. Casey wrote that Gorbachev and those around him “are not reformers and liberalizers either in Soviet domestic or foreign policy.”12
    He could not have been more wrong.

    Inside the Kremlin, the tune was changing. Gorbachev demanded a rewrite of a Communist Party program. “It must not be propagandistic babble about endless achievements,” Gorbachev wrote on the document, “the kind of stuff that you used to write for Brezhnev and Chernenko, but rather include specific proposals for a truly radical transformation of the economy.”13 This was just the beginning. Anatoly Chernyaev, the deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee, who received this note, wondered, “Is this really happening? It’s too good to be true.”
    The day after Gorbachev became general secretary, on March 12, he received an important memorandum from Alexander Yakovlev, the reformist thinker who had the soul-searching talk with Gorbachev in the orchard in Canada. The title was simply “On Reagan.”14 In tone and substance, Yakovlev offered a stark contrast to the Soviet rhetoric of the past. Yakovlev’s analysis of Reagan, while imperfect, was pragmatic, not ideological. He described Reagan as striving to grasp the initiative in international affairs, to go down in history as a peacemaking president. He said Reagan had fulfilled his promises to rebuild the American military; Reagan “practically gave to the military business everything he promised.” This reflected an early misconception of Yakovlev and Gorbachev about the power of the defense industry in the United States. But Yakovlev did not make Reagan out to be a reckless cowboy, as Soviet propaganda had done so often. Rather, he said, the president was seeking to improve his political standing, facing off against many different forces, including global competition from Japan, domestic budget pressure and restive European allies. Reagan had invited Gorbachev to a summit, and Yakovlev told Gorbachev, “…from Reagan’s point of view, his proposition is thoughtful, precisely calculated, and contains no political risk.” There had not been a superpower summit in six years. Yakovlev’s advice to Gorbachev was: go to a summit, but not hastily. Make it clear to Reagan, he said, that the world does not spin every time he pushes a button.
    This was a moment when Reagan could have used fresh and penetrating insights into Gorbachev’s thinking and life experiences. If he had seen Gorbachev’s notes about radical economic reform, if he had read Yakovlev’s memo, he might have realized immediately that Gorbachev had people around him who were thinking in new ways. The United States deployed remarkably accurate satellites to collect technical data on missiles, but it lacked the textured and revealing intelligence on the new leader that came only from human sources. Reagan would have benefited from knowing that Gorbachev nurtured a lifetime of lessons and convictions about the gap between the Soviet party-state and society. Reagan would have found fascinating Gorbachev’s comment to Raisa that “we can’t go on living like this.” Reagan would have been surprised to know of Gorbachev’s reluctance to use force, and his determination there would not be another Prague Spring.15 But Reagan did not know these things. The United States had never recruited a spy who provided political information at a high level inside the Kremlin.16 And just when the United States could have used some good human intelligence about the new leader in Moscow, the CIA suffered a series of blinding catastrophes.
    A month after Gorbachev took office, on April 16, 1985, a man with a mustache and heavy eyeglasses waited at the bar of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington for a meeting with a Soviet diplomat. The man was Aldrich Ames, a forty-four-year-old CIA counterintelligence official who was supposed to be keeping track of, and looking for, Soviet spies working in the United States. Ames often met Soviet officials at downtown restaurants to talk about arms control and U.S.-Soviet relations. This was part of his job in the hunt for spies. Ames was permitted by the CIA to have these contacts, as long as he reported them afterward.
    Ames was waiting for Sergei Chuvakhin, a specialist on arms control, who failed to show up. Ames walked two blocks to the ornate Soviet Embassy on 16th Street N.W. and entered. The building was constantly being monitored by the FBI, which Ames knew, but he may have assumed that he would not raise suspicions because he was known to meet with Soviet officials for his work. Inside, Ames went to the reception desk and asked for Chuvakhin. At the same time, he silently handed an envelope to the duty officer at the desk.
    The envelope was addressed to Stanislav Androsov, the KGB resident, the most senior KGB man in the embassy. Ames didn’t say so specifically, but motioned to the duty officer that he wanted the envelope given to the KGB boss. Chuvakhin then showed up briefly, apologized for the no-show at the hotel, and Ames departed.17
    Ames was a spy hunter, but in the envelope he offered to become a spy himself for the Soviet Union. Inside, he left a note that described two or three cases involving Soviets who had approached the CIA to offer their services. These were double agents. He thought that by identifying them, he would establish his own credentials as a CIA insider who had something to offer. He also included a page from a CIA phone directory of the Soviet and Eastern Europe division that identified him as the chief counterintelligence official in the division. For the KGB, this was a potential gold mine—a person in this position would know the names of all the CIA spies inside the Soviet Union. Ames asked for $50,000, and said nothing more.18
    A few weeks later, Chuvakhin called and scheduled another meeting with Ames. On May 15, Ames entered the Soviet Embassy and asked for Chuvakhin, but was escorted instead to another, soundproofed room. There, a KGB officer passed him a note saying they had agreed to pay him $50,000.

    The very next day in London, May 16, a cipher clerk walked into the office of Oleg Gordievsky and handed him a handwritten telegram from Moscow headquarters.
    Gordievsky had done much to help the West: revealing Andropov’s paranoia about nuclear war with the RYAN operation, and paving the way for Gorbachev’s successful visit to Britain. In April, Gordievsky moved up to become KGB chief in London, in position to do even more for the West. But the message from Moscow hit him like a “thunderbolt,” he recalled. The telegram was a summons for him to come back to Moscow right away “in order to confirm your appointment as resident,” and to meet top officials of the KGB. It was strange—he had already done that a few months earlier.19 He was terrified. He went to his British handlers and told them of the request. They were relaxed and urged him to go ahead with the trip. But just to be sure, Gordievsky rehearsed a plan the British had developed for him to escape if he felt in danger. He left his family behind in London.
    On May 17 in Washington, Ames met in a restaurant with Chuvakhin, who handed him $50,000 in cash, in $100 bills.
    When Gordievsky arrived in Moscow May 19, he grew even more worried. At passport control, the border guard scrutinized his documents for a long time, made a phone call and examined some papers before letting him pass. When he reached his apartment, a third lock on the door, for which he long ago had lost the key, was turned shut. The apartment had been searched.

    On Sunday, May 20, late in the evening in a wooded area of Montgomery County, Maryland, John Walker stopped his van and left an empty 7-Up can by the side of the road, then drove away. At another spot, he left a brown paper bag. For a decade, Walker had run a navy spy ring for the Soviets, feeding them top-secret communications documents stolen from American warships. Walker’s partners in espionage included Jerry Whitworth, who had served on the U.S.S. Enterprise and leaked classified communications from the Pacific Ocean exercises in 1983. Walker did not realize it on this night, but the FBI, after months of investigation, was closing in on him and watching his every move in the woods. When Walker drove away, an FBI agent picked up the 7-Up can, intended as a signal to the Soviets that Walker had left them something and wanted to pick up money. Then the FBI found the brown paper bag, and in the bottom of it was an inch-thick package, wrapped in a white plastic garbage sack. The corners were neatly folded over and taped. Inside were 129 secret documents stolen from the U.S.S. Nimitz and a letter, “Dear Friend,” outlining the activities of others in his spy ring, including Whitworth, using coded letters of the alphabet to disguise their identities.
    Walker expected a payment that night, and was puzzled when his Soviet contact did not leave it. The Soviet man with the money had been in the vicinity, looking for the 7-Up can—when he did not find it, he left without dropping the cash. Walker drove back to the woods later that evening, apparently realizing his brown bag had disappeared. Did the Soviets pick it up? Where was his money? It was late, so he went to the nearby suburb of Rockville and checked into a Ramada Inn. At 3:30 A.M., he was awakened by an apologetic clerk at the front desk of the hotel, saying someone had accidentally smashed into his van in the parking lot. Could he come down with his insurance forms? It was a ruse. At the elevator, Walker was arrested by the FBI. Soon, U.S. intelligence and military officials began to unravel the incredible story of how Walker had given away some of the deepest secrets of the Cold War.

    On May 28, in Moscow, Gordievsky took some pep pills the British had given him in London to fight fatigue. At the office, he was summoned to meet agents from KGB counterintelligence who wanted to talk about possible penetration of the KGB in London. Gordievsky was driven several miles from headquarters to a small bungalow, where he met the agents. They had lunch, and a servant poured them all a brandy. Gordievsky took his and passed out. He had been drugged. When he awoke, Gordievsky realized what had happened. He had been interrogated while in a drugged stupor. He was “more depressed than ever before in my life. I kept thinking, ‘they know,’ I’m finished.’ How they had found out, I could not tell. But there was not the slightest doubt that they knew I was a British agent.”
    It was not clear how much the KGB knew, or from what source. Gordievsky had no idea how he was betrayed. He recalled in his memoir that during the drugged interrogation he had given no ground, and strenuously denied working for the British. Gordievsky did not know if they had any proof, but the interrogators clearly had some information to start with. The KGB “hounds were hot on my scent,” Gordievsky said.

    One of the most valuable human sources the CIA had ever tapped in the secretive Soviet military-industrial complex was Adolf Tolkachev, a quiet, stooped man in his fifties. He was a senior research scientist in a Russian military aerospace program at a Moscow institute, helping design radars, air defenses and new jet fighters. The CIA had given him the code name GTVANQUISH. Tolkachev quietly worshipped America from afar, although he had never left Russia. For seven years, Tolkachev had provided the CIA a huge volume of sensitive and valuable intelligence on military research and development, including plans for the next generation of Soviet fighter aircraft. The information saved the United States billions of dollars and allowed the air force to develop planes that would prevail in any military confrontation with the Soviets.
    In April 1984, meeting his handler in Moscow, Tolkachev turned over schematics of Soviet radar systems, rolls of film containing ninety-six frames of secret documents and thirty-nine pages of handwritten notes. He sometimes made the photos of documents in the bathroom at the institute. In October 1984, Tolkachev gave his CIA handler two miniature cameras containing ninety frames and twenty-two pages of written notes.20 For his meetings with the Americans, Tolkachev had worked out a system in which he would signal whether he was ready by opening one of the fortochkas, small ventilation windows above the main window in his apartment, between 12:15 and 12:30 P.M. He lived on the ninth floor of a tall wedding-cake tower that had long housed the Soviet aviation elite, among others.21 The distinctive building was also just down the street from the American Embassy, and CIA officers could check the window on a walk by the building.
    On June 5, 1985, the window was open. But when the CIA officer came by, he grew uneasy at what seemed to be heavy surveillance, often a problem for the agents in Moscow, who were constantly being watched. The next date planned for a rendezvous was June 13. Again, the window was open. The CIA case officer didn’t see any surveillance—the only thing he noticed was a woman talking loudly on a pay phone. According to CIA veteran Milt Bearden, the case officer was carrying two plastic shopping bags. One contained 125,000 rubles in small notes, the equivalent of $150,000, as well as five new compact subminiature cameras concealed in key chain fobs, preloaded with microfilm. The other had books with concealed messages giving Tolkachev instructions for communications and secrets the CIA wanted him to steal.22
    At the exact time of the planned meeting, 9:40 P.M., the CIA case officer was jumped and seized by more than a dozen KGB personnel in military camouflage uniforms, who had been hiding in nearby bushes. The case officer, Paul M. “Skip” Stombaugh Jr., was taken off to Lubyanka, the hulking prison and KGB headquarters. Once there, in front of him, the packages that he was planning to deliver to Tolkachev were opened piece by piece, with a video camera rolling. A note in the package thanked Tolkachev for the “very important written information” he had provided earlier, but added that due to low light, some of the photographs he had made could not be read. The note suggested that the CIA could get Tolkachev a new security badge, fabricating it “as we did in 1980.” That was the end.
    Tolkachev had already been arrested. He was later executed.

    On the same day Stombaugh was seized outside of Tolkachev’s apartment in Moscow, the CIA’s Soviet operations suffered another devastating setback in Washington. Ames arrived at a small restaurant, Chadwicks, located on the Georgetown waterfront. Ames had wrapped up five to seven pounds of classified messages in his CIA office and carried them out of the headquarters building in Langley without being stopped.
    Ames carried the documents into the restaurant in a plastic bag. He was met there by Chuvakhin from the Soviet Embassy, and Ames gave him the bag. It held the largest batch of sensitive documents and critical information ever turned over to the KGB in a single meeting. Ames identified more than ten top-level CIA and FBI sources who were then reporting on Soviet activities. Among them were Gordievsky and Tolkachev. If the KGB had earlier been suspicious about them, they now had proof.

    Two days after Ames gave away the bag filled with secrets, Gordievsky, still fearful and uncertain, went to a KGB sanatorium outside of Moscow. He was told to wait there while the KGB decided his fate. Gordievsky’s family was safely headed to their summer vacation in Azerbaijan. Despite the risks, Gordievsky decided to escape. He returned to his apartment in Moscow and retrieved from his bookshelf an English novel that had his exfiltration instructions on a cellophane sheet under the flyleaf.
    The instructions were: signal to the British that he had a message, and then meet a British agent in a “brush by” encounter that would be unobtrusive. Frantic, Gordievsky gave the signal that he had a message. Then he went to Red Square, crowded with tourists. He went into the men’s room at Lenin’s tomb, closed the door to the stall and wrote a note to the British. “AM UNDER STRONG SUSPICION AND IN BAD TROUBLE. NEED EXFILTRATION SOONEST. BEWARE OF RADIOACTIVE DUST AND CAR ACCIDENTS.” The last line referred to common KGB methods for following people or eliminating them. Gordievsky failed to deliver the note—he couldn’t find the agent.
    At the next assigned meeting, he was looking for someone who would have an unmistakable British look, and would acknowledge having spotted Gordievsky by chewing something. After twenty-four minutes of waiting on a designated street corner, Gordievsky noticed a man with a British appearance carrying a dark-green Harrods bag and eating a Mars candy bar. “I gazed into his eyes shouting silently, ‘Yes! It’s me! I need urgent help!’”
    Gordievsky then took a train to Leningrad and a bus almost all the way to the border with Finland. Thatcher approved a daring plan to whisk him away from the Soviet Union. Gordievsky said he was picked up by British agents in a forested area near the border and driven out in the trunk of a car. Passing through checkpoints, he cowered inside the trunk, but it was not opened by Soviet guards. When the lid finally popped open once safely in Finland, Gordievsky recalled, “I saw blue sky, white clouds and pine trees above me.” Thanks to his British handlers, he had escaped. “I had outwitted the entire might of the KGB! I was out! I was safe! I was free!”23 For a while, however, the British kept to themselves the news of their triumph.

    On August 1, in Rome, Vitaly Yurchenko, forty-nine, a beefy KGB official who had recently been named deputy director of the department that ran spies in the United States and Canada, went for a walk and never came back. He called the U.S. Embassy, said he wanted to defect to the United States and in a matter of days was flown back to Andrews Air Force Base, in suburban Maryland, outside of Washington. Yurchenko had previously spent five years in KGB counterintelligence.
    To meet Yurchenko at the airport, the CIA assigned several people, among them its own top Soviet counterintelligence expert, Ames. However, Ames was late arriving at Andrews, and his behavior was odd. When he saw Yurchenko, in a crowd of CIA and FBI officials, Ames went right up to him and delivered a pompous greeting: “Colonel Yurchenko, I welcome you to the United States on behalf of the President of the United States.” Bearden speculates that Ames did this because he was afraid Yurchenko might already know he was working for the KGB. Ames then sat in the car with Yurchenko as the defector was driven to a townhouse in Oakton, in the northern Virginia suburbs, for debriefing.24
    The debriefings were, in retrospect, one of the most bizarre chapters in the Cold War. Ames had just recently given the KGB the largest dump of secrets in the CIA’s history. He was sitting across the table and debriefing one of the most significant defectors ever to come offering the KGB’s secrets to the United States. The details Yurchenko told them were then being transmitted by Ames back to the KGB, and the CIA didn’t know it.
    Yurchenko made two stunning disclosures. The first was that a former CIA trainee was selling secrets to the Soviets. Yurchenko said he knew the contact only by his KGB code name, “Robert,” and one identifying characteristic: he had been slated to go to Moscow but did not. A thunderbolt hit the CIA. The description could only fit a disgruntled trainee they had fired in 1983, Edward Lee Howard.25 Then came a second bombshell. The KGB, he recalled, harvested a rich crop of secrets from a walk-in to the Soviet Embassy in 1980, an employee of the National Security Agency, which ran American global electronic eavesdropping. Yurchenko said he only knew of this agent as “Mr. Long,” and gave his debriefers some details. He said Mr. Long sold to the Soviets the details of the U.S. operation to tap the Soviet undersea cables in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the monitoring operation known as Ivy Bells, which had been discovered and removed by the Soviets in 1981. (A second undersea cable-tapping operation in the Barents Sea had not been compromised.) The FBI launched a manhunt for Mr. Long, and four months later arrested Ronald Pelton, a communications specialist with the NSA who sold the classified data to the Soviets for $35,000.
    Casey, the CIA director, took huge delight in the Yurchenko defection. “Casey was like a child with a new toy with Yurchenko,” Gates said. “Not only was he eager to hear, virtually on a daily basis, about the debriefings: he also could not help bragging about this great CIA coup. He met with Yurchenko, had dinner with him, couldn’t get enough of him.”26

    On October 1, 1985, Robert Hanssen, an FBI analyst on Soviet intelligence, dropped a letter into a mailbox in Prince George’s County, outside of Washington. Hanssen was based in the New York office but was working that day in the capital. The letter was addressed to the home of a KGB operative, Viktor Degtyar, who lived in Alexandria, Virginia. The letter arrived October 4. Inside an outer envelope was a second envelope that Hanssen marked “DO NOT OPEN. TAKE THIS ENVELOPE UNOPENED TO VICTOR I. CHERKASHIN.” The KGB man took the letter to Cherkashin, the second-ranking KGB official in Washington at the time, who was already running Ames.
    When Cherkashin opened it, he found a second letter:

    Hanssen then described a sensitive intelligence collection technique used by the United States. He told the Soviets that he would be in touch. He didn’t sign the letter. On October 15, Degtyar received in the mail, at his home, a package from Hanssen containing a large number of classified documents. The next morning, Degtyar was seen by FBI agents carrying into the Soviet Embassy a large black canvas bag that he did not usually carry. About ten days later, Degtyar received another letter from the agent, whom the KGB was calling “B,” in an envelope postmarked New York City. This letter proposed a dead drop site under a wooden footbridge in Nottoway Park in northern Virginia, near where Hanssen had earlier lived. On Saturday, November 2, the KGB put $50,000 for Hanssen under the bridge.28

    The CIA moved Yurchenko to a new, larger safe house on a piece of wooded lakefront near Fredericksburg, Virginia. But Yurchenko was increasingly disillusioned. Word of his defection had leaked to the press, even though he asked the CIA to keep it secret. And his hopes to be reunited with a Russian woman he had known years earlier were dashed.29 When he defected in August, Yurchenko thought he might have been suffering from stomach cancer, although later tests in the United States showed he was not. On November 2, while at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant in Georgetown, Yurchenko simply walked away from his inexperienced CIA handler. When the CIA man realized what had happened, the agency and the FBI launched a manhunt all over Georgetown. They didn’t find Yurchenko. On Monday, November 3, he showed up at the Soviet Embassy, where he held a strange press conference in which he claimed he had been abducted in Rome, drugged and held against his will. “Something smells fishy,” Reagan observed in his diary on November 4.
    Yurchenko boarded a flight back to Moscow on November 6. His defection and return have long been one of the unsolved puzzles of the Cold War. Was he a deliberate plant by the KGB? For what purpose? Or did he just grow disillusioned with his treatment by the CIA? The truth is unknown. His return to Moscow brought with it one grim footnote. On the plane escorting Yurchenko home was KGB agent Valery Martynov, the officer in the Soviet Embassy working on Line X, stealing Western technology. Both Ames and Hanssen had, by this time, identified Martynov as a spy for the United States. Martynov was arrested the day he arrived in Moscow, and later executed.

    American intelligence operations in the Soviet Union were collapsing, but the CIA was not aware of the enormous damage it had suffered in 1985. Ames and Hanssen had only just begun their espionage, which went on for years. Later investigations showed how severely the American intelligence operations in Moscow had been compromised. Gates said that Howard was the “CIA’s most devastating counterintelligence setback up to that point,” and “many of our Soviet operations were compromised and either rolled up by the KGB or shut down by us.” According to a damage assessment by the CIA, nine of the agents whom Ames identified on June 13 were executed. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later found that more than twenty operations were compromised, a “virtual collapse of the CIA’s Soviet operations.” John Deutch, the CIA director, told Congress that Ames not only caused the execution of agents who worked for the United States but “made it much more difficult to understand what was going on in the Soviet Union at a crucial time in its history.”
    The year of the spy, as 1985 became known, blinded American intelligence operations against the Soviet Union just as Gorbachev was coming to power. Reagan simply did not have the assets to help him understand what was happening behind the Kremlin walls. In the end, there were more powerful agents of change than the agents of espionage. Those forces—rooted in Gorbachev’s convictions about what his country needed, in the overpowering burden of the arms race, in Reagan’s desire to eliminate nuclear weapons—were about to unleash a momentous revolution.

—————  10  —————

    In his early days in office in the spring of 1985, Gorbachev worked feverishly. Vladimir Medvedev, the Kremlin security director who had served since Brezhnev, watched in amazement. “After Brezhnev’s many years of illness and lethargy,” he recalled, “there was suddenly a volcano of energy near you.” Gorbachev worked until 1 or 2 A.M. and got up the next morning at 7 A.M. He was on his way to the Kremlin at 9:15 in the ZIL limousine. Gorbachev sat in the backseat, closing the glass sliding partition behind Medvedev and the driver, making notes, and placing calls on the two phones in the car. “Over this short period of time he managed to talk to 3 or 4 people,” Medvedev recalled. “Walking from the car to the office, he gave several orders, advice, promises—not a moment to catch his breath. Still walking, he gave concrete advice to the military, to civilians—whom to talk to, what to say, what to pay attention to, what to insist on, what to ignore. He spoke in short, precise sentences.”1
    Gorbachev sent a shock wave of excitement through a moribund society. At a time when people were accustomed to flowery but empty official pronouncements, when portraits of leaders were dutifully hung from every wall, when conformity suffocated public discussion, Gorbachev’s style was refreshingly direct.2 Often he talked too much, wavered on important decisions and was slow to break out of the old Soviet mind-set. Yet the absolute core of his early drive was to halt the decay in Soviet living standards and rejuvenate society. He believed that open discussion was essential to the survival of socialism. He didn’t fear what people had to say. He believed in Lenin’s ideals, but concluded that leaders after Lenin had gone off track, and he wanted to set things right. It would have been so much easier to fall back into the old habits, to take the well-worn old pathways, but Gorbachev did not.
    On a visit to Leningrad in May, he bantered with a large, jostling crowd on the street. It was an extraordinary sight to see a Soviet leader talking spontaneously with people. “I’m listening to you,” he told them. “What do you want to say?”
    Someone shouted back, “Continue as you began!”
    A woman’s voice broke in, “Just get close to the people, and we’ll not let you down.” Gorbachev, hemmed in tightly, responded with a smile. “Can I be any closer?” The crowd loved it.
    In a combative speech to Leningrad Communists at Smolny Institute on the same visit, Gorbachev spoke largely without notes, insisting that the economy be reenergized, demanding that people who could not accept change must step aside. “Get out of the way. Don’t be a hindrance,” he declared.3 Gorbachev was skilled at manipulating the elders of the Politburo; he didn’t tell them in advance about the speech, in which he spilled out some of their closed deliberations in March and April. He was thrilled with the enthusiastic response, and took a video home from Leningrad. The following weekend he watched it with his family at the dacha. Then he ordered it to be shown on national television.4 Crowds lined up to get a pamphlet of the text at newsstands. Anatoly Chernyaev, the deputy chief of the International Department of the Central Committee, who played a key role in the great Gorbachev drama, recalled that in the past such texts would lie on the floor of the newsstands until the leader died. “The people are flabbergasted at the TV coverage of Gorbachev’s meetings and speeches in Leningrad,” Chernyaev wrote. “The question of the day is: Did you see it? At last we have a leader who knows what he is doing and enjoys it, who can relate to the people, speak in his own words, who doesn’t avoid contact and doesn’t worry about appearing magisterial. He really wants to get our wheels out of the rut, wake the people up, get them to be themselves, to use their common sense, to think and act.”5
    At a Politburo meeting April 11, Gorbachev’s impatience was on full display. He was furious at the dreadful state of Soviet farming and at the food supply, which often spoiled in storage and transport. There were only enough warehouses for 26 percent of the fruit, vegetables and potatoes, and they were rotting; only a third of the storage facilities for produce had refrigeration. The loss of agricultural raw materials was running at 25 percent. As Chernyaev later lamented, any leader would see “the country was on the verge of collapse.” Gorbachev threatened the ministers that he would take away Kremlin privileges—an eatery and special food store—which allowed them to avoid exposure to the misery in most food shops.6
    Even in his first blunder, a campaign against alcohol abuse, Gorbachev showed his determination to save the country from itself.7 The campaign was widely ridiculed and eventually dropped, but Gorbachev knew, correctly, that alcoholism had become a scourge. Per capita, the amount of alcohol consumed was two and a half times greater than it had been under the tsars. Gorbachev recalled that the saddest part was that vodka helped fill the consumer goods deficit; there was nothing else for people to buy with their rubles. Chernyaev sensed right away the campaign was doomed. One day he stopped by a grocery. “Everyone there from the manager to the saleswoman is drunk. The anti-alcoholism law is nothing for them. Try to fire them. Who are you going to find to replace them?”8

    Less than two weeks after Gorbachev took power, two military men came to his office. Both held the rank of Marshal, the highest in the Soviet military. One was the unremarkable new defense minister, Sergei Sokolov, who had been appointed after Ustinov’s death. The other was Sergei Akhromeyev, chief of the General Staff. Lean and muscular, not very tall, with a strong chest like an athlete and a thin face, Akhromeyev carried himself very straight, was known as an exacting commander and rarely smiled. He had joined the Red Army at age seventeen, just before the outbreak of World War II, fought to lift the siege of Leningrad and later commanded a tank battalion in Ukraine. He ended the war as a major. His generation went into the war surprised and outgunned, fighting the Nazi tanks with only rifles and Molotov cocktails. After the war, they graduated from the military academies and devoted their lives to the belief, as Akhromeyev put it, that “everything the Soviet Union achieved in the post-war organization of Europe and the world must be protected.”9 Their determination was only strengthened by the development of nuclear weapons.
    By contrast, Gorbachev was a boy when the Germans invaded. He never served as a soldier, nor in the military-industrial complex or the defense establishment. Nor was Gorbachev in thrall to the great designers and scientists who had built the missiles and warheads that turned the Soviet Union into a nuclear superpower. Gorbachev simply did not share the worldview that the generals so deeply cherished and fervently protected. He did not see military power as decisive in global competition; he realized economic power was more potent. “We are encircled not by invincible armies,” he later concluded, “but by superior economies.”10
    In the meeting with Sokolov and Akhromeyev, Gorbachev got his first look at the true size and scope of the Soviet defense machine, and it was enormous. As they finished, Gorbachev turned to Akhromeyev. “We begin to work together in difficult times,” he said. “I speak to you as a Communist. I know what I must do in the area of economics to correct the situation. I know where and what to do. But the area of defense is new for me. I count on your help.” Akhromeyev, who had been chief of the General Staff for only six months, and before that deputy chief, held sway over military policy and planning. He promised to give Gorbachev his help.11
    Gorbachev realized that the sprawling defense establishment—the Army, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Rocket Forces, Air Defense Forces and all the institutes, design bureaus and factories that supported them—were a monumental burden on the country. How the military-industrial complex functioned, how far it ranged and how much it cost were concealed by deep secrecy, what Gorbachev called the “closed zones.”12 But Gorbachev’s travels around the country had provided him with hints. “Defense spending was bleeding the other branches of the economy dry,” he recalled. “When I visited defense plants and agricultural production complexes, I was always struck by the same picture. The defense production workshop making modern tanks, for example, had the newest equipment. The one working for agriculture was making obsolete models of tractors on old-time conveyor belts.”
    “Over the previous five-year plans, military spending had been growing twice as fast as national income. This Moloch was devouring everything that hard labor and strain produced… What made matters worse was the fact that it was impossible to analyze the problem. All the figures related to the military-industrial complex were classified. Even Politburo members didn’t have access to them.”13

    On the staff of the Central Committee, one man knew the secret inner workings of the military-industrial complex. Vitaly Katayev had the appearance of a thoughtful scientist or professor, with a long, angular face and wavy hair brushed straight back. As a teenager he loved to design model airplanes and ships. He spent two decades in aircraft and missile design and construction bureaus in Omsk and Ukraine, and took part in some of the largest missile projects of the Cold War before coming to the Central Committee headquarters in Moscow in 1974 to work on defense issues. In private, Katayev was a funny, quirky man who loved to sing and play musical instruments.14 But in his work at the Central Committee, he was very serious and precise. The Central Committee position was located in the heart of power, perhaps roughly equivalent to serving at the White House National Security Council. Katayev worked in the Defense Industry Department, later renamed just the Defense Department, which oversaw the military-industrial complex. Over many years, Katayev kept detailed records in large bound notebooks, often jotting down rows of numbers, drawing schematics of weapons systems, recording major decisions and debates. His notebooks and writings, revealed here for the first time, offer an unparalleled window on the inner workings of the Soviet military-industrial colossus.15Katayev described it once as “a sort of Soviet Texas—everything existed on a grand scale.” But Katayev knew it was not as fearsome as often portrayed. The defense establishment was run in a way that was extremely random, ad hoc, and subjective. Katayev knew that Soviet central planning did not work. Weapons were not built because they were needed, but rather because of the power of vested interests, of prominent designers, generals and Politburo members. To meet the artificial benchmarks of progress, everything had to increase every year, so the military was often saturated with weapons it did not need. The factories often lacked the necessary precision and reliability to produce high-technology weapons. Katayev recalled that while the Soviet Union had advanced science and a high level of design expertise, many projects were wrecked by miserable materials and sloppy production, for which no one was ever fired. Even such a simple ingredient as metals were often of unpredictable quality, so designers had to allow for wide margins. And it was not possible to fix the problems in electronics and high technology by design alone. A circuit board couldn’t be made more reliable by making it twice as large. There was a “permanent gap,” he said, between the drawing boards and the factories. This was the underside of the Soviet military machine.
    Katayev’s notes show that the military-industrial complex was indeed as large as Gorbachev feared. In 1985, Katayev estimated, defense took up 20 percent of the Soviet economy.16 Of the 135 million adults working in the Soviet Union, Katayev said, 10.4 million worked directly in the military-industrial complex at 1,770 enterprises. Nine ministries served the military, although in a clumsy effort to mask its purpose, the nuclear ministry was given the name “Ministry of Medium Machine Building,” and others were similarly disguised. More than fifty cities were almost totally engaged in the defense effort, and hundreds less so. Defense factories were called upon to make the more advanced civilian products, too, including 100 percent of all Soviet televisions, tape recorders, movie and still cameras and sewing machines.17 Taking into account all the ways the Soviet military-industrial complex functioned and all the raw materials it consumed and all the tentacles that spread into civilian life, the true size of the defense burden on the economy may well have been even greater than Katayev estimated.
    Gorbachev would need deep reserves of strength and cunning to challenge this leviathan. At one Politburo meeting, he lamented, “This country produced more tanks than people.” The military-industrial complex was its own army of vested interests: generals and officers in the services, designers and builders of weapons, ministers and planners in the government, propaganda organs, and party bosses everywhere, all united by the need, unquestioned, to meet the invisible Cold War threat. For decades, the threat had been the overriding reason to divert resources to defense and impose hardship on the Soviet people.18
    In title, Gorbachev was the top man in this system: general secretary of the party, supreme commander and chairman of the defense council. But when he came to power in 1985, he was not really in control. The military-industrial complex was in the hands of Akhromeyev’s generation.
    Gorbachev’s thinking about security was influenced by a group of progressives, outsiders to the military-industrial complex. They were academics from the institutes, people who, like Gorbachev, had been excited by the Khrushchev secret speech, but had grown fatigued by the stagnation in the Brezhnev years.19 They did not trust the military but knew of its immense power. Now they hoped to see reform rise again, and Gorbachev listened to them.
    An important figure in this inner circle was Yevgeny Velikhov, an avuncular and open-minded physicist who was then deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. As a child, Velikhov had devoured books about science. He entered Moscow State University just after Stalin died in 1953. After graduation, he joined the institute, headed by Igor Kurchatov, leader of the Soviet atomic bomb project. Velikhov was lucky to be assigned to a famous physicist, Mikhail Leontovich, who supervised theoretical research on controlled nuclear fusion and plasma physics. “The atmosphere was wonderful,” Velikhov recalled. “Plasma physics was just emerging, and we felt that we had very few rivals anywhere in the world.” Velikhov was allowed to travel, and in the summer of 1962, he visited universities in New York, Boston and Chicago, and stopped at Los Alamos. He built his own network of contacts with American scientists.20
    When Velikhov became a vice president of the Academy of Sciences in 1977, he was the youngest to hold the position. His first assignment was to focus on cybernetics and computer technology in the Soviet Union, and he found they were in “very bad shape.” One day in the early 1980s, Velikhov invited Gorbachev, then a Politburo member, to his office at the academy. He recalled telling Gorbachev about the Apple computer on his desk, which he had brought from overseas. “I showed him and I said, ‘Look, this is a revolution.’” Once in power, Gorbachev continued to listen to Velikhov.
    Others in Gorbachev’s circle were Yakovlev, the reformist thinker who walked with Gorbachev in the orchard in Canada in 1983 and was now at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and Georgi Arbatov, director of the Institute for the Study of the U.S.A. and Canada, who was a critical channel of ideas and information for Gorbachev in the early years.
    Gorbachev was desperate for real information, cutting through the mountains of artificial data. “We especially need objective information, showing not what we would like to see but what really is,” Gorbachev appealed to the Politburo.21 Georgi Shakhnazarov said the military tried to manipulate the leadership. “They reported to the leadership one thing, while thinking and doing something totally different,” he said. “It was a cat and mouse game.”22

    In Afghanistan, the military was sinking deeper and deeper into a losing quagmire. In Gorbachev’s first months, angry letters flooded into the Central Committee from around the country decrying the war. In April 1985, Reagan wrote to Gorbachev, “Isn’t it long overdue to reach a political resolution of this tragic affair?” Just weeks before he wrote this, Reagan signed a classified order, National Security Decision Directive 166, which provided the legal basis for a massive escalation of the CIA’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, setting a new and more ambitious goal. Instead of just supporting resistance to the Red Army, now the CIA decided to push the Soviets out.23 Arbatov gave Gorbachev a memo that included far-reaching ideas, including that “we must cease with Afghanistan.” On June 19, 1985, Gorbachev called Arbatov to the Kremlin and told him Afghanistan was a “paramount issue” for him.24 In August, Soviet soldiers revolted on a train headed to Afghanistan; they did not want to be shipped off to a war where ten soldiers were killed every day. Gorbachev began planning a retreat, but it took years.
    Looking back, Gorbachev recalled that he had to “clear up the ‘snow drifts’ left over from Cold War times.” Afghanistan was just one. In foreign policy, he said, what he had in mind were “not simply cosmetic changes, but practically a U-turn.”
    Yet the outside world did not see this right away. Gorbachev’s early overtures to Reagan were given the brush-off. When Gorbachev proposed April 7 to freeze the Pioneer missiles in Europe that had stirred the West to deploy the Pershing IIs and cruise missiles, Reagan and Thatcher immediately refused, saying it was a propaganda gambit. Their deployments were only getting started, so a freeze would leave the two sides unequal.25 “Unhelpful,” Reagan wrote to Gorbachev on April 30. “I cannot help but wonder what the purpose could have been in presenting a proposal which is, in its essence, not only an old one, but one which was known to provide no basis for serious negotiation.”26 What Reagan may not have known was that, in the Kremlin, the Pioneer missiles, also known as the SS-20s, were already viewed as a mistake. “Why do we need these SS-20s?” Chernyaev asked in his diary two weeks before Reagan’s letter. “Their installation was as foolish as Khrushchev’s missiles in Cuba in 1962.”27
    On April 17, Gorbachev proposed a moratorium on nuclear tests. The United States again said no. The arms control negotiations in Geneva, which resumed in early 1985, soon stalled.28 Out of frustration, Shultz quietly put together a secret overture to Moscow. With Reagan’s approval, he met with Dobrynin in Washington in June and offered a trade-off: if both sides made deep cuts in offensive nuclear weapons, perhaps Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative could be slowed down. Shultz also proposed that negotiations be started through a confidential back channel, bypassing the deadlocked Geneva talks. In two weeks, the answer came back from Moscow: unequivocally no. “The Soviets wanted to stop SDI in its tracks, not just moderate it,” Shultz recalled.29 Dobrynin later said there was another reason: Gromyko had killed the idea because he feared the back channel would bypass him.30
    It was Gromyko’s last chance to say “nyet.” On June 29, Gorbachev replaced Gromyko as foreign minister, moving him to be chairman of the Supreme Soviet. Gromyko, who held the post twenty-eight years, was a custodian of the old thinking—the world as a collision of two opposing camps—which Gorbachev was about to demolish. Gorbachev then stunned everyone by naming Eduard Shevardnadze, the Georgia party leader, as foreign minister. “This was like a bolt from the blue,” recalled Chernyaev.31 Shevardnadze, who had spent his entire career in Georgia, shared Gorbachev’s understanding of the poverty of the Russian heartland. They stood out from others in the leadership—they did not have experience in heavy industry or the military-industrial complex.32 Shevardnadze had little familiarity with diplomacy, but he was a politician, and he had Gorbachev’s trust. He was promoted immediately to a full Politburo member. In the same session, Gorbachev appointed Lev Zaikov, a Leningrad party official, to oversee the military-industrial complex. Katayev would be one of Zaikov’s key staffers at the Central Committee. “There are many obstacles in this area of our work,” Gorbachev said. “We need to fix things here.”33
    Chernyaev said Soviet propaganda was so stale, no one believed it, “and the root of the Geneva deadlock is this. Revolutionary approaches to talks are needed, identical to the one Gorbachev demonstrated in Leningrad.”
    “The question is about the fact that we must stop treading water,” Chernyaev concluded, “as the arms race is about to shoot out of control.”34

    Just after Gorbachev took office, in the spring and early summer of 1985, the directors, designers and constructors of satellites, space boosters, radars and lasers produced a colossal new plan for Gorbachev’s approval. Unknown to the outside world, the Soviet military-industrial complex laid on Gorbachev’s desk a plea for their own “Star Wars.” It came two years after Reagan had announced his Strategic Defense Initiative. It would propel the Soviet Union on the path of previous decades, faithful to the Cold War trajectory of two worlds in collision and ceaseless competition.
    Since 1984, the Soviet leadership had been increasingly anxious about Reagan’s dream, and Reagan gave them plenty to worry about. In his second inaugural speech in early 1985, Reagan offered a high-flying description of his program, calling it a global shield to make nuclear weapons obsolete. “I have approved a research program to find, if we can, a security shield that will destroy nuclear missiles before they reach their target,” he said. “It wouldn’t kill people. It would destroy weapons. It wouldn’t militarize space, it would help demilitarize the arsenals of the Earth. It would render nuclear weapons obsolete.”
    In Moscow, the KGB made its highest priority gathering intelligence about “American policy on the militarization of space.” That was the title of a ten-page directive issued three and a half weeks after Reagan’s inaugural speech. Soviet spies were ordered to gather intelligence on all the American programs that might deploy systems in space for nuclear and conventional war. They were asked to watch the use of the American space shuttle for deploying weapons in space, the U.S. effort to build an anti-satellite weapon; and they were given extensive tasks to spy on the Strategic Defense Initiative. Woven into the KGB’s instructions were details already plucked from newspapers about Reagan’s program, such as the budget sums and the broad direction, along with ample doses of fear and skepticism about the unknowns. Perhaps Reagan’s program would never work? Perhaps there was a hidden purpose? The KGB was “very anxious to know,” the instruction said, precisely what were the Reagan administration’s plans, how they were evolving, and the “targets, dates and expected financial outlay.” The KGB wanted to know what technical results were achieved in tests, whether it was possible to shoot down a missile using “kinetic weapons,” such as hitting it with another missile or solid object. And what were Reagan’s intentions for negotiating? Was Star Wars really a “large-scale disinformation operation” designed to force the Soviet negotiators into making concessions?35
    An avalanche of intelligence reporting began to flow to Moscow, and stacks of it crossed Katayev’s desk. He observed that the spies were lazy and passive; they often simply sent along press clippings as intelligence. What the agents and Soviet military analysts feared the most, Katayev realized, was to underestimate the seriousness of the threat, so they overestimated it. No one could honestly declare that Star Wars would not work, so they reported that it might. The spies flooded the system with reports of the threat; before long, the military-industrial complex geared up to counter the threat. Starting in 1985 and continuing through the decade, Katayev recalled that about ten cables a day came through his offices in the Central Committee on political-military and technical issues. Of them, 30–40 percent dealt with Star Wars and missile defense. Katayev wondered if the Americans were deliberately trying to choke Moscow with fear by leaking a flood of information.36 In the two years since Reagan’s announcement, the Strategic Defense Initiative was not even close to blueprints—it was still little more than a dream—but it had grabbed the attention of the Soviet leadership.
    To build a Soviet Star Wars would mean enormous, lucrative new subsidies for work at the design bureaus, institutes and defense factories. Many of these designers and workers already enjoyed better living conditions than the general population. It was, Katayev recalled, like a hunting dog sensing a new quarry. By summer of 1985, the weapons chiefs pulled together a comprehensive plan for a Soviet missile defense system. According to Katayev’s notebooks and papers, there were two major umbrella programs, each of which included a sprawling array of separate projects ranging from fundamental exploratory research to building equipment ready for flight tests. The two umbrella programs had code names. The first was “D-20,” which included research on ground-based missile defenses and was assigned to the Ministry of Radio Industry, which traditionally had worked on early warning, command and control and the Moscow anti-ballistic missile system. The second was “SK-1000,” a product of the design bureaus of the Ministry of General Machine Building, which oversaw missile and space-related research, development and production. Katayev calculated that altogether the programs would have involved 137 projects in the opytno-konstruktorskie raboty phase, or design and testing; 34 projects in nauchno-issledovatelskiye raboty, or scientific research; and 115 in fundamental science. The estimates of the costs ran into the tens of billions of rubles, enough to keep the design bureaus working full tilt into the late 1980s. Given obscure code names such as Fundament-4 and Integral-3, Onega E, Spiral, Saturn, Kontakt, Echelon and Skif, the programs went on for pages and pages in Katayev’s notebooks. Most of the proposals brought to the Kremlin that summer were intended to produce initial results in 1987–1988; Katayev kept track of goals and targets through 1990.37
    For all the imposing scope and cost, the grand package concealed deep cracks in the system. Some of the programs, started years earlier, lacked results or purpose, or were starved for resources. Some of them were nearly abandoned or obsolete, hoping for a rebirth. SK-1000 included virtually all the space launcher and satellite programs that were underway in the Soviet Union at that time.
    One program that illustrated the ambitions, haste and deficiencies that plagued Soviet space weapons builders was an anti-satellite craft known as Skif. The goal of Skif, started in 1976, was to carry a laser in space that could shoot down enemy satellites. The original idea was to build nothing less than a space battle station. It would be hoisted into orbit by the Energia, an enormous booster then under development, and perhaps serviced by the Buran, the planned Soviet space shuttle. By 1984, the Skif program had yet to produce any hardware because there was no laser that would be suitable for space weaponry. The Soviets were shaken that June by news of the successful American missile interception over the Pacific, the lucky single hit, known as the Homing Overlay Experiment, described earlier. Even without a space laser, the government in August ordered creation of a “demonstration” spacecraft, the Skif-D, which would carry a smaller, substitute laser, one that could not shoot down satellites but would at least replicate the original idea. Then, in 1985, came the renewed planning for a Soviet Star Wars. The Skif-D was modified once again. This time it was to be put on an accelerated schedule to fly by the following year. However, the designers still lacked a laser. So they decided to create a mock-up with no functioning laser equipment on board, and called it “Skif-DM.” The vessel was to be 36.9 meters long and weigh 77 tons. The Skif mock-up demonstrator was among those programs offered to Gorbachev for accelerated work in the summer of 1985.38
    Roald Sagdeev, a physicist and director of the Space Research Institute, a leader in the Soviet deep-space exploration effort, recalled attending a small meeting in Gorbachev’s office. Gorbachev was still on a learning curve, asking questions and absorbing details about complicated arms control issues. According to Sagdeev, a top official of the Soviet space industry appealed to Gorbachev to build his own Star Wars. “Trust me,” the official said. “We are losing time while doing nothing to build our own counterpart to the American SDI program.”
    “I almost died from suppressing my laughter,” Sagdeev recalled. He realized that the Soviet Union could not afford billions of rubles to do it and lacked critical technology, especially high-speed computers and precision optics.39
    These were still early days for Gorbachev, and he was clearly not yet fully in control. The list of D-20 and SK-1000 could only have added to his fears about the military-industrial complex. On July 15, 1985, the Central Committee approved the huge list of proposals for a Soviet missile defense. What is significant here is not so much the approval—most of the programs were years away from materializing—but the unbridled ambitions of the designers and builders. They wanted to construct a massive and expensive response to Reagan’s dream. In the past, they had been the driving force behind Soviet weapons systems. Gorbachev would have to outfox them.
    Velikhov, by his own experience and outlook, was ready to help navigate the forbidding obstacle course Gorbachev faced. Both open-minded and entrepreneurial, Velikhov was the right man at the right time. His specialty was nuclear and plasma physics. When the Soviet weapons designers gave Gorbachev their grand plan, he spotted the faults. Velikhov knew the top-secret history of Soviet efforts to build missile defenses, dating back to the 1960s, because he had participated in it. Certainly, they had achieved scientific and engineering breakthroughs against great odds, but the Soviet Union fell short of building next-generation weapons in space.40
    The most concrete achievement was completion of a ground-based missile defense system around Moscow, as permitted by the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty. In the event of an attack, interceptor rockets were poised to shoot up from locations around the city and knock out the incoming warheads. The Soviets had also launched a relatively primitive anti-satellite weapon, first designed in the 1960s, which would position itself into the same orbit as a target satellite and shoot conventional weapons at it. The system had largely ceased to work by 1983.41
    But there were also many setbacks, especially in the quest for exotic laser and space weapons, which consumed huge expenditures in the 1960s and 1970s. A testing ground was constructed for this work at Sary Shagan, near the eastern shores of Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan. Scientists, designers and their military patrons dreamed of building powerful beams capable of striking satellites from space battle stations or stopping missiles in flight. They drew designs of lasers in space and on the ground, long before Reagan’s dream was unveiled. But they never knocked anything out of the sky.
    One of the legendary Cold War designers was Vladimir Chelomei, architect of the SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile, the Proton launcher, the Soviet cruise missile and the early anti-satellite weapon. In 1978, near the end of his career, he proposed to build and launch “baby” space shuttles carrying anti-satellite weapons. Velikhov, a rising star in a younger generation, served on a commission to examine Chelomei’s baby shuttle. The commission rejected it, and in the process Velikhov gained a much deeper appreciation of the difficulty of missile defense. “The Chelomei affair was killed,” Velikhov said. “And this was a very good inoculation for Russia against the Star Wars proposal by Reagan, because five years before, we had already had all these internal discussions, with a very detailed analysis on the technical engineering level.”
    The challenges of stopping a missile in flight were a technical nightmare. Scientists and engineers in the Soviet Union struggled from 1962 to 1978 to build super-powerful lasers that could knock out satellites and missiles. The first major project, known as LE-1, was a ruby laser, built at Sary Shagan, that eventually proved capable of tracking airplanes about one hundred kilometers away, but not in space, and the laser was not capable of shooting down objects.42 A more advanced laser, code-named Terra-3, was also on the drawing boards for a decade, and the plan was to test it at Sary Shagan, where a structure was built for the power source and laser-beam-pointing system. Although Soviet scientists made advances in laser technology during Terra-3, it never worked as a weapon. The reentry vehicles that the system was supposed to shoot down are very difficult targets. The project was abandoned by 1978.43 A follow-up called Terra-3K was also planned, with a goal of using a high-power laser to attack low-orbit satellites, but it never worked.44
    Despite the Herculean efforts, the designers ran into difficulty when they reached the limits of Soviet technology and innovation and the vexing physics of missile defense. Laser weapons demanded enormous energy sources, superb optics and precision targeting. The designers and scientists struggled with the tendency of a beam to dissipate as it shot into space. Velikhov, as a physicist and vice president of the academy, knew the designers and their troubles. In his own research, he had helped build a magneto hydrodynamic generator, which created huge amounts of electricity in a short burst, a potential laser power supply. Velikhov knew as well that an almost insurmountable roadblock for Soviet designers was the primitive state of their computers. Massive amounts of fast calculations would be necessary to hit a bullet shooting through space. Velikhov was in charge of the academy’s department for computer science. He knew the Soviet Union was a decade or more behind in computer technology.
    While many Soviet weapons scientists worked in secrecy and isolation, Velikhov benefited from much broader horizons. When Pope John Paul II called for an examination of the dangers of nuclear war by scientists from around the world, Velikhov was chosen by the authorities to represent the Soviet Union. At the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the autumn of 1982, Velikhov had extensive contacts with scientists in debates over nuclear war and weapons in space. The Vatican declaration called on global powers never to use nuclear weapons in war. “The catastrophe of nuclear war can and must be prevented,” the declaration said.45This was consistent with Soviet disarmament propaganda, but the experience in Rome and other meetings gave Velikhov a better understanding of the West that would help him guide Gorbachev. Also, in May 1983, two months after Reagan’s speech on missile defense, Velikhov was named head of a group of twenty-five Soviet scientists intended to warn of the dangers of nuclear war.46 Again, promoting Soviet disarmament propaganda may have been the intent, but Velikhov and the scientists steered their own course.
    Velikhov was asked by the Kremlin in late 1983 to once again evaluate the Reagan missile defense proposal from a technical standpoint. The conclusion was that Reagan’s dream would not work. The Soviet scientists knew this from their own hard labor and failures. When Gorbachev came to power two years later, Velikhov dusted off the same document. He had accumulated all the knowledge and experience necessary to give an honest and cold-eyed appraisal of the reality of missile defense.47
    He used that experience at a key turning point in the summer and early autumn of 1985. Velikhov urged Gorbachev not to build a Soviet version of Star Wars. He suggested they abandon the Cold War approach of toe-to-toe competition. Gorbachev was naturally open to this argument; he also wanted, in principle, to move away from the zero-sum game. But it was Velikhov who helped lead Gorbachev to something different.
    The Soviet weapons designers wanted to match what Reagan was doing, a symmetrical response. By contrast, Velikhov argued for an “asymmetrical response,” one that would answer Reagan but not be the same. To stop ballistic missiles in flight, an American defense system would have to target and destroy a thousand speeding points in space almost perfectly and simultaneously. To counter it, one idea for “asymmetrical response” was to unleash so many speeding points—warheads, either real or fake—that the American defense system would be overwhelmed. Some of the Soviet missiles would penetrate and get through to their targets.
    There were different ideas among Soviet experts about the hardware for “asymmetrical response.” According to Katayev’s records, Soviet engineers came up with technological tricks to fool the anti-missile system. For example, they could launch decoys or chaff, to imitate the warheads and deceive the defenses. They could spin and maneuver warheads to avoid detection, or blind the American satellites and command centers, knocking out the eyes of the defensive system.
    Another method was more ominous: build more missiles and an avalanche of additional nuclear warheads. The Soviet Union was good at missiles, and it would be easier and cheaper to double or triple the missile warheads than to build an entirely new defense against them. This approach was hypothetical, but not entirely. Katayev recalled that the latest version of the SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile carried ten warheads each. This was the biggest, most feared, multiple-warhead weapon in the Soviet arsenal. But if the missile’s range was shortened somewhat, and the warheads made smaller, he wrote, the SS-18 could actually be modified to carry “up to 40 nuclear warheads. And this one missile alone!” In a separate, more precise chart in his files, Katayev noted the modified SS-18 could carry thirty-eight warheads. At the time, the Soviet Union deployed 308 of these missiles. If they were modified, the fleet would go from 2,464 warheads to a total of 12,084. It would be much more difficult for American defenses to stop. This was only a concept that had been discussed in earlier years by missile designers, but it illustrated what could become a potent Soviet response to Reagan’s Star Wars.48
    Gorbachev would most certainly not favor this version of “asymmetrical response.” He wanted to eliminate weapons, not propagate them. In his memoir, he avoided talking about the details of this option. When the author questioned Gorbachev in an interview in 2006, he was still uneasy about discussing it. “We did have a project,” he said. “There was one. It existed. But it is closed down. And destroyed. It’s only tens of billions” of rubles. “But it’s a horrible project, it’s a horrible response.” He added, “What is one missile, SS-18? It’s a hundred Chernobyls. In one missile.”49
    More weapons were not the only answer. There was a third approach to “asymmetrical response.” Words were Gorbachev’s stock-in-trade, and his best weapon. He was a robust if long-winded orator. Could he simply say “no” to the Reagan dream, persuade Reagan of his folly and talk it into oblivion? Perhaps he could strike a deal to cancel a giant weapons machine that the United States did not yet possess, that the Soviet Union would have great trouble matching, and exchange it all for something they both wanted: deep reductions in existing nuclear weapons.
    Gorbachev realized this was his best answer. If he could talk Reagan out of his dream of missile defense, it would prevent stiff competition on a field—high technology—where the Soviet Union lagged years behind. There was an important domestic component too. The military-industrial complex constantly pressed for more resources, saying the United States was a threat. If Gorbachev could persuade Reagan not to build “Star Wars,” he would find it easier to resist the generals and the missile designers at home. By slowing the arms race, Gorbachev might find time and resources to begin modernizing the country.
    Yet in the summer of 1985, the military and defense industries were powerful forces. Velikhov saw Gorbachev was buffeted by crosscurrents. He was a man of the party who depended on the Central Committee bureaucracy; he had no choice but to listen to the generals, the ministers and the KGB; and the military establishment distrusted Velikhov, Yakovlev and other progressive thinkers around the general secretary. Gorbachev was personally wary of the military and defense industry, and surrounded himself with advisers who shared his caution, but he did not, and could not, move overtly or swiftly against them.50
    Behind the scenes, however, Gorbachev was starting to lead the country in a radical new direction. A leader’s courage is often defined by building something, by positive action, but in this case, Gorbachev’s great contribution was in deciding what not to do. He would not build a Soviet Star Wars. He averted another massive weapons competition.
    Gorbachev didn’t show his hand right away. The full dimensions of this change in direction took time to appear. If anything, Gorbachev was good at tactics.
    In late July, he announced the Soviet Union, by itself, would stop nuclear testing, and invited the United States to follow suit. Reagan did not.
    To Velikhov’s confident assertion that the Strategic Defense Initiative would not work, his Soviet colleagues often posed a difficult question: if it was not possible to create an effective missile shield with America’s best technology, if Reagan was utterly dreaming when he talked about making nuclear weapons obsolete, then why was the United States devoting so much money to it, year after year? As Katayev recalled it, the Soviet analysts saw “a clear discrepancy between the goals and the means” of Reagan’s announced intentions. “What is it being done for?” the Soviet specialists asked themselves, according to Katayev. “In the name of what are the Americans, famous for their pragmatism, opening their wallet for the most grandiose project in the history of the United States when the technical and economic risks of a crash exceed all thinkable limits?”
    “Or,” Katayev wrote, “is there still something different behind this curtain?” To the Soviet specialists on strategic weapons, Katayev said, Reagan’s zeal for his dream led them “from the very beginning to think about the possibility of political bluff and hoax.” They pondered whether it was a “Hollywood village of veneer and cardboard.” The question went unanswered.
    According to Katayev, a few Soviet experts—he doesn’t say exactly who—held an even darker view of Reagan’s goals. They concluded that the Americans were always distinguished by their systematic approach to problems, that they “do nothing in vain.” Rather than a hoax or bluff, they decided the Strategic Defense Initiative was a cover story for a gigantic, hidden effort to subsidize American defense contractors, save them from “bankruptcy” and produce a fresh surge of superior military high technology. Perhaps, Katayev said, this “was the major underwater part of the SDI iceberg.” This analysis was woefully misguided. While Reagan did fatten the defense contractors with record military budgets in the early 1980s, defense spending was a relatively small slice of the overall American economy. While there was a fresh surge of high technology, much of it was sprouting in the private sector, in the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. And in the United States, defense contractors simply did not play the same role as the outsized military-industrial complex in the Soviet Union. The Soviet analysts were mistakenly applying their own experience—in which the military-industrial complex was at the center of decisions—to what they could not explain in the United States. Each side in the Cold War remained a mysterious black box to the other. The Americans could not see Gorbachev’s radical intentions. The Soviets could not understand Reagan’s dream.

    In late August 1985, Gorbachev gave an interview to Time magazine, his rhetoric offering a refreshing change from the decades of Cold War confrontation. When asked about the Strategic Defense Initiative, Gorbachev said Soviet experts believed it was “sheer fantasy and a pipe dream.” His progressive brain trust had helped prepare his remarks.51Two weeks later, Reagan wrote in his diary, “I made a decision we would not trade away our program of research—S.D.I. for a promise of Soviet reduction in nuclear arms.”52 Arriving in Washington for the first time on September 27, Shevardnadze gave Reagan a letter from Gorbachev offering to cut long-range nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers by 50 percent in exchange for “a complete ban on space attack weapons.” The offer didn’t fly; Reagan could not accept the limits on Star Wars. But he was ready for deep cuts in existing nuclear arsenals.53

    In Washington, both the Defense Department under Weinberger and the CIA under Casey and Gates were deeply skeptical of Gorbachev. The Pentagon published a glossy annual booklet, Soviet Military Power, a propaganda piece designed to help boost congressional support for Reagan’s military spending. The fourth edition, published in April 1985, contained the claim that the Soviets had “two ground-based lasers that are capable of attacking satellites in various orbits.”54 This was a gross exaggeration; neither the LE-1 nor the Terra-3 lasers could attack anything. An artist’s conception, a black-and-white pencil sketch, appeared across the top, showing what purported to be the Sary Shagan proving ground. A building with a dome on top was shown firing a white laser beam into the heavens. The caption said, “The directed-energy R&D site at the Sary Shagan proving ground includes ground-based lasers that could be used in an anti-satellite role today and possibly a BMD role in the future.” The key words were “could” and “possibly.” In fact, the long, expensive search to build laser weapons against targets in space had, up to this point, totally fizzled. The Soviets had not given up hope, but the glossy Pentagon booklet took old failures and hyped them into new threats.
    In October, the State and Defense departments published a new report titled “Soviet Strategic Defensive Programs.” The pencil sketch of Sary Shagan appeared again. The text claimed that Soviet achievements in laser weapons “have been impressive.” It was true the Soviet scientists had scored advances in lasers, but they had not created an exotic weapon that worked. The text said that the Soviets “may also have the capability to develop the optical systems necessary for laser weapons to track and attack their targets.” In fact, they could track, but not attack.
    Reagan picked up the theme in a radio speech October 12. “The Soviets have for a long time been doing advanced research on their version of SDI,” the president said. “They’re doing so well, our experts say they may be able to put an advanced technology defensive system in space by the end of the century.” One might dismiss this as just standard rhetoric, but Reagan’s words suggest that he never really grasped the impact on the military of the economic decay and stifling leadership in the Soviet system. Through superhuman striving, against all odds, the Soviet Union managed to reach superpower status, and yet there were massive internal stresses and agonizing fissures. The Soviet Union was not ready to put a missile defense system in space as Reagan claimed. They were not ready to knock out a satellite with lasers—and would never do so. It was a tragedy that a country that had spawned some of the great minds in mathematics and physics, that had produced chess champions and launched Sputnik, was by the 1980s behind in the computer revolution, sinking in economic backwardness and totally unprepared for the next century. But Reagan saw weakness only on the domestic side of the Soviet Union. He saw the military as ten feet tall.
    In one of the more notable errors of judgment, the October report on Soviet strategic defenses accused leading Soviet scientists, including Velikhov, of being hypocrites. In one passage, the document noted that many of them had signed a letter published in the New York Times in opposition to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. Velikhov was named and singled out with a photo. It was noted accurately that Velikhov had been head of the Institute of Atomic Energy at Troitsk, a branch of the Kurchatov Institute, located outside of Moscow, “where lasers for strategic and tactical applications are being developed.” The connotation was that Velikhov was a mindless propaganda puppet of the regime and a secret weaponeer. The Americans missed the point. While Velikhov had worked on laser weapons, that was precisely the reason he could tell Gorbachev the unvarnished truth about missile defense.

    Reagan was eager to meet Gorbachev and try out his one-on-one persuasive powers as a November summit in Geneva drew near. No summit had been held since 1979; Reagan had only three years of his presidency remaining. He did not want to lose time. “Starting with Brezhnev, I’d dreamed of personally going one-on-one with a Soviet leader,” Reagan later wrote in his memoirs, saying he believed if the leaders agreed on something, all else would fall into place. Now, he was at last going to get his chance.
    Reagan, who liked one-page briefing papers, was buried under a mountain of information in preparation for the summit. McFarlane and Matlock assembled two dozen briefing papers from the CIA and State Department, about eight to ten pages each, single spaced. McFarlane said Reagan received them eagerly, jotting notes in the margins.55 But Reagan privately complained, “I’m getting d–n sick of cramming like a school kid.”56 The experts told the president that Gorbachev represented a fresh style of Soviet leader, that dramatic changes were underway, but none threatening the system itself.57 Shultz recalled that “word from the intelligence community and other Soviet specialists around the government was that the Soviet Union would never, indeed could never, change no matter how bad their internal economic and social problems were.”58 The CIA briefing paper given to Reagan, titled “Gorbachev’s Personal Agenda for the November Meeting,” said Gorbachev had “little expectation of any major substantive breakthrough on arms control or regional issues.” Gates, a longtime Soviet specialist, who also briefed the president, predicted that Gorbachev wasn’t going to be pushed around. His conclusion: “Gorbachev simply intended to outwait Reagan.”59
    For Reagan, one CIA briefing proved riveting, by specialist Kay Oliver, who had just drafted a National Intelligence Estimate titled “Domestic Stress on the Soviet System.” She told Reagan of the decay in everyday life in the Soviet Union—alcoholism, alienation, drug abuse, economic decline—and explained how the “ruling elite had become stagnant, cynical, outrageously corrupt and ineffective” in the 1970s and early 1980s.60 These themes reinforced Reagan’s lifelong assumptions. He wrote approvingly in his diary that Oliver “confirmed things I had heard from unconfirmed sources. The Soviet U. is an ec. basket case & among other things there is a rapidly spreading turn by the people to religion.”61
    Reagan was attentive to Suzanne Massie, the author and Soviet culture expert, and read her book Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia. Massie recalled that when she met Reagan, he seemed hungry to learn more about the Russians as people than he was getting from the briefing papers. “He was an actor: actors like to absorb from feeling, and he just wasn’t getting that…kind of juice, if you want, that helped him make sense of affairs, from his official sources.” In her briefing, Massie tried to counter the Hollywood stereotypes of the Russians. She told him Gorbachev had been called to rule a country that was unruly and fractious, “not a whole lot of Communists marching in locked step, that it was far from that.” Massie also told Reagan not to worry about the contrasts being made between himself and the younger Gorbachev—that in fact Reagan was in a stronger position.62
    Summing up his impressions, Reagan wrote by hand on a yellow pad a four-and-a-half page memo. The note, which was typed up and then corrected by Reagan in ballpoint pen, offers a valuable snapshot of his thinking before the meeting. Reagan accepted the cautious view that Gorbachev would not bring radical change.
    “I believe,” he wrote, “Gorbachev is a highly intelligent leader totally dedicated to traditional Soviet goals.”
    Reagan added, “He will be a formidable negotiator and will try to make Soviet foreign and military policy more effective. He is (as are all Soviet General Secretaries) dependent on the Soviet-Communist hierarchy and will be out to prove to them his strength and dedication to Soviet traditional goals.” On arms control, Reagan wrote that Gorbachev wished to “reduce the burden of defense spending that is stagnating the Soviet economy,” and that “could contribute to his opposition to SDI” since “he doesn’t want to face the cost of competing with us.”63
    The economic pressures on the Soviet system had gravely worsened that autumn. Saudi Arabia increased oil production in a radical change in policy that was undertaken to boost its market share. A glut of crude hit world oil markets, prices collapsed and so did Soviet foreign currency earnings. By one estimate, Moscow had just lost $20 billion a year. Gorbachev’s backward country suddenly became a lot poorer.64
    Reagan’s memo also included a curious statement about the Soviet military. In the original memo, he wrote that an internal study “makes it plain the Soviets are planning a war. They would like to win without it and their chances of doing that depend on being so prepared we could be faced with a surrender or die ultimatum.” The surrender-or-die ultimatum was one of Reagan’s old chestnuts from his anti-communism speeches. Reagan’s comment seemed to be lifted right out of his late-1970s slogans warning of a “window of vulnerability.”
    According to Matlock, Reagan “had not been advised that the Soviets were planning to start a war, but that they were planning so that they could fight one and prevail.”
    When he read what he had written, Reagan felt misgivings, and crossed out the part about the Soviets planning a war. He substituted instead: “They would like to win by being so much better prepared we could be faced with a surrender or die ultimatum.” It was still a skeptical, fearsome, dark view of the other side.

    To prepare for the summit, Shultz and McFarlane went to Moscow and met Gorbachev on November 5. They found Gorbachev in a feisty, uncompromising mood. Gorbachev’s remarks followed the broad outline of the “asymmetrical response,” but he was clumsy. He attacked Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, saying at one point the purpose was to bail out the military-industrial complex in the United States, which Gorbachev claimed employed 18 million Americans. Shultz, an economist and former labor secretary, was surprised at Gorbachev’s bad information, and responded that defense was only a small part of the American economy. He delivered a mini-lecture to Gorbachev—which he had composed in his mind before the trip—about how the global economy was turning to a new information age. Gorbachev was stubborn and unmoved. “We know what’s going on,” he insisted. “We know why you’re doing this. You’re inspired by illusions. You think you’re ahead of us in information. You think you’re ahead of us in technology and that you can use these things to gain superiority over the Soviet Union. But this is an illusion.” If Reagan went ahead with the plan for Star Wars, Gorbachev warned, “We will let you bankrupt yourselves.”
    Then he added, “We will engage in a buildup that will break your shield.”65
    Shultz called Reagan afterward. Reagan wrote in his journal that night, “Gorbachev is adamant we must cave in our S.D.I.—well, this will be a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.”66
    After Shultz flew back and briefed Reagan, the president added, “It seems Mr. G. is filled with a lot of false info about the U.S. & believes it all. For example, Americans hate the Russians because our arms manufacturers stir them up with propaganda so they can keep selling us weapons.”67 Reagan vowed, “In Geneva I’ll have to get him in a room alone and set him straight.”68

    In the weeks before the summit, Roald Sagdeev, the space institute director who had been skeptical about a Soviet Star Wars, was invited to a meeting at the Central Committee with others from the academic and arts elite. They were told that, from now on, they were totally free to meet foreigners without asking permission. “It was a thrilling sensation,” Sagdeev recalled. “In a society where everything was under strict control and tight regulation, even phone numbers could not be given to foreigners.” He was ordered to join Velikhov and other leading advisers to Gorbachev on a plane to Geneva one week before the summit. The instructions: be open, give press interviews.69 Hundreds of reporters called, and the group kept busy. A total of 3,614 journalists, including television technicians, registered for the summit. They were drawn by the sense of unpredictability—rarely in the history of superpower summits had there been a meeting without a prearranged script and treaty to be signed; adding to the uncertainty was Reagan’s long history of anti-communism and the curiosity stirred by Gorbachev’s first months in power. The CIA was there, too. The agency “pulled out all the stops to make Gorbachev feel unwelcome in Geneva,” Gates recalled. The CIA sponsored anti-Soviet demonstrations, meetings and exhibits.70
    When he arrived in Geneva November 16, Reagan, then seventy-four years old, was full of anticipation. “Lord I hope I am ready and not overtrained,” he wrote. The first meeting was to be held at Maison Fleur d’Eau, a twenty-room, nineteenth-century villa on the western shore of Lake Geneva. He and Nancy Reagan toured it in advance, spotting a cozy pool house on the lakeshore. Reagan made sure the White House advance team knew he wanted to steer Gorbachev there for a private chat, with a fire blazing. In the preparations, Reagan held a mock summit session, with Matlock playing Gorbachev, speaking in Russian and trying to mimic Gorbachev’s gestures.71 In another briefing, Reagan seemed to glaze over. There was a long silence. “I’m in the year 1830,” the president suddenly said, startling his aides. “What happened to all these small shopkeepers in St. Petersburg in the year 1830 and to all that entrepreneurial talent in Russia? How can it have just disappeared?” The aides realized he was absorbed in thought about Massie’s book.72
    Cold winds blew off Lake Geneva as Reagan bounded down the steps to greet Gorbachev without an overcoat just after 10 A.M. on November 19. Gorbachev, then fifty-four years old, in office less than a year, stepped out of his black ZIL limousine, bundled up in a blue patterned scarf and overcoat, and took off his fedora, asking Reagan: “Where is your coat?” “It’s inside,” Reagan replied as he motioned toward the glass doors and the warmth of the chateau, guiding Gorbachev by the elbow. As they shook hands for the photographers, Reagan later recalled, “I had to admit…that there was something likeable about Gorbachev. There was a warmth in his face and his style, not the coldness bordering on hatred I’d seen in most senior Soviet officials I’d met until then.”73
    Once inside, the original plan called for a short tête-à-tête, fifteen minutes, then a larger session, but Reagan and Gorbachev spent an hour with just interpreters in their first encounter. Reagan declared right away he wanted to ease mistrust between them. They held the fate of the world in their hands, he said. He offered bromides and aphorisms collected from a lifetime of speeches. Countries do not mistrust each other because of arms, but arm each other because of mistrust, he said. People do not get into trouble when they talk to each other, but when they talk about each other. Gorbachev responded with an unemotional, reasoned appeal. The two superpowers could not ignore each other, he said. They were too interrelated. Gorbachev said he had come to improve their relations despite the differences of the past. They needed to create a concrete “impetus,” he said, to show the world they were serious about ending the arms race. Gorbachev, in a preplanned gesture to Reagan, told the president that Soviet scientists had recently calculated there was a high probability of a big earthquake within the next three years in California. Reagan said he realized a quake was overdue. The two leaders had broken the ice.
    In the formal meeting that followed, flanked by aides, they turned to the arms race. In both countries, “the military is devouring huge resources,” Gorbachev said. The “central question is how to halt the arms race and disarm.” Reagan brought up Eisenhower’s speech “Atoms for Peace,” offering to internationalize the atom. The United States was always giving, and the Soviet Union rejecting, Reagan complained. While earlier the superpowers reached agreements to slow the growth in weapons, Reagan said, now he wanted to actually reduce the “mountains of weapons.” Reagan then launched into an exposition of his dream of “an antimissile shield which would destroy missiles before they hit the target.” Reagan said he didn’t want to call it a weapon, but a defensive system, and if it worked, he would share it with the Soviet Union. This was a small preplanned surprise Reagan had decided to offer Gorbachev. The Soviet leader did not have time to respond before they broke for lunch, but he was downbeat as he went back to his residence.74
    “Reagan appeared to me not simply a conservative, but a political ‘dinosaur,’” he recalled of his first impressions.75
    But the president was chipper. “Our gang told me I’d done good.”76
    In the afternoon, Gorbachev came roaring back, this time deploying the “asymmetrical response” with energy and verve. Gorbachev fired volley after volley of arguments against the Strategic Defense Initiative. It would lead to an arms race in space, not just a defensive one, but an offensive one, he said. Scholars say any shield can be pierced, he added, so why create it? He threatened retaliation; if Reagan went ahead, there could be no reduction of existing offensive weapons. The Soviet response “would not be a mirror,” Gorbachev added, but “a simpler, more effective system.”
    “We will build up to smash your shield,” he said.
    If there were “seven layers” of space defenses, Gorbachev added, it would require automation, putting important decisions in the hands of computers. Political leaders would just be hiding in bunkers with computers making the decisions. “This could unleash an uncontrollable process. You haven’t thought this through, it will be a waste of money, and also will cause more distrust and more weapons,” he told Reagan.
    Reagan responded the best way he knew how, by articulating his visions and his dream. “There is something uncivilized” about the idea of mutual assured destruction, he said. He told Gorbachev a story. The American ambassador to the United Nations had met some Chinese. They had asked him: what happens when a man with a spear that can penetrate anything meets a man with a shield that is impenetrable? The ambassador said he didn’t know, but he did know what happens when a man with no shield meets that same opponent who has the spear. Neither wants to be in the position of having no shield, Reagan insisted.
    At this point, Reagan invited Gorbachev to get some fresh air and go down to the pool house. Gorbachev “leaped out of his chair,” eager to go, Reagan remembered.77 When they reached the small room in the pool house, a fire was already roaring. They sat in easy chairs, only interpreters present.
    Immediately, Reagan took papers out of a manila folder and handed them to Gorbachev. These are goals for arms control talks, Reagan said, which could be the seeds of a future agreement. Gorbachev started to read and the room was quiet for a few minutes. Soon they had resumed the most difficult disagreement—missile defense, weapons in space. Gorbachev demanded to know: why was there nothing on Reagan’s list about that? Reagan repeated his dream was defensive and would not aggravate the arms race. Back and forth they went—Gorbachev seeking to talk Reagan out of his dream, Reagan striving to get Gorbachev to feel the magic. The dialogue was captured in the interpreter’s notes:
    Gorbachev: If the goal was to get rid of nuclear weapons, why start an arms race in another sphere?
    Reagan: These are not weapons that kill people or destroy cities, these are weapons that destroy nuclear missiles.
    Gorbachev: Let’s ban research, development, testing and deployment of space weapons, then cut offensive arms by 50 percent.
    Reagan: Why do you keep speaking about space weapons? We certainly have no intention of putting something into space that would threaten people on Earth.
    Gorbachev: A defense against one level of missiles is one thing, but a defense against a much larger number would not be reliable at all.
    Reagan: Our people overwhelmingly want this defense. They look at the sky and think what might happen if missiles suddenly appear and blow up everything in our country.
    Gorbachev: The missiles are not yet flying. If S.D.I. is actually implemented, then layer after layer of offensive weapons, Soviet and American, would appear in outer space and only God himself would know what they were. And God provides information only very selectively and rarely. Please understand the signal we are giving you—we now have a chance which we must not miss!
    They walked back to the main house, having settled nothing. But something had happened to both of them. They had finally taken the measure of the other. “He’s adamant but so am I,” Reagan wrote that night in his diary. “The ‘human factor’ had quietly come into action,” Gorbachev recalled. “We both sensed that we must maintain contact and try to avoid a break.”78
    Gorbachev was chilled suddenly in the air on the walk back. But he told Reagan this would not be their last meeting. Reagan suggested they visit each other’s country. Gorbachev agreed before they got to the door.79
    On the second day, tempers rose even higher. Gorbachev said a Soviet scientist had done research and found out the explanation for Reagan’s determination to build the Strategic Defense Initiative was that it would add $600 billion to $1 trillion in new military expenditures. Reagan said the scientist was dealing in fantasy. If a defensive system could be found, it would be available to all. This would end the nuclear nightmare for the people of the United States, the Soviet Union, indeed for “all people.”
    Gorbachev started to interrupt Reagan. Why wouldn’t Reagan believe him when he said the Soviet Union would never attack? Before Reagan could answer, Gorbachev repeated the question. He again interrupted Reagan’s answer to insist on a response. Gorbachev questioned Reagan’s sincerity in offering to share research, saying the United States did not even share advanced technology with its allies.
    Reagan tried to overcome the interruptions, and in exasperation at one point spilled out one of his deepest hopes—nuclear weapons could be eliminated altogether. At another point, he asked Gorbachev whether he believed in reincarnation and then speculated that perhaps he, Reagan, had invented the shield in an earlier life.
    Listening to one of Reagan’s pitches for cooperation on Star Wars, Gorbachev lost his cool. Don’t treat us as simple people! Reagan said he did not see how he had shown disrespect in any way. It was an open debate.
    Reagan captured the spirit of the day in his diary that night: “… the stuff really hit the fan. He was really belligerent & d–n it I stood firm.”
    That evening, after dinner, Reagan and Gorbachev met in the study over coffee to consider how they would present the summit to the world the next morning. Shultz complained angrily to Gorbachev, his voice rising, finger pointing, that Soviet negotiators—especially the deputy foreign minister Georgi Korniyenko—were backpedaling on agreements. Shultz said the negotiators should stay up all night, if necessary, to hammer it out.
    At this point, Reagan and Gorbachev, listening while sitting side by side on a red silk couch, decided to intervene. Reagan insisted they should take matters into their own hands and order the negotiators to go back to the table and work out their differences. Gorbachev agreed. The next morning, November 21, the joint statement was ready. When Reagan and Gorbachev came to the international press center to read their statements, Reagan turned to Gorbachev and whispered, “I bet the hardliners in both our countries are bleeding when we shake hands.” Gorbachev nodded in agreement.80
    The headline from the summit was that Reagan and Gorbachev would meet again. But in retrospect, it was not the most important news. Much more significant was a short, innocuous phrase in the joint statement. The two superpowers agreed, the statement said, that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
    These words could be dismissed as nothing more than a feel-good slogan, and Reagan had spoken them before.81 Not a single nuclear warhead was eliminated at Geneva; Reagan was not any closer to his cherished goal of building a missile defense system; Gorbachev was no closer to stopping it. But in so openly announcing that a nuclear war could not be won and must never be fought, the radical reformer from Stavropol and the dreamer from Hollywood had called a halt to years of extraordinary tension and fright. They had put behind them the terrible worries of the RYAN operation and Andropov’s fears of imminent attack. They had buried the idea that the Soviets were planning to fight and win a nuclear war. Both of them wanted a world with fewer nuclear weapons, and they had jointly made Geneva their first waypoint on that path. Words had power, and they had found the words. Now they had to find the deeds.
    On New Year’s Day, Reagan and Gorbachev exchanged simultaneous televised greetings to people in each other’s countries, an historic first. Reagan’s address appeared at the opening of the main evening news program, and many people in the Soviet Union saw Reagan directly for the first time. “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” Reagan said.82

—————  11  —————

    On Sunday, January 5, 1986, very late in the evening, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the chief of the Soviet military’s General Staff, telephoned one of his deputies, Colonel General Nikolai Chervov, head of the legal department, which handled arms control negotiations. Both men were products of the World War II generation who rose to the General Staff in the Cold War years. Akhromeyev, the ramrod-straight commander who had promised to help Gorbachev, asked Chervov to report to headquarters at 6 A.M. the next morning. “You will fly to Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev,” Akhromeyev said. The Soviet leader was vacationing on the Black Sea coast.
    “What must I have with me and what uniform must I wear?” Chervov asked.
    “Have your wits about you,” Akhromeyev said. “And wear your military uniform.”
    The next morning, Akhromeyev gave Chervov an envelope for Gorbachev, ordered his personal driver to take him to the airport and said Gorbachev would be expecting him at 10 A.M.
    “Can I ask a question?” Chervov said, nervously. “What’s inside the envelope?”
    Akhromeyev told him it was the draft of the program on global disarmament. “Report all details to the General Secretary.”1
    After the Geneva summit with Reagan, Gorbachev was searching for something new. When Chervov arrived with the envelope, Gorbachev greeted him warmly. Gorbachev was vacationing in a house on the coast at Pitsunda, in the republic of Georgia, set in a pine grove, with woodpaneled interiors, spacious rooms and an office. It was a restful place in the solitude of a nature reserve; outside, waves swept across a fine pebble beach. Without wasting words, Gorbachev asked right away, “What have you brought?”2
    The envelope contained a written proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons—all, including those of the United States, the Soviet Union and other countries—by the year 2000, in three stages, with specific deadlines. Akhromeyev had been working on the idea ever since the Soviets walked out of the Geneva talks in late 1983. He brought in weapons scientists and the staff of different branches of the military, who debated in secret. Once the proposal was drafted, Akhromeyev put it in his desk drawer. In Gorbachev’s first year, Akhromeyev kept it to himself, thinking the time was not right to bring it out. By the end of 1985, when Gorbachev was searching for new initiatives, Akhromeyev opened the drawer. The file was titled “Proposal of the USSR for a Program of Full Liquidation of Nuclear Weapons in the Whole World by the Year 2000.” It was a sweeping proposal that could grab headlines and win sympathy from antinuclear forces around the world. After a year as chief of the General Staff and eight months working with Gorbachev, Akhromeyev could see pressures were building to reduce nuclear arsenals. He personally wanted to scale back the huge stockpiles of warheads, and he felt that Gorbachev’s proposal might at least bring about significant cuts, if not lead all the way to total elimination. He could see, too, that Gorbachev was a man of action. The Soviet Union had been calling for general disarmament for decades. But what was new in Akhromeyev’s plan was a certain date—the turn of the century.3
    When Chervov took out the papers, Gorbachev expressed skepticism at first. “What can there be that’s new in your initiative?” he asked. “We have been harping on this since 1945. Gromyko has been constantly talking about this at the United Nations. Should the General Secretary repeat this all over again?”
    “Mikhail Sergeyevich, everything that you say is correct,” Chervov replied. “However, in the past there were only general declarations and wishes to liquidate nuclear weapons. There was nothing concrete. We only came out with a general idea, like ‘We are for the liquidation.’… This is a completely new program that gives a detailed description of all the possible problems. The nuclear issue is becoming a more burning problem by the day. I ask you to have a look at the document.” Gorbachev was in no hurry to take the papers. As if he were talking to himself, he asked Chervov, “And should we liquidate all the nuclear weapons? In the West they keep saying that the more nuclear weapons there are, the stronger a country’s security is. Should we accept such a concept? What do you think?”
    “Mikhail Sergeyevich, everyone has heard the Western leaders’ statements to this effect, such as Thatcher, for example. I believe these are dangerous statements. There is a saying, when there are too many guns, they begin to shoot by themselves. Today, so many nuclear weapons have been stockpiled in the world, they can explode by themselves… the nuclear danger is growing in proportion to the stockpiles.” The proverb was familiar; Gorbachev had recalled a similar one to make the same point to British Foreign Minister Geoffrey Howe in late 1984. Gorbachev listened, asked a few more questions and took the envelope. He read the documents in silence. Chervov thought Gorbachev fell into deep thought. Then he said, “This is it. This is what’s needed.” But Gorbachev wanted to add more. Why not add something about stopping nuclear tests? Banning chemical weapons? Gorbachev took a blank sheet of paper and began writing instructions. When he was finished, Chervov gathered up the papers and flew back to Akhromeyev in Moscow.4

    Gorbachev’s grand plan was visionary, dramatic and dreamy. He proposed in the first phase, five to eight years, to halt all nuclear testing, cut the superpower strategic arsenals by 50 percent, to no more than 6,000 warheads each, and eliminate U.S. and Soviet medium-range missiles in the European zone, including the Pioneers, the Pershing IIs and the ground-launched cruise missiles. He also demanded that the United States and Soviet Union mutually renounce “space strike weapons,” a reference to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In the second stage, to begin in 1990 and last five to seven years, the United States and Soviet Union would continue to reduce their arsenals, joined by the other nuclear powers, France, Britain and China, and the United States and Soviet Union would also eliminate the small battlefield, or tactical, nuclear weapons. Finally, in the third stage, by 2000, all nations would get rid of nuclear weapons and sign a universal pact that nuclear weapons would never return again.5
    For all its sweeping ambition, the plan was unveiled January 15, 1986, in an oblique Soviet fashion. On the regular Soviet evening news program Vremya, an expressionless announcer picked up a sheaf of papers and began droning through a statement on disarmament by the general secretary. Gorbachev was nowhere to be seen. TASS distributed the 4,879-word text. The next morning, the full statement was printed in the official newspapers, Izvestia and Pravda. The declarations were grand: “The Soviet Union proposes at the beginning of 1986 the implementation of a program for freeing mankind from the fear of nuclear catastrophe.” A reader or television viewer might have been excused for asking: so what? Disarmament had been a time-worn Soviet slogan for decades, while the arms race zoomed ahead, ever faster.6
    Yet this time it was different. Anatoly Chernyaev, the deputy director of the International Department at the Central Committee, writing in his diary after the statement was announced, could sense that Gorbachev was reaching for the stars. “My impression is that he’s really decided to end the arms race no matter what. He is taking this ‘risk’ because, as he understands, it’s no risk at all—because nobody would attack us even if we disarmed completely. And in order to get the country on solid ground, we have to relieve it of the burden of the arms race, which is a drain on more than just the economy.”
    “My God!” Chernyaev wrote. “What luck that there was a man in the Politburo [Andropov] who showed the wisdom of a true ‘tsar,’ finding Gorbachev and dragging him out of the provinces—and in a country which has 95 such regions! And now we have a real find of a leader: intelligent, well-educated, dynamic, honest, with ideas and imagination. And bold. Myths and taboos (including ideological ones) are nothing for him. He could flatten any of them.”7
    When the television announcer began reading Gorbachev’s statement on Vremya on January 15, 1986, it was still early in the day in Washington. Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador, called Shultz in the morning to alert him that an important announcement was about to be made in Moscow. Shortly before the call, a letter from Gorbachev to Reagan arrived, accompanying the new proposal. Shultz and his advisers puzzled over the text, which had both new ideas, such as tackling some disputes one by one rather than all together, and some old roadblocks, such as Soviet demands to stop Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Paul Nitze was fascinated. “I wonder whose work of art on the Soviet side this is,” he said.8
    Weeks earlier, Reagan had appointed a new national security adviser, John M. Poindexter, a retired admiral, to replace McFarlane, who resigned. On the day of the Gorbachev proposal, Poindexter telephoned Matlock, the Soviet expert on the National Security Council, who was across town at that moment. Matlock rushed to the White House, where Poindexter showed him the text and asked whether he thought Gorbachev was serious. “Have they put it on TASS yet?” Matlock asked. Poindexter called the duty officer in the Situation Room and was told the text was coming over the wires at that moment. Matlock said that making the initiative public so quickly “raised the suspicion” that Gorbachev “had nothing more than propaganda in mind.” Most government agencies who looked at the proposal, Matlock recalled, thought it was “nothing more than smoke and mirrors and advised a flat rejection.” A White House official told reporters, “The language is eerie; it’s so extremely flexible that it may look better than it really is.” Doubts were everywhere in Washington that day. “A clever propaganda move,” said Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia.9
    Shultz went to see Reagan at 2 P.M., and found the president already liked what he had been told about Gorbachev’s statement. “Why wait until the end of the century for a world without nuclear weapons?” Reagan asked.
    That night, Reagan wrote in his diary that Gorbachev “surprisingly is calling for an arms reduction plan which will rid the world of nuclear weapons by the year 2000. Of course he has a couple of zingers in there which we’ll have to work around. But at the very least it is a h–l of a propaganda move. We’d be hard put to explain how we could turn it down.” At a White House photo session the next day, Reagan told reporters, “It is just about the first time that anyone has ever proposed actually eliminating nuclear weapons.”10
    But once again, in official Washington, the president was largely alone. Nuclear deterrence had sunk its roots deep into American strategic thinking for four decades. “The naysayers were hard at work, even in my own building…” Shultz said. “No one could accept the thought of a world moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.” Richard N. Perle, an assistant secretary of defense and relentless critic of détente, told the White House Senior Arms Control Group that “the president’s dream of a world without nuclear weapons—which Gorbachev had picked up—was a disaster, a total delusion,” Shultz recalled. “Perle said the National Security Council should not meet on the idea, because then the president would direct his arms controllers to come up with a program to achieve that result. The Joint Chiefs’ representative agreed with Perle. They feared the institutionalization and acceptance of the idea as policy.”
    Two days after Gorbachev’s proposal, Shultz told his staff to face facts; yes, they were all skeptical about elimination of nuclear weapons, but “the president of the United States doesn’t agree with you.” In fact, Shultz said, “he thinks it’s a hell of a good idea.”
    Shultz set up a small steering group of insiders, starting January 25, in a deliberate effort to bypass the rigid interagency process for making policy in Washington. They met every Saturday morning. Shultz and Gates faced off in these sessions. Shultz thought Gorbachev was for real, “bold and agile.” Gates, deputy CIA director, thought Gorbachev was cut from the old Soviet mold. Gates wrote to Shultz at the time, saying “all we have seen since Gorbachev took over leads us to believe that on fundamental objectives and policies he so far remains generally as inflexible as his predecessors.” Gorbachev’s new proposal to eliminate nuclear weapons, Gates said, was “tactically a clever stroke” but “did not change any basic Soviet position.”11
    On Monday, February 3, Reagan met in the White House Situation Room with his top advisers to discuss a response to Gorbachev’s proposal. “Some wanted to tag it a publicity stunt,” Reagan wrote afterward. “I said no. Let’s say we share their overall goals & now want to work out the details. If it is a publicity stunt this will be revealed by them. I also propose to announce we are going forward with SDI but if research reveals a defense against missiles is possible we’ll work out how it can be used to protect the whole world not just us.”12

    Gorbachev hurtled forward. He telephoned Chernyaev, the deputy director of the International Department at the Central Committee, and asked him to become his adviser on national security. Chernyaev was a liberal but not yet part of Gorbachev’s inner circle. He was known for an encyclopedic mind. He was intensely curious, outspoken and fearless. He loved drama, memorized poetry and read Western literature, even when prohibited. Chernyaev had been schooled in Russian culture and had the best schools and teachers. He went to the front as a volunteer at the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, fought and was seriously wounded. After the war he graduated from and taught at Moscow State University. In the 1950s, Chernyaev had served in Prague on the staff of a new party journal, Problemy mira i sotsializma, or Problems of Peace and Socialism, where the environment was relatively open, compared to Moscow. This left an enduring impression on Chernyaev, who returned to Moscow to spend two decades in the Central Committee apparat, harboring hopes for liberal reform despite the deep disappointments of the era, including Moscow’s crushing of the Prague Spring and the invasion of Afghanistan.
    When Gorbachev called, Chernyaev hesitated at first, because it seemed an almost overwhelming responsibility. He was sixty-five years old, and feared he would disappoint Gorbachev. He wanted more time for reading, theater, exhibitions, the conservatory, a steady and quiet life.
    “What do you say?” insisted Gorbachev.
    “One does not refuse such offers, Mikhail Sergeyevich,” Chernyaev replied.13
    In the critical years that followed, Chernyaev remained at Gorbachev’s elbow, a key member of the reformist brain trust who offered candid advice to Gorbachev as well as unblemished loyalty. He joined the other intellectuals who generated the ideas and firepower behind glasnost and perestroika. Chernyaev’s diary, detailed and revealing, is perhaps the single most important contemporaneous account of Gorbachev’s decision making and thinking.14
    Change was coming fast in 1986. Boris Yeltsin, the party chief in Sverdlovsk, was brought to the capital, and soon plunged into a populist drive to improve living standards. Alexander Yakovlev, a strong proponent of democratization, was brought from his think tank to head the Central Committee department on ideology, becoming another preeminent adviser to Gorbachev and the heart and soul of “new thinking.” Chernyaev began to take notes at meetings with Gorbachev. Later, other Gorbachev advisers, including Yakovlev, Shakhnazarov and Vadim Medvedev, contributed their notes, making up another valuable contemporaneous account.15
    Soon after Chernyaev was appointed came the 27th Party Congress, a mammoth affair in which 4,993 delegates from across the country packed into Moscow hotels and assembled in the scarlet-bedecked hall of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses from February 25 to March 6, 1986. Held every five years to approve the membership of the three-hundred-member Central Committee and ratify the next five-year program, the congress was Gorbachev’s stage for a premiere of “new thinking” and perestroika. In his speeches, Gorbachev referred to the war in Afghanistan as a “bleeding wound,” and described a Soviet foreign policy based on living with the non-Communist world rather than endless confrontation of military blocs. Gorbachev’s words were spoken in billowing paragraphs, wrapped in old rhetoric about American imperialism, and he still attempted to give socialism a boost rather than destroy it. But “new thinking” was on display nonetheless.16
    Chernyaev recalled that Gorbachev was in a state of “extreme enthusiasm” when the party congress ended. But just as he savored this success, a chill wind blew in from Reagan. In the wake of the Walker spy ring discovery the year before, Reagan had signed a secret directive in late 1985 to curb Soviet espionage activity, but action had been delayed. On March 7, the day after the party congress ended, the United States ordered the Soviet Union to sharply reduce its diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York, from about 270 diplomats to 170. Gorbachev took this as an unexpected jab from Reagan. The Soviet mission at the United Nations was believed by U.S. officials to be a headquarters for KGB spies.17 In fact, two of the most devastating spies of all time were not at the Soviet mission but deep within the U.S. government—Ames and Hanssen.
    In another setback for Gorbachev, on March 13, U.S. warships carrying sophisticated electronic gear sailed six miles inside the Soviet Union’s twelve-mile territorial limit in the Black Sea, a clear provocation, which the Soviets protested. On March 20, Gorbachev was exasperated when he met aides to plan a speech in the Volga River manufacturing city of Togliatti. According to Chernyaev’s notes, Gorbachev said he hoped to give the Americans a good swift kick. He could not understand European or American indifference to his initiatives and speeches. “What do we see on the part of Europe and the United States?” he asked. “Excuses, evasiveness, attempts to get away with half-measures and promises.”18
    Gorbachev had prolonged the Soviet self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing by three months, but Reagan refused to go along. On March 22, the United States set off a twenty-nine-kiloton underground nuclear explosion, code-named Glencoe, two thousand feet below the Nevada desert.19 Gorbachev continued to hold off on Soviet tests, but bitterly complained to his inner circle on March 24 that the moratorium showed the Americans “have no intentions to disarm.” Gorbachev asked that day, “What does America want?” Chernyaev recalled, “It seemed we were sliding back toward confrontation.”
    Gorbachev turned again to Reagan’s stubborn Star Wars dream. He vowed that the Soviet asymmetrical response could nullify it for just 10 percent of the cost. “Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of SDI?” he asked. This was a change in tune from his vigorous campaign against missile defense at the Geneva summit just months earlier. “Of course we cannot just disregard this dangerous program,” Gorbachev said. “But we should overcome our obsession with it. They’re banking on the USSR’s fear of SDI—in moral, economic, political and military terms. Therefore they’re pursuing this program in order to wear us out.”20
    Speaking just among his top aides, Gorbachev said: “We should do everything not to impoverish our country further through defense spending.”
    Gorbachev could not grasp why the spirit of the Geneva summit was fading. He wrote to Reagan on April 2, saying, “More than four months have passed since the Geneva meeting. We ask ourselves: what is the reason for things not going the way they, it would seem, should have gone? Where is the real turn for the better?” He complained “we hear increasingly vehement philippics addressed to the USSR.” On April 3, he lamented to the Politburo: “The whole world sees that Gorbachev makes a suggestion in the evening and the next morning the Americans quickly say ‘no.’” On April 4, he had a long talk with two influential congressional leaders—Dante Fascell, Democrat of Florida, and William Broomfield, Republican of Michigan—who were visiting Moscow. “Disarmament issues cannot be postponed,” Gorbachev said.
    “The locomotive is rushing forward at great speed. Today there is still a chance to stop it, but tomorrow it might be too late.”

    In the marshy flatlands and forests of the Ukraine, spring breezes arrived early that April, carrying scents of cherry blossoms. A giant nuclear electricity-generating plant with a red-and-white candy-striped smokestack stood astride the Pripyat River, ten miles north of the town of Chernobyl and nestled next to a small town, Pripyat. The station housed four 1,000-megawatt reactors, and two more reactors were under construction that, when finished, would make it the largest nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union. In the early-morning hours of Saturday, April 26, a test was getting underway at Reactor No. 4.21
    The reactor core was a mammoth block of graphite 23 feet high and 38 feet in diameter, weighing 1,700 tons, honeycombed with 1,661 holes for rods filled with uranium fuel. When lowered by a crane into the holes, the fuel rods set off nuclear fission, which gave off heat, turning water into steam to power turbines generating electricity. Another 211 holes in the graphite were drilled for control rods. When lowered into the reactor, the control rods absorbed neutrons and slowed or stopped the nuclear fission. Six pumps, capable of moving up to 18.6 million gallons an hour, forced coolant water through the reactor, with two pumps in reserve. Seventeen of the Soviet RBMK-1000 reactors were built in the Soviet Union between 1973 and 1990; the RBMK acronym stood for Reaktor Bolshoi Moshchnosti Kanalnyi, or High-Power Channel Reactor. Unlike reactors in the West, such as the one at Three Mile Island, where an accident occurred in 1979, the Soviet RBMK-1000 design lacked a containment shelter, the overarching, concrete shell to hold radioactivity inside in the event of a disaster.
    The rods, pumps and gears used to control and moderate the nuclear fission inside the Chernobyl reactor were dependent on electricity. If outside power were suddenly cut off, it would take forty seconds to kickstart auxiliary diesel engines. Without power for forty seconds, however, the pumps would not force water through the reactor, which would quickly overheat. This forty-second gap was something that Soviet designers knew about and worried over; they were still trying to fix it. On the night of April 26, an improvised work-around was being tested. The operators knew that after a power outage, the spinning turbine blades would keep rotating under their own momentum. So they reasoned: why not use the still-spinning blades to generate enough power to keep the water pumps going for forty seconds? The goal of the test was to see how much power the rotating blades could generate, but the duty operators were ill prepared and the reactor design badly flawed.
    One operator, arriving at his station, was confused by the logbook. He called someone else to inquire.
    “What shall I do?” he asked. “In the program there are instructions of what to do, and then a lot of things crossed out.”
    The other person thought for a minute, then replied, “Follow the crossed out instructions.”22
    After midnight Saturday, the reactor was powered down to very low levels for the test. Then, apparently because power was too low, the operators tried to power it up again, perhaps too quickly. Nuclear fission creates by-products that must be allowed to dissipate before the reactor is powered up again, but this danger was ignored.
    As they powered up the reactor, a chain reaction began to spin out of control.
    A foreman who entered the reactor hall at about 1:23 A.M. saw an unforgettable sight. The reactor had a massive lid. It was the “upper biological shield,” intended to prevent radiation exposure to workers during routine operations. The lid was a circle forty-nine feet in diameter, consisting of cubes, each sitting on top of a channel. When the foreman looked down, he saw the 770-pound cubes start to rumble and dance on top of the channels, “as if one thousand seven hundred people were tossing their hats into the air.”23
    The operators hit the red panic button, marked “AZ,” for the emergency power reduction system. But it was too late. They desperately tried to lower the control rods to stop the fission, but the rods, by some accounts, got stuck, perhaps because the holes in the core had warped. Also, there was a design flaw in the rods, which had a section of water and graphite at each end known as the displacer, while the absorber was in the middle. When the rods got stuck, the absorber didn’t make it far enough down into the core to be useful in moderating the fission. Moreover, the rods also may have forced water out from the channels, increasing the heat and steam. In the RBMK-1000 reactor design, excessive steam caused the nuclear chain reaction to accelerate. As the heat inside the graphite core skyrocketed, more of the water then turned to steam, which caused the reactor to get even hotter. More steam, more heat, and the reactor went out of control.
    At 1:23 A.M., two explosions rocked Chernobyl. These were extremely powerful, caused by the chain reaction generating huge amounts of heat and pressure. The reactor blew apart, and the explosions were followed by fire. The blast blew a hole straight upward through the roof of Reactor No. 4. The weighty lid was tossed aside like a cocked hat, and radioactive materials—gases, graphite and bits of broken fuel rods—were thrust into the atmosphere. Some debris fell down near the site. Radioactive elements were carried by the winds across Europe. The initial contamination was one nightmare, then came another: the graphite core was on fire and burned for ten days, spewing more dangerous materials into the air.
    Hours after the disaster, with the graphite core burning, an “urgent report” arrived at the Central Committee in Moscow from Deputy Energy Minister Alexei Makukhin, who had once been minister of energy in the Ukraine when Chernobyl was first being built. The report said that at 1:21 A.M. on April 26 an explosion occurred in the upper part of the reactor, causing fire damage and destroying part of the roof. “At 3:30, the fire was extinguished.” Personnel at the plant were taking “measures to cool the active zone of the reactor.” No evacuation of the population was necessary, the report said.
    Almost everything in Makukhin’s report was wrong. The reactor was still burning and was not being cooled, and the population should have been evacuated immediately. What the report did not say was even worse: at the scene, radiation detectors failed, firefighters and others were sent in without adequate protection and officials were debating—but not deciding—about evacuation.24
    Gorbachev recalled many years later that he first heard of the disaster in a phone call at 5 A.M., but he insisted he did not learn until the evening of April 26 that the reactor had actually exploded and there had been a huge discharge into the atmosphere. “Nobody had any idea that we were facing a major nuclear disaster,” he recalled. “Quite simply, in the beginning even the top experts did not realize the gravity of the situation.”25Chernyaev, who was at Gorbachev’s side throughout the crisis, recalled that “even our top leadership did not fully realize the difficulties and dangers associated with nuclear energy.” He acknowledged that “one can blame Gorbachev for trusting those responsible,” but added, “since nuclear energy was directly linked to the military-industrial complex, it was taken for granted that everything was in perfect order. And that there was no chance of a ‘surprise’ like Chernobyl.”26
    The reason for the lack of information was the Soviet system itself, which reflexively buried the truth. At each level of authority, lies were passed up and down the chain; the population was left in the dark; and scapegoats were found. Gorbachev was at the top of this decrepit system; his biggest failure was that he did not break through the pattern of cover-up right away. He reacted slowly, a moment of paralysis for this man of action. He seemed unable to get the truth when he needed it from the disaster scene or the officials responsible for nuclear power. While Gorbachev’s personal charisma had sparked excitement on the streets of Leningrad the year before, he did not appear in public for eighteen days after the explosion. While he disdained the secrecy of the military, he was just as silent before his own people and much of Europe in a situation of real peril. Gorbachev, who in January called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, suddenly was faced with a real-time, catastrophic example of what the world might be like after a nuclear explosion, and it was even more frightening than he could have guessed.
    Without a containment shelter, radioactive isotopes soared into the atmosphere. Winds carried the contamination north, and by Sunday, radiation was detected in Sweden at the Forsmark nuclear power station, one hundred miles north of Stockholm. The Swedes confronted the Soviets at midday Monday, April 28. Gorbachev had assembled an emergency Politburo meeting at 11 A.M., but the Kremlin had not said a word about the accident, at home or abroad. In notes from the emergency meeting, aides to Gorbachev wrote: “The information was alarming but scant.”27According to Volkogonov, the historian, as the Politburo discussed how to handle the accident, Gorbachev said, “We must issue an announcement as soon as possible, we must not delay…” Alexander Yakovlev also said, “The quicker we announce it, the better it’ll be…” Other accounts suggest some Politburo members wanted to keep silent.28 The announcement was delayed for hours and hours. But people with radios that could pick up foreign broadcasts in Moscow already knew something truly horrible had happened; the reports were alarming.
    Gorbachev later claimed there were two reasons for the delay: he lacked information and didn’t want to create panic. The Kremlin eventually instructed the news media to distribute a statement so terse as to relay none of the catastrophic nature of the event. The announcement was issued at 9 P.M. on April 28:
    An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, damaging one of the reactors. Measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. The injured are receiving aid. A government commission has been set up.29
    On the next day, April 29, Gorbachev called another Politburo meeting. According to Volkogonov, Gorbachev now realized “that he had anything but a routine problem on his hands,” given the global alarm about the accident. He began consulting with physicists and security officials. Gorbachev opened the Politburo meeting with a terse remark, “Perhaps we aren’t reacting as sharply as the states around us?” Gorbachev proposed they create an operational group to manage the crisis. He then asked, “How are we to deal with the population and international public opinion?” He paused and added a somewhat contradictory remark: “The more honestly we conduct ourselves, the better. To ensure that a shadow of suspicion should not fall on our equipment, we must say that the power station was undergoing a planned repair…”
    After more discussion, the Politburo decided to issue another public statement, which Volkogonov described as “terms that might have been used to announce an ordinary fire at a warehouse.”30 The announcement said the accident had destroyed part of the reactor building, the reactor itself, and caused a degree of leakage of radioactive substances. Two people had died, the statement said, and “at the present time, the radiation situation at the power station and the vicinity has been stabilized.” One section was added for socialist countries saying that Soviet experts had noted radiation spreading in the western, northern and southern directions from Chernobyl. “Levels of contamination are somewhat higher than permitted standards, however not to the extent that calls for special measures to protect the population.”31

    In the early weeks, firefighters and “liquidators,” people called from all over the country to help mitigate the disaster, fought bravely and worked with amazing courage and dedication in the face of danger. Firefighters recalled standing on a roof so hot their boots melted; helicopter pilots braved the smoldering ruins to dump 5,020 metric tons of sand and other material in an effort to suffocate what appeared to be a red glow, the burning graphite reactor below.32 But while individuals performed acts of heroism, the bosses of the Soviet state obfuscated. One of the first actions of the plant director was to cut nonessential telephone lines around Chernobyl.33 An evacuation of Pripyat was begun only thirty-six hours after the explosion; the second stage of the evacuation, including a wider zone that eventually displaced 116,000 people, did not begin until May 5. The Communist Party in Ukraine insisted that May Day parades should carry on as usual in Kiev even though winds were blowing in that direction. On May 1 in Moscow, Nikolai Ryzhkov, the prime minister, signed an instruction to take Soviet news correspondents to areas adjacent to the Chernobyl power station with a goal of preparing reports in newspapers and television showing the “normal vital activity of these areas.”34 But the truth was dawning at the highest levels in Moscow. The same instruction from Ryzhkov admitted the Health Ministry “failed” to provide full information from the scene and insisted that the ministry “take urgent measures to bring order into this affair.”
    Reagan wrote in his diary, “As usual the Russians won’t put out any facts but it is evident that a radioactive cloud is spreading beyond the Soviet border.”35
    Vladimir Gubarev, the science editor of Pravda, who had good contacts in the nuclear establishment, heard of the accident soon after it happened and called Yakovlev, Gorbachev’s close adviser and champion of new thinking. But Yakovlev told him to “forget about it, and stop meddling,” Gubarev recalled. Yakovlev wanted no journalists to witness the scene. But Gubarev was persistent, and kept calling Yakovlev every day. Yakovlev finally authorized a group of journalists to go to Chernobyl, including Gubarev, who had a physics degree but also wrote plays and books. He arrived May 4 and returned May 9. His private report to Yakovlev depicted chaos and confusion. One hour after the explosion, the spread of radiation was clear, he said, but no emergency measures had been prepared. “No one knew what to do.” Soldiers were sent into the danger zone without individual protective gear. They didn’t have any. Nor did helicopter pilots. “In a case like this, common sense is required, not false bravery,” he said. “The whole system of civil defense turned out to be entirely paralyzed. Even functioning dosimeters were not available.” Gubarev said, “the sluggishness of local authorities is striking. There were no clothes, shoes, or underwear for victims. They were waiting for instructions from Moscow.” In Kiev, the lack of information caused panic. People heard reports from abroad but didn’t get a single word of reassurance from the leaders of the republic. The silence created more panic in the following days when it became known that children and families of party bosses were fleeing. “A thousand people stood in line in the ticket office of the Ukraine Communist Party Central Committee,” Gubarev said. “Naturally, this was perfectly well known in the city.” When Gubarev returned to Moscow, he gave Yakovlev his written report. It was passed to Gorbachev.36
    Gorbachev finally spoke about the disaster on May 14, two and a half weeks after it happened, in a nationally televised address. He looked “like a man bereaved,” recalled Angus Roxburgh, the BBC correspondent. “His face showed that he knew he had lost credibility.” His speech dodged the reasons for the catastrophe, and advanced the line that people had been alerted “as soon as we received reliable initial information.” Gorbachev seemed to lose his cool entirely at some of the wild accusations that spread in the West while the Kremlin had bottled up information, such as early reports of mass casualties in the thousands. He also took umbrage at criticism of his sincerity as a reformer. The United States and Germany “launched an unrestrained anti-Soviet campaign,” he complained.
    In the weeks after Chernobyl, Gorbachev began to shake off his early inertia. At the Politburo meeting July 3, his fury boiled over at the nuclear establishment.
    For 30 years you’ve been telling us that everything was safe. And you expected us to take it as the word of God. This is the root of our problems. Ministries and research centers got out of control, which led to disaster. And, so far, I do not see any signs that you’ve learned your lesson from this… Everything was kept secret from the Central Committee. Its apparat didn’t dare to look into this area. Even decisions about where to build nuclear power stations weren’t made by the leadership. Or decisions about which reactor to employ. The system was plagued by servility, bootlicking, window-dressing…persecution of critics, boasting, favoritism, and clannish management.
    Chernobyl happened and nobody was ready—neither civil defense, nor medical departments, not even the minimum necessary number of radiation counters. The fire brigades don’t know what to do! The next day, people were having weddings not far away from the place. Children were playing outside. The warning system is no good! There was a cloud after the explosion. Did anyone monitor its movement?37
    In Gorbachev’s anger after the disaster, he did not turn the spotlight of blame on the Soviet party or the system itself. Rather, he responded by blaming individuals and finding scapegoats, including the plant operators, who were later put on trial. Gorbachev wanted to shake off the lethargy of the system, not challenge its legitimacy. Yet the inescapable truth was that Chernobyl offered a glimpse of how the Soviet Union was rotting from within. The failures, lassitude and misguided designs that led to the disaster were characteristic of much else. “The great glowing crater at Block 4 had revealed deep cracks in the state,” Volkogonov said. “After the Afghan fiasco, which Gorbachev condemned but which dragged on for another four years, Chernobyl was the next bell tolling for the system.”
    Gorbachev’s emphasis on glasnost, or openness, grew significantly when he finally came to grips with what happened at Chernobyl. The word glasnost eventually became a signature of his reforms, along with perestroika, which referred to the idea of rebuilding society, politics and the economy. At the July 3 Politburo meeting, he declared, “Under no conditions will we hide the truth from the public, either in explaining the causes of the accident nor in dealing with practical issues.” He added, “We cannot be dodging the answers. Keeping things secret would hurt ourselves. Being open is a huge gain for us.” Shevardnadze’s assistant Sergei Tarasenko said Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were shamed by the way the radioactive cloud floating over Europe had revealed what they failed to announce. “For the first time, they understood that you cannot cover up anything,” Tarasenko said. “You can say, ‘Nothing happened there,’ but with radiation you cannot hide it. It will go in the air, and anyone will know it is there.”38 Shevardnadze wrote in his memoirs that Chernobyl “tore the blindfold from our eyes and persuaded us that politics and morals could not diverge.”39
    Akhromeyev, the chief of the General Staff, recalled that Chernobyl changed the entire country’s view of nuclear danger. “After Chernobyl, the nuclear threat stopped being an abstract notion for our people. It became tangible and concrete. The people began to see all the problems linked with nuclear weapons much differently.”40 This was especially true for Gorbachev. In his televised address, he said Chernobyl showed “what an abyss will open if nuclear war befalls mankind. For inherent in the nuclear arsenals stockpiled are thousands upon thousands of disasters far more horrible than the Chernobyl one.” Gorbachev’s words struck some as hollow at the time he spoke, a propaganda diversion from the real crisis of what had just occurred and his bungled response. But once again, as with the January 15 proposal to eliminate nuclear weapons, propaganda reflected what Gorbachev believed. He may well have asked himself, if there were no working dosimeters at Chernobyl, if soldiers lacked proper uniforms, if operators were relying on crossed-out instructions, what would happen to a city hit by a nuclear weapon? The smoldering Chernobyl site held portents more grave.
    “In one moment,” he told the Politburo on May 5, “we felt what a nuclear war is.” In a secret speech at the Foreign Ministry on May 28, which was only published years later, Gorbachev implored the diplomats to make all possible effort “to stop the nuclear arms race.”41
    Thirty-one people were killed as direct casualties of the Chernobyl accident. Twenty-eight died in 1986 due to acute radiation syndrome, two more from injuries unrelated to radiation and one suffered a heart attack. While it is much more difficult to determine long-term cancer mortality from the contamination, one estimate is that up to four thousand additional cancers may have resulted among the six hundred thousand people exposed to higher levels of radiation, such as liquidators, evacuees and residents of the most contaminated areas.42

    Reagan never lost his antipathy to Soviet communism, but now, in early summer of 1986, he wanted to do business with Gorbachev. Reagan mentioned in a letter to Gorbachev that “we have lost a full six months in dealing with the issues which most merit our personal attention.” Suzanne Massie, the author and cultural expert, came to give Reagan her impressions from a recent visit, and reported “the Soviet Union was on the road to collapse,” recalled Shultz, who attended with the president. “There were shortages of everything, and people now realized they had to turn to free enterprise. Chernobyl was of great symbolic importance, she felt: it showed that Soviet science and technology were flawed, that the leadership was lying and out of touch, that the party could not conceal its failures any longer. Chernobyl means ‘wormwood,’ a reference to bitterness and sorrow from the Book of Revelation. There are many biblical allusions in Russia now.”43 While the shortages had been a feature of Soviet life for years, Massie’s description dramatized the situation for Reagan and clearly left a deep impression on him. “She is the greatest student I know of the Russian people,” he wrote that evening.44
    On May 14, the same day as Gorbachev’s televised speech about Chernobyl, Shultz had a long talk with Reagan. He planted a small seed that would grow large in the months ahead. “The Soviets,” he said, “contrary to the Defense Department and the CIA line, are not an omnipotent, omnipresent power gaining ground and threatening to wipe us out.
    On the contrary, we are winning. In fact, we are miles ahead. Their ideology is a loser. They have one thing going for them: military power. But even then they have only one area of genuine comparative advantage—the capacity to develop, produce, and deploy accurate, powerful, mobile land-based ballistic missiles. There’s only one thing the Soviet Union does better than we do: that is to produce and deploy ballistic missiles. And that’s not because they are better at engineering. They’re not…So we must focus on reductions in ballistic missiles. Reductions are the name of the game.45
    Shultz urged Reagan to begin to think about what he would give up at the bargaining table. “This is the moment when our bargaining position is at its strongest.” Shultz wanted to signal to the Soviets that Reagan would trade limits on his Strategic Defense Initiative for deeper cuts in offensive weapons, like ballistic missiles, but Shultz was opposed at every turn by Weinberger, the defense secretary, who urged Reagan not to even hint at compromise of his dream.
    On June 12, Weinberger surprised everyone. At a small, secret meeting in the White House Situation Room, Weinberger made a radical proposal. He suggested that Reagan should ask Gorbachev to eliminate all ballistic missiles. These were the guns of the nuclear age, the fast-flying, no-return, nuclear-tipped weapons that Reagan worried about after he visited Cheyenne Mountain in 1979. It was a radical idea that would go right to the heart of Soviet military strength—the Soviets were most powerful in land-based missiles like the SS-18, while the United States forces were stronger at sea. “Everyone was astonished,” Shultz recalled of the Weinberger proposal. Reagan just smiled. He reflected in his diary that night that the proposal would show whether the Soviets are “for real or just trying for propaganda.”

    Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a nuclear weapon had never been used in combat, but hundreds of explosive tests shook the Earth. Kennedy and Khrushchev halted all tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and in the oceans with the 1963 limited test ban treaty, but underground explosions were frequent. The 1974 threshold test ban treaty limited underground tests to less than 150 kilotons, although it was never ratified. Testing was a subject of constant suspicion; the United States carried out its own secret tests and accused the Soviets of violating the treaties.
    When Gorbachev announced a unilateral Soviet moratorium on testing in 1985, marking forty years since Hiroshima, he challenged the United States to follow suit. Gorbachev hoped the moratorium would crimp research for Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Tests would be needed to develop an effective nuclear-pumped X-ray laser. “If there is no testing, there will be no SDI,” Chernyaev wrote.46 Reagan refused to go along with Gorbachev’s moratorium, saying a test ban could not be effectively verified. Thus, the dispute over “verification,” whether or not a test ban was being observed, became both a scientific and political issue. Reagan had a second reason for refusing to go along with Gorbachev: American designers wanted to test a new generation of warheads that would be able to survive the radiation effects of a nuclear blast.47 Gorbachev’s moratorium was brushed off as propaganda. From 1949 until the start of the moratorium, the Soviet Union had carried out 628 nuclear explosions, 421 of them at the remote Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The United States had carried out its 978th test, code-named Jefferson, just days before Chernobyl.48
    By the spring of 1986, Gorbachev was under pressure from the Soviet nuclear weapons establishment to resume testing. His peace overture, the unilateral moratorium, had borne no results. “It is hard to tell when the new thinking will arrive,” he lamented in a meeting with advisers. “But it will come, and maybe unexpectedly fast.”
    In those exhausting days, Velikhov, the open-minded physicist, once again showed the way. His contacts in the West proved critical. Velikhov knew of Americans outside the U.S. government who were skeptical of Reagan’s policies and who were independent thinkers. One of them was Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University, who was chairman of the Federation of American Scientists. The group was founded in 1945 by atomic scientists concerned about control of the technology they had helped create, and von Hippel practiced what he called “public interest science,” attempting to influence government policy. In the early 1980s, he was caught up in the nuclear freeze movement and sought to provide an analytical basis for some of its initiatives. He had met Velikhov several times at conferences, and they enjoyed brainstorming together.49 Riding together in the back of a bus at a conference in Copenhagen, Velikhov suggested to von Hippel: perhaps independent, nongovernment scientists from the United States could help demonstrate the feasibility of seismic verification, which had deadlocked the superpowers?50
    A similar notion was gaining ground among American scientists. One who was keenly interested in building such a bridge was Thomas B. Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. Cochran, a nuclear specialist who had opposed the U.S. plutonium breeder reactor program in the 1970s, was digging into evidence of secret U.S. nuclear tests. When Reagan came into office, he became interested in branching out from strictly environmental issues. In March 1986, Cochran was attending a Federation of American Scientists conference in Virginia. During a coffee break, he talked with von Hippel about a seismic verification experiment.
    Then, in April, von Hippel was in Moscow and sought out Velikhov. “Do you have any good ideas?” Velikhov asked him, as he always did when he met the Americans. Velikhov was disorganized—von Hippel once found his desk drawer filled with unsorted business cards—but he restlessly sought new ideas. Velikhov and von Hippel decided to hold a workshop in Moscow on seismic monitoring. Three different proposals were aired at the workshop, held in May. A few days after the workshop ended, Velikhov, a vice president of the Academy of Sciences, signed an agreement with Cochran’s group to allow a team to position seismic monitoring equipment adjacent to the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons test site.51 This was one of the Soviet crown jewels, the counterpart to the Nevada Test Site. Velikhov urged Cochran to get back within a month; the test moratorium was scheduled to expire soon. They needed to do something big to help Gorbachev keep the moratorium in place.
    There was just one hitch: Velikhov did not have official permission for the Americans to make the trip to such a secret location. (The Semipalatinsk site was totally closed; during the Cold War, the United States deployed radioactivity-sniffing aircraft and other methods to monitor Soviet weapons tests.) Velikhov took a gamble—if Cochran could somehow show verification was possible, it would strengthen Gorbachev’s hand in prolonging the moratorium.
    The Scripps Institution of Oceanography loaned the first seismic gear, relatively unsophisticated surface monitors. Cochran and his team lugged them to Moscow in early July.52 The plan was to set them up at three locations outside of Semipalatinsk, within 150–200 kilometers from the center of the testing area, but not actually on the site. The Soviets were not conducting tests at the time. Cochran’s goal was simply to show that the Soviets would allow American seismologists to set up stations inside the Soviet Union, record data, and bring it out. This would be immensely symbolic, calling into question the Reagan argument that a test ban could not be verified, and helping support Velikhov’s effort to get Gorbachev to extend the moratorium.53
    The American team arrived in Moscow on July 5, but before they could unpack their equipment, Velikhov ran into trouble.
    “All of our military was completely against it,” Velikhov said. Gorbachev got cold feet and decided to ask the Politburo to rule whether Velikhov could allow the Americans to get close to the secret test site. The Soviet leadership was still struggling with the Chernobyl aftermath. “It was a very, very tense meeting on Chernobyl,” Velikhov recalled. “And after this meeting, everybody was tired, and there was a discussion of Semipalatinsk. Gorbachev was tired, and as usual, he wished somebody else would make this decision, not him. I made the case, but he didn’t give me any indication of strong support.”
    Then, abruptly, two prominent figures turned against Velikhov. They were Dobrynin, the former ambassador to the United States, and Zaikov, the Politburo member for the military-industrial complex. They demanded: Why isn’t the measuring reciprocal? Why are we not putting our equipment in Nevada at the American test site?
    Look, replied Velikhov impatiently, you have it all wrong. Reagan wants to continue testing. We are trying to impose a moratorium. We should help the scientists who will show the world that a test ban can be verified!
    “After the meeting, it was inconclusive,” Velikhov recalled. He had no authority to sign the papers and give permission to Cochran. When the meeting was over, Velikhov was sitting with Gorbachev. What should he do?
    Gorbachev replied, in his maddeningly vague way: “Follow the line of discussion of the meeting.”
    “As I understood it?” Velikhov asked.
    “Yes,” said Gorbachev.
    Velikhov took that to mean “yes.” He gave a green light to Cochran’s team. The only condition, apparently to satisfy the military, was that the American scientists turn off their monitors in the event of any Soviet weapons test. Cochran agreed.54 The team began to set up the first station on July 9. It was an amazing moment, a toe into a closed zone, accomplished by an environmental group, not by the United States government. It demonstrated that scientists could, on their own, break through the Cold War secrecy and mistrust. It also underscored the unusual clout of Velikhov. “Not only his clout,” Cochran said, “but his chutzpah.”55
    When Cochran, von Hippel, Velikhov and other scientists went to Gorbachev’s offices at the Central Committee in Moscow on July 14, they urged him to extend the moratorium. Cochran carried back from the test site the first seismic record, made by a scratchy needle moving across smoked paper fastened to a drum recording device. Pravda played up the meeting in a front-page article the next morning.
    A few days later, on July 18, former president Richard Nixon held a private talk with Gorbachev in Moscow. Gorbachev told Nixon he wanted to send a signal to Reagan: he was eager to move ahead, he would not seek to postpone action until Reagan left office. “In today’s tense atmosphere, it means we cannot afford to wait,” Gorbachev said. Nixon reinforced the idea, saying Reagan was also primed to move. Nixon transmitted the message to Reagan, writing up a twenty-six-page memo for the president on his return.
    On July 25, Reagan sent Gorbachev a seven-page formal letter, an outgrowth of the meeting at which Weinberger had proposed eliminating all ballistic missiles. The language of the Reagan letter was convoluted. It proposed that either the United States or the Soviet Union could research missile defense, and if they succeeded in creating it, would share, but only if both sides also agreed on a radical idea: “eliminate the offensive ballistic missiles of both sides.” If they didn’t agree to share-and-eliminate, then either side could, after six months, build missile defense on its own. Thus, Reagan had taken his dream of missile defense and hammered it together with Weinberger’s improbable proposal to get rid of the missiles.
    On testing, Reagan firmly refused to stop.

    On August 18, Gorbachev once again extended the Soviet nuclear-testing moratorium. Velikhov’s efforts had paid off. But Gorbachev was restless. When he went on vacation at the end of the month, Gorbachev was accompanied by Chernyaev, his national security adviser, as a one-man staff. They sat on the veranda or in Gorbachev’s office before lunch, reviewed the cables and made telephone calls to Moscow. Gorbachev asked the Foreign Ministry to provide an outline of ideas for the next meeting with Reagan. When the document came from Moscow, the suggestions were dry repetitions of what had been offered at the stalled arms control negotiations in Geneva.
    Gorbachev threw it on the table. “What do you think?” he asked Chernyaev.
    “It’s no good,” Chernyaev replied.
    “Simply crap!” Gorbachev said.
    Gorbachev asked Chernyaev to draft a letter to Reagan inviting him to a summit very soon, suggesting one venue might be Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, perhaps in September or October. When Chernyaev asked why Reykjavik, Gorbachev said, “It’s a good idea. Halfway between us and them, and none of the big powers will be offended.”56 Shevardnadze subsequently took the invitation to Washington on September 19. In the letter, Gorbachev offered a choice of London or Iceland; Reagan agreed to Iceland. The letter proposed “a quick one-on-one meeting… maybe just for one day, to engage in a strictly confidential, private and frank discussion (possibly only with our foreign ministers present).”57 Gorbachev said the talk “would not be a detailed one,” but designed to prepare a few issues for a later summit agreement. Reagan wrote in his diary, “This would be preparatory to a Summit.”58
    But what was going through Gorbachev’s mind was something far more ambitious. He began to plan for a grand overture. He wanted to move very far, and fast. In their private discussion and memos, Gorbachev and Chernyaev plotted a dramatic turning point in the arms race. The summit must bring “major, sweeping proposals” to the fore, Chernyaev wrote. On September 22, Gorbachev told the Politburo he was willing to consider releasing twenty-five dissidents on a list demanded by Reagan, a move to assuage the president.59 In early October, a paper on the summit came to Gorbachev from Akhromeyev and others, offering guidelines for what Gorbachev should do. Gorbachev rejected it; he wanted to be bolder.60 Chernyaev offered his views to Gorbachev, which captured the mood: “The main goal of Reykjavik, if I understood you correctly in the South, is to sweep Reagan off his feet by our bold, even ‘risky’ approach to the central problems of world politics.”61 Chernyaev urged Gorbachev to make strategic weapons—missiles, bombers, submarines—his main topic, seeking a 50 percent reduction. Gorbachev agreed on the need for sweeping change, but did not want to get bogged down in arithmetic. “Our main goal now is to prevent the arms race from entering a new stage,” he said. “If we don’t do that, the danger to us will increase. If we don’t back down on some specific, maybe important issues, if we don’t budge from the positions we’ve held for a long time, we will lose in the end. We will be drawn into an arms race that we cannot manage. We will lose, because right now we are at the end of our tether.”
    By contrast, Reagan approached the Reykjavik meeting casually, without any of the careful study he had applied before Geneva. There was no precooked agenda, as in previous summits. The Americans had little inkling of what Gorbachev was planning. Shultz wrote Reagan on October 2 that arms control would be central, but the Soviets “are largely talking from our script.” A Soviet specialist at the State Department wrote a two-page memo that opened: “We go into Reykjavik next week with very little knowledge of how Gorbachev intends to use the meeting.” Poindexter wrote “talking points” that he gave to Reagan, including “anticipate no substantive agreements per se,” and “meeting is in no sense a substitute or a surrogate for a summit.”62
    But in Moscow, in his instructions to his summit aides October 4, Gorbachev was once again clear and direct about his ambitions—they were sky high. He talked about finding something to offer Reagan with “breakthrough potential,” and at the top of Gorbachev’s list was “the liquidation of nuclear weapons.” As a more immediate goal, he wanted to be rid of the arms race in European missiles, to remove the threat of the fast-flying Pershing Ils. “In our mind we must hold the priority task to kick the Pershing Ils out of Europe,” he said. “This is a gun at our temple.”
    Gorbachev mentioned “liquidation of nuclear weapons” repeatedly.
    He also told the aides he had a strategy. He would push for bold achievements, and “if Reagan does not meet us halfway, we will tell the whole world about this. That’s the plan.”
    “If we fail, then we can say—Look, here’s what we are prepared to do!”
    Reagan and Gorbachev met at Hofdi House, an isolated, two-story white structure overlooking the bay with a reputation for being haunted—it had been sold by the British ambassador in 1952 after pictures kept falling inexplicably off the walls. The North Atlantic weather cast cold, driving rain squalls—and brief splashes of brilliant sunshine—across the city on Saturday, October 11. Reagan and Gorbachev met at 10:40 A.M., sitting in brown leather armchairs opposite a small table in a room on the first floor, with a window on the gray and turbulent sea just beyond, and, on another wall, a dark blue oil painting, a seascape of waves crashing onto the rocks. In their initial meeting alone, Reagan repeated his favorite Russian proverb, “trust, but verify,” and Gorbachev wasted no time telling Reagan that the arms negotiations were stalled and they needed to give them an “impulse.” Suddenly, there was an awkward moment. Reagan dropped his note cards. Gorbachev deflected the embarrassment by suggesting they invite their foreign ministers to join them; Shultz and Shevardnadze entered the room. Shultz remembered the scene: “Gorbachev was brisk, impatient and confident, with the air of a man who is setting the agenda and taking charge of the meeting. Ronald Reagan was relaxed, disarming in a pensive way, and with an easy manner.”
    Gorbachev launched into his dramatic proposals right at the outset. He proposed a 50 percent reduction in what he called “strategic offensive arms,” a very broad definition that could cover many weapons. He pledged the Soviets would accept deep cuts in the giant land-based missiles. He proposed to eliminate all medium-range missiles in Europe, including the Pioneers and the Pershing IIs. He called for “full and final prohibition of nuclear testing.” Gorbachev proposed that both sides promise for ten years to stick by the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty. This would put restraints on Reagan’s dream: research on missile defense would have to be confined to the laboratory.63
    Reagan then replied to Gorbachev rather formally, reading from his cards. They used consecutive translation, which meant each remark was translated after it was spoken, which took time. Reagan’s presentation repeated the idea in his July 25 letter that once his Strategic Defense Initiative was ready, he would share it, and the ABM treaty would disappear, replaced by a new agreement, while both sides would reach “total elimination of strategic missiles.” From this very first exchange, Reagan clung tenaciously to his vision.
    At the first break, “excitement was in the air,” Shultz said. He realized that Gorbachev had offered extraordinary and unexpected concessions. “He was laying gifts at our feet,” Shultz said. Shultz and other U.S. officials crowded into the secure “bubble” at the embassy, a small, vaultlike soundproof enclosure. Reagan then joined them, joking, “Why did Gorbachev have more papers than I did?” Nitze said, “This is the best Soviet proposal we have received in 25 years.”
    In the afternoon session, Reagan and Gorbachev debated the 50 percent cut in weapons. Gorbachev wanted a simple 50 percent slash, while Reagan was worried that it would still leave the Soviets with advantages. But their talk was businesslike, and Gorbachev passed to Reagan a data sheet of Soviet weapons. “Let us cut this in half,” he said. “You are troubled by our SS-18 heavy missiles, and they will be reduced by 50 percent.” They agreed to leave the details to their staffs to hammer out overnight. Then Reagan returned to his missile defense dream. He told Gorbachev that it would “make missiles obsolete,” and “provide a guarantee against the actions of any madman,” and is “the best possibility for ensuring peace in our century.” Gorbachev took the lecture in stride, but he had heard it all before, and Reagan was giving no ground at all on Gorbachev’s demand to keep the research in the laboratory.
    Gorbachev’s temper flared, and he warned Reagan that if he built the Strategic Defense Initiative, there would be a Soviet response—an “asymmetrical” one. He did not say what it would be, only that it would be “different.”
    Reagan apparently did not realize that Gorbachev, in talking about a response, was contemplating a massive, offensive assault of nuclear warheads to overwhelm Reagan’s defenses. Rather, Reagan imagined Gorbachev’s system as something benign, like his own. “If you find that you have something a little better, then perhaps you could share it with us,” Reagan suggested.
    “Excuse me, Mr. President,” Gorbachev replied sternly, “but I do not take your idea of sharing SDI seriously. You don’t want to share even petroleum equipment, automatic machine tools or equipment for dairies, while sharing SDI would be a second American revolution. And revolutions don’t occur all that often. Let’s be realistic.”
    They decided to continue the next day, Sunday, which had not been part of the original plan—and ordered their staffs to work all night on compromises.64
    Shultz later recalled that “the whole nature of the meeting we had planned at Reykjavik had changed.” Instead of a quick meeting, it was now becoming a full-scale summit. Through the night, American and Soviet officials sought common ground. The conditions were trying; without photocopying machines, they used carbon paper. Two U.S. officials, Colonel Bob Linhard of the National Security Council staff, and Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense, had nowhere else to work, so they put a board on a bathtub and got down to business. One of the surprises of the marathon overnight talks was that the U.S. officials for the first time got to know Akhromeyev, the chief of the General Staff who had pledged to help Gorbachev, and they found him to be a formidable negotiator. At one point, in an informal moment, Akhromeyev told Shultz, “I’m the last of the Mohicans.” When Shultz asked what he meant, Akhromeyev said he was the last active Soviet commander who had fought the Nazis in World War II. Shultz then asked him where he had learned the phrase. “In boyhood,” Akhromeyev said. “I was raised on the adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper.” Shultz recalled that Akhromeyev seemed “far more at ease with himself, more open, more ready for real conversation” than earlier Soviet negotiators.65
    By morning, as a result of the dramatic all-night conversations, breathtaking agreements to slash nuclear arsenals were drafted on paper. If the summit had just stopped there, if the two leaders had signed the papers, it would have been the climactic turnaround of the arms race. The Euromissiles would be dismantled except for one hundred on each side, and long-range or strategic weapons cut by 50 percent, a stupendous achievement when compared with the strategic arms treaties negotiated by Nixon and Carter. The 1972 SALT I accord, for example, had only put a freeze on missile launchers; now Reagan was slicing into the metal of the feared SS-18. Reagan agreed to negotiations on a nuclear test ban, too.
    “We were getting amazing agreements,” Reagan later wrote in his memoirs. “As the day wore on, I felt something momentous was occurring.”66
    But then Gorbachev turned up the heat. “Now I am testing you,” Gorbachev said, as he insisted they take up missile defense. He told Reagan that he wasn’t demanding that he abandon his dream, just keep it in the laboratory. This meant Reagan could “show the idea is alive, that we are not burying it,” Gorbachev said. But Reagan would not budge. “The genie is already out of the bottle. Offensive weapons can be built again. I propose creating protection for the world for future generations, when you and I will no longer be here.”
    Gorbachev begged for a concession. “As the American saying goes, it takes two to tango,” he insisted.
    Soon, perhaps out of fatigue, the two leaders began to shadow-box with their old slogans. Reagan brought out his Marx and Lenin aphorisms, and Gorbachev replied disdainfully, “So you are talking about Marx and Lenin again.” For his part, Gorbachev bristled at the memory of Reagan’s 1982 speech at Westminster, and the prediction that the Soviet Union would wind up on the ash heap of history. “I will tell you, that is quite a terrifying philosophy,” Gorbachev said. “What does it mean politically, make war against us?”
    “No,” Reagan replied.
    Then, almost as quickly, they gave up and turned back to the danger of nuclear weapons. Reagan launched a defense of his dream. “It appears at this point that I am the oldest man here,” Reagan said. “And I understand that after the war the nations decided they would renounce poison gases. But thank God that the gas mask continued to exist. Something similar can happen with nuclear weapons. And we will have a shield against them in any case.”
    Exasperated, Gorbachev concluded, “The president of the United States does not like to retreat.” He seemed resigned to failure. “I see that the possibilities of agreement are exhausted.”
    They didn’t give up, however. Gorbachev hammered away at the idea of keeping missile defense confined to the laboratory. Reagan was alternately insistent and unfocused. He told Gorbachev, “I can imagine both of us in ten years getting together again in Iceland to destroy the last Soviet and American missiles under triumphant circumstances. By then I’ll be so old that you won’t even recognize me. And you will ask in surprise, ‘Hey, Ron, is that really you? What are you doing here?’ And we’ll have a big celebration over it.”
    “I don’t know whether I will live till that time,” Gorbachev said.
    “I know I will,” Reagan replied.
    During a break, Shultz attempted to craft new language in an effort to keep alive the hope of some kind of agreement. Reagan offered it to Gorbachev: a ten-year commitment to the ABM treaty, during which there would be “research, development and testing” of missile defenses.
    Gorbachev immediately saw what was missing. The new formula omitted any mention of the word laboratory. Was it done on purpose? Yes, Reagan said.
    Reagan also proposed two five-year periods for weapons elimination—exactly the same time frame as Gorbachev had suggested in January. But in Reagan’s version, there would be a 50 percent cut in “strategic offensive arms” in the first five years and the remaining 50 percent of “offensive ballistic missiles” in the second. Gorbachev said, correctly, the two five-year periods each eliminated a different category of weapon—how could that make sense? The first phase was all strategic arms, the second phase was only missiles. These were obviously different categories. “There is some kind of confusion here.” Indeed there was. The U.S. draft had been inexact in an effort to satisfy both sides.
    Reagan was also confused. “What I want to know is, will all offensive ballistic missiles be eliminated?” he asked.
    Gorbachev suggested that in the second phase, the wording should say “strategic offensive weapons, including ballistic missiles.” Perhaps they could improve the language later on, he said.
    Then Reagan suddenly took everything further than it had ever gone before. An incredible moment in the history of the Cold War arrived abruptly, without any warning, without preparation, without briefing papers or interagency process, without press conferences or speeches, in the small room overlooking the bay.
    “Let me ask this,” Reagan inquired. “Do we have in mind—and I think it would be very good—that by the end of the two five-year periods all nuclear explosive devices would be eliminated, including bombs, battlefield systems, cruise missiles, submarine weapons, intermediate-range systems, and so on?”
    Gorbachev: “We could say that, list all those weapons.”
    Shultz: “Then let’s do it.”
    Reagan’s proposal was, by any measure, the most concrete, far-reaching disarmament initiative by a U.S. president ever to be formally submitted in a superpower summit negotiation. It was not a throwaway line. If earlier he had talked about eliminating ballistic missiles, or been imprecise or cloudy about what was under discussion, at this moment he swept away any doubts and clearly proposed total nuclear disarmament. There was no confusion. Reagan had reached the very core of his beliefs at the very peak of his power.
    But Reagan and Gorbachev did not take out a paper and sign it at that moment. It was a huge missed opportunity.
    Gorbachev, while saying there was a chance for such an agreement, again insisted that research on missile defense must be confined to the laboratory. “The question of laboratories is of fundamental importance.”
    Reagan refused, saying his aim was “to make a kind of gas mask against nuclear missiles” and a system to protect against “the danger of nuclear maniacs.”
    Gorbachev: “Yes, I’ve heard all about gas masks and maniacs, probably ten times already. But it still does not convince me.” He added, again, that he only wanted to keep missile defense research in the laboratory.
    Reagan: “You’re destroying all my bridges to continuation of my SDI program.”
    Gorbachev: “In regard to laboratories, is that your final position? If so, we can end our meeting at this point.”
    Reagan: “Yes it is.”
    More verbal jousting followed, with no progress. Gorbachev appealed to Reagan’s sense of history. If they could sign an agreement containing all the Soviet concessions, “you will become, without exaggeration, a great president. You are now literally two steps from that.” If they could sign, Gorbachev pleaded with Reagan, “it will mean our meeting has been a success.” And if not, “then let’s part at this point and forget about Reykjavik. But there won’t be another opportunity like this. At any rate, I know I won’t have one.”
    Both men seem to have sensed their historic moment was slipping through their fingers.
    “Are you really going to turn down a historic opportunity for the sake of one word in the text?” Reagan demanded. The word was “laboratory.”
    “You say that it’s just a matter of one word,” Gorbachev shot back. “But it’s not a matter of one word, it’s a matter of principle.” If he went back to Moscow having allowed Reagan to deploy his missile defense, Gorbachev added, “they will call me a fool and irresponsible leader.”
    “Now it’s a matter of one word,” Reagan lamented. “I want to ask you once more to change your viewpoint, to do it as a favor to me so that we can go to the people as peacemakers.”
    “We cannot go along with what you propose,” Gorbachev responded. “If you will agree to banning tests in space, we will sign the document in two minutes. We cannot go along with something else… I have done everything I could.” Shultz recalled that Gorbachev said, “It’s ‘laboratory,’ or good-bye.”
    Reagan passed a note to Shultz: “Am I wrong?” Shultz whispered back, “No, you are right.”
    Reagan stood up to go and gathered up his papers, as did Gorbachev, according to Shultz. “It was dark when the doors of Hofdi House opened and we all emerged, almost blinded by the klieg lights. The looks on our faces spoke volumes,” Shultz recalled. “Sad, disappointed faces,” said Chernyaev.
    “I still feel we can find a deal,” Reagan said to Gorbachev as they parted.
    “I don’t think you want a deal,” Gorbachev replied. “I don’t know what more I could have done.”
    “You could have said ‘yes,’” Reagan said.
    “We won’t be seeing each other again,” Gorbachev said, meaning that they would not see each other again in Reykjavik. The remark was overheard and set off a rumor that the talks had failed terribly.
    Shultz joined Reagan back in the residence, where the president and his top advisers slumped in easy chairs in the solarium. “Bad news. One lousy word!” Reagan said.67
    That evening, he summed it up briskly in his diary. “He wanted language that would have killed SDI,” Reagan wrote. “The price was high but I wouldn’t sell & that’s how the day ended. All our people thought I’d done exactly right. I’d pledged I wouldn’t give away SDI & I didn’t but that meant no deal on any of the arms reductions. I was mad—he tried to act jovial but I acted mad and it showed. Well the ball is in his court and I’m convinced he’ll come around when he sees how the world is reacting.”68
    “I was very disappointed—and very angry,” Reagan recalled years later in his memoirs.
    Gorbachev was also fuming. “My first, overwhelming, intention had been to blow the unyielding American position to smithereens, carrying out the plan we had decided in Moscow: if the Americans rejected the agreement, a compromise in the name of peace, we would denounce the U.S. administration and its dangerous policies as a threat to everyone around the world.” Chernyaev later noted this was the Politburo’s instructions to Gorbachev: to come out blasting Reagan if the Americans refused to give the Soviets what they wanted.
    But as Gorbachev walked to a press conference, he was unsure. Had they not accomplished a lot, even if they failed to reach a final agreement?
    “My intuition was telling me I should cool off and think it all over thoroughly. I had not yet made up my mind when I suddenly found myself in the enormous press conference room. About a thousand journalists were waiting for us. When I came into the room, the merciless, often cynical and cheeky journalists were waiting for us. I sensed anxiety in the air. I suddenly felt emotional, even shaken. These people standing in front of me seemed to represent mankind waiting for its fate to be decided.”
    In another dramatic turn, Gorbachev decided not to follow his instructions from the Politburo. He decided not to smash Reagan to smithereens, and instead he sounded optimistic.
    “We have already reached accord on much,” he told the journalists. “We have come a long way.”69

—————  12  —————

    When George Shultz entered the pressroom on the evening of October 12, 1986, in Reykjavik, the secretary of state had disappointment etched in his face. Shultz opened his remarks with a strained voice. Max Kampelman, one of the American negotiators, was nearly in tears. The two leaders had come so close to a deal—and then departed empty-handed. The Washington Post carried a two-line banner headline the next morning: “Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Talks Collapse as Deadlock on SDI Wipes Out Other Gains.” Lou Cannon of the Post wrote that the summit ended “gloomily” and Gorbachev was described as giving a “bleak assessment” of the prospects for the future. But in capturing the drama of the moment, the press corps failed to grasp the long-term significance. Reagan and Gorbachev had debated, negotiated and in some cases reached agreement on the most sweeping disarmament proposals of the nuclear age. Both men realized very quickly they had reached a turning point in the Cold War. “Let us not despair,” Gorbachev told Chernyaev on the plane home to Moscow, saying he was still a big optimist.1
    Gorbachev reported to the Politburo two days later that the negotiating positions of the past had been “buried” once and for all. “A totally new situation has emerged,” he said, a “new, more elevated plateau from which we now have to begin a struggle for liquidation and complete ban on nuclear arms… This is a strong position. It reflects new thinking.”2 Chernyaev quoted Gorbachev as saying in the weeks that followed: “Before, we were talking about limitations on nuclear arms. Now we are talking about their reduction and elimination.”3
    Yet for all his optimism, Gorbachev knew a huge opportunity had been missed at Reykjavik. Not a single nuclear warhead had yet been dismantled, not a single treaty had been signed. Gorbachev needed results—and he felt time was slipping away. His dreams of nuclear disarmament were driven by very genuine fears of the danger. But there were other, pragmatic reasons, too. His tentative efforts at perestroika had failed to improve Soviet living conditions, and a gathering storm loomed over the economy. Oil prices tumbled in 1986, and so did hard currency revenues. The country was forced to import grain and meat and borrow heavily from abroad. A huge budget deficit opened up. Gorbachev acknowledged at a Politburo meeting: “Now the situation has us all by the throat.”4
    The overriding goal for Gorbachev was to transform the Reykjavik summit talk into concrete gains that might alleviate the military burden. Gorbachev seized the brake handles on the hurtling locomotive and threw himself into bringing about real change. Internal documents and evidence from memoirs suggest that it was not at all evident to the generals, or the weapons builders, or the old guard in the leadership, how radical a turnabout Gorbachev was contemplating after Reykjavik. After Gorbachev’s report to the Politburo, the ruling body acted cautiously. They issued an instruction to the military to prepare for possible deep cuts in strategic arms. But at the same time, the Politburo considered it entirely possible the Soviet Union would remain locked in Cold War competition, that there would be no deep cuts and they would have to retaliate against Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, “especially its outer space components.” For all Gorbachev’s enthusiasm, they thought, the arms race might not end soon.5
    Although the Politburo members did not see where Gorbachev was headed, Akhromeyev, the chief of the General Staff, most certainly did. Akhromeyev was above reproach by the military elite for his long service to the country, and he gave Gorbachev the cover and legitimacy he needed to attempt a radical farewell to arms.
    In 1986, after helping Gorbachev with the January 15 proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons, Akhromeyev concluded that it was time to create a new Soviet military doctrine to match Gorbachev’s era.
    The military doctrine was the foundation of all the assumptions, goals and preparations of the sprawling Soviet defense machine, from frontline troops to the General Staff, from research institutes to arms factories. The old doctrine declared that the United States and NATO were the main adversaries of the Soviet Union; that the Soviet Union must strive for parity with the West in weapons. In the late autumn and early winter of 1986, Akhromeyev tore up the old doctrine. This was an excruciatingly difficult moment for him, requiring a reversal of all he had been taught. “The doctrine that had existed before 1986 was an indisputable truth for me and the General Staff,” he recalled. “It was bequeathed to us by the World War II commanders… who taught and molded me and people like me, whose names we pronounce when we take an oath to serve our Fatherland! How can all this be changed? Everything I had been taught for many years in the academies, on maneuvers. To change things I myself had been teaching to the younger generation of generals and officers, for many years already. A substantial segment of our military experience, theory and practice was being ditched.”
    Just after Reykjavik, Akhromeyev delivered a lecture on the new doctrine at the Academy of the General Staff in Moscow, where the best and brightest officers studied. He spoke to an elite audience, which included military specialists, professors and strategists. The changes were stark. While the United States would still be the main adversary, Akhromeyev said, “we are prepared to dismantle the mechanism of military confrontation with the United States and NATO in Europe.” While a war would still be contemplated with nuclear and conventional weapons, he said, “we stand for complete liquidation of nuclear weapons in the world.” Instead of striving for parity, he said, the Soviet Union would reduce its forces, either by agreement or unilaterally if necessary.
    “While I was speaking, there was absolute silence in the hall,” Akhromeyev recalled. “The faces reflected incomprehension, bewilderment and alarm.” When he was finished, “all restraints broke loose. The decorum of our military scientists was gone! Many of them seemed to forget that it was the head of the General Staff who was speaking to them. Accusations just short of treason were hurled at me. A number of points of the report were called erroneous and unacceptable.” What had taken months for Akhromeyev to think over was delivered in about ninety minutes. “One could understand why they were in a state of shock,” he said. “I had to answer questions for another two hours.”6
    A grand retreat had begun.

    Right after the Reykjavik summit, Reagan was at the top of his game. In a nationally televised speech October 13 and in campaign appearances across the country before the November election, Reagan launched one of the most extraordinary—and persuasive—public relations campaigns of his presidency. He boasted that he had stood up to Gorbachev. On the campaign trail, he evoked enthusiastic cheers from audiences when he declared that at Iceland, “I just said, ‘No!’” Reagan portrayed his refusal to give up the Strategic Defense Initiative as a triumph, even though SDI did not even exist.
    Soon, however, Reagan was plunged into a season of troubles. Serious questions were raised about what was actually said at Hofdi House. Gorbachev noted in a televised speech from Moscow on October 22 that he and Reagan had agreed to the complete elimination of all strategic offensive weapons by 1996.7 This seemed to differ from Reagan’s claim, in his own televised speech after the summit, that he had discussed elimination of all ballistic missiles in ten years.8 In an embarrassing moment for Reagan, the Soviets made public part of their note takers’ minutes of the summit, showing that in fact Reagan had discussed elimination of all strategic weapons. The White House reluctantly acknowledged that Gorbachev was right, saying it was a goal, not a proposal. Reagan was lambasted by critics for sloppy handling of nuclear policy. Next, it turned out he had gone to Reykjavik without consulting the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., about the sweeping proposals made to Gorbachev, nor had anyone reported back to the nation’s military leaders about what happened at Reykjavik. The joint chiefs were apparently never notified of Reagan’s July 25 letter containing the Weinberger formula for “zero ballistic missiles.” After the summit, Crowe asked the other service chiefs what they thought. “The unanimous answer was that from a national security perspective it was completely unacceptable. The chiefs were quite disturbed,” he recalled. Crowe lost sleep for several nights worrying about how to proceed.
    Although Crowe feared he would lose his job, he decided to speak up at the White House National Security Planning Group meeting October 27. It was unusual for a military man to rise at such a meeting, but Crowe delivered a four-page statement. “Mr. President,” he said, “we have concluded that the proposal to eliminate all ballistic missiles within 10 years time would pose high risks to the security of the nation.” This was a bombshell—the nation’s top soldier telling the president he had risked the nation’s security by giving away too much. Crowe waited for the reaction.9
    “Admiral,” the president said, “I really love the U.S. military. I have always loved it. Those young men and women do a wonderful job for our country, and everywhere I go I tell people how proud I am of our armed forces.” The meeting ended.
    “If the president was angry, it was not obvious to me,” Crowe recalled later. “If he had heard my remarks, it was not obvious to me. If he simply did not wish to respond, that was not clear to me either. Nor did I know where the controversial proposal stood now.” Reagan had not only heard Crowe, but thought he had answered him. That night in his diary, Reagan wrote, “The Joint Chiefs wanted reassurances that we were aware of the imbalance with the Soviets in conventional arms & how that would be aggravated by reduction in nuclear weapons. We were able to assure them we were very much aware & that this matter would have to be negotiated with the Soviets in any nuclear arms reduction negotiations.”10 Once again, Reagan kept his eye on the very big picture and blithely skipped over the unpleasant details.
    On November 4, Republicans lost the Senate majority they had held for six years. And in the weeks and months that followed, Reagan was engulfed by the biggest scandal of his presidency. The Iran-Contra affair centered on secret operations, run in part out of the White House National Security Council, in which the United States sold missiles and missile parts to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and then diverted some of the proceeds from the arms sales to help the Nicaraguan contras, circumventing a ban on aid imposed by Congress. The scandal went to the heart of a contradiction in Reagan’s thinking. In rhetoric, he stood tall on principles and pledged never to make deals with terrorists or the states that backed them. But in private, he could be deeply moved by individual human suffering, and sold the weapons to Iran out of his emotional reaction to appeals from the families of the American captives. The diversion of aid to the contras also reflected the wild and woolly side of the CIA under Casey, which seemed eager to launch swashbuckling covert wars against communism on every continent, blatantly disregarding laws passed by Congress. The scandal caused Reagan’s popularity at home to drop suddenly in late 1986 and early 1987. His presidency went into a deep freeze.

    Gorbachev was puzzled and irritated. He thought he had put Reagan in a box at the summit. He had made an irresistible all-or-nothing offer, and he was sure Reagan would come around to accept it. Gorbachev repeatedly called it the “package”: concessions on the intermediate-range missiles and on the long-range weapons must be contingent on limiting the Strategic Defense Initiative. “We will stand on this, firmly,” Gorbachev confidently told the Politburo on October 14. “We do not need any cheap tricks, only the package.” But to Gorbachev’s consternation, Reagan gave no signs of flexibility in the weeks after the summit. “What is it that America wants?” Gorbachev asked at the Politburo on October 30. “I have more and more doubts about whether we can achieve anything at all with this administration.”11
    Gorbachev also had his own troubles, especially the war in Afghanistan.12 The war had become a morass for the Soviets, and provided a fresh test of whether Gorbachev could withdraw from the military burdens he inherited. On November 13, 1986, a restless Gorbachev told the Politburo he wanted to get out of Afghanistan. “We must not waste time!” he said. “We have been fighting for six years! Some say, if we continue the same way, it may be going on for another 20 or 30 years. And this is what’s going to happen. People have raised the question: are we going to stay there forever? Or should we end this war? If we don’t it will be a complete disgrace. Our strategic goal is to wrap up the war in one, maximum two years, and pull out the troops.”
    Yet, as Chernyaev recalled later, “We carried the heavy burden of Afghanistan into the new year. For all of Gorbachev’s determination to end the war… no significant steps were yet taken. And this, like the aftermath of Chernobyl, was a huge weight on all his further reform activities. It greatly restricted his freedom of political and economic maneuver, including his efforts to realize the idea of Reykjavik.”13
    Another setback for Gorbachev came on his nuclear testing moratorium. The Soviet test sites had been silent for eighteen months, but the United States refused to join, and conducted some twenty tests during the period. The moratorium was good for propaganda, but it brought Gorbachev no tangible results. The Soviet nuclear weapons establishment was eager to resume explosions. On December 18, Gorbachev threw in the towel. The Soviet Union announced it would resume testing in 1987, right after the next American weapons test. Gorbachev was discouraged by having to give up one of his cherished initiatives, and dispirited at the continued signs of backsliding by Reagan on other issues.14 Gorbachev said the Iran-Contra scandal “pushes them to do it in order to save the president.” He worried about more surprises from Reagan. “We are dealing with political dregs,” he said. “One can expect anything from them.”
    In December, Gorbachev approved the new military doctrine Akhromeyev had forged, but he heard grumbling from the military. “We should not become like the generals, who are trying to scare us,” Gorbachev said. “They are already hissing among themselves: what kind of leadership do we have? ‘They are destroying the defense of the country.’ They say that Ogarkov is very upset. To him it is just give, give more. Cannons should be longer!”15

    With small steps, those around Gorbachev began slowly to reverse the secrecy and deceit so deeply woven into the hypermilitarized Soviet system. Fresh streams of candor began to run through the corridors of the Kremlin. The new thinking—honest, but still cautious—was evident in the detailed reference papers that Vitaly Katayev prepared for his superiors in the Central Committee defense department, especially Lev Zaikov, the Politburo member in charge of the military-industrial complex. The style of the typewritten reports reflects Katayev’s precision and background as an engineer: three neat columns across, often many pages long, each row addressing a new issue, or question. At the top, he typed “S P R A V K A,” or information.
    On December 24, 1986, Katayev finished another spravka that showed he was candid—at least to his bosses in the system—about shortcomings in the Soviet military machine. In this document, Katayev carefully dissected the points in a speech made in San Francisco four weeks earlier by Gates, the deputy CIA director. Gates claimed that a radar station being constructed north of Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, violated the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, a charge the United States had made before in the glossy annual booklet Soviet Military Power.16 The Americans claimed the station could be used for “battle management” of a nationwide anti-missile system. This was not the case. The Soviets claimed the radar was for civilian space tracking. This was also not true. In fact, it was a permitted type of radar for early warning against missile attack, but the Soviets had put it in a prohibited location. The treaty said that early-warning radars could only be built around the periphery of a country, facing outward. The Soviet leaders had put this radar station inland, 1,669 miles from the Pacific Ocean and nearly five hundred miles north of the border with Mongolia, clearly not at the perimeter. The radar antenna faced northeast, too, which was not exactly outward. The real reason it faced this way was to plug another Soviet shortcoming, a hole in the early-warning network—to watch out for American missiles coming from submarines in the northern Pacific Ocean. Katayev candidly acknowledged the Soviet violation in his spravka: “The building of the radar in the city of Krasnoyarsk indeed contradicts the Article 6b of the ABM Treaty because the antenna curtain is oriented toward the inside of the territory.” Although Katayev had admitted it internally, it was a violation the Soviets would not acknowledge publicly for more than two years.
    On another point in the speech in San Francisco, Gates warned that the Soviet Union was “laying the foundation” for a nationwide missile defense system, which would be prohibited by the treaty, and pursuing advanced technology to do it, such as laser, particle beam, kinetic energy and microwave electronics. This argument was often made by U.S. officials to build support for the Strategic Defense Initiative. But it was hype. Katayev wrote in his spravka the Soviets were in fact way behind the level of technology suggested by Gates. The alarmist charges were greatly exaggerated. The most advanced Soviet research on laser and other exotic technology “are at the initial stage of laboratory stand experiments,” he said. Prototypes of such weapons could not be created any sooner than the year 2000. The Soviets were unable to shoot down anything with a laser.17
    Another important voice for glasnost, and against the long tradition of military secrecy, was Velikhov, the open-minded physicist and adviser to Gorbachev. In January 1987, four weeks after Katayev’s spravka, Velikhov came up with an idea. He wrote to the Central Committee defense department—Katayev’s office—proposing to challenge the misleading American statements about Soviet laser weapons. A showcase nuclear disarmament conference was scheduled for later in the month in Moscow, and Velikhov was one of the organizers. Scientists, celebrities and antinuclear activists were being brought in from all around the world. Velikhov suggested: what if Gorbachev himself announced at the conference that the Soviet Union would open up the top-secret test facility at Sary Shagan that was so often at the center of American propaganda? What if the Americans were invited to see for themselves that Gates and Soviet Military Power were wrong? Velikhov suggested that a group of five to eight American scientists and journalists be taken on a “spontaneous” four-hour visit. Contrary to American claims about the lasers, their actual power was “thousands of times less than required” for shooting down missiles, he said. “There exists a complete and unique chance to demonstrate the false nature of the official American claims,” Velikhov insisted. “An exposure of the lie with one concrete example may have big political consequences.”
    Velikhov was a vice president of the Academy of Sciences, and his proposal immediately commanded the attention of top security and defense officials, including Zaikov, Akhromeyev and the head of the KGB, Viktor Chebrikov. A staff report dumped cold water on Velikhov’s idea, saying the American visitors would quickly realize the Soviet equipment was really quite old. The two lasers at the complex were experimental samples using components from the early 1970s, the staff report said. The visiting scientists and journalists might think the Soviets were insincere, or covering up something, the report added. Akhromeyev worried that the Americans—seeing the size of buildings and the nature of the test range—might try to prove that the Soviets were planning to build missile defenses in the future. There was also worry that the visitors might see a secret project called “Gamma” to build an anti-satellite weapon in the future. In fact, Gamma never materialized. The only thing to hide at Sary Shagan was the painful truth: Soviet technology was way behind.
    On February 12, the Central Committee answered Velikhov: proposal rejected. No Americans could see the secret test range. But Velikhov had opened the door a crack, and did not give up.

    Another key moment in Gorbachev’s drive for change came December 16, 1986, when he telephoned Andrei Sakharov, who was watching television with his wife, Yelena Bonner. Sakharov, the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner and dissident physicist who had helped design the Soviet hydrogen bomb, was banished to Gorky in 1980 without trial for speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Soviet human rights violations. Reagan had raised the question of Sakharov in a letter to Gorbachev delivered at the Reykjavik summit. Gorbachev did not want to seem to be under pressure, but in December he told Sakharov on the phone, “You can return to Moscow.” Sakharov stepped off the train in Moscow at the Yaroslavl station on December 23.
    In February, Sakharov appeared in public for the first time since his return, attending the international disarmament conference, “The Forum for a Nuclear-Free World and the Survival of Mankind.” The conference was jam-packed with celebrities invited from around the world, but Sakharov’s presence cast a special glow. Even more significant was Sakharov’s message: it was time to get on with reducing dangerous missiles and break the deadlock over the Strategic Defense Initiative. It was time to crack open the Gorbachev “package” from Reykjavik.18
    Gorbachev had earlier been certain the package deal would bring results. But now, in late February 1987, the Soviet Union was preparing to set off its first nuclear explosion since the end of the moratorium. Gorbachev needed something new, and bold. Sakharov’s speech at the conference has been credited by some as pushing Gorbachev to move. But there was another strong impetus. On February 25, Gorbachev’s influential adviser, Alexander Yakovlev, wrote an extensive memo to him, arguing the time had come to unbundle the “package” and make separate deals to reduce nuclear weapons.
    Yakovlev, the paragon of new thinking who had walked with Gorbachev in the orchard in Canada, said Gorbachev needed to pay attention to the political dynamics. “In politics, maximum freedom of maneuver is always valuable,” he wrote. “The ‘package’ in its present form only ties our hands.” At the top of Yakovlev’s list of priorities, if the package were dropped, was to seek a separate agreement on the intermediate-range missiles that would ease the threat posed by the American Pershing II missiles in Europe. “For us, this would be tantamount to removal of a very serious threat,” he said. Yakovlev expressed a sense of urgency. “It is extremely important now not to lose the tempo we have developed, and not to lose time. If we want to untie the package, we need to do it right now, because later the effect of it will be much weaker.” A public speech making the announcement “could compensate, in the eyes of the world public, for the fact of our reciprocal resumption of nuclear testing.”19
    If Gorbachev untied the package, it would mean the very real concessions he made at Reykjavik—such as eliminating all the Pioneers—would be pocketed by Reagan, without any slowdown in the missile defense plan. But Gorbachev also realized that, since Reykjavik, they had been treading water. His package tactic wasn’t working. Gorbachev desperately wanted to get results, not shadow-box over the future.
    On the day after Yakovlev’s memo, February 26, 1987, the Soviet Union set off its first nuclear explosion since 1985, in tunnel No. 130 at the Semipalatinsk testing range in Kazakhstan. Gorbachev had absorbed Yakovlev’s argument by the time he addressed the Politburo that day. “The biggest step that would make an impression on the outside world, on public opinion, would be if we untie the package and agree to cut 1,000 of our most powerful missiles,” he said.
    “Let’s untie the package.”
    On February 28, he made the announcement. “The Soviet Union suggests that the problem of medium-range missiles in Europe be singled out from the package of issues, and that a separate agreement be concluded on it, and without delay.” Reagan took the news cautiously, saying it was “progress” toward a “new opportunity,” speaking to reporters in his first visit to the White House pressroom since disclosure of diversion of the Iran money to the contras two months earlier.

    The Pioneer missile had a brutish silhouette and carried three warheads, each 150 kilotons and independently targetable. The missile’s range was called intermediate or medium: less than the giant missiles that flew across the oceans, but more than those designed for use on battlefields. The Pioneer was a modern, mobile missile, transported on huge six-axle vehicles, which could keep the weapon in a state of constant combat readiness and launch it. Between 1978 and 1986, 441 Pioneer systems were deployed, including a version with improved accuracy and range in 1980, but they created a terrible problem the Soviet leadership had not anticipated. “The Soviet leadership at the time failed to take into account the probable reaction of the Western countries,” Gorbachev recalled. “I would even go so far as to characterize it as an unforgivable adventure, embarked on by the previous Soviet leadership under pressure from the military-industrial complex.” The NATO response—the Pershing IIs and the ground-launched cruise missiles—became “a pistol held to our head,” as Gorbachev put it. “Not to mention the exorbitant and unjustifiable costs of developing, producing and servicing the SS-20—funds swallowed up by the insatiable Moloch of the military-industrial complex.”20
    Katayev, the Central Committee staff man with long experience in the missile design bureaus, knew how the Soviet leaders fell into such a blunder. As he toured the archipelago of factories, bases and institutes under his supervision, Katayev found excess everywhere. Missiles were built because the design bureaus and factories needed to keep production lines open, not because the military wanted them. He recalled meeting with the directors of two factories building submarine-launched missiles. When he suggested they were wasting money manufacturing weapons no one would use, the factory bosses objected. “The order for missiles is given, it is included in the plan, funds are given, and so we make them,” Katayev recalled of their response to his protest. “And the way these missiles are used by the military—this is not our problem.”
    The navy was the worst. At one point Katayev calculated there were between four and eight missiles manufactured for each submarine launching tube, compared to a ratio of 1.2 or 1.3 missiles per tube in other countries. “A vast number of sea-launched missiles in the Soviet Union were kept in poor conditions, reducing the combat reliability of the weapons,” Katayev said. He took a three-day voyage on a Project 941 submarine, the Typhoon, a huge vessel with two separate pressure hulls, which carried twenty solid-fuel missiles with a range of more than six thousand miles. As he watched, the crew launched four missiles toward the test range in Kamchatka. Katayev turned to the Typhoon chief designer, Sergei Kovalyov.
    “Sergei Nikitich, four missiles flew, this is roughly the cost of a residential building of 200 apartments. What do you need this for?” Katayev asked.
    Kovalyov replied simply that it was a training exercise. But he admitted that once the missile left the tube, he was finished with it. The point was just to train for the launch. Katayev said a concrete-filled trainer missile would work just as well, and make no difference for the crew. As Katayev recounted the conversation, Kovalyov replied, “Why not? Somehow this idea never occurred to me. There were always plenty of missiles, we didn’t give it a thought. Because this new solid-fuel missile is certainly a little expensive for training novices.” From then on, they started to use a concrete-filled missile for training.
    Katayev, precise and careful, loved lists and charts. He filled his notebooks with them, in neat handwriting, often accompanied by notes and drawings. He saw in his own records proof that missile production was excessive. He took the charts to his superiors. He implored Zaikov: they had far more missiles than the country needed. The missile overproduction was not increasing the security of the country; rather, in the case of the Pioneers, it had led to a “dangerous, strategic dead end.” But Katayev knew that his conclusion was not shared by either the generals or the legendary missile designers. The Pioneers were the newest Soviet missile, the best technology, with twenty or thirty years of useful service duty ahead of them—and all those involved were appalled at the idea of sacrificing them. Katayev recalled one particularly emotional meeting in 1985 when the idea of reducing the missile arsenal was debated. There were shouts of protest: “Sabotage!” and “The Fifth Column!” and “Remember Khrushchev!” (for the Cuban missile crisis fiasco). “I tried in vain to defuse the emotions with the help of technical arguments in favor of reducing the number of missiles,” Katayev recalled. After the stormy meeting, he remained in the conference room with one of Akhromeyev’s deputies. Katayev attempted in earnest to argue his point. “Unbeknownst to everybody,” Katayev told the deputy, “the time has arrived when the accumulation of nuclear weapons has outgrown its own level of safety and when it reached the zone where both our own nuclear weapons and those of the Americans have turned from being a means of deterrence into an instrument of increased danger. And first of all, for the Soviet Union, not for the Americans. Nobody in this country has considered it! They thought, the more missiles the better. We are the ones who have to step away from the danger—not Reagan.” They talked past midnight. Katayev recalled that although Akhromeyev’s office was right next door, he never once came into the room.21
    If Akhromeyev heard the discussion, he must have been personally torn. He hated to think they were wasting what they had built at such cost. But he was committed to Gorbachev, and perhaps even more important, Akhromeyev understood the folly of the original decision to deploy the Pioneers aimed at Western Europe. Chernyaev concluded, “As a military professional, he realized the danger Pershing II missiles posed to us, and he had always disapproved of the policy of targeting SS-20s on the U.S.’s NATO allies. A ‘local nuclear war’ was by definition impossible.”22 Other military leaders were not so farsighted. “Gorbachev had to go through a difficult struggle with his own generals,” Chernyaev said. “It took a long time to convince them to get rid of the SS-20s in Europe.”

    When Thatcher came to Moscow, March 23 to April 1, 1987, she told Gorbachev that it was folly to eliminate nuclear weapons. Sitting across the table from each other in Saint Catherine’s Hall, they had a vigorous argument, not unlike their first one at Chequers. “You, Madam Thatcher, with your stance on nuclear weapons, hamper the negotiations and hinder efforts to start a process of genuine disarmament,” Gorbachev said. “When you solemnly declare that nuclear weapons are beneficial, it’s clear that you are an ardent supporter of them—prepared to accept the risk of war.”
    Thatcher “got very tense, blushed, and her expression hardened,” Chernyaev recalled. “She reached out and, touching Gorbachev’s sleeve, began to talk without letting him get in a word.” She insisted that nuclear weapons had kept the peace. “She became so excited that the discussion got completely out of hand. They started to interrupt each other, repeat themselves, assure each other of their best intentions.” When Thatcher flew home, she described it as the most fascinating and important overseas visit she had ever taken; she realized “the ground was shifting underneath the communist system.”23

    Gorbachev revealed his deep frustrations to Shultz on April 14. At a Kremlin meeting, he complained the Reagan administration was behaving as if nothing was going on in the Soviet Union, when in fact it had a better opportunity to improve relations than any U.S. administration in decades. “Where do we go from here?” he wondered.24 They immediately began to wrestle over details of how to eliminate the Pioneer and Pershing II missiles. The negotiations to eliminate intermediate-range missiles were to cover those with a range of between approximately 300 and 3,500 miles. The Pershing IIs had a maximum range of 1,100 miles, and Pioneers about 3,100 miles. The Soviet Union had also deployed a relatively new short-range missile, the SS-23, named after the Oka, a Russian river. The single-stage, solid-fueled Oka was easily moved around on trucklike launchers, which could erect and fire it. The Soviet military calculated the range of the SS-23 as only 250 miles, and thus felt it should not be included in negotiations on intermediate-range missiles. American experts guessed it might have greater range, given the size of the projectile.25 The missile was prized by the Soviet military because of its mobility, and it was capable of carrying either nuclear or conventional warheads. Earlier, Gorbachev had offered to freeze the level of these missiles, and he went still further and proposed negotiating deep cuts, and ultimately elimination.
    But in the Kremlin meeting, Shultz suggested the United States first wanted to build up its arsenal of short-range systems to match Soviet levels, after which they could negotiate.
    Gorbachev unexpectedly offered, on the spot, to eliminate the Oka missiles altogether, if the United States would agree to a “global zero,” or none on either side.
    When Gorbachev made the offer, Akhromeyev, the chief of the General Staff, was not in the room. He was scheduled to arrive only later, after a break.
    Shultz replied to the offer by saying he would consult with the NATO alliance.
    “Why can’t you make a decision?” Gorbachev insisted.
    Shevardnadze interjected, “I am amazed that the United States is objecting to unilateral Soviet elimination of operational short-range missiles.”
    Gorbachev had just made an extremely sensitive concession. By the time Akhromeyev entered the hall later for a discussion of strategic weapons, Gorbachev had abandoned a whole weapons system. Akhromeyev only found out the next day, when he saw his name was on the list of attendees at the meeting, put there because Gorbachev wanted to show he had approved. Akhromeyev later said the concession was a “miscalculation” that infuriated the generals. “The military leadership was indignant at the incident with the Oka,” Akhromeyev recalled. “The Foreign Ministry didn’t give any appropriate explanation of the one-sided deal. The first serious split appeared between the military and Shevardnadze.” The generals tried to fight back in the months that followed, but were reprimanded. Gorbachev had maneuvered skillfully to get his way against his own military, but he still lacked any tangible result from the Americans. Appearing before the Politburo days later, Gorbachev sputtered in frustration that Shultz could not make a decision on the spot. The conversation was good, he said, but “essentially empty—we did not move anywhere.”26
    “We have to recapture the initiative,” said Shevardnadze.
    From his office at the Central Committee, Katayev, the precise and careful staffer, slowly came to a profound conclusion: the leadership of the country—hierarchical, centrally planned, rigid and hidebound by long practice—simply had no process for deciding how to abandon and destroy the weapons it had built at such enormous cost, even if disarmament had been a propaganda line for decades. The previous strategic arms control treaties from the Nixon and Carter era had only limited the growth of weapons, and destroyed none of them. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention had outlawed an entire class of weapons and the Soviet Union secretly built them anyway. There was no road map for retreat. Katayev recalled it was an enormous psychological barrier, as well as a practical roadblock to decisions.
    Katayev, who understood the excesses, quietly set about changing the way defense decisions were handled in the Kremlin. In the Brezhnev years, designers and builders filled the power vacuum. Once Gorbachev came into office, specialists like Katayev and others gained a greater voice. For the most part, in their private discussions, Katayev found the specialists favored disarmament, and were cognizant of the Soviet overkill. At the top, a group of powerful decision-makers remained from earlier times. They were known as the “Big Five”: the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry, KGB, the Military Industrial Commission, and the Central Committee. Katayev elevated the role of technical experts like himself as a “working group” serving the Big Five. It marked a shift in the way arms control was handled in the Kremlin, giving the technocrats and specialists more input, although few knew about it outside. All the documents describing the change were stamped “Top Secret.” On May 6, 1987, members of the Big Five sent Gorbachev a recommendation to make Katayev’s arrangement permanent. Gorbachev signed it.27

    Another shoot of fresh thinking about how to brake the arms race came to the surface at the military’s General Staff headquarters in Moscow. Valery Yarynich had been assigned to work at the headquarters of an internal think tank, the Center for Operational-Strategic Research, established just as Gorbachev took power. Yarynich, the communications expert who had once witnessed the Cuban missile crisis panic, arrived at the center in 1985 after finishing with Perimeter, the semiautomatic nuclear missile retaliatory system. As glasnost blossomed, Yarynich enjoyed a freedom to raise issues with relative openness inside the heart of the Soviet military, and he devoted himself to analyzing the risks of nuclear war. “We had a chance to think and say what we thought without fear of punishment,” he said. The research center was given a difficult task—to find the theoretical justification to support lower levels of nuclear weapons. It was a forward-thinking idea born of Gorbachev’s new era. He was assigned to run a research project called Kupol. The project used mathematical models to study scenarios of a possible first-strike nuclear attack from the United States.
    Yarynich and his coworkers on Kupol found a very important insight in the mathematical models. When considering a possible nuclear attack, it was not enough to just measure the number of warheads that would probably reach their targets, or the number that could retaliate. The Soviet command and control systems, which were reliable and split-second, also had to be figured into the calculation. If one took command and control into account, then mathematical models showed the goal of deterrence could be guaranteed with a drastic reduction of nuclear arsenals. This was because it was likely there would always be at least some retaliation for an attack. Even the smallest retaliation in a real nuclear war meant pretty massive destruction. The attacker always faced this uncertainty. Thus, Yarynich concluded, the massive overkill of the arms race was unnecessary.
    Yarynich was seized with an idea—what if the two superpowers could open up and share such mathematical models? What if the leaders could see what he and his coworkers had discovered in Kupol? But the reaction from Soviet military leaders was not very encouraging. They could not imagine exchanging top-secret command and control data with the United States. “The old thinking prevailed over the new,” Yarynich recalled.
    At the same time, he saw on the streets that the “new thinking” and glasnost of Gorbachev were spreading. Barriers were collapsing everywhere. One day, the experts, including Yarynich, got a translated copy of a book published in the United States in 1985. The book, The Button: America’s Nuclear Warning System—Does It Work? by Daniel Ford, questioned whether command and control was the weak link in the American nuclear deterrence. Yarynich said the Russian experts were “astounded by the degree of openness, detail and healthy criticism which the author used to describe the American system. And it dealt no harm to America whatsoever!” Yarynich suggested that his staff prepare a similar work. Once again, his suggestion went nowhere.28

    By summer 1987, nearly two years had passed since the space designers and rocket builders had put on Gorbachev’s desk their blueprints for a sprawling Soviet version of the Strategic Defense Initiative. To see their handiwork, Gorbachev flew to the Soviet cosmodrome at Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, on May 11. The next day, he toured the launch pad for the giant two-stage, four-engine heavy space booster, Energia. Wearing a hard hat and in a business suit, Gorbachev walked in a broad circle clockwise around the enormous white booster, which stood 190 feet tall and weighed 2,400 tons fully fueled. It was full at that moment. For weeks, the launcher had been kept in two-day readiness for takeoff. The Energia had never flown before and was built to carry the Soviet space shuttle, the Buran, but the shuttle was not ready, so designers planned instead to use the first launch of the Energia to carry aloft a mysterious black cylinder. On the black vehicle was painted the name Polyus, or Pole, in white letters on the outside, but inside it carried the Skif-DM, the demonstration model of the space laser weapon, the most tangible result so far of the drive to build a Soviet Star Wars. The Skif-DM was among those projects that had been touted to Gorbachev by the space designers in 1985, shortly after he took office. Since then, work had been rushed. In fact, there was no laser inside; the Skif-DM was a mock-up, a placeholder for a possible future weapon. The Soviet builders had not mastered the technology.
    Gorbachev had spent the last two years warning the United States against weapons in space—precisely the purpose of Skif-DM. As Gorbachev was briefed, walking around the huge booster on May 12, with other Politburo members trailing behind, examining the white rocket and black cylinder, he abruptly told the designers: “The Politburo is not going to allow you to launch this rocket.” Gorbachev had said many times he did not want an arms race in space—and he meant it.
    Boris Gubanov, the chief designer, was dumbfounded, but tried to carry on. He explained to Gorbachev details of the heavy launcher: fuel, tremendous pressures and temperatures at launch. In the next hour or so, Gorbachev softened. He asked if they could wait a few months. Gubanov said it was impossible: the rocket was ready, it was fueled, people worked around the clock, they could not sustain such a pace. At lunchtime, Gubanov recalled, the word came back: permission to launch. The next day, Gorbachev praised the workers at Baikonur. And he reminded them, as he had done so often before, “We are categorically against moving the arms race into space.”
    Gorbachev left the cosmodrome on May 14. At 9:30 P.M. the next day, the Energia roared into the night sky with the Skif-DM payload inside the mysterious black container, Polyus.
    The Energia booster performed flawlessly. Four hundred and sixty seconds after launch, the Polyus separated from the Energia.
    Then something went wrong. The Polyus was supposed to turn 180 degrees and fire engines to push itself into higher orbit. Instead, it kept turning all the way to 360 degrees, so when the engines fired, it was in the wrong direction. It shot itself back down toward Earth. The Polyus flew straight for the Pacific Ocean.
    The black Polyus cylinder fell into the sea. All work on the Skif project came to a halt.
    Gorbachev did not attempt to revive the Skif. He did nothing—another step toward his goal of slowing the arms race.29

    The most devastating defeat for the Soviet military in 1987 came not directly from Gorbachev, but he exploited it. It came at the hands of a dreamy nineteen-year-old youth who lived in Hamburg, Germany. Mathias Rust was deeply disappointed by the failure of Reagan and Gorbachev to make a deal at Reykjavik. He decided to make a personal protest. He rented a single-engine Cessna 172P, a sports airplane, and told his family he was going to tour Scandinavia. He flew it to the Faroe Islands on May 13, and the next day to Keflavik, Iceland, the airfield from which Reagan and Gorbachev had departed after the summit.
    After further travel, on May 28, he took off from Helsinki, having filed a flight plan for Stockholm. Twenty minutes into the flight, he switched off his communications gear and turned east. Finnish air traffic controllers feared he had crashed and launched a rescue effort. Rust disappeared into the clouds.
    It was a holiday in the Soviet Union: “Border Guards Day.”30 At 2:25 P.M., the Cessna, with a small German flag on the tail, flying low, crossed a beach into Estonia and Soviet airspace. Thirty-one minutes later, Rust passed near the town of Kohtla-Yarve, at approximately three thousand feet. He set a course for Moscow. The Soviet air defense system picked up the plane, alerted the antiaircraft batteries and scrambled a fighter jet. The Soviet jet pilot zoomed past the small Cessna—flying seven times the speed of the small craft—and reported that it was a light plane, white, with a blue stripe, at under three thousand feet. Rust saw the Soviet jet, recognized the red star, and could spot the oxygen mask and coveralls of the pilot. He feared he would be shot down. “My heart fell into my pants,” he recalled. But then nothing happened, the fighter disappeared and Rust flew on toward Moscow.
    On the ground, Soviet air and ground defenses, built up over decades to warn of American bomber fleets bearing nuclear weapons, went limp. Radar operators made no effort to determine the type of airplane that had just invaded their space. They made no immediate report to the headquarters of the Air Defense Forces. The rapidly changing weather and a certain blurriness on the radar screen caused the operators to doubt whether it was a plane at all; they thought it might be a flock of birds.31The fighter jet had only forty minutes of fuel at low altitudes, and could not remain aloft longer to search. Another group of jets were scrambled; one spotted Rust, but they did nothing. Then the radar operators lost track of Rust altogether at 3:58 P.M. No further action was taken. At 6:38 P.M., the Moscow regional air defenses switched to “routine watch duty.”
    At exactly that moment, Rust was approaching Moscow, confused by its sprawling size. He spotted the cubelike Rossiya Hotel, and near it, Red Square. He approached for a landing, but there were people in the square, and he feared casualties, so Rust pulled up and circled again, and again.
    On the third approach, Rust spotted a wide, open road bridge, and landed on it at 6:45 P.M., taxiing the plane toward Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral. A crowd gathered around as Rust, with oversized aviator eyeglasses and an orange jacket, climbed out and announced he was on a mission of peace. He was arrested by the KGB and taken away.
    Rust’s solo flight riveted the attention of the country and the world. Jokes were told in Moscow in the days that followed: a group of citizens gathered in Red Square with their luggage. When a policeman asked why they were there, they answered, “We are waiting for the flight to Hamburg.” But Rust’s daring stunt was no joke for the military. It came at the dawn of the age of low-flying, radar-evading cruise missiles. If he could make it all the way to Moscow and be mistaken for a flock of birds, then what of the country’s defenses against cruise missiles? The Soviet military was red faced. The rules after the Korean Air Lines disaster in 1983 were not to shoot at civilian intruders, but to force them to land. They had not even tried.
    Gorbachev was in Berlin meeting with Warsaw Pact leaders—telling them of the new Soviet military doctrine—when he got word. He told the Soviet allies that Rust’s stunt “was no reason to doubt the efficiency of our technology or the reliability of our defense,” but in private, he was floored. “I was utterly shaken and completely at a loss as to how this could have happened,” he recalled.32 As Gorbachev stepped off the plane back in Moscow, Chernyaev recalled, his eyes were “flashing with anger.” Chernyaev wrote Gorbachev a note before a Politburo meeting the next day. “A great military power was reduced to a joke in the space of a minute,” he said. “What happened forces us to reflect again on the state of the army. Our equipment wasn’t at fault. To spot such a tiny aircraft, 1930s-era technology would suffice. Rather it was a broader carelessness and lack of responsibility that was to blame, not an episodic problem but something endemic that reflects a much more serious illness in the armed forces.” Chernyaev pleaded with Gorbachev to consider undertaking a reform of the military and to fire the defense minister, Sokolov. “Maybe I’m blinded by anger and emotion over this shameful incident, which, in one moment, devalued not only our air defenses but our entire military structure. But I believe that perestroika and new thinking cannot be successful without a reform of the army.”33
    At the Kremlin, the Politburo meeting was tense. Gorbachev, mocking and furious, said the Rust intrusion showed the impotence of the defense ministry. The first deputy minister of defense, Pyotr Lushev, began to brief the Politburo on what happened. He described how the plane had flown undetected toward Moscow.
    Gorbachev: And this lasted for two and a half hours during which time the intruder aircraft was within the zone of the 6th Army? Did they report it to you?
    Lushev: No. I learned about it after the aircraft’s landing in Moscow. Gorbachev: Learned from the traffic police?
    Lushev described the existing orders not to shoot down a civilian plane but force it to land. The jet fighters were going too fast to do this. Ryzhkov, the head of the government, asked, “And helicopters, wasn’t it possible to use them?” Lushev replied, “There are no helicopters” in the Air Defense Forces.
    Summing up, Lushev said the reasons for the episode were “a loss of vigilance and a dulled sense of responsibility, especially on duty shifts,” and “carelessness of the duty officers, who had grown used to routine action and were unprepared to operate in non-standard circumstances.”
    Gorbachev: “And then how are we going to operate in combat conditions, when non-standard situations occur?”
    Gorbachev fired the head of the Air Defense Forces and accepted Defense Minister Sokolov’s resignation on the spot. About 150 senior officers were also fired. Dmitri Yazov, a mild-mannered former deputy defense minister, was appointed to succeed Sokolov. The one top military man who was untouched by the affair was Akhromeyev.
    Gorbachev called Chernyaev at home that evening. “We discredited the country, humiliated our people,” Gorbachev said, according to Chernyaev’s account. Gorbachev wondered if he should have resigned too. Then he added, “But fine, at least everyone here, and in the West, will know where power lies. It is in the hands of the political leadership, the Politburo. This will put an end to gossip about the military’s opposition to Gorbachev, that he’s afraid of them, and they are close to ousting him.”34

    On June 12, 1987, in Berlin, Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Europe’s division between East and West, and addressed Gorbachev directly. “We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness,” he said. “Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West or to strengthen the Soviet state without changing it?
    “General Secretary Gorbachev,” Reagan declared, “if you seek peace—if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—if you seek liberalization, come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
    The speech was classic Reagan, infused with his powerful faith in freedom and prosperity and the link between the two. Reagan recalled in his memoir that when he saw the wall, he spoke with genuine anger in his voice. Gorbachev still did not entirely understand Reagan, nor his rhetoric, and called Chernyaev a few days later. “He is trying to provoke us, to make us snap, which would help them get the Soviet threat back. If, like Reagan, I was giving interviews every week, I would say that he hasn’t forgotten his previous occupation over these eight years.”35
    Gorbachev’s retreat from the arms race led to confusion not only in the military but in the prestigious defense institutes and design bureaus. They needed to find new justifications for their programs. And Reagan’s missile defense dream still flummoxed some of them. Katayev recalled that in August, Alexander Nadiradze, the missile designer who created the Pioneer, sent a panicky letter to the Central Committee. Four years after Reagan had first announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, Nadiradze declared he had figured out the truth: it was a plan to use space to shoot a nuclear warhead back down to Earth! This was worse than first strike. He said the missile defense plan should be exposed as an “aggressive weapon that gives the USA a new possibility to deliver an instant nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.” He claimed his research showed “an undersized missile ‘Space-Earth’ will be capable of carrying a nuclear charge of 0.1–0.15 megaton, a solid-fueled rocket engine will allow it to accelerate toward Earth–at about 4–5 kilometers per second–in 30 seconds.” He added, “From the moment of the order to launch, the time of the rocket’s flight to Earth will be only 1–2 minutes.” Nadiradze said if Reagan’s program were deployed, then the Soviet Union should destroy American satellites in space. The Polyus and the Skif might be dead, but the hopes of the missile designers burned on.36

    In early September, Velikhov, the open-minded physicist, struck another hammer blow against Soviet military secrecy.
    Thomas B. Cochran, the American scientist who had set up the seismic monitoring stations around Semipalatinsk, was traveling with three members of Congress, several aides and a New York Times journalist, showing them the equipment. On a stopover in Moscow, Velikhov telephoned Cochran at the Sovietskaya Hotel, about 6 P.M., and told him to get the delegation to the airport by midnight. Velikhov had won permission to take them to see the disputed Krasnoyarsk radar that the Reagan administration said was a treaty violation.
    Velikhov was attempting exactly the kind of glasnost gamble the Central Committee had rejected in February. The group took off for Siberia at 4 A.M., reached the radar site in late afternoon and slowly circled the entire radar site by helicopter, looking down on two large concrete structures, one a transmitter and the other a receiver. The receiver, nearly thirty stories tall, had a long, sloping side, facing northeast. Both structures were unfinished; the receiver’s radar face appeared to be partially covered with corrugated metal sheets. At first the Soviets said the Americans could not go inside the structures. After a meal of roasted pig, fruit and vodka toasts in a large white tent, the Americans pleaded for a chance to go inside, and the Soviets relented. The Americans discovered the project was years from completion, just empty shells, empty rooms and no electronics. Judging by what they could see, the visitors concluded it would not be a battle management system, as the Reagan administration claimed. For one thing, a battle management system would be hardened against a nuclear blast; this structure was not. Nor did it look like it was dedicated to space-tracking, as the Soviets claimed.37 Although they could not be sure, the visitors surmised it was probably an early warning radar, pointing in the wrong direction. It was not facing outward, as required by the ABM treaty. What was most remarkable was that the congressmen got an eyewitness look at a top-secret site. The team took over one thousand photographs and made an hour of video, and no one tried to interfere. Velikhov’s openness undercut both the American propaganda and the Soviet lie. “It’s the beginning of military glasnost,” said Representative Tom Downey, D-N.Y., who led the delegation. In their report, the congressmen said the chances that it was a battle management radar were “extremely low.” Yet even with such an extraordinary firsthand look, Downey and the others did not change the Reagan administration’s view.
    In Moscow, the top level of the Soviet leadership was privately at a loss about what to do with Krasnoyarsk. They knew the radar was a violation of the treaty, but they had not admitted it. They also knew that their public explanation of its purpose (space-tracking), as well as Reagan’s claims (battle management), were both untrue. On October 23, Gorbachev told Shultz that there would be a one-year moratorium on construction. Shultz replied that the United States would accept nothing short of dismantlement. A month after that, on November 21, an internal memo from the Big Five ministers suggested that the Soviet Union should continue to attempt to pressure the United States for some concessions in exchange for giving up the radar. The prospect of dismantling the whole thing was already being discussed internally. But the memo did not suggest an admission that the radar was in violation of the treaty.38
    When Shultz saw Gorbachev in Moscow in October, the Soviet leader seemed feisty, and there was more acrimony in their discussion than in the past. Shultz failed to secure agreement on a summit date to sign a treaty on intermediate-range weapons. Shultz wrote in his memoirs that Gorbachev appeared to have been through a tough period.39 In the days before Shultz arrived, Gorbachev had suffered a major crisis, an outbreak of open criticism in the Politburo. On October 21, Yeltsin, in a rushed, short speech before a Central Committee plenum, complained that reform was moving too slowly, and that Gorbachev was starting to enjoy the adulation of a “cult of personality,” a reference to Stalin. Yeltsin resigned on the spot from the Politburo. His speech and resignation stunned the hall. Gorbachev found himself squeezed between Yeltsin’s demands for faster reform and Politburo member Yegor Ligachev, who resisted it.40 Then, a few days after Shultz left Moscow, Gorbachev agreed to the summit dates. “The Soviets blinked,” Reagan wrote in his diary.
    The yawning gulf of misunderstanding between Washington and Moscow had remained. Despite all that happened in 1987—the new military doctrine, the Rust affair and its aftermath, the abandonment of the Oka missile, the failure of the Soviet Star Wars, the achievement of eliminating the INF weapons–the Defense Intelligence Agency sent a report to Congress stating that “all evidence points to continuity in the Soviet Union’s military policy.”41
    Two weeks before Gorbachev arrived in the United States, Gates, the deputy CIA director, wrote a memo to Reagan about the Soviet leader that failed to grasp the essence of Gorbachev’s attempts to reverse the arms race, and miscast his goals and motivations. There is a “continuing extraordinary scope and sweep of Soviet military modernization and weapons research and development,” Gates said, offering not even a brief acknowledgment of Gorbachev’s efforts to change course. “We still see no lessening of their weapons production. And, further, Soviet research on new, exotic weapons such as lasers and their own version of SDI continues apace.” In fact, the Soviet version of SDI was a shambles and would never be built. Gates concluded that despite “great changes underway” in the Soviet Union, “it is hard to detect fundamental changes, currently or in prospect, in the way the Soviets govern at home or in their principle objectives abroad.” Gates told the president, amid the summit excitement, that “a sober–even somber—reminder of the enduring features of the regime and the still long competition and struggle ahead will be needed.”42
    Still, the December summit in Washington was far from somber, and crackled with energy. Gorbachev spontaneously stopped his limousine on Connecticut Avenue and began shaking hands with thrilled passersby. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty with a brisk exchange of pens and handshakes in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The treaty would eliminate 1,846 Soviet Pioneers and 846 American Pershing IIs, the first time in the nuclear age that an entire class of Soviet and U.S. weapons was wiped out, and under stringent verification provisions. It was not the end of nuclear danger, but it was the most concrete joint accomplishment of Reagan, the dreamer, and Gorbachev, the radical, nuclear abolitionists who found each other at the right moment. In remarks before they signed the treaty, Reagan said, “We have listened to the wisdom of an old Russian maxim, doveryai, no proveryai—trust, but verify.”
    “You repeat that at every meeting,” Gorbachev said.
    “I like it,” Reagan replied, smiling.

—————  13  —————

    In the thick woods south of Moscow, at Obolensk, the microbiologist Igor Domaradsky redoubled his search for agents of death. He experimented with genetic engineering, combining the gene of diphtheria with the agents of plague or tularemia to make a hybrid pathogen. He turned his results over to the military, never to hear of them again. He labored to engineer a tularemia strain resistant to antibiotics. If used in a weapon, once spread, the disease would be difficult to treat. He created two strains that retained their virulence, but with only limited resistance to antibiotics. This was always the challenge—Domaradsky had never been able to achieve a high resistance and, simultaneously, sufficient virulence. If he got higher resistance, he got less virulence. One of the strains was tested on monkeys, but proved unsatisfactory. Domaradsky was adrift, and his conflict with the institute director, Nikolai Urakov, worsened as the months went by. Urakov blocked one of Domaradsky’s students from receiving a doctorate, questioned Domaradsky’s salary, gave Domaradsky piles of paperwork and insisted Domaradsky move out of his breezy flat in Protvino and into the dark woods at Obolensk. Domaradsky at one point took a daring step, writing a letter of complaint about Urakov to the Politburo. The letter resulted in an internal investigation and more conflict. Finally, Domaradsky asked to be transferred to another job in Moscow. He left Obolensk in the summer of 1987, having done much to launch the biological weapons program, but never to return.
    Domaradsky thought his research on genetically modified agents fell short. He believed the search for a tularemia agent was a stopgap idea. It wasn’t contagious and the military wanted more virulent and dangerous pathogens that could spread. Overall, he said, “Very little was done to develop a new generation of these weapons, as had been the original goal” of the interagency council he had joined in Moscow in 1975. “I have to say that it has justified neither the hopes nor the colossal investment of material. Essentially nothing remarkable was ever produced…”1
    Domaradsky’s conclusion was premature. As he left, others took up the quest to create the agents of death.

    In Domaradsky’s final year at Obolensk, a new scientist arrived. Sergei Popov was the bright young researcher who had worked on genetic engineering at Koltsovo, figuring out how to make the immune system turn on itself. At the time he arrived at Obolensk, the new building for working on dangerous pathogens was rising out of the forest. Popov recalled seeing Domaradsky roaming the halls, a bitter outcast. They did not talk. Popov believes he was brought in as Domaradsky’s successor in the intensifying search for genetically altered agents to be used in a biological weapon. When he departed Koltsovo in 1986, Popov turned over to other scientists his “construct,” the piece of DNA that would be inserted into a genome. Once at Obolensk, he began to look for ways to broaden his early discovery, using bacteria as the vehicle instead of viruses. “New, improved constructs had been provided to me in Obolensk,” he recalled. “My mission was to continue what had been started in Koltsovo.” The goal was to create agents with new and unusual characteristics, causing death in ways that would be unfathomable, and unstoppable.
    For Popov, the Obolensk lifestyle seemed a welcome change from Koltsovo. With Moscow only an hour away, Popov drove north and loaded up his car with food and goods unknown in Koltsovo. But at work, Popov ran into resistance from Urakov, who was not pleased. “Urakov did not want me there,” Popov said. “Why would he? It was recognized that he had not kept up with the problem, and that microbiology was underdeveloped at the institute. Domaradsky also failed to meet the goal, and Biopreparat decided to assign a new person who would solve the problem. And imagine, a military general who was told something like this. He was against me from the very beginning! But Biopreparat insisted.”
    In the years that followed, Popov sought to engineer some of the most hazardous biological agents ever imagined. Using his earlier experience with the smallpox virus, he sought to create a pathogen that would deceive the victim. With genetic engineering, he hoped to create a deadly one-two punch: a first wave that would cause illness, followed by recovery, then a second wave that would be unexpected and fatal. It was a profoundly evil idea, to manipulate the very smallest building blocks of life, creating a germ that could not be stopped by remedies known to mankind. Nor was the idea his handiwork alone. It was the deliberate policy of the Soviet state.
    The method Popov took was to construct a pathogen within a pathogen; the second one would deliver the deadly assault. He told Urakov he wanted to try five different microbes as the vehicle, or the first stage of the illness. Each of the agents was under control of a different group at the institute, and Popov would have to work with them all. The five were: Burkhholderia mallei, which causes glanders, an infectious disease primarily affecting horses; Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis, an infectious disease prevalent in tropical climates; Yersinia pestis, which causes plague; Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax; and Legionella, which leads to legionellosis, or Legionnaires’ disease. Although Popov was at the center of the research, thousands of people participated in it. The best and brightest graduates from Soviet universities were recruited for Obolensk. Each floor of the new building was outfitted for work on different pathogens. Popov scrutinized each for signs that it would make a good carrier. Anthrax didn’t work; plague was not good enough. Eventually, Popov found that only Legionella would succeed. The amount needed was small; a lethal dose was only a few Legionella cells. But there were technical obstacles; it wasn’t easy to grow enough Legionella to experiment with and, if weaponized, it would be very difficult to mass-produce.
    For the second stage, Popov returned to the lessons of Koltsovo and his discovery there. He inserted into Legionella the genetic material that would cause the body to attack its own nervous system. Nerves are covered with a myelin insulation that helps them transmit impulses. Popov’s plan was to cause the body’s immune system to destroy the myelin. This would cause paralysis and, eventually, death. If the new genetically engineered pathogen worked, the victim would first come down with Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia. “Some of the infected would die, and some recover, absolutely recover. However, in two weeks the recovered person would develop paralysis and would die,” Popov explained. The paralysis and death were caused by the destruction of the myelin insulation. In effect, the body would wreck its own nervous system. “When your body tries to heal itself,” Popov said, “it actually does the reverse.”
    “It was deceptive,” Popov said. “The first wave disease would disappear or would never be an acute disease. It could be a little bit of coughing, or nothing, you don’t feel it, that’s it. And then two weeks later, the disease would be hardly treatable, actually there would be no way to effectively treat it.”
    The idea took him years to perfect. But the result was so terrible that when Popov saw what happened to guinea pigs during testing, he was overwhelmed with doubt.2

    On the bleak steppe of Kazakhstan, new workers streamed into the massive new factory at Stepnogorsk. By 1986, Ken Alibek, the chief of the anthrax assembly line, recalled that he supervised nine hundred people, and the Soviets had created “the most effective anthrax weapon ever produced.” He remembered working at a frenzied pace, spending all his days and nights in the laboratories. “I still shuddered occasionally when I looked at the bacteria multiplying in our fermenters and considered that they could end the lives of millions of people. But the secret culture of our labs had changed my outlook.”
    The pressure-cooker environment took a heavy toll, and accidents happened every week. Once, he recalled, a technician was infected with anthrax. The man’s neck began to bulge, closing off his breathing. Antibiotics did not work. Within days, death seemed inevitable. At the last minute, they injected the man with a huge dose of anthrax antiserum and saved him. “The technician’s narrow escape drove home the potency of our new weapon,” Alibek recalled in his memoir. “Our powdered and liquid formulations of anthrax were three times as strong as the weapons that had been developed at Sverdlovsk.”
    In 1987, the anthrax was tested on Vozrozhdeniye Island, according to Alibek. With the success of the tests, the old facility in Sverdlovsk, where the accident had occurred eight years earlier, was no longer needed. The massive new factory at Stepnogorsk was far superior. “Our factory could turn out two tons of anthrax a day in a process as reliable and efficient as producing tanks, trucks, cars or Coca-Cola,” Alibek said. “With the creation of the world’s first industrial-scale biological weapons factory, the Soviet Union became the world’s first—and only—biological superpower.”3
    But not everything was quite as efficient as Alibek claimed. Popov recalled that Stepnogorsk suffered “huge problems.” Among them, “People in charge were drunkards, and they didn’t care very much about what they did. The only requirement was that anthrax had to kill; they tested the product on animals. From the microbiological standpoint, they did a dirty work. As a result, the facility was very unproductive, and the results were often miserable—sometimes good, but sometimes they harvested no anthrax. The anthrax cells dissolved in the process we call phage lysis.” This is a virus that attacks the bacteria. “So, quite often the anthrax microbe just didn’t survive in those huge fermenters. And Biopreparat people often complained about it. They asked if we could help Alibek with his problem… They could not solve it. They thought the reason was the poor sterility of the components.”
    Nonetheless, Alibek recalled, the larger goal was achieved. “Stepnogorsk demonstrated our ability to wage biological warfare on a scale matched by no other nation in history. We had taken the science of biowarfare further in the previous four years than it had traveled in the four decades since World War II.”
    Alibek was promoted and transferred to Moscow in September 1987. After just a few months, he was given his first major assignment at Biopreparat headquarters. He was to supervise creation of a new smallpox weapon. He spent an afternoon reading over a top-secret document that he described as a five-year plan for biological weapons development, signed by Gorbachev in February 1986. The document carried a line for what kind of weapon, what kind of systems and when each would be tested between 1986 and 1990, he said. Among other things in the plan, Alibek saw a line for funding a 630-liter viral reactor to produce smallpox at Koltsovo. “Our military leaders,” he recalled in his memoir, “had decided to concentrate on one of the toughest challenges of bioweaponeering —the transformation of viruses into weapons of war.” He added, “Gorbachev’s Five Year Plan—and his generous funding, which would amount to over $1 billion by the end of the decade—allowed us to catch up with and then surpass Western technology.”4
    When Alibek visited Vector, the smallpox project was just getting off the ground. “Vector’s prize acquisition was the expensive new viral reactor authorized by Gorbachev’s decree,” he recalled. “Designed by one of our Moscow institutes… it was the first of its kind in the world. It stood about five feet high and was enclosed within thick stainless steel walls. An agitator at the bottom kept the mixture inside churning like clothes in a washing machine. Pipes led out in several directions, both for waste matter and weapons-ready material. A window on its convex roof allowed scientists to observe the viral culture at all times.”
    Popov also knew of the five-year plan for biological weapons and was certain it had been approved at the highest levels. “We didn’t have any doubt the Central Committee was behind all of this. Not a single doubt,” he said. Once, in Moscow, Popov also read a top-secret document in a folder that described the long-term program. “I remember that I misplaced the document and took it somewhere as I was walking through Biopreparat offices, and they chased me because it was a top-secret document. I had it in my folder, it wasn’t even a briefcase, they gave it to me in a folder, there was a special table I had to sit at. I don’t know how it happened, maybe I went to the restroom or something.” The guards grabbed him and returned him to the table.

    In all of Gorbachev’s struggle for disarmament—his determination to push back the military and its powerful designers, his willingness to abandon the doctrine of two blocs inexorably at odds, his rhetoric about a world free of nuclear destruction and danger—there was one unexplained gap. Hidden in secret institutes, referred to obliquely even in the Kremlin as “works on special problems,” the biological weapons drive was going at full speed at the same moment that Gorbachev reached the apex of his cooperation with Reagan. Gorbachev abhorred nuclear weapons, and he declared his intention to eliminate chemical weapons. Did he also fear the pathogens?
    One key question is how much Gorbachev knew about the program. The record suggests that some members of the Politburo knew in great detail what kinds of horrors were being cooked up at Obolensk and Vector. Lev Zaikov, the Politburo member in charge of the military-industrial complex, who was Katayev’s boss, certainly knew. Gorbachev must have become aware of the program when he became general secretary in 1985, and perhaps before. There is a document in Katayev’s files that lists a Central Committee resolution on biological weapons on November 18, 1986. This was in effect an order from the Politburo that Gorbachev certainly would have known about. Three sources—Alibek, who built the anthrax assembly line; Popov, who worked at both Koltsovo and Obolensk; and Vladimir Pasechnik, a well-informed institute chief in the system who later defected to Britain—claim that Gorbachev and the Politburo were kept abreast of the program in the late 1980s. Alibek claims to have seen the specific five-year plan signed by Gorbachev. Chernyaev, perhaps the closest aide to Gorbachev, also confirmed in an interview that Gorbachev knew the Soviet Union was in violation of the biological weapons treaty. Chernyaev insisted that Gorbachev wanted to end the biological weapons program, but the military misled him, promising to shut it down, although they did not.5 “Not even Gorbachev was fully informed about the activities of our military-industrial complex,” Chernyaev wrote in his memoirs.
    It is also not known what intelligence Gorbachev received from the KGB. The United States had abandoned offensive biological weapons in 1969, but scientists in the Soviet program have insisted they were told by the KGB for many years that the American offensive germ warfare program did exist; it was just well hidden.
    If Gorbachev knew of the Soviet program, and if he was so determined to slow the arms race in missiles, why did he not take stronger action to slow the arms race in test tubes? He had done so much else with glasnost to unearth the misdeeds of the Soviet past—admitting the mass repressions of Stalin, for example—why could he not expose or stop the dangerous germ warfare efforts that began long before he came to power? This is difficult to answer.
    One explanation may be that the biological weapons program was so entrenched that Gorbachev might have decided it was impossible to tackle, or at the very least, as a tactical matter, that he should wait until later to deal with it. In other cases it took Gorbachev years to bring about a change in course and overturn past errors and deep secrecy involving military affairs.
    Also, Gorbachev might have felt himself unable to challenge the authority of those who ran the biological weapons empire. The Chernobyl experience was relevant—it showed him how hard it was to confront the nuclear priesthood, and surely the biological weapons scientists and generals could be just as difficult. In Gorbachev’s last two years, as his power waned, he may simply have lacked the willpower or stature to take on a new power struggle. “He didn’t know how to exercise his control,” Chernyaev said. Gorbachev may have been reluctant to admit the full scope of Soviet violations out of fear of what it could do to his public image and that of his “new thinking” all over the world. He may have opted to avoid the whole subject because he had no idea how to handle the impact of such a damaging disclosure.
    One reason that has been suggested by Soviet officials for Gorbachev’s inaction is that biological weapons may have been seen as some kind of military asset, to be held in reserve, perhaps to compensate for other shortcomings in defense. But it is doubtful Gorbachev preserved the pathogens out of any sense of their strategic or military value. Gorbachev was clearly determined to ease the threat of war, not build new weapons of such comparable power and danger.
    Still, it remains a puzzle why, given Gorbachev’s dedication to glasnost and his enormous effort at disarmament in the nuclear field, he did not do more to stop the dangerous biological weapons program. In all the years of Gorbachev’s drive for change and openness, the Soviet Union continued to cover up Biopreparat and all it encompassed.

    One of the most elaborate deceptions involved the 1979 Sverdlovsk anthrax leak, the worst disaster of the Soviet biological weapons program. Through the decade of the 1980s, the Soviets fabricated details about the outbreak to suggest it had explicable, natural causes, such as tainted meat. Soviet officials spread these falsehoods around the world. They lied in international meetings, to other scientists and to themselves. They misled the distinguished Harvard molecular biologist Matthew Meselson, who had been called in by the CIA to puzzle over the early reports about the Sverdlovsk accident in 1980.
    Meselson had been trying through the 1980s to answer the questions he first raised when studying the intelligence reports. An effort in 1983 to organize an expedition to Sverdlovsk fell apart after the Korean airliner shoot down that year. In 1986, he was invited to come to Moscow by officials at the Ministry of Health. On that visit, Meselson met with several top Soviet health officials, including Pyotr Burgasov, the deputy health minister who, at the time of the outbreak, spread the story that contaminated meat was the cause of the anthrax epidemic. Burgasov probably knew better; he had been involved with the Soviet biological weapons program since the 1950s and had served in the Sverdlovsk facility from 1958 to 1963. In the meetings in Moscow with Meselson, August 27–30, 1986, Burgasov repeated that contaminated meat was the cause and added that contaminated bone meal had been fed to cattle and caused the epidemic. Meselson also met with Vladimir Nikiforov, chief of the infectious diseases department at the Central Postgraduate Institute, located within the Botkin Hospital in Moscow, and Olga Yampolskaya, a specialist in infectious diseases there, who had been present during the Sverdlovsk epidemic. Nikiforov was the courtly scientist who had courageously told the Sverdlovsk pathologists to hide and preserve their autopsy results in 1979. But now he was advancing the official line. Nikiforov showed Meselson fourteen photographic slides from the autopsies that, he insisted, supported the argument that anthrax had been ingested by eating the contaminated meat. The lungs of the victims, he claimed, were “undamaged and free of hemorrhage.” Before leaving Moscow on August 29, Meselson told the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy what he found in his discussions. The Soviet officials had insisted victims had died from intestinal anthrax; Meselson said he had no way of knowing if the story was true, but it “did seem to hang together.”6
    In September 1986, the Soviet officials offered the same false explanation in Geneva at the Second Review Conference for the Biological Weapons Convention. Soviet officials prepared a briefing for Gorbachev warning him that suspicions were deepening in the West that the Soviet Union had something to hide. Nonetheless, the cover-up continued at the conference and afterward.7 On October 10–12, 1986, Joshua Lederberg, president of Rockefeller University, who was chairman of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences, visited Moscow. Lederberg was a pioneering microbiologist, recipient of the 1953 Nobel Prize for the discovery that bacteria engage in a form of sexual reproduction and thus possess a genetic mechanism similar to those of higher organisms. Lederberg was presented with the story that anthrax bacteria had been spread by contaminated meat from cattle fed a bonemeal supplement that was improperly sterilized, and produced from naturally infected carcasses. Like Meselson, Lederberg was deceived. “My personal conclusion,” Lederberg later wrote, “is that the present Soviet account of the epidemic is plausible on its face and internally consistent.” The Soviet explanations are “very likely to be true.”8

    In Moscow, on November 18, 1986, the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers approved a measure, proposed by the Defense Ministry, to move the secret formulas for biological weapons and the manufacturing plants away from the military. Specifically, the measure called for action by 1992—in the course of the next six years—to eliminate “the stockpile of biological recipes and industrial capacities for production of biological weapons located at the sites of this ministry.” This appears to mean that over the next six years, the Defense Ministry would transfer the formulas and production facilities to the better-concealed Biopreparat complex. Such a move was already undertaken with the anthrax facility at Sverdlovsk, which was moved to Stepnogorsk. The reason for the move, according to the documents, was to meet the goal “of insuring openness of work in conditions of international verification.” This was code for the fact that Soviet leaders wanted to keep the program alive—and well hidden—at a time when international inspectors might be nosing around. It seems extremely likely that such a high-level action by the Central Committee, which was led by members of the Politburo, would have come to Gorbachev’s attention.9
    In 1987, a fresh worry arose in Moscow among the top echelons of Biopreparat and the military. For all their efforts at secrecy, a speech on chemical weapons treaty verification by Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze threatened to crack open the door to their empire. During Gorbachev’s glasnost, Soviet diplomats in several negotiations had expressed a willingness to allow more intrusive verification of arms control treaties, to show they were not cheating. This new openness was the spirit of a speech August 6, 1987, by Shevardnadze at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. In the spring, Gorbachev had announced the Soviet Union would stop manufacturing chemical weapons. Now, Shevardnadze went further and promised support for “the principle of mandatory challenge inspections without right of refusal.” This was a “vivid manifestation” of Soviet commitment to “genuine and effective verification,” he said. For years, the United States had accused the Soviet Union of violating treaties and demanded effective verification. It was the essence of Reagan’s favorite Russian slogan, “trust, but verify.” While Shevardnadze’s overture was made for chemical weapons, it dawned on Soviet biological warfare experts back in Moscow that it could easily be applied to them, too. The inspections could take unpredictable turns. If the West wanted to peek into a suspect facility—say, Obolensk or Koltsovo or Stepnogorsk—how could they refuse? Nikita Smidovich, an aide to Shevardnadze who wrote the Geneva speech, said the biological weapons chiefs realized the chemical inspections threatened their closed world. They concluded, he said, if the inspectors “can go everywhere, they will probably get to us as well, so we need to get prepared.”10
    On October 2, 1987, after Shevardnadze’s speech, the Central Committee and Council of Ministers issued an order to speed up preparations for possible international inspections. The goal was not to be open, but the opposite: continue the secret germ warfare program by moving the formulas and factories to a more secret place. And do it quicker.11

    The Sverdlovsk deception reached a new level of audacity April 10–17, 1988, when Burgasov, Nikiforov and a third Soviet medical official, Vladimir Sergiyev, came to the United States with a presentation of their theory about contaminated meat and bonemeal. Meselson said he arranged the visit in hopes that the Soviet officials would be exposed to expert questioning from American scientists. The Soviets delivered their bogus story to distinguished audiences three times: at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore and the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It was clear to us that infectious meat was the cause,” claimed Burgasov. “The whole idea of some sort of aerosol is impossible,” he said. He dismissed the possibility of a leak of anthrax bacteria from Compound 19. “I couldn’t imagine that in the midst of the highly populated area that there could be any work on highly dangerous pathogens,” he said, although he knew that was probably what happened. Nikiforov, who also knew the truth, narrated autopsy slides that portrayed great black intestinal sores, which pointed toward contaminated meat, not inhalation. In all, the Soviet officials had addressed more than two hundred private and government medical scientists and arms control experts, delivering untruths to all of them. Afterward, summarizing the Soviet presentations, Meselson wrote that he found the Soviet explanation “plausible and consistent with what is known from previous outbreaks of human and animal anthrax in the USSR and elsewhere, including the US.” Meselson still hoped to send a group of American scientists to Sverdlovsk.12

    Alibek, who had built the anthrax assembly line at Stepnogorsk and was now working in Moscow at the Biopreparat headquarters, sensed the tension over possible international inspections. “Once knowledgeable foreign scientists set foot in one of our installations, our secret would be out,” he wrote in his memoir. When Alibek became first deputy director of Biopreparat in 1988, he was put in charge of hiding the evidence. The assignment soon crowded out his other duties. A special task force for the deception plans was set up at the Moscow Institute of Applied Biochemistry. Even the name of the institute was itself a deception. “The institute had no connection with biochemistry: its function was to design and manufacture equipment for our labs,” he said. The task force was given the equivalent of $400,000 to create a cover story, or “legend,” for Biopreparat operations and to demonstrate the “civilian” character of the work, that they were making medicines to defend against disease, or pesticides.
    “Nevertheless, some of us worried that foreign inspectors would see through our schemes.” By 1988, Biopreparat had produced an instruction manual for employees on how to answer questions for inspectors, Alibek said. “Every conceivable question—What is this room for? Why is this equipment here?—was followed by a prepared reply, which workers were expected to memorize.”
    “I was most concerned about our smallpox project,” he said. “If foreign inspectors brought the right equipment to the Vector compound in Siberia, they would immediately pick up evidence of smallpox.” As part of the global smallpox eradication effort, in which the Soviet Union had played a leading role, there were supposed to be only two repositories for the remaining smallpox strains, one in the United States and the other in Moscow at the Ivanovsky Institute of the Ministry of Health. This is what the Soviet Union had pledged to the World Health Organization. What the world didn’t know until years later was that the Soviet Union had broken its word.13

    In 1988, worried about foreign inspections, an order was given by the Soviet military to get rid of a large supply of anthrax spores that had been removed from Sverdlovsk after the accident. This Bacillus anthracis had been in storage at the town of Zima, near Irkutsk, in Siberia. When the order came to destroy it, more than one hundred tons of anthrax solution, in 250-liter stainless steel containers, was taken by train, and then by ship, to Vozrozhdeniye Island, where it was mixed with hydrogen peroxide and formic acid, and then buried in eleven graves dug in the earth. The graves, four to six feet deep, were unlined, so nothing would prevent the anthrax from seeping deeper into the ground. As they lay there under the earth, the anthrax spores were not all destroyed. Some remained active for many years to come.14
    One thousand miles east of Moscow, in a flatlands beyond the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, stood a nondescript rectangle-shaped compound, more than a mile long and nearly a mile wide, situated almost precisely on a north-south axis, with orderly rows of low-lying wood-plank warehouses and corrugated metal rooftops, surrounded by trees and traversed by rail lines. Inside the warehouses, berths cradled row upon row of projectiles, from 85mm artillery rounds to larger warheads for Scud missiles. They were set on racks like so many wine bottles in a dark cellar. In this one remote compound, near the town of Shchuchye in western Siberia, 1.9 million projectiles were filled with 5,447 metric tons of the nerve agents sarin, soman and a Soviet analogue of the nerve gas VX. All told, it was 13.6 percent of the Soviet chemical weapons arsenal.15 The projectiles were the legacy of a shadowy era of the arms race in which the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union stockpiled massive amounts of chemical weapons, while negotiations to restrict them dragged on for two decades in Geneva without result. From the beginning of his disarmament drive, Gorbachev wanted to be rid of these chemical weapons.
    The killing power of chemical weapons is monstrous. Less than ten milligrams of the American nerve agent VX—a small drop of fluid on the skin—could kill a grown man in fifteen minutes or less. A liter of such an agent contains enough lethal doses, theoretically, to kill one million people.16 Such nerve agents serve no peaceful purpose—they are solely agents of death. The author Jonathan Tucker described them as colorless, odorless liquids that enter the body through the lungs or skin and attack the nervous system. The victim falls to the ground, convulses and loses consciousness, after which inhibition of the breathing center of the brain and paralysis of the respiratory muscles cause death by asphyxiation within minutes.
    The Soviets had amassed at least forty thousand tons of chemical agents, and the United States thirty-one thousand tons. While silent about biological weapons, Gorbachev openly sought to get rid of the chemical arms. He announced in Prague on April 13, 1987, that the Soviet Union would stop manufacturing them. He mothballed the Soviet factories for making the chemicals and filling the munitions.
    After his speech on surprise inspections in Geneva, Shevardnadze invited foreign observers to a top-secret Soviet chemical weapons testing facility at Shikhany, on the Volga River 560 miles southeast of Moscow. Shevardnadze said he wanted to “build an atmosphere of trust.” On October 3–4, 1987, a delegation of 110 experts from 45 countries and 55 journalists were flown there in four airplanes. At the facility, on a freshly poured concrete slab, the delegation saw nineteen projectiles and containers, including hand grenades, rocket and artillery rounds, and a nine-foot-tall chemical warhead for the Scud.17 The visit seemed to be another sign of the Gorbachev glasnost. Yuri Nazarkin, the Soviet representative at arms control talks, declared, “We have nothing to hide.”18 This was not quite true. Missing from the lineup on the concrete pad was a new type of chemical weapon Soviet scientists were desperately trying to develop to keep pace with the United States.
    Until the 1980s, both the United States and Soviet Union built chemical weapons that contained a single agent that would be dispersed when detonated. This was called a unitary chemical weapon. The agents tended to degrade over time. The United States stopped manufacturing them in 1969, when potential hazards were discovered in the U.S. arsenal. In 1985, Congress approved destroying the older weapons while authorizing the creation of a new type of chemical weapon, known as a binary. It would have two parts, each a stable ingredient that, when combined at the last minute in the shell or bomb, would turn into a toxic cocktail. This was a tricky engineering feat, but a binary weapon might have a longer shelf life. Reagan approved production of the new binary weapon right after the December 1987 summit with Gorbachev. “Maybe that will get the Soviets to join us in eliminating chemical warfare,” he wrote in his diary.19 The Soviets were already rushing—in secret—to create the same thing. They experimented with binary weapons in the 1970s, but failed to come up with a successful model. Then, in the 1980s, they launched another quest. One part of this new drive was to create a binary weapon out of ordinary chemicals that might be used in fertilizer or pesticides. These were called the novichok generation of agents, or the “new guy.”
    Vil Mirzayanov was a witness to the potential power of these deadly nerve agents. He had worked for many years at the headquarters of chemical weapons research in Moscow. In May 1987, one of his friends, an experienced military chemist, Andrei Zheleznyakov, suffered an accident. He was a test engineer whose job was to check finished products. He was working on a binary weapon, one of the novichok generation. According to Mirzayanov, there was a chemical reactor under a fume hood, and then a pipe carrying the substance to a spectrometer, which was too big to put under the hood. It was in the room, with ventilation on the ceiling, but not protected by the hood.
    The pipe somehow broke, and the poison leaked into the air. Zheleznyakov quickly sealed the leak, but it was too late. He felt the impact immediately—myosis, the constriction of the pupil of the eye. “I saw rings before my eyes—red, orange,” he later recalled. “Bells were ringing inside my head. I choked. Add to this the feeling of fear—as if something was about to happen at any moment. I sat down and told the guys: I think it has ‘got’ me. They dragged me out of the room—I was still able to move—and took me to the chief. He looked at me and said, ‘Have a cup of tea, everything will be fine.’ I drank the tea and immediately threw up.
    “They took me to the medical unit,” he added, “where I was injected with an antidote. I felt a little better. The chief told me: ‘Go home and lie down. Come back tomorrow.’ They assigned me an escort, and we walked past a few bus stops. We were already passing the church near Ilyich Square, when suddenly I saw the church lighting up and falling apart. I remember nothing else.”
    His escort dragged Zheleznyakov back to the medical unit. They called an ambulance and took him to the hospital, accompanied by KGB agents, who told doctors he had suffered food poisoning from eating contaminated sausage. The KGB agents made the doctors sign a pledge never to discuss the case. After eighteen days in intensive care, doctors managed to save his life.
    At the end of the hospitalization, he was given a pension and told to remain silent. Zheleznyakov suffered aftereffects for a long time, including chronic weakness in his arms, toxic hepatitis, epilepsy, severe depression and an inability to concentrate. Zheleznyakov had been a jovial man and was known as a talented woodcarver, but the accident left him unable to work or be creative. He died five years after the accident.20
    Novichok had shown its teeth.

—————  14  —————

    Reagan’s last hurrah with Gorbachev came on a warm spring day, May 31, 1988. Having finished the third plenary meeting of their fourth summit, they stepped out into the lilac-scented breezes for a walking tour around the Kremlin and Red Square, trailed by aides and journalists. They stopped near a thirty-nine-ton cannon dating from 1586 that stands in a plaza in the center of the Kremlin. Asked if he still considered the Soviet Union to be an evil empire, Reagan replied, “No.” Surprised, reporters asked why. Reagan paused, and tilted his head to one side. “You are talking about another time, another era,” he said.
    The moment marked the end of Reagan’s cold war. On his first visit to the Soviet Union after so many decades of antipathy, Reagan and Gorbachev did not sign any nuclear arms treaties, a missed opportunity for deep cuts in strategic weapons, and they would not eliminate any more weapons together in the eight months remaining in Reagan’s term.1 But they began to put the superpower rivalry to rest, in a vivid and symbolic way, walking the cobblestones of Red Square for twenty minutes under the afternoon sun. Gorbachev, in a light business suit, showed Reagan, in a darker one, the onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, the GUM department store, the State Historical Museum and Lenin’s tomb. At one point, Reagan and Gorbachev put their arms around each other’s waists, like two tourists posing for photos. “What we have decided to do,” Reagan said, “is talk to each other and not about each other, and that’s working just fine.”
    Later in the day, Reagan delivered one of the most powerful speeches of his presidency to students at Moscow State University. He spoke in the lecture hall standing under a large white bust of Lenin with a mural spreading out behind him depicting the Bolshevik Revolution. Reagan articulated his themes of democracy, capitalism and freedom, ideas that had so animated his anti-communism. Reagan declared the world stood at the start of a new revolution “quietly sweeping the globe without bloodshed or conflict.” This was the “information revolution,” Reagan said, describing the power of one computer chip, and “its effects are peaceful, but they will fundamentally alter our world, shatter old assumptions, and reshape our lives.” Reagan celebrated freedom, entrepreneurship and dissent. And, quoting Boris Pasternak, he championed “the irresistible power of unarmed truth” to the students. Reagan endorsed Gorbachev’s drive for change, and voiced anew his goal of abolishing nuclear weapons. Those days in May marked the zenith of his extraordinary partnership with Gorbachev.

    Reagan’s enthusiasm was not shared by his vice president, George Bush, who was watching the spectacle at his home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush was campaigning that year to be Reagan’s successor, running against a liberal Democrat, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Bush was profoundly cautious by character. His guiding principles were good stewardship—public service in an old-fashioned sense—and avoiding mistakes. He had doubts about whether the changes in Moscow were real, and he was uneasy at the scenes from Red Square. A few weeks later, speaking in San Francisco to the World Affairs Council of Northern California, he expressed this uncertainty. “We must be bold enough to seize the opportunity of change,” he said, “but at the same time be prepared for what one pundit called ‘The Protracted Conflict.’” Bush clearly had not made up his mind. He was more certain about the past than the future. “The Cold War is not over,” he declared.2
    The next few months underscored how wrong he was. Gorbachev rushed toward fundamental change. The Soviet leader announced troops would begin a pullout from Afghanistan by May 15, 1988, and they did. In private conversations in the Kremlin, the Cold War was being tossed into the waste bin of history. For example, on June 20—nine days before Bush said the Cold War was not over—Gromyko, once the hardest of the hard-liners, gave strong voice to the new thinking, declaring at a Politburo meeting that decades of competition in the arms race had been senseless. “And so we made more and more nuclear weapons,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting. “That was our mistaken position, absolutely mistaken. And the political leadership bears the entire blame for it. Tens of billions were spent on production of these toys; we did not have enough brains” to stop.3
    By autumn, Gorbachev was preparing his most daring proposal yet, a major speech to the United Nations announcing a massive Soviet troop pullback from Europe. Meeting with a small group of his foreign policy advisers October 31, he recalled Winston Churchill’s famous speech, “Sinews of Peace,” at Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946. In the address, Churchill warned that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” with Soviet control tightening over “all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.” Gorbachev declared his own ambition was to mark the end of the era. “In general, this speech should be an anti-Fulton—Fulton in reverse,” Gorbachev said.
    On November 3, after a Politburo meeting, Gorbachev brought up his plan with a wider group of senior officials. Chernyaev recalled that Gorbachev was “clearly nervous.” He carefully maneuvered so as not to ignite opposition from the military. He did not disclose the full details of the planned one-sided pullback. He noted that the Soviet military was far larger than would be required under the new doctrine Akhromeyev had drafted. This would be difficult to admit publicly. “If we publish how matters stand, that we spend over twice as much as the United States on military needs, if we let the scope of our expenses be known, all our new thinking and our new foreign policy will go to hell,” Gorbachev said. “Not one country in the world spends as much per capita on weapons as we do, except perhaps the developing nations that we are swamping with weapons and getting nothing in return.”4
    Gorbachev’s address to the United Nations on December 7 was a milestone in his retreat from the Cold War. He condemned the “one-sided reliance on military power” that had been a pillar of Soviet foreign policy, and he announced unilateral reductions in the Soviet armed forces of five hundred thousand men, including six tank divisions in Eastern Europe. It was a profound break from the past to make such a sizable one-sided pullback. Gorbachev said the Soviet Union would no longer hold the nations of Eastern Europe in its grip, another breathtaking change in approach. “Freedom of choice is a universal principle,” he said. “It knows no exceptions.”
    After the speech, Gorbachev took a ferry to meet Reagan for a farewell lunch on Governor’s Island, joined by Bush, who had just been elected president. In the twilight hours of his presidency, Reagan was ebullient, and wrote in his diary that the meeting was a “tremendous success” and Gorbachev had “a better attitude than at any of our previous meetings. He sounded as if he saw us as partners making a better world.”5 Yet on substance, Reagan did not discuss Gorbachev’s remarkable speech in any detail, and they parted without having realized their most cherished goal, eliminating the long-range nuclear weapons, the brass ring they had nearly grasped at Reykjavik. The hope of cutting the arsenals by 50 percent was bogged down in negotiations.6
    At the Governor’s Island meeting, Bush, the president-elect, kept quiet, not wanting to upstage Reagan.7 Gorbachev noticed the hesitation. “We should take into account that Bush is a very cautious politician,” Gorbachev told the Politburo on his return to Moscow. Georgi Arbatov, director of the Institute for the Study of the U.S.A. and Canada, the leading Soviet specialist on America, was more blunt. Gorbachev read out to the Politburo group Arbatov’s assessment that the United States has “suddenly sent a trial balloon: we are not ready; let’s wait, we will see. In general, they will drag their feet, they want to break the wave that has been created by our initiatives.”8
    Bush did not share Reagan’s hopes of eliminating nuclear weapons. He decided against an early summit with Gorbachev. Two days after Bush was inaugurated, Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, said, “I think the Cold War is not over.”9 Within a month of taking office in January 1989, Bush ordered a series of internal foreign policy studies, including one on U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, which produced little and wasted months. “In the end, what we received was mush,” said Bush’s close friend and his new secretary of state, James A. Baker III.10 In general, Bush saw Gorbachev’s dynamic of change, but interpreted it as a competitive threat to the United States rather than an opportunity. “I’ll be darned if Mr. Gorbachev should dominate world public opinion forever,” Bush wrote to a friend March 13.11
    Baker recalled many years later that Bush paused in early 1989 primarily to put his own stamp on foreign policy, and because slowing down the pace with the Soviets would also help calm the right wing of the Republican Party. Baker said the pause was driven by these needs, and was not a response to Gorbachev or the situation in Moscow. The administration soon came up with the idea of “testing” Gorbachev, setting up hoops and demanding that Gorbachev jump through them.12
    On April 29, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney predicted in a televised appearance that Gorbachev would “ultimately fail.”13 Bush also found reinforcement from Scowcroft, who was extremely cautious because he feared that Gorbachev was trying to rope the United States into another period of détente in order to gain some advantage, as many felt had happened in the 1970s. “Once burned, twice shy,” Scowcroft said later.14
    When Baker visited Moscow on May 10, Shevardnadze told him Gorbachev was eager to eliminate the whole class of tactical, or short-range, nuclear weapons in Europe. “Do not dodge” the issue, Shevardnadze warned Baker. A day later, Gorbachev announced he was unilaterally withdrawing five hundred warheads from Eastern Europe, and promised even more if the United States would take similar steps. But Baker brushed off the proposal as a political ploy.15 On May 16, Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary, told a press briefing that Gorbachev was throwing out arms control proposals like a “drugstore cowboy,” a slang term meaning someone who makes promises they can’t keep.16
    On July 20, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Jack F. Matlock Jr., met with Alexander Yakovlev, one of the leading architects of Gorbachev’s new thinking. “There is only one danger—nuclear weapons,” Yakovlev insisted, imploring the United States to accelerate negotiations. Matlock replied that Reagan’s dream of nuclear abolition was no longer on the table. “Reagan believed in the possibility of liquidation of nuclear weapons,” Matlock said. “Bush thinks that we need to reduce them to a minimum, but not liquidate them. He believes that without nuclear weapons the risk of war being unleashed would increase.”17
    While Bush delayed, Gorbachev’s ambitions for disarmament were as keen as ever. Katayev’s files contain a Politburo work plan on arms control and defense issues for 1989—with dozens of instructions and tight deadlines, starting in early January and running well into the next year—which underscored how the Kremlin wanted to move briskly on many fronts. The list, ten pages long, included the new initiative to reduce tactical or short-range nuclear weapons; the elimination of chemical weapons; publication of once-secret data on Soviet military spending; creating a global space organization; reducing foreign aid to other states in the Soviet bloc; boosting science and technology for the civilian sector; and downsizing the military-industrial complex. The list included directives to various ministries and agencies aimed at jump-starting defense conversion, or switching military production to civilian goods, with an aim of creating better living standards for a society staggering under shortages and economic hardship.18
    Katayev drafted a five-page instruction, prepared for the Central Committee’s approval in January 1989, laying out the rationale for a dramatic cut in Soviet weapons. The document is yet another powerful piece of evidence that Gorbachev at this point was pushing to slash military spending. The goal of defense cuts, the instruction said, was to free up resources “for accelerated development of the national economy” and provide for the most urgent everyday needs of the Soviet people.19Another document in Katayev’s files shows that Soviet military spending peaked in 1989 and began a sharp decline thereafter.20 As promised, the Soviet army retreated from Afghanistan by February 15, when the last Soviet commander of the 40th Army, Lieutenant General Boris Gromov, walked back across the Amu Darya River bridge at Termez.
    By late 1988 and early 1989, just as Bush was taking office, Gorbachev may have reached the zenith of his powers as a leader. It would have been an ideal time to seize the initiative and lock in a 50 percent cut in strategic weapons, as well as reductions in other systems, such as tactical nuclear weapons. A strategic arms treaty also might have been easier because Bush was not dazzled by Reagan’s grand dream of a defense against ballistic missiles that had proven so contentious in earlier years. But Bush hesitated.
    In Moscow, Gorbachev’s room for maneuver soon began to shrink. The forces of freedom and openness he had unleashed began to overtake him, creating obstacles and open resistance: new forces of democracy at home; a sweeping tide of change in Eastern Europe; the reawakening of old nationalist dreams in the Soviet republics. On March 26, the first relatively free election since the Bolshevik Revolution was held for a new Soviet legislature, the Congress of People’s Deputies. In the balloting, the Communist Party leadership in Leningrad was turned out, pro-independence parties won in the Baltics and Yeltsin, the radical reformer, triumphed in Moscow. The Communist Party establishment took a shellacking. When the new legislature met for the first time from May 25 through June 9, Gorbachev ordered the proceedings broadcast on television. People stayed home from work to watch the broadcasts; the country was transfixed by debates that broke new ground in freedom of speech. One result was that Gorbachev, the party, the KGB and the military were lambasted with open and often trenchant criticism. The virus of freedom seemed to be spreading fast.
    In China, Gorbachev’s visit in May brought the student protests for democracy in Tiananmen Square to a new level of intensity. They were suppressed by the massacre a few weeks later. Across Eastern Europe, ferment spread, especially in Hungary and Poland, where the Solidarity movement came out from the underground and won in the elections to parliament. On July 7, Gorbachev affirmed to leaders of the Warsaw Pact that the Soviet Union would not intervene to stop the juggernaut, and they were free to go their own way. During the same week, Akhromeyev, in his new capacity as an adviser to Gorbachev, had a remarkable tour of U.S. military installations during which he and Admiral William Crowe, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, openly debated how to end the arms race.21 Bush’s trip to Poland and Hungary in July exposed him to the torrent of change there.22 In his diary, Chernyaev captured the madness and the drama of these months. “All around Gorbachev has unleashed irreversible processes of ‘disintegration’ which had earlier been restrained or covered up by the arms race, the fear of war…” he wrote. Socialism in Eastern Europe is “disappearing,” the planned economy “is living its last days,” ideology “doesn’t exist any more,” the Soviet empire “is falling apart,” the Communist Party “is in disarray” and “chaos is breaking out,” he wrote.23
    In September, Shevardnadze flew with Baker on the secretary’s air force plane to a meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In a long talk on the flight, Shevardnadze drove home to Baker the urgency of Gorbachev’s problems at home, especially the forces of disintegration pulling the republics away from the center. Baker had not realized in the spring that Gorbachev’s situation was so precarious and the window of opportunity was closing. “Our CIA was way, way behind the curve,” he said. Baker recalled the first hints came only that summer, and by September, on the flight to Jackson Hole, it “really became obvious.”24 One concrete outcome of the Baker and Shevardnadze meeting in Wyoming was an agreement to exchange data about chemical weapons stockpiles. However, the Soviet Union did not disclose the secret research on the new binary weapon, the novichok generation.
    Chernyaev called 1989 “The Lost Year.” It was also the beginning of the crack-up. A gargantuan superpower was starting to come unglued, with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons strewn across the landscape.

    As authority weakened in the Soviet Union, secrets leaked out of the military’s most carefully guarded citadels. Velikhov, the progressive physicist and Gorbachev’s adviser, personally exposed some of them in another amazing glasnost tour. In July, he brought a group of American scientists, led by Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, to the Black Sea to conduct a verification experiment involving a Soviet cruise missile, armed with a nuclear warhead, on a navy ship.25 It was rare for Americans to get so close to a Soviet weapon. The point was to determine if radiation detectors could spot the presence or absence of a nuclear warhead. While some theoretical studies had been done, the experiment offered a chance to check the radiation detectors against a real weapon. The question was important because of the larger debate at the time about whether there could be effective verification of sea-launched cruise missiles. The United States claimed it was impossible to verify nuclear warheads on naval cruise missiles, and insisted they should be left out of the negotiations on strategic arms. The Soviets wanted to count them—and limit them—because of the American advantage. Velikhov wanted to pierce the veil of secrecy, in hopes it would reduce the danger of the arms race, just as he had done in 1986, bringing Cochran to the secret Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing site, and again in 1987 to the disputed Krasnoyarsk radar. This time, the KGB tried to stop Velikhov, but Gorbachev overruled them.26
    On a sunny July 5, 1989, the Americans, joined by a group of Soviet scientists, lugged their radiation detectors aboard the Slava, a 610-foot Soviet cruiser at Yalta on the Black Sea. At that moment, the ship held a single SS-N-12 nuclear-armed cruise missile, NATO code-named “Sandbox,” stored in the forward, exterior starboard launcher. The Soviets were so nervous about the visit that they had rehearsed it for weeks. They feared the Americans might learn too much about the design of the warhead. The sea was a sparkling blue, and Cochran wore shorts, a baseball cap and a T-shirt as he and his team wrestled the test equipment onto the missile tube to measure the radiation. The evening before the experiment, the Soviets had insisted that, by the plan, the Americans could take only a very short reading, but Cochran got a longer one and plenty of data. Soviet scientists carried out their own tests, too. In one extraordinary glasnost moment, the hatch was opened and the Americans took photographs of the dark, menacing tip of the cruise missile, lurking just inside the cover.27
    No sooner were the scientists back in Moscow on July 7 than Velikhov bundled them off to the airport to see another secret installation. They flew 850 miles east to Chelyabinsk-40, near the town of Kyshtym, a nuclear complex built in Stalin’s day, where reactors had churned out plutonium for nuclear weapons. The complex was top secret, but when Velikhov appeared at the gates, they swung open. “It was the first time foreigners were in a town whose whole existence was to destroy America,” Velikhov recalled.28 Von Hippel, the Princeton professor who had known Velikhov since the early 1980s, said that Velikhov wanted the Americans to see a plutonium reactor being shut down, fulfilling a promise Gorbachev had made earlier. After the tour, “We had a fairy-tale-like dinner on an island in the middle of this lake, with a long table with white tablecloth and silver laid out under the birch trees,” Von Hippel remembered. Boris Brokhovich, the seventy-three-year-old director of Chelyabinsk-40, stripped naked and plunged into the lake. Several of the Americans then followed him. Not far from the lake was the scene of a devastating accident more than three decades earlier, when a storage tank exploded, throwing 70–80 metric tons of waste containing 20 million curies of radioactivity over the surrounding area. The total release of long-lived fission products, almost comparable to Chernobyl, had contaminated thousands of square kilometers. The accident, September 29, 1957, was hushed up for decades, but revealed after the Soviet collapse.
    The last stop on Velikhov’s glasnost tour was the most daring, the one he had first suggested to the Central Committee, and which they had rejected: the Sary Shagan laser test site. This was the facility the Reagan administration claimed “could be used in an anti-satellite role” and might also be used for missile defense. It was the subject of the ominous illustration in Soviet Military Power showing a beam shooting straight up into the heavens. The Soviet leadership knew the claims were untrue but had been embarrassed to admit it. Velikhov brought the Americans to see for themselves on July 8. Von Hippel quickly realized the U.S. claims had been vastly exaggerated. “It was sort of a relic,” he said of the lasers he saw there, which were the equivalent of industrial lasers, easily purchased in the West. There was no sign of the war machine the Reagan administration had conjured up. “These guys had been abandoned, a backwater of the military-industrial complex. It was from an earlier time. It was really pitiful.” The one “computer” consisted of transistor boards wired together—built before the personal computer. “They had been trying to see whether they could get a reflection off a satellite,” he recalled. “They never succeeded.”29
    Velikhov’s campaign for openness paid one of its most surprising