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Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

Posted October 21, 2010 9:00 AM by Steve Melito

In October 1982, U.S. infrared satellites detected "a bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere", explains Thomas C. Reed in At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War. A graduate of Cornell (B.S., Mechanical Engineering) and the University of Southern California (M.S., Electrical Engineering), Thomas Reed was a defense advisor to the Reagan White House and a former Secretary of the Air Force under Presidents Ford and Carter. He was also a veteran of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, where his work included thermonuclear weapons physics.

A Fire Seen from Space

The "bizarre event" that American satellites observed was also "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space," Reed explains. This explosion, reported to be one-seventh the magnitude of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II, vaporized part of the Soviet Union's Trans-Siberian Pipeline, a newly-built conduit for shipping natural gas to western Ukraine. From there, the gas that was supposed to earn the U.S.S.R. $8-billion a year could be transported to the Eastern Bloc, as well as to Central and Western Europe.

An Unreported Accident

Spanning 2,800 miles and equipped with 42 compressor stations, the Trans-Siberian Pipeline was vulnerable – with or without components from U.S. companies, the sale of which were embargoed from 1980 to 1984. According to a Time magazine article from January 1984, the pipeline's first accident occurred on December 15 of the previous year, when a small fire at a compressor station destroyed some electronic monitoring devices and control panels. But that fire was not the first – nor was the first fire that small.

Agent Farewell

The massive blast of October 1982 remained largely unreported until recently, when the National Security Archive told the tale of Vladimir Vetrov, a KGB Colonel charged with stealing the secrets of Western technology. In 1981, Vetrov passed 4,000 pages of highly-classified documents about the Soviet Union's industrial espionage campaign to a French spy. French intelligence then shared this information with the CIA, which learned that the Soviets had infiltrated American laboratories, factories, and government agencies.

Vetrov, whom the CIA code-named "Farewell", thus sparked one of the most successful (at least that we know about) counter-intelligence efforts in U.S. Cold War history. As National Security Archive blogger Bernie Horowitz explains, the CIA began "doctoring" items on the Soviets' technological "wish list" with flaws that "rendered them ultimately useless or even hazardous". As Thomas C. Reed notes in At the Abyss, the Soviets were especially interested in "sophisticated control systems" to automate the valves, compressors, and other components in the Trans-Siberian Pipeline.

When the U.S. refused to sell software to the Soviets, a KGB operative tried to steal some code from a Canadian company. Vladimir Vetrov notified his handlers about this effort, and Western intelligence agents modified the software before its receipt in the Soviet Union. As Thomas C. Reed explains, "the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Resources:

http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/agent-farewell-and-the-siberian-pipeline-explosion/#_edn2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_C._Reed

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urengoy%E2%80%93Pomary%E2%80%93Uzhgorod_pipeline

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,949950-1,00.html

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#1

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/21/2010 10:31 AM

The father of Stuxnet.

See what can happen when you use pirated software kids!

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/21/2010 10:50 AM

Did you mean this link instead, stevem? From the Stuxnet Wikipedia page:

"The worm's probable target has been said to have been high value infrastructures in Iran using Siemens control systems. According to news reports the infestation by this worm might have damaged Iran's nuclear facilities in Natanz and eventually delayed the start up of Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant."

For the record, Sean McGurk, director of the U.S. National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) has told reporters that Stuxnet is not an American cyberweapon.

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#3
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/21/2010 11:26 AM

Oops!

That was a link for Kaplin. Its been corrected, thx.

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#4
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/21/2010 11:44 PM

And you can put as much faith in that statement as you can in anything Obama says too. I.e. nil

it was either Israeli or it was a US-Israel combined effort.

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#5

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/21/2010 11:49 PM

Reminds me of the Tupelov 144 "Concordski" that was built using subtly altered plans that shifted the CG too far forward making it aerodynamically unstable... heh, sux to be Soviet...

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#9
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 4:48 AM

"Reminds me of the Tupelov 144 "Concordski" that was built using subtly altered plans that shifted the CG too far forward making it aerodynamically unstable... heh, sux to be Soviet..."

This story is almost certainly false. The USSR's industrial base was crippled by Socialism, but there was nothing wrong with their scientific expertise. Such an alteration would have been noted immediately and corrected.

The true story, as I understand it, was more one of convergent evolution driven by limitations in structures and engines. In other words, the aircraft looked alike, but came from different sets of blueprints.

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#11
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 5:56 AM

I do remember (at the time?) that spies were operating in both the UK and France to get hold of infos AND funnily enough, KonKordsKi had to have extra tiny wings at the front for some weird reason.......

I did hear once that the Russian version was only built as a normal aircraft whereas Concorde had almost a "fighter aircraft" fuel system with several computers moving fuel around to perfect the way the aircraft was balanced at all times.....this apparently was too expensive for the Socialists of the time......

There is an interesting web site here:-

http://www.wingweb.co.uk/aircraft/2/SST_rise_and_fall (Sorry! Link no longer available.)

That has an interesting article about Soviet spying of Concorde and mentions who it was and how they caught (at least!) one of them - here:-

In 1964, French counterintelligence got wise to this game and sent out an alert to relevant organizations to beware of snoops and to be careful about releases of information. They began to keep tabs on Sergei Pavlov, the head of the Paris office of Aeroflot, whose official job gave him legitimate reasons for obtaining information from the French aviation industry and put him in an excellent position to spy on the Concorde effort. Pavlov was not aware that French counterintelligence was on to him, and so the French fed him misinformation to send Soviet research efforts down dead ends. Eventually, on 1 February 1965, the French arrested him while he was going to a lunch date with a contact, and found that he had plans for the Concorde's landing gear in his briefcase. Pavlov was thrown out of the country.

(Sorry, above link for Concorde [http://www.wingweb.co.uk/aircraft/SST_rise_and_fall.html] no longer available.)

So misinformation via spies was highly possible......though not officially corroberated....

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#16
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 12:46 PM

The Soviets were also having trouble with the hot sections of their early jet engines not lasting very long due to metallurgical issues (high temp oxidation among them.). they managed to arrange a tour of the rolls royce manufacturing facility and they all wore special shoes that had sticky rubber soles and they purposely walked through any pile of machining chips they could find. when they got back to the embassy they picked the chips out of the shoes for chemical and metallurgical analysis. that is how they figured out what the hot sections of the Nene engines were made from.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klimov_VK-1

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#6

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/22/2010 6:50 AM

Its amazing that the Soviet Union was reduced to stealing everything it needed with regard to High Tech stuff.If they had treated their own people better, maybe that would not have been necessary.....today, Russian programmers are world leaders.....

So basically this software "change" was a virus!! Primed to start working at a particular time, so was this the first sucessful "BIG TIME" computer virus????

I wonder if it was designed to explode something ONLY in a wilderness somehow? Nobody was harmed.....fantastic!

All is fair in love and war....and that was (a cold-) wartime......Bigtime!!!

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#7
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/22/2010 8:09 PM

Not a virus - the definition includes self-replication. More a time-bomb.

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#8
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/22/2010 9:35 PM

technically it is a logic bomb, which can include timing elements. but we're splitting hairs...

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#10
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 5:06 AM

To me it has all the similar characteristics of a virus, worm or Trojan - timing and chaos - using the limited amount of available information here.

Who knows whether or not it would have replicated itself given the chance? That would be an important feature to my mind, that should not have been left out.....

What I find particularly interesting is that the location of the explosion was far away from where people lived......I wonder if there was some intelligence in the code that picked a "location", or just pure luck that nobody was hurt.....probably the latter as I am sure that the writers did not care where the explosion occurred.....if one could be produced!!

It would be great if there was someone still alive who just happens to know more about this and is also a CR4 member, could chime in here.......but please NOT as a guest, I almost never believe a word they say (unless they have the same opinion as myself of course!!!)

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#12

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 7:14 AM

Sounds like a Tom Clancy scenario. Sounds good but how much truth in it?

I doubt there is much.

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#13

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 8:15 AM

For anyone interested in reading more of spying between the US and the then Soviet Bloc, would do well to start reading here:-

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/96unclass/farewell.htm

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#14
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 11:36 AM

I had more interest in "friends" spying on "friends". One public knowledge incident was when the USA found out about the Suez invasion by breaking British/French code messages. In the light of our record since then, it is ironic that he "ordered" them to stop the invasion.

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#15
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

10/23/2010 12:24 PM

Actually, to my mind, probably just as well. Either a lot of Egyptians would have been basically murdered, or the unorganised landing force.......

It would have helped very few people.....if any....

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#17
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

01/20/2011 7:53 PM

It sounds like a made-up story. Can we see this code? ~~ Nehmo

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#18
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

01/21/2011 5:49 AM

Do you want a link or a book title?

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#19
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

01/21/2011 4:53 PM

I'd like to see the program code or at least proof that it's available. The story is unlikely in many respects. So, I'l like some strong evidence before I believe it.

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#20
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Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

01/22/2011 12:57 PM

I can elaborate a bit on my skepticism. Back in '82 and before, software was primitive contrasted with what is employed today. (The first Windows came out in November 1985; Mac OS in 1984). The article says that the control software...

I just searched on the subject. It's a hoax and a well known one. http://www.bookscape.co.uk/short_stories/computer_hoaxes.php

"Safire had claimed that the CIA had reprogrammed Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition software, and then allowed Soviet agents to steal it. It would be used to control gas pipelines, the CIA claimed. And, the result, in June 1982, according to Safire, was the most gigantic explosion in the Trans-Siberian Pipeline. Of course nobody ever heard about it, because the pipeline is in the wilderness, and the Soviets kept the accident a secret. Of course this report was bogus. Safire knew perfectly well that it was bogus, and I'm sure that Wilson knew it too."

I searched more. People like to believe. There are still people who stick to the logic-time-bomb story. But it doesn't stand to critical analysis. There isn't even any evidence there was a big explosion in '82.

That's all the time I'm going to spend on this one.

~~ Nehmo

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#21

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

02/02/2011 4:26 AM

Вот собаки, мой отец там погиб...

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: Farewell: The Siberian Pipeline Explosion

02/02/2011 5:54 AM

Did you get hit by the debris?

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