A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare — Central Intelligence Agency

Summary

Soviet intelligence services went on alert in 1981 to watch for US preparations for launching a surprise nuclear attack against the USSR and its allies. This alert was accompanied by a new Soviet intelligence collection program, known by the acronym RYAN, to monitor indications and provide early warning of US intentions. Two years later a major war scare erupted in the USSR. This study traces the origins and scope of Operation RYAN and its relationship to the war scare.

Some observers dismissed the alert and the war scare as Soviet disinformation and scare tactics, while others viewed them as reflecting genuine fears. The latter view seems to have been closer to the truth. The KGB in the early 1980s saw the international situation–in Soviet terminology, the “correlation of world forces”–as turning against the USSR and increasing its vulnerability. These developments, along with the new US administration’s tough stance toward the USSR, prompted Soviet officials and much of the populace to voice concern over the prospect of a US nuclear attack.

New information suggests that Moscow also was reacting to US-led naval and air operations, including psychological warfare missions conducted close to the Soviet Union. These operations employed sophisticated concealment and deception measures to thwart Soviet early warning systems and to offset the Soviets’ ability–greatly bolstered by US spy John Walker–to read US naval communications.

…(read more).

See also:

Concerning the role of Stanislav Petrov

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