Did Reagan plan to blow up the Soviet gas pipeline using a computer virus?

American media spread the sensation of a secret CIA operation against the USSR in the early eighties


39 years ago, in January 1981, the new president, Republican Ronald Reagan, entered the White House. Holding the post for two terms, Reagan led the country out of the economic crisis, intensified foreign policy pressure and military spending. It is believed that this led to the beginning of the collapse of communist regimes throughout Europe.

The real facts about the then work of the CIA against the “Russian threat” are sometimes difficult to distinguish from speculation and outright jokes. “In 1982, the president signed a secret plan to destroy the Soviet gas pipeline in Siberia … the result was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history,” writes contemporary American publicist Ted Rall in an article for Counterpunch.

There were indeed disasters in Soviet pipelines at that time, including with casualties. Were Reagan and the CIA behind them?


By the end of the 1970s, the USSR was noticeably behind the West in the field of high technology. For example, computers were used to control compressor stations in gas pipelines. Say, if the pipe got damaged and the pressure dropped, then the machine would immediately block section affected by the damage to prevent leakage. But the Soviet industry could not offer such equipment.

So it was necessary to rely on Western secrets. At that time, the T Department, as part of the First Main Directorate of the KGB (Soviet Foreign Intelligence), was engaged in the production of classified scientific and technical information abroad. But a traitor was in the ranks of the Chekists: officer Vladimir Vetrov managed to transfer to the West a dossier of almost 4,000 documents on the methods of work of the “T” department before the mole was exposed and sentenced to death.


In early 1982, it is said a report on the Vetrov Dossier caught Reagan’s eye. In the best traditions of Hollywood, where the president-actor once acted in movies, he came up with a cunning plan: to open one of the channels of Soviet espionage described by Vetrov, making a “controlled delivery”. Through Canada, Soviet representatives slipped gas line controllers – infected with computer viruses. This is written, for example, by Reagan’s former intelligence adviser Tom Reed in a book entitled “At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War”, published in 2004.

“The pipeline software that was supposed to control the compressors and valves was programmed to fail. The pump continued to run with the valve closed, the pressure rises and tears the welds”, said Reed. The result was the grand explosion on the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod gas pipeline in Western Siberia, reportedly in 1982.

In Soviet newspapers there was not a single word about the disaster. Censorship? But only 5-6 years afterwards, when the era of glasnost began, witnesses should have remained. And if the “explosion was comparable to a nuclear one”, the destruction should have been comparable to the one from the Tunguska meteorite. Where is all this? Reed even indicated the place of the tragedy approximately – “near Tobolsk” (but, incidentally, this pipeline does not pass through there at all). Finally, officially the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod gas pipeline was completed noticeably later than the described events, in 1984.

“Objective sources, such as declassified archives, have not yet confirmed all these data”, explains Yaroslav Levin, historian of the American intelligence services. – How did such a story come about? There are several versions. First: Reid wrote years later, on the base of his own fragmentary memories, and could easily have mixed up something. Second: the tale of the “killer computer virus” was an element of the information war, designed to convince that the United States has been and remains the leader in computer technology. Finally, the third version – the author could intentionally have distorted the details of some real operation, so that knowledgeable people would not establish who could have performed it.


Over 600 dead

Nevertheless, there is a clue. A gas pipeline explosion with victims took place, but not “near Tobolsk”, but near Ufa, and not in 1982, but in 1989. That summer, a leak occurred on the Siberia-Ural-Volga pipeline.

In the lowland near the railway, an invisible “gas lake” was formed. Two passenger trains went on the opposite path. Because of what the tragedy happened, we don’t know: a spark in electrical appliances, a cigarette in the vestibule … But it was enough for the “gas lake” to detonate.

According to some estimates, the power of the explosion was comparable to the atomic bomb over Hiroshima (again, we recall the words about “the most grandiose non-nuclear disaster in history”). Even the exact death toll is unknown – 550 – 650.

Official version: five years before the disaster, the excavator damaged the pipeline during installation. Over time, it became thinner, and a leak began. But is it possible that the “colorless death” just happened because of a deliberate failure of the controller in the gas pipeline?

“Towards the end of its existence, the Soviet Union was faced with a wave of man-made accidents: Chernobyl, aviation and railway accidents,” says political scientist and expert on cyber technology Mikhail Friben. – It is difficult to assume that all this was due to the intrigues of the CIA. The version of the “computer virus attack” is doubtful. The equipment was bought in the West as part of a formal deal: we give them gas, they give us pipes and pumping equipment. It is unlikely that international partners would be so substituted.

Rather, this story was Reagan’s virtuoso bluff, like so many of his other affairs. Take, for example, the famous Star Wars project: they say the United States is ready to strike the Soviets from outer space if Moscow does not agree to American conditions. It turned out that all this was part of a massive disinformation campaign.

Edvard Chesnokov

This article was originally published in Komsomolskaya Pravda. You can find the original text here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s