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Top 5 KGB operations on U.S. soil
Russia's famed intelligence agency was often successful in getting American secrets.
- The KGB recruited spies and carried out numerous operations in the United States.
- The spies compromised U.S. intelligence and military.
- Some practices of the KGB continue in modern intelligence.
A 1980s Time magazine article declared that the KGB, a Soviet state security agency, is the world's preeminent information-gathering organization. While the CIA, MI6, Mossad and Interpol may debate such a title, the KGB (1954-1991) was certainly one of the most powerful, feared and successful intelligence services.
The KGB carried out numerous audacious and deadly operations. It was also very good at recruiting. Over the years, a number of Americans have been implicated in working for the KGB.
Of course, we don't really know the full extent of everything devised and carried out by such a secretive group. But from known evidence, here are 5 of the most impactful operations the KGB orchestrated on U.S. soil.
5. Flipping Robert Hanssen
What's a greater intelligence coup than recruiting intelligence agents from the enemy's country? The KGB managed to pull off several such feats during the Cold War. One top double-agent was Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who also spied for the Soviets from 1979 till 2001. The Department of Justice called Hanssen's espionage "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."
Currently serving 15 consecutive life sentences in a federal supermax prison in Colorado, Hanssen earned over $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for selling classified documents to the KGB by the thousands. These papers detailed American weapons developments and the U.S. counterintelligence program. Some of the KGB double-agent names Hanssen revealed to his Soviet handlers ended up getting executed. He also relayed American strategies in case of a nuclear war.
Hanssen was finally caught in 2001, after the FBI paid $7 million to a KGB agent for a file on an anonymous mole. Fingerprinting and voice analysis identified Hannsen.
4. The recruitment of Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames' mugshot.
Spying at some of the same time as Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames was arguably an even bigger get for the KGB. He was a 31-year CIA officer, who fed highly classified CIA information to the Russians from 1985 until 1994. His actions directly resulted in the deaths of at least 10 CIA sources and compromised at least a hundred U.S. intelligence operations.
Ames was eventually caught when his lifestyle, which was too lavish for his paycheck, was noticed.
At his trial, Ames admitted that he gave up "virtually all Soviet agents of the CIA and other American and foreign services known to me", while providing the KGB with a "huge quantity of information on United States foreign, defense and security policies."
He is now serving his life sentence in a medium-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
3. Operation Cedar
Hungry Horse Powerplant, Montana, USA.
This operation didn't fully come to fruition so why is it on this list? Its sheer ambition. Operation Cedar, which took over ten years of preparation (1959-1972), intended to seriously disrupt the U.S. power supply. The idea was to destroy giant hydroelectric dams, as well as the Hungry Horse Dam and Flathead Dam in Montana. This would result in the loss of power to the entire state of New York and all the regions nearing the dams.
KGB agents used a safe house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to coordinate the attacks, which would lead to unimaginable chaos. The plan also called for destroying oil refineries and oil pipelines between the U.S. and Canada. The ultimate goal for the operatives was to plant explosives in the Port of New York – a key harbor for commerce.
The operation is mentioned in the Mitrokhin Archive – 25,000 notes made by the 30-year KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, which he brought with him when he defected to the U.K. He worked in the First Chief Directorate, the unit tasked with gathering foreign intelligence and operations. Mitrokhin didn't reveal why Operation Cedar didn't happen.
2. Operation Pandora
Black Panthers in protest outside California's Capitol building.
The KGB had a long-standing strategy of exploiting racial tensions in the U.S. This approach culminated in Operation Pandora, a 1960s plan also detailed in the Mitrokhin Archive. This operation's goal was nothing less than the start of a race war that would consume and self-destruct the United States.
According to Darien Cavanaugh, writing for War Is Boring, the Soviets looked to rattle the U.S. and wanted to incite violence between radical groups like the KKK, African American militants, and the Jewish Defense League (JDL). From that standpoint, the KGB sought to exploit the situation following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was regarded by Soviet authorities as being too moderate and standing in the way of greater social divisions and potential civil war in the U.S.
In 1971, the KGB distributed fictional pamphlets which appeared to be made by the right-wing Jewish Defense League. Booklets, actually written by the KGB, were sent to black militant groups, making claims that African-Americans were attacking Jews and looting their New York stores. The aim for the KGB was to incite anti-Semitism in the black community. At the same time, other fake letters were sent to black militant groups saying that the JDL was attacking black people in America. Those letters openly called for retaliation.
Following this modus operandi, the Soviets authorized Operation Pandora, a 1971 plan to blow up a historically black New York college and place the blame on the JDL.
While that operation didn't end up panning out and causing a race war, KGB efforts to stir up racial tensions continued into the 1980s. In the run-up to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, KGB-penned racist letters were sent to the Olympic committees of a number of African and Asian countries in the name of the American KKK.
1. The conspiracy of Rudolf Abel
Rudolf Abel's FBI mugshot.
Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (1903-1975) was probably the most famous KGB "illegal" in history, whose story was the basis of Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film "Bridge of Spies". Born William Fisher in the UK to Russian émigré parents, he grew up to be a Soviet intelligence officer. Proving himself for his intelligence work against the Nazis in World War II, Fisher worked for OGPU and NKVD (predecessors to the KGB), before being sent to the U.S. in 1948. Using fake documents, he crossed into the U.S. from Canada and took up a key part in a New York City-based spy ring. His spying continued under KGB supervision all the way until 1957 when he was arrested by the FBI.
Posing as a photographer and painter, Fisher was instrumental in organizing the "volunteer" network of agents that would smuggle American atomic secrets to Russia.
After he was eventually discovered, Fisher only served 4 years of his sentence, exchanged for the downed American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1962 on a bridge in Berlin (so-called "Bridge of Spies").
The practice of placing "illegal" immigrants in the U.S. under fake identities who would then operate as sleeper or active agents has continued to modern times. In 2010, a network of 10 Russian sleeper agents was apprehended in the U.S.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.