by Victor Davis Hanson
Editor’s Note: This is a response on a discussion board a Ricochet.
Soviet spies did a great deal of damage well beyond the nuclear thievery. One reason that the Soviet Union was able to arm, with up to date weapons, dozens of creepy regimes abroad from 1945 onward was to some extent due to its ability to steal US military secrets, and often skip critical steps in development that allowed the Russian military to quite quickly expand and improve upon them.
Sometimes this had real life and death ramifications, like the Soviet supplied Egyptian SAM systems and anti-tank weapons that devastated the IDF in the Yom Kippur War’s first 4-5 days, following a tradition that began at the end of WWII when an interned B-29 suddenly spawned the Tupolev Tu4 look-alike.
Much of Soviet submarine research was stolen.
The inability of the West to translate widespread Eastern European unhappiness over a half-century with Soviet hegemony to open revolt was in part due to both Russian infiltration of resistance movements, and lots of money supplied leftist groups in Europe who downplayed the Soviet threat. One could argue that the success of the Soviets in the 1930s to fool gullible Americans into offering them information translated by the 1950s into a general narrative that the Soviet Union was simply a form of socialism given to excess rather than a horribly murderous system — and such naiveté often made it far easier for the Soviet Union to get away with its customary brutality.
Some Soviet brinkmanship, from the Berlin airlift to the sanctioning of the Korean aggression, was due to intelligence gleaned from American sources about likely initial tepid American responses. In short, one of the reasons why a backward failed system like the Soviet Union for nearly a half century was able to match American weapons with near parity was due to sophisticated Soviet military and industrial espionage; and in many of our most severe political crises, like the fallout over the stationing of the Pershing missiles, Soviet spies funneled money and used blackmail to help foment popular anti-American resistance.
So yes, Soviet spying was probably worth the cost and investment.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson