Vladimir Vetrov was a KGB colonel turned double agent, who ultimately helped bring down some 400 spies in an operation codenamed "Farewell."
Thirty years ago this summer, President Reagan was at an economic summit in Canada when his French counterpart, Francois Mitterand, pulled him aside to deliver startling news: The French had a mole, a high-level KGB colonel. Could the U.S. make use of him?
Richard Allen was Reagan's National Security Advisor at the time, and he was with the President in Ottawa when Mitterand made his offer.
"His name was Vladimir Vetrov," Allen tells weekends on All Things Considered host Laura Sullivan. "Vetrov was the incoming recipient of all the stolen technology, and it was copious."
The KGB had a vast network of spies, known as Line X, whose job it was to steal whatever technological advances they could get their hands on— and funnel everything back to Vetrov in Moscow.
But unbeknownst to the field agents, Vetrov had decided to switch sides. And the CIA came up with a plan, called "Operation Farewell": via Vetrov, they would feed the Soviets rotten technology.
The technology was designed to look good initially, Allen says, "and then would be deployed, and put into equipment and systems and things of that nature, and be scheduled to implode at a given time."
Some of the bad CIA code ended up in the control systems of a giant natural gas pipeline the Soviets were building. And in one of the greatest successes of "Operation Farewell," that pipeline really did implode in June of 1982.
"It not only imploded, but it exploded, with the force of some five kilotons," Allen says.
Vetrov also provided the names of some 400 of the technology thieves he supervised, allowing the American authorities to round them up and kick them out.
"It was a major contributor, if you will, to breaking the will of the Soviet Union," Allen says.