The greatest spy case of the 20th century
On Friday 9th November 2012, the Ecole Militaire de Paris, France, played host to a meeting that can be described as nothing short of exceptional. For the first time in more than 30 years, the protagonists of the famous Farewell affair, which Ronald Reagan described as one of the “greatest spy cases of the 20th century”, came to talk about their experiences during a symposium organised by the Sorbonne, the Institute of Higher National Defence Studies (IHEDN) and McAfee. Parts of this conference have just been made available on line.
All the leading figures in French intelligence, counter-intelligence and espionage crowded into the packed Foch amphitheatre to hear the stories of those directly involved in the affair. As a reminder, “Farewell” was the code name given by the DST (the French counter-intelligence agency) to the operation that, from 1980, saw a KGB Officer, Vladimir Vetrov, provide intelligence to a French agent posted in Moscow, Patrick Ferrant, on the technological espionage programme being carried out by the Soviet secret services in the West. Realising that hundreds of Russian agents had infiltrated Europe and the USA, the director of French intelligence services, Raymond Nart, alerted the newly-elected President Mitterand, who in turn transmitted the information to his US counterpart. This gesture was greatly appreciated by the Reagan administration and his National Security Advisor, Dick V. Allen, particularly at a time when the arrival of Communist ministers into the French government was giving the Americans "cold sweats".
Dick Allen, Patrick Ferrant and Raymond Nart were all present on Friday in the Foch amphitheatre, and gave a clear and unequivocal presentation of their perspective on the Farewell affair. Patrick Ferrant described Vetrov not as a traitor, but as a Russian patriot who loved his country but was disgusted by the methods of the KGB. Dick Allen gave a remarkable speech, providing a wider historical context and an assessment of the “hawkish” position of Reagan, whom he considered to be a visionary and a master tactician. He described the Farewell case as an “accelerator of history”.
To put into perspective the question of technological plundering, the lawyer Bertrand Warusfeld then explained how the COCOM (the body in charge of monitoring the export of sensitive technology) had learned lessons from the Farewell affair. He was followed by David Grout, an expert in cyber threats from McAfee who explained how new types of threats were increasingly focused on the theft of strategic knowledge. They urged decision makers to fully appreciate the scale of this new challenge.
In addition, the speakers talked about the “deception” measures that were put in place. Dick Allen explained how he had run programmes to mislead Soviet services, by providing them, via the channel identified by Vetrov, with “toxic” technologies. Indeed, the technological disinformation generated by this affair was identified as being one of the major factors in the subsequent collapse of the USSR.
Professor Olivier Forcade then concluded by underlining how this story demonstrated the importance of familiarity with the history of intelligence matters, in order to achieve a greater understanding of History in general.