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A KGB agent shipped a Sidewinder missile by mail to Moscow (2017) (nationalinterest.org)
239 points by rishabhd 85 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments

> Although outnumbered, the Taiwanese pilots achieved a positive kill-to-loss ratio.

That's not that impressive, even 1:1000 kills:losses is a positive ratio.

I assume they mean a ratio > 1.

And: this is a pretty incredible story. If you don't bother reading it all (it's not that long), at least read this bit:

> Exploiting thick fog and careless guards, Manfred Ramminger – a KGB-agent in West Germany – entered Neuburg air base during the evening of Oct. 22, 1967. Together with his Polish driver Josef Linowski and German F-104 Starfighter pilot Wolf-Diethard Knoppe, he stole an operational AIM-9 [sidewinder missile] from the local ammunition depot and transported it down the entire runway on a wheelbarrow to his Mercedes sedan, parked outside the base.

> The 2.9-meter-long missile proved unwieldy. Ramminger broke the rear window and covered the protruding part with a carpet. In order not to attract attention of the police, he then marked the protrusion with a piece of red cloth, as required by law.

This is indeed a great story, which gives again two different views on security.

East of the iron curtain everything, even marginally secret, was very carefully controlled, accounted for and losing a single not-too-secret page meant an automatic 10-year labor camp term. West of it, control was much looser and many more secrets leaked out. However, technology was also developed much faster -- you need serious encouragement to convince a good engineer to work under East's penalties and restrictions on personal life if other interesting work is available. East put major resources of the state on stealing technology not by choice -- it had few other options to avoid military tech obsolescence.

So leakage and all, West's system worked pretty well. My 2c.

Having not lived through it but having heard many, many stories about it, I'm not sure your characterization of the East side is entirely correct.

While many things were ostensibly highly guarded (i.e. guards were stationed,) and the rules were strict, and penalties for breaking them very harsh, it was common knowledge that if you lucked out and got yourself in a position where you had access to any kind of goods, you would be a fool not to try to spirit something away on the side. Many, many people engaged in what would now be deemed outright theft, and everyone covered for everyone else - it all had to look good on paper, not so much in reality. When a new government building or a housing block was built, no one batted an eye when afterwards the foreman somehow also had built a dacha (summer house) for himself, and his subordinates had built a garage or an extension to their homes, or just suddenly had spare money on hand to buy a car (which is another story in itself, with the 10-year waitlists, etc.) They had comedy movies about industrial theft even back in the 60s[1].

Now, the rules would be more strict in a military installation but there was more than likely plenty of lax behavior even there. As long as you didn't commit the egregious error of having discrepancies be noticed and documented, greased the right hands, knew people in the right places, and shared in your luck, you could get away with an awful lot of things.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Y_and_Shurik%27s_Oth...

I have close second hand knowledge of this. As far as I know, while misappropriation of all kinds, from sketchy to outright theft, was rampant and often condoned (e.g., at Brezhnev times), secret information was a different kettle of fish: losing it was not taken lightly.

The thing with information is that when things go missing, it's obvious, so people have no choice but to act on it. Still there must have been coverups, depending on how sensitive the information was, and how well connected the affected people were. It's unlikely that a system endemic with criminal activity would suddenly treat one specific aspect with a level of care that's not applied anywhere else.

Anyway, this story is about stealing a missile. I have absolutely no doubt the same thing could have happened east of Iron Curtain as well.

When a new government building or a housing block was built, no one batted an eye when afterwards the foreman somehow also had built a dacha (summer house) for himself, and his subordinates had built a garage or an extension to their homes

Here's one Bay Area/SV equivalent. (Not even theft, though.) Newly minted tech millionaire buys a home. It's already very nice. Maybe it has some really nice wood paneling, but the new owner has to make her/his mark and change it out. The architect assures the client that all of the materials will be recycled. A few months later, the home has a new interior, and the workmen have really nice paneling in their basement rec room.

One former coworker of mine back in Texas was in a failing startup, and on the last day, he literally just carted off some Herman Miller Aeron chairs and some servers. He just chalked it up as the amount he felt he was shorted on his last paycheck.

Now, the rules would be more strict in a military installation but there was more than likely plenty of lax behavior even there. As long as you didn't commit the egregious error of having discrepancies be noticed and documented, greased the right hands, knew people in the right places, and shared in your luck, you could get away with an awful lot of things.

Pretty much what the crooked logistics officer character was doing in Catch 22. He was essentially running a black market empire on the backs of military logistics. One wonders if Kurt Vonnegut was inspired by real life events.

You're correct to remember this from Catch-22, but the author of that book was Joseph Heller. Vonnegut's (afaik only) WWII book was Slaughterhouse Five.

I stand corrected.

Yes. But put ON your tin foil hat for a second.

I think the West wanted the missile to be taken. Handing over old missile technology is pretty ingenious. If your adversary actually pulls it off and copies it, they will have a 5 year old missile. Having an old missile on your warplane, while flying against the latest tech was a death sentence. This was different than say, nuclear technology, where having a 5 year old model was still extremely dangerous.

Also, being handed old tech sucks up all your engineering resources. An analogy would be reading vs writing code. Reading code is x10 more difficult, fraught with misconceptions and inability to expand the tech.

> If your adversary actually pulls it off and copies it, they will have a 5 year old missile. Having an old missile on your warplane, while flying against the latest tech was a death sentence.

If they want to copy your 5 year old missile, their current missiles are probably even worse.

If you have the capability to clone an air-to-air missile, you have the capability to evaluate its performance to confirm that it's an improvement over your current designs.

It could have been 10 years old even, the point is that they can use it to build better missiles. This can happen both because their missile were terrible or because now they can copy the solutions you used 5 (or 10) years ago.

unless that particular model was a certified crappy missile that could not work in any way and that was a plot the have them lose time there is no reason to give them an old missile.

There were such plots though, look for red mercury. :)

There is also something to be said for convincing your enemy to build obsolete weaponry that is more expensive to build than the obsolete weaponry they were already building.

If you have reasonable certainty there won't be a hot war, winning a cold war is a matter of having a stronger economy and better logistics. You can leak older missile tech to the enemy, and they can work on reverse engineering it, while you install cutting-edge countermeasures on all mobile targets. They wasted a bunch of time and money catching up to where you were, and you're already 50 miles down the road. Then maybe you have a proxy war to show off your new tech. You keep the war cold by convincing the enemy that if they start something for real, they will not only lose, but also suffer international humiliation and disdain.

It also keeps your rival in the game, so they don't give up. A cold war is good for the military-industrial complexes on both sides. Peace and consumer trade cuts in to the profit margins. Can't have people choosing butter over guns.

>Yes. But put ON your tin foil hat for a second. >I think the West wanted the missile to be taken.

I would love to find out that there is video evidence on tape of this actually occurring. I'm imagining that there were a group of people that planned this, and were sitting in a room watching it (with bowls of popcorn) laughing at them doing it. That means that group of people are also very good at keeping secrets. It's just farcical enough to possibly be true, until you remember actual true stories like the underwater voice line recorder with "Made In The USA" stamped on it that is now on display in the Kremlin (or wherever).

And it keeps the arms race in motion.

That's a very interesting thought process! Thank you for bringing it forth.

Might there be an easier answer? Perhaps the West was using a risk-based approach to security, where a missile built with aging technology just isn't as dangerous if stole as a current one.

I'm sure it's just my naive reading, but this seems like it would produce a functionally identical outcome without requiring a tinfoil hat or deliberate staking of bait for an adversary.

>losing a single not-too-secret page meant an automatic 10-year labor camp term

[citation needed]

Different fields have different definitions for the same terms. In the context of kill-to-loss ratios, the military defines a positive ratio as > 1.

The use of ratio can be a bit misleading. But in this context positive ratio means positive difference between kills and losses. A 1:1000 ratio for example is mathematically positive but would translate to 1 - 1000 = -999. Negative "ratio".

The article is full of technical terms for warfighting. It's only misleading in the sense that technical writing is sometimes misleading to outsiders.

You're right, that's what I wanted to say with "misleading", using a less common meaning in this context.

Similar to the wheelbarrow, I've always wondered why a new nuclear country would need ballistic missiles to deliver a threat - a parcel service, or a Volkswagen driving across the border would be slower but who's in a hurry?

Extreme pre-emptive strikes like that have bad optics. One of the elements of modern international diplomacy for non-superpowers is making it look like you're the defender/victim, which is hard to do when all the enemy's bases get nuked simultaneously by smuggled cargo containers.

For superpowers, it's easier to disguise a few warheads as spy sats and leave them in convenient orbits than go through the trouble of smuggling shit through land borders

That would violate the Outer Space Treaty. ICBMs are on the surface until launch. Or below it.

Absolutely, and on a totally unrelated note, in case anyone asks, the reason that spy satellite happens to contain a nuclear warhead is for self destruction purposes only. Consider it a safety feature ;)

Good thing that countries never secretly break treaties.

Then there is purely practical problem with staging various stuff (regardless on what exactly on the scale ffrom kinetic penetrator to thermonuclear warhead it exactly is) in orbit with the purpose of using it as raining hell some significant time later is that you (a) have to get it there, which is more expensivevthan launching ICBM and (b) the whatever vehicle has to have enough delta-V to be able to maneuver to stay there, probably also change it's orbital plane to reach different targets and mainly to initiate the re-entry itself. (This is the reason why GI Joe-style raining tungsten rods is complete nonsense, but even with warheads it is not viable strategy)

A space-based nuke doesn't need to deorbit to be effective; starfish prime detonated at 400km, which is at the upper limit for a regular US keyhole satellite apogee and well in EMP range. Spy satellites also usually have really low perigrees and lots of delta-v to chase navies, so deorbiting isn't that big a deal for the things given a large enough lead time. In fact for the first part of their history spy satellites had to deorbit film in multiple return capsules, often even being caught in mid-air!

I will agree "Rods of God" type kinetic bombardment is stupid, though for different reasons

If soviet union would have done that to west Germany, they would have had full load of US made ICBM's raining on Moscow about one hour after first detonation.

Nuclear weapons (like almost all military weapons) are about A. threatening B. revenging. These are commonly called first strike and second strike.

U.S. currently builds B21 stealth bombers that can carry nuclear weapons, because the B2 has proved to be useful type of threatening tool. Such planes fly undetected in various airspaces and drop conventional bombs to countries who don't have nukes. The message is "we could nuke you and you would not know until it hit you, keep in line peasants". If you didn't want to send that message, you could use either non-nuclear rated stealth bomber or you could use non-stealth bomber.

The second strike is hardened ICBM's in hardened bunkers. Idea is that when the infrared signature of enemy ICBM booster-phase is detected, you have about one hour time to pray and have sex and whatnot. So you use that time to launch your own ICBM's to revenge the impending doom. Because each side knows this revenge is coming, you are not very likely to see nuclear exchange between ICBM sporting states. You are quite unlikely to see any kind of exchange to be accurate.

In case you just spot detonation, you can assume that enemy bomber has gotten through, so you might just as well again launch your ICBM's. The suspects of a launch are usually well known because enriching arms grade nuclear matter is very hard to do undetected.

So Wolkswagen is not suitable because the enemy does not have time to feel threatened. And if you start your wolkswagen engine when nukes are raining, you are already several days late from your revenge mission.

Substantially harder to trace, too. A missile leaves a pretty obvious trail; a container on a ship carrying thousands of them in NYC's harbor is going to be harder to attribute to an attacker.

ICBMs have the distinct advantage of being able to provide a wide scale attack with high precision and short preparation/response time. This makes it a perfect deterrent.

But between the long preparation time, the chances of being discovered ahead of time, and the low relative impact/reach, even when placed strategically a few car-nukes would probably deliver more of a "terror strike" type of attack. You can cripple a few weak points but nothing "terminal".

We have had aircraft and ground stations collecting the residual isotopes of every nuclear test since the nuclear age began. We can forensically track these back to the origin reactor/enrichment facility. These facilities also "leak" so we can figure it out. If black market, we and the original source nation (unless they want to be nuked) would probably be able to track down who it went to.

Having a covert facility and deploying a weapon w/o any testing would be beyond the capacity of all but a handful of states.

If the US bombs you and rises strong check on naval traffic and frontiers it is not going to be easy. Overall missiles protect from other missiles.

What's the strategic advantage of blowing up the NYC harbour? Most probably none.

The port of New York and New Jersey is the third busiest United States port, and the busiest on the east coast. The United States economy basically lives on import and export of goods through sea freight. Bombing the NYC harbor also is an attack on US prestige in a way that bombing other harbors such as Los Angeles and Long Beach wouldn't be.

The US has a lot of busy ports, so maybe blockading one isn't too disruptive, but it still has strategic value. Of course, it also depends on the effectiveness of the bomb.

Your statement made me curious. As a percentage of GDP imports and exports constitute roughly 25%:

That's the sixth lowest in the world. Only Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Sudan, and Nigeria have a lower ratio.


It didn't. It killed a lot of indians and firemen who got sick and created a pretext to destroy Iraq and Afghanistan (the Taliban destroyed this one first). The attack on the WTC was just stupid. It only fuelled more destruction and death, probably got Dick Cheney's pals richer, annoyed a lot of people with tightened airport security, created some extra jobs for security personnel and generally made air travel shittier for everyone.

The strategic advantage of blowing up NYC harbour is getting bombed back in time before stone tools where a thing.

That's why you'd do it in this fashion.

A nuke in a random container on a ship filled with thousands of them, owned by a bunch of shell companies, combined with the fact that the evidence gets blown up in the process...

Quite a bit harder to track to a source than "hey look a rocket launched from Iran".

Not really. It’s a fairly short list of organizations with the means and the motivation. If you’re already spying on them it’s not hard to pick up on changes in communication, movements or even catch them red handed on a recorded line.

An attack like that would also be carte blanche to nuke whoever the hell you wanted — that wasn’t themselves a nuclear power that could survive the volley — in retaliation.

Radiation detection is really good. You would never get the device into the country.

There have been people pulled over in the DC area after undogoing chemotherapy. In one case it was a small dog.

Do you have any references for this? Because it doesn't make any sense to me.

Considering that chemotherapy is chemical, I'm not sure what it would have to do with radiation at all. Presuming you meant radiation treatments, those do not leave the patient radioactive at all.

In general, to the best of my knowledge, detecting items with radioactivity levels mildly above background inside a moving vehicle from the street is not practical, even theoretically, based on the probable lack of difference in radiation level outside the vehicle.

Here’s one example: http://copleydc.net/copleydc_staff/Cantlupe/cantlupe_1-27-04...

Aside, google has gotten worse than useless. In a first ever I had to scroll through a full page of cancer treatment ads. Zero organic results on the first page. Even then it needed careful tweaking to get Google off the “treatments for cancer” train of thought.

Was not able to find the dog story I remembered. Google wants to show me either national security or cancer treatment but not the intersection.

> Presuming you meant radiation treatments, those do not leave the patient radioactive at all.

Not categorically true, even with external beam radiation therapy.


Other kinds of treatment can leave the patient significantly radioactive, for example brachytherapy, which involves direct implantation of radiation sources in tissue.

Now that's interesting - I hadn't heard of cancer radiation treatments being performed with proton and fast-neutron beams, which can indeed cause activation of the subject material. I was mostly guessing at cancer treatments, given the weird reference in the GP post to Chemotherapy. Certainly there are other treatments that do result in increased radioactivity of the patient after treatment.

Nevertheless, I would still find it pretty surprising if any of these sources could be reliably detected from inside a moving vehicle by a stationary sensor. Or that cases of these medical treatments would not be overwhelmed by other incidental sources of radiation being slightly higher or lower than usual.

Regarding background sources, the fact that the target of interest is moving could actually be a great benefit for background rejection. Place two detectors on the path separated by some distance, knowing how long it takes for a typical vehicle to travel between them, and you can filter out simultaneous spikes as background fluctuation. Modern photon counting detectors are pretty amazing, and it would take only a small number of temporally correlated discrete events at each detector to reach the probability threshold of alarm.

I don't work on these systems, obviously - those who do aren't talking - and this is just idle speculation. But I do know that lots of DHS money is shoveled into R&D on this kind of thing every year and I would not be surprised if some of the tech does work.

Perhaps a very naive, question, but:

If someone were smuggling a radioactive weapon into DC, couldn't they just shield it with a lot of lead?

I'm guessing that your small-dog example would have been different if it were in a thick lead crate.

Lead is permeable to gamma rays.

Lead is quite a good gamma shield. It's modestly permeable to neutrons and high energy electrons.

It's really not hard to hide both neutron and gamma emissions, especially if you have a large enough container, like a ship's hold.

I would absolutely expect any nuclear exchange to start with ground-based stealth attacks.

Re. chemo: it was most likely radioactive iodine, taken in liquid form to destroy a thyroid tumor.

It is a form of radiotherapy.

At my base in Northern Germany, an officer of the MAD, the aptly abbreviated West German military intelligence agency, waltzed onto the base and all the way into the central weapons store wearing a Colonel's Uniform.

An East German Army Colonel's Uniform.


I had to look it up.

MAD: Militärischer Abschirmdienst (Military Secret Service, Germany)


Literal translation would by Military Shielding Service

Doesn't an exercise like that come with a high risk of getting shot?

Yes and no.

I am guessing he intended to surrender immediately when challenged, he just never was. It's a civilised country, so we tend to not have have shoot-first-ask-questions-later policies, at least not while I was pulling guard duty.

This is entirely reasonable, as there's not that much damage you can do between being challenged and surrendering (or not as it may be), at least at the fairly mundane mechanised infantry battalion I was stationed at. What are you going to do, steal a tank? Good luck with that! (Go for missiles instead!) I guess things might be a bit tougher at the base where they house the American nukes. If it is, I would presume there to be very obvious signage.

I do remember the story of a guard officer trying a bit too hard to test his troops and not surrendering when challenged repeatedly (different base). He was shot in accordance with the rules of engagement. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

> I guess things might be a bit tougher at the base where they house the American nukes.

Regarding nuclear facilities, that reminds me of story on juridiction between an US Marshal and the security personnel of nuclear facility.


Quite a different approach from one in the bloc.

Nuclear bases in Eastern Russia are all built with though of stopping, and stalling a substantial military assault from paratroopers, sabotage specialists battalions, or forward armed recon that might preclude a full scale conflict, but security was known to be lax (thought still way above any normal base)

And in US it seems, they are more wary of infiltration by small force, or "trickery," or, I'll give myself liberty to imagine, enemies from within.

“ I guess things might be a bit tougher at the base where they house the American nukes“

You’d think, but if an 80 old nun can get in and et a selfie with a nuke, it can’t be too hard ;)


This base in Northern Germany, was it also in West Germany?

Yes. This was pre-'89

Thousands of national security measures foiled by a guy in a mercedes with a wheelbarrow and a postman - impressive.

I worked on a military site literally after the whole September 11th thing went down and everyone was super paranoid. Had armed police patrols and everything. At lunch we still cut through the same hole in the fence perimeter which had been there for about 4 years. This had been reported and not fixed and saved a good half a mile trip round the perimeter.

If anyone got any good at security in these sorts of places they usually ended up doing something else better paid for a living.

Reminds me of reading one of my dads books in school, about the formation of the SAS during world war 2.

It's been a long time since I read it, but it was something along the lines of certain military leaders doubted the ability of the SAS to sneak onto a base and plant bombs on airplanes. So they organized a test, where they would sneak onto one of their own bases and place stickers instead of bombs. The leader of the base was even given advance notice that this as going to happen.

The SAS not only managed to sneak onto the base, they managed to place stickers on the planes so thoroughly some planes had 2 or 3 stickers on them, and iirc they were totally undetected.

It was a thoroughly interesting read, and they did immense damage to the german army and air force in north africa, sometimes just driving jeeps onto bases and firing second hand machine guns originally for aircraft they managed to mount to their jeeps.

After reading that book, and the success they had sneaking onto bases in the middle of a shooting war, even after the opposing army was dedicating themselves to preventing the damage, I wouldn't be surprised if much more equipment, plans, and intelligence hasn't been stolen off bases that we simply don't know about.

a guy in a mercedes with a wheelbarrow and a postman

There's the movie title right there.

it would be interesting to know if and when they noticed it was missing

Given my experience I would assume that when they noticed it was written off as an inventory tracking error (assuming the thieves haven't left conspiciosly open empty transport case on the site)

Perhaps the link should be updated to [1] as the primary source, since it was stated at the bottom that:

> This first appeared in WarIsBoring

[1] https://warisboring.com/the-kgb-shipped-a-sidewinder-missile...

But this link has the cost of shipping wrong: $79.25 whilst the original NYTimes linked in op's link got it right: $483.88

Maybe the NYT adjusted for inflation?

The NYT article was written in 1970. However it is an OCRed article and has no currency symbol in it so it might be in Deutschmarks rather than dollars.

In 1970 the exchange rate was something like 3.65 Deutsche Marks for a dollar. $79.25 would be 289.26 DM.

> Ramminger and his aides were all arrested in late 1968 and jailed for four years.

Its surprising how much he got away with. It was a theft, conspiracy, espionage, mailing and customs rules violation. Did he that in US 2019, he would get 30 years min.

I'm happy that 2017 is the date of the article, and not of the event.

Well in 2017 KGB agent would ship a missile to Minsk, not Moscow.

In 2017 KGB does not exist.

That's a very fine bit of hairsplitting. The current intelligence organization is literally the same group that went through a reorganization in the 90's and renamed twice: first to the FSK, then a few years later to the current FSB.

So, your statement is a bit like saying "2019 Google doesn't exist" because it reorganized into Alphabet, and there's no more Google Inc, only a much more narrowly focused subsidiary named Google LLC.

FSB does not operate outside of Russia. It is the equivalent of FBI in USA. Foreign intelligence agency of the Russian Federation is the SVR and GRU

In 2017 KGB is literally the Russian Government.

I'd say it's one of the branches, alongside with friends and mobsters, but this classification makes the same highly connective graph.

disclaimer: russian citizen myself. Greetings from Urals!

Maybe not in name, but the intent is definitely alive!

FSS or FSB (translated/native modern name) had changed a little from USSR so I don't know why this thread is existing in the first place.

A few thoughts:

1) It's amazing how the operation to steal the AIM-9, despite being so high-risk, was accomplished with much ease & simplicity.

2) I am surprised that the KGB agent and his conspirators only received 4 years of prison time for this. This might just be my ignorance of the subject, but isn't stealing a missile and giving it to an enemy more deserving of a stricter sentence? Perhaps a deal was involved related to the intelligence the former KGB agent could provide in exchange for some leniency.

3) Tangential but semi-related: There is an interesting theory by Dimitri Khalezov about the armed Russian Kursk submarine, which sunk in 2000, being the source of a stolen nuclear-capable P-700 Granit anti-ship cruise missile. His theory is that this missile was the projectile which rammed through The Pentagon (but failed to detonate) on 2001 September 11th. Who stole the missile and why is a mystery, but pictures of the impact at The Pentagon and what is known about this missile could support the theory. Allegedly, when the Russians extracted the warheads from their sunken submarine, the extraction team was ordered to fill the warhead containers with a type of foam that would permanently seal them without checking the contents of the containers themselves. In essence, one or more missile containers recovered from the submarine may have actually been empty & verification of the contents was prevented in order to cover up the fact that a nuclear weapon had gone missing.

> 3) Tangential but semi-related

So wait... some people think a missile hit the Pentagon instead of an airplane on 9/11? What happened to American Airlines Flight 77, then?

Those same people tend to believe the moon landing was faked as well.

The moon landing I tend not to care about either way, because the impact of that event didn't result in terrible things for the US (like decades of war in the middle east.)

>some people think a missile hit the Pentagon

The strike on the pentagon was not dissimilar from a non-detonating cruise missile hit.

>What happened to American Airlines Flight 77, then?

A 4-hour presentation given by Khalezov includes 9/11 video of a witness at The Pentagon stating there was no airplane. He later suggests that the planes were acquired by the US government as a cover story so the population would not believe the nation was under nuclear threat.

I suppose that because the government heavily regulates the airline industry and is deeply involved in classified ways with the same companies who manufacture these aircraft, it's not inconceivable that some could be acquired for the purposes of a cover-up.

Here's a question for you: Why were certain procedures unique to nuclear attacks enacted on the day of 9/11? For example, why was the door to NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado sealed if the threat was only hijacked planes?

> Here's a question for you: Why were certain procedures unique to nuclear attacks enacted on the day of 9/11? For example, why was the door to NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado sealed if the threat was only hijacked planes?

Because the shit hit the fan and everyone hit the panic button Just in Case™?

In Thailand you can ship basically everything by mail. Here is how to ship a motorcycle https://www.tielandtothailand.com/shipping-motorcycle-thaila...

He was most likely a GRU (Soviet military intelligence), not a KGB agent. Still in that era the existence of GRU was not well known. His officer likely wouldn't share too many details.

The Soviets spent a lot of time and effort with their premiere intelligence agents to steal a missile invented in an American garage. Amazing.

Perhaps the iron curtain, I think was not such a great barrier as portrayed by the Western Media, people could mail things across it, and travel across it wasn't much different from crossing international borders now, I think there was even regular passenger ferry between FRG and USSR. Between East Berlin and west Berlin, there seems to have been much daily movement of people, like people living in West Berlin but working in East Berlin, etc.

I grew up living next to the iron curtain, literally <100m away. It was multiple tall fences, guard towers every 100m or so, a road, electric fences, detection mechanisms, barbed wire. To travel across from East to West, you needed a special permit, that was given or held back depending how much "risk" you were (of fleeing, not to the regime). My parents could travel only if they left me there, I stayed with grandparents for 2 weeks. There were regular known cases of people getting killed or jailed trying to cross.

The security tended to get tighter and tighter as time went by and more... "permeations" were discovered. So I expect security around the iron curtain in the '60s was a bit more lax than in the '80s. If the Berlin wall is any example, it was.

That's false. The guy who wrote this book (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_No_Evil_(book)) spent more than a decade in the Gulag because he was denied permission to emigrate across the Iron Curtain and was a human rights activist agitating for emigration rights.

I do think there were tourists from USSR visiting other countries including the western Europe. Political dissidents may have been subject to measures not applicable to the general public.

> Political dissidents may have been subject to measures not applicable to the general public.

He wasn't refused permission to emigrate because he was a dissident. IIRC, the refusal he received and those received by others are what lead him on the path to becoming a dissident.

Certainly you could cross if you had permission. One difference is that it was much harder to get that permission, especially for people on the Communist side to get permission to leave. (How many countries have you heard of today where that’s a thing?) Another difference is that the penalty for crossing illegally was often instant death, which tends not to be the case on most international borders today.

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