Reagan's Secret Anti-Soviet War

The World and I, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Reagan's Secret Anti-Soviet War

As president of the United States, Ronald Reagan initiated a sweeping and unprecedented program of covert action and economic warfare initiatives that acted to greatly weaken the Soviet economy, its support for "wars of liberation," and its hold on its power in Eastern Europe, former top Reagan administration officials said.

The elements of these programs were contained in top-secret national security directives signed by Reagan in 1982 and 1983, these sources told United Press International.

"Any kind of covert action program had to be expressed in a presidential finding," after consultations with attorneys, a former Reagan White House official explained.

He said that one of the most important National Security Council (NSC) findings was NSDD-32, which authorized covert U.S. support of the Polish free union, Solidarity, and other anti-Soviet institutions in Poland to weaken and neutralize Soviet influence in that country.

Another finding, NSDD-66, authorized the United States to wage economic and resource war on a "strategic triad" of resources deemed critical to the survival of the Soviet economy, including technology, trade, and credits, according to former senior Reagan administration officials. This especially targeted Soviet imports of advanced Western technology and also Russia's oil industry, upon the earnings of which Moscow depended for the bulk of its hard currency, these sources said.

Other measures included covert support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan who were resisting Soviet forces that had occupied the country in 1979. Covert measures included strikes by jihadis on Soviet soil, these former senior sources said.

Another aspect of the Reagan program was the dramatic U.S. defense buildup, which unnerved the Soviets by its pace and degree, according to Yvgenny Novikov, who, in 1982, was the second political officer of the Soviet Embassy in Washington and who defected to the United States in 1990. Some of these secret programs were first revealed in a little- known 1994 book, Victory, by Peter Schweizer, a media fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Schweizer confirmed to United Press International that the more secret, hard-line aspects of Reagan's anti-Soviet policies were never discussed with NSC staff members such as John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, or Richard Pipes, but only with CIA Director William Casey and Bill Clark, a longtime Reagan friend.

"It was a small, tight-lipped group," a former White House staffer explained.

In the case of Poland, a current administration official who was a White House official in 1982 said that Casey held key meetings with Israeli intelligence officials, including Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Hoffi, who, in return for increased U.S. financial assistance, allowed U.S. intelligence operatives to use a Mossad "ratline" that ran from Albania to Poland, then east straight into the heart of the Soviet Union.

The "ratline" was used to smuggle information or dissident Jews out of the Soviet Union, several former officials said. The secret 1956 speech by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Stalin was said to have been smuggled out to the West via the "ratline," sources said.

According to a State Department official who, in the early 1980s, was assigned to the Vatican, Casey didn't hesitate to use meetings with Vatican officials to obtain detailed intelligence about anti-Soviet groups in Poland.

But according to some strategically placed sources, Reagan's use of covert action was not confined to the Soviets and its eastern satellites, but was also used against Western allies who were seen to be "soft" on Moscow. One example was the tension between the hard-line White House group and then-West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. According to these sources and reported here for the first time, in 1981 the White House mounted an operation to remove Schmidt, head of the Social Democratic Party, and replace him with Helmut Kohl, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, who was seen to be more anti-Soviet and conservative. …

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