Last night (10/17/07) I attended the a lecture given by Newt Gingrich as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series held at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. He told the story of a covert operation against the Soviet Union during the Regan administration. While this story was probably old news, no one I talked to afterwards had ever heard of it. It turns out the Soviet Union had a natural gas pumping facility in Siberia. They wanted to get American pumps for the facility. The U.S. would not sell to them directly to the Soviet Union, so the Soviet Union used the black market to acquire them. According to Newt, we knew they would do this so we purposely made the pumps available. The covert part was that we had the American manufacturer of these pumps build “special” versions that were booby-trapped.
The end result was an explosion in Siberia so large that U.S. intelligence (the part not in on the plot) initially thought it was a tactical nuclear explosion. According to some reports this is the largest, non-nuclear explosion ever recorded on the planet. So here we have the U.S. involved in what appears to me, to be a purposeful act of sabotage designed to kill civilians and damage the economy of a country that we aren’t at war with.
Now why did Newt tell us this story? Was it meant to be a cautionary tale about runaway intelligence operations, was it a warning that if you can't remember what you learned in kindergarten you can expect it to come back and haunt you 20 years later. No, it was that this regrettable act was a masterstroke of subtlety that should be repeated. In particular he was advocating that similar tactics should be used against Iran. His justification is that Iran is conducting a covert war against soldiers in Iraq and such an act would teach them a lesson. I used to wonder how the plotters of 9/11 could possibly justify a terrorist act against civilian targets. Sadly, I wonder no more.
I haven't done enough research to validate these actual events, however, a little internet searching makes it easy to validate that Newt Gingrich has told this story more than once. Check out the video right around the 4:30 mark. The video also makes reference to a written account of this act in Thomas Reed's "At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War". Oh yeah, while most of this is true, I did make up that part about people getting me confused with Mel Gibson.