Aviation History: Stolen Secrets (Part 1)

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By Emma Rasmussen, Correspondent

Industrial espionage and heated competition have always fueled the fire between two competing factions, especially when they’re on the brink of war. In the intervening years since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Eastern Bloc and Western world competed to be the best technologically, politically, and scientifically. The Soviet Union’s development of their own atomic bomb and the race to space are two prime examples of the heated competition between two worlds.

In the late 1960’s, a team of British and French aerospace engineers came together as one to create a high-speed airliner. This aircraft would later be known as Concorde, a technological marvel and an enviable product of post-war innovation. Naturally, the desirable nature of the aircraft’s design made Concorde a vulnerable target for industrial espionage. The Soviets, not wanting to fall behind technologically or miss out on an opportunity to clobber the West, dropped numerous spies all over Europe to steal information from the Anglo-French project. By 1963, the Soviet Union had already acquired early information on the West’s supersonic transport. The KGB created a program known as “Directorate T,” which was known for stealing the technological advancements of their counterparts. Concorde was no exception, particularly because the Soviet Union wanted the prestige of being the first to develop a supersonic airliner.

Many Soviet espionage activities were carried out by the Eastern German Ministry for State Security (Stasi). One such operation was known as “Operation Brunnhilde.” This ring of Soviet spies lasted between the late 1950’s and the year of 1966. Though only 20 raids occurred from this operation, it is known that many Western European projects and secrets were potentially compromised. It was not until many years later that the West learned about this ring of spies and their involvement with the Concorde’s developmental program. A Swiss chemical engineer named Dr. Jean Paul Soupert had been living in Brussels, and he was a member of the ring. He had revealed that some of the missions carried out by his fellow spies included stealing Concorde documents.

While “Operation Brunnhilde” did obtain early Concorde documents, other groups were found to have acquired Concorde documents as well. In the year of 1965, Sergei Pavlov was arrested by the French for stealing classified information. He was the head of the Paris office for the Russian airline, Aeroflot. Much to the misfortune of the Soviets, he was deported. Due to his deportation, the KGB installed Sergei Fabiew in his place. Sergei Fabiew posed as Aeroflot’s station manager in Paris, and he was also found to have also participated in the KGB’s activities. He was arrested in 1977.

Despite the plethora of Russian spies that were deployed to steal Concorde documents, there were several pro-Soviets and opportunists wanting to make a quick buck within the countries producing Concorde. They too, helped in the risky mission of stealing documents for the Soviet Union. In 1967, a spy known as “Ace” was responsible for stealing over 90,000 technical documents belonging to the Concorde. Since the 1960’s, his actions have been closely guarded. Ace’s name was revealed to be James Doyle, a British aerospace engineer who had been recruited to provide the Soviets with documents. In 1992, a KGB archivist smuggled papers out of Russia, which noted the 90,000 technical documents. According to a 1999 BBC article, the Vickers VC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 were also among the 90,000 documents. Ace was one of a dozen or more British spies working with the Soviets.

Check back for Part 2 in Issue 3.

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