1 August, 1987 0005 Zulu (0405 Local)
Viktor Chebrikov was not a man familiar with indecision. The sixty-four-year-old KGB Chairman’s career had been constructed on a foundation of swift, decisive action in times of high pressure. Now, when the fate of the State hung in the balance, Chebrikov waivered over a decision so crucial, his stomach roiled at even a passing thought of its significance. Because of this, he drank tea instead of vodka at this early hour while sitting at the desk in his Lubyanka office deep in thought.
The decision rested upon the veracity of perhaps the most proficient and highest-ranking operative in the history of the KGB. Chebrikov referred to him by his official code name: Granite. He had no name, or history in the chairman’s mind. This was not honest, but Chebrikov had found over the years it helped him regard intelligence operatives in the proper perspective.
Granite was a high-ranking official in the United States Department of Defense, an aide to the Secretary of Defense. The last peacetime report received by him was two days before the war started. In the hours before hostilities commenced, Granite’s handlers ordered him to go to ground. He was not to transmit any further reports unless they included information of the highest priority. And for twenty-three straight days the arrangement worked perfectly.
Then, eleven hours earlier a lengthy, coded message was received in Moscow from Granite. It had taken some time to arrive, but once it was decoded and the contents revealed, it was rushed to Chebrikov, who was at the Kremlin for a Politburo meeting. When that was over, the KGB Chairman was met by Vladimir Kryuchkov, head of the First Chief Directorate who handed over a manila envelope containing the decoded message. The two men slipped into an empty, nearby sub office and Chebrikov read the contents.
Granite’s message was a short and concise. It was a warning, really. Plans were being prepared in the Pentagon for a coordinated air-sea attack on the Soviet ballistic missile submarines in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. The movement of amphibious ships and another aircraft carrier closer to Soviet waters was little more than a diversion to attract Soviet attention. The White House, according to Granite, had signed off on the operation and the attack was expected to begin at some point on 2 August.
Chebrikov wasted no time and informed the general secretary immediately. Romanov took the news calmly and asked if Granite’s information had been confirmed. Upon learning it was not, he ordered Chebrikov to confirm it through any means possible. If this was not possible, Romanov wanted contact with Granite to be established. He was also prudent enough to allow the KGB and Soviet military to hand-deliver his orders to the Northwestern TVD; The Long Range Aviation and Naval Aviation bomber forces were to prepare to launch a series of attacks against the US naval task forces in the northern Norwegian Sea over the next day. The ordnance used would be a combination of conventional and nuclear anti-ship and cruise missiles.
Now, in the early morning hours of 1 August it was Chebrikov waiting for word on Granite and whether the operative in Washington had made further contact. The KGB Chairman doubted it, though he hoped this one time his instinct would be proven incorrect. The time was after 3 AM in Moscow. General Secretary Romanov was asleep and would not wake up for another two hours. At that time, Chebrikov was to be at the Kremlin and prepared to supply either further information from Granite or an explanation as to why the Soviet Union’s premier asset in the US government was unreachable.
A knock came to the office door. Chebrikov knew who was on the other side of it and ordered the unseen person to enter. The door swung open, a uniformed KGB major escorted Vladimir Kryuchkov in and then departed. The head of the First Chief Directorate sat down heavily in a chair and sighed heavily. He looks exhausted, Chebrikov thought.
“So?” the Chairman asked roughly.
Kryuchkov shook his head slowly. “Nothing. We’ve been unable to reestablish contact yet. And there has been no further report from the asset.”
“Not good,” Chebrikov sipped his tea.
“Comrade Chairman,” Kryuchkov started again. “You understand the difficulties involved in this line of work. Add to it the restrictions and stress of operating in a time of war…”
“I know,” Chebrikov held up a hand and cut Kryuchkov off. “Furthermore, I am not assessing blame to you or this Granite person. I simply need information and answers before returning to the Kremlin. Vladimir Alexandrovich, can we even confirm that the earlier report even comes from Granite?”
Kryuchkov’s eyes narrowed. “I do not understand what you are saying.”
“I believe you do. The Americans could’ve arrested our man and are now using him against us. Passing along false information at a time like this could lead to disaster.” Chebrikov leaned forward and locked eyes with his subordinate and heir apparent to the chairmanship. “Our comrade in the Kremlin has placed a great deal of trust in the sword and shield of the party. If we mislead him, even inadvertently, it could lead to our destruction.”
5 Replies to “D+23 (1 August, 1987) 0005-0030 Zulu”
Like this writer, Vladimir Kryuchkov had watched the original “Midway” with Charlton Heston and Hal Holbrook almost two hundred times and instinctively knew the solution: a message was soon winging its way to Granite asking him to confirm whether the American task force was having problems with its fresh water condensers…..
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Joking aside, this very believable Kremlin exchange points out the key problem with intelligence for high-level decision makers. Like Nimitz, leaders sometimes have to make the loneliest decision: do we believe this guy or not? Too many leaders would simply do what Romanov does here: decide to make no decision and ask the source “are you really sure”, losing more decisions cycles….
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You’re right. And as the stakes get higher, the amount of time available to figure out if information is genuine or not, diminishes. Guess wrong and it could cost them the war or even more.
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Is Spinnaker going to make an appearance? LOL
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LOL You never know 🙂
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