During a visit to U.S. aircraft plants several years ago, Soviet officials literally picked up secrets with their shoes. Bits of metal filings, collected from the floor with special adhesives on the soles of the shoes, yielded valuable data on the alloys being used in airplane construction, according to a Soviet defector.
On the other hand, when an international inspection team visited a Soviet chemical depot at Shikhany more recently, building walls were freshly painted, roads were repaved, and the ground was brushed over in the visited areas, one U.S. official said. "Not for appearances' sake, but to prevent anyone from getting samples," he said.
These episodes illustrate a heightened concern over the considerable potential for learning secrets--and losing them--when inspectors from each side visit missile facilities of the other to verify compliance with the recently signed U.S.-Soviet treaty banning ground-launched intermediate-range missiles.
'Try to Hide'
"It's a given that, when we visit them, they'll try to hide what we shouldn't see and we'll try to see what we shouldn't see," another U.S. official said. "And vice versa, of course."
The closest analogous situation is the U.S. and Soviet military intelligence teams of 14 men, who have been accredited since World War II to the other's army in East and West Germany, respectively. In what has been termed "legalized spying," the teams can roam, within limits, to learn all they can as they monitor the military forces of the other side. Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr., who was shot to death by a Soviet sentry in 1985, was a member of the U.S. team based in Potsdam, East Germany.
Twenty-five U.S. sites--13 of them in the United States and the rest in Europe--will be subject to Soviet inspection, according to the State Department, while about 110 Soviet sites will be subject to U.S. inspection. Each inspection team will have 10 members, and each side will be able to make between 10 and 20 inspections each year for the next 13 years under the treaty.
"There is obviously a possibility for collateral intelligence collection here," said Michael Krepon, an expert on treaty verification at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But neither the United States nor the Soviet Union has chosen to draw attention to the prospect that secrets unrelated to the new treaty may be jeopardized in the inspection process.
Both have concluded that, in national security terms, the benefits of inspections outweigh the risks. Politically, neither side wishes to give its conservatives an excuse to oppose this and future arms control treaties that provide for on-site inspections by raising the spy issue.
Moreover, most experts believe that neither side has an obvious edge in the potential for such espionage, even though some see a marginally greater gain for one or the other, depending on the subject to be targeted for such intelligence collection.
More Use to America
Because the United States has generally been more open than the Soviet Union, America will get more use from the same amount of information than the Soviets, according to William R. Harris of the RAND Corp. The Soviets, he predicted, will gather more information but will get no more use from it overall.
"The overall value to us will be at least as great as the overall value to them," Harris said.
However, the two sides will also have different priorities, other experts said, and success in gaining new information and insight in the targeted areas can be worth more to one side than to the other.
The Soviets, for example, can be expected to focus their attention on advanced U.S. technology and research, while the United States will concentrate most on Soviet production and logistics to help determine the size of Soviet arsenals. If both sides succeed in their goals, some experts believe that the Soviets will gain marginally more than the United States.
U.S. intelligence agencies were embarrassed when the Soviets disclosed in the missile treaty that they have at least three times more shorter-range (300- to 600-mile) missile launchers than U.S. agencies had estimated: Instead of between 10 and 30 launchers, the Soviets admitted having 82 operational launchers and a total of 167 operational missiles, plus 33 more of the weapons in storage.
How the Soviets produced, stored and fielded so many more weapons than had been detected is one of the most important questions to be raised by the information exchanged under the new treaty, officials said. Perhaps if a civilian missile engineer walks through a Soviet facility as part of an inspection team, U.S. intelligence agencies could gain insights that would enable them to construct a better military and economic model explaining actual Soviet missile production.
To other experts, however, improved Soviet intelligence about U.S. high technology, including production techniques, will be of greater comparative value to the Kremlin. "We have more to lose than gain in this key field of technology. I think we will lose more here and gain less there (in the Soviet Union) than the Soviets," one said.
"We have to make sure we keep a balance in this," a senior Arms Control and Disarmament Agency official said. "The main job of the inspectors will be to verify the treaty, to make sure there are no violations. We can't pay so much attention to this side matter of collecting intelligence that we forget that primary mission."
The Pentagon is creating a new on-site inspection agency, to be run by a general, that will be manned by a staff of about 400. Chief among them will be Russian-language specialists and technical experts, including civilian and military officials who have been trained in engineering and intelligence.
As they walk through a large base where only one or two buildings are subject to inspection under the missile treaty, U.S. inspectors will be alert to other buildings whose structure could indicate missile work that might violate the treaty.
The most "cost-effective" place for the Soviets to cheat, according to Pentagon studies, is at existing production, repair, storage and other facilities connected with the banned missiles, those with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles. U.S. inspectors will be able to visit all of the 110-odd sites that the Soviets have stated are connected with those missiles.
At the same time, they will be on the lookout for the next most likely places where cheating could occur: ballistic missile facilities not covered by the treaty, such as those associated with long-range missiles (above 3,000 miles) and battlefield-range missiles (below 300 miles), and plants that are not connected with any ballistic missiles directly but have features associated with their facilities.
For example, a fenced-off and otherwise physically safeguarded plant would be a sign of an important facility, particularly if it had a large open floor space with capabilities such as a rail line that could be used to transport heavy objects. Special revetments could signal storage of fuel or other explosive material.
Such facilities, if identified by inspectors, could be watched closely by U.S. satellites for clues to their precise function. Past photographs of the plant can also be retrieved from files for examination.
Beyond that process of ensuring treaty compliance, U.S. inspectors will also be alert to signs of advanced research and development at facilities they visit. They will look for indications of the quality of engineers and the identity of program leaders, as well as such things as the types of radar on the ground, any radio antennae on parked bombers, and heavy electric power lines that would be unnecessarily large for the ordinary needs of a base.
Most military programs and weapons have telltale "signatures" that analysts rely on to identify the nature of the work or the weapon. For example, the unique crates in which the Soviets ship different kinds of jet aircraft gave away clandestine weapons deliveries in what developed into the Cuban missile crisis.
'Never Saw MIGs'
"In fact, we never saw one MIG plane as such," said one analyst involved in the intelligence. "We did it all through 'crate-ology,' as it came to be called."
U.S. inspectors will be alert for any such signatures of known Soviet programs as well as on the lookout for new signatures that U.S. intelligence officials can use in monitoring Soviet activities with the various spy satellites.
At missile deployment bases, U.S. inspectors will try to learn more about the readiness and reliability of Soviet missiles and the role of the Soviet KGB in controlling nuclear material.
The KGB, in addition to its secret police and intelligence operations, is responsible for the security of nuclear warheads until their release to the military. The number and disposition of uniformed KGB troops at bases would add to U.S. knowledge about the ubiquitous force.
Soviet inspectors, for their part, "won't need to look for violations," a senior Pentagon official said. "They only have to send a Tass correspondent to sit in on congressional hearings to keep tabs on that."
Look for Hints
Instead, in his view, the Soviets will be expected to look for any hint of "black" weapons programs that are specially protected, such as parts of "stealth" technology that may be inadvertently located at missile facilities that will be visited.
At the sprawling Air Force Plant 19 in San Diego run by General Dynamics, for example, only a few buildings are directly involved in making land-based launchers for cruise missiles, but all buildings at the facility will be susceptible to inspection, a Pentagon official said.
Besides "stealth" technology for jet aircraft and cruise missiles, the Soviets could benefit most from information on U.S. "fire control" radar, which helps weapons hit the right targets, and advanced computer data. But more pedestrian information, such as data on industrial processes and efficient plant design, would also be of considerable value, experts said.
All of these factors will become more important when and if a new strategic arms reduction treaty is signed with verification provisions based on, but considerably extended beyond, the medium-range missile agreement now signed.