Claims about the KGB's supposed influence on the development of the nuclear winter hypothesis has been put on several Wikipedia pages. The claim originates in a book by journalist Pete Earley about the Russian defector and double agent Sergei Tretyakov. Tretyakov is the source of the claim. Here is a critical account.
The alleged KGB research
Tretyakov says that the KGB started the campaign by commissioning two fraudulent scientific papers about the cooling of the atmosphere after dust storms - one allegedly by physicist Kirill Kondratyev, the other (which Earley calls "the Andropov doomsday report") allegedly by physicist Georgii Golitsyn and mathematicians Nikita Moiseyev and Vladimir Alexandrov. Tretyakov does not give the titles of the papers and says that they were never published because the KGB believed that Western scientists would think them "ridiculous". Instead, they disseminated their contents by "covert active measures".
Paper 1: Kondratyev
Tretyakov says that Konratyev's allegedly fake research was about the cooling effect of dust storms in the Karakum desert. Earley comments that "Konrayev's [sic] dramatic discovery was not the result of painstaking research, but the first step in a carefully orchestrated KGB propaganda campaign."
Kondratyev was an internationally respected member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and his work in the Karakum desert was in fact part of the Complex Atmospheric Energetic Experiment (CAENEX) project, which he had been working on between 1970 and 1975, outside of Tretyakov's time frame of 1979-82. Far from being part of a "carefully orchestrated KGB propaganda campaign", CAENEX was a joint Soviet/American exchange program between the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S.S.R. Hydrometeorological Service. A paper identical in content to the one that Tretyakov describes was published by Colorado State University in 1976 (outside Tretyakov's time frame) and was co-authored by Kondratyev with an American scientist, R.M.Welch: Kondratyev, et. al., Comparison between the measured and calculated spectral characteristics of shortwave radiation in the free atmosphere over the desert (1976). No-one other than Tretyakov has ever suggested it was fraudulent, written at the bidding of the KGB, "ridiculous" or unpublished.
Paper 2: Golitsyin, Moiseyev and Alexandrov
There is no record of any paper written jointly by Golitsyn, Alexandrov and Moiseyev. The "Andropov doomsday report", which has never been produced and whose title has never been cited, is probably Tretyakov's confusion (deliberate or otherwise) of Golitsyin, Alexandrov, Moiseyev and Stenchikov's published papers.
These scientists published a number of papers that may be said to have played a part in the development of the nuclear winter scenario:
Alexandrov and Moiseyev, "Model 'klimata i global' naya ekologiya", Nature , 9 , 1981 (an exposition of climate model and global ecology)
Alexandrov, Moiseyev, et. al., Global models, the biospheric approach (1981)
Alexandrov and Stenchikov, On the modelling of the climatic consequences of the nuclear war (1983)
Moiseyev, Alexandrov, et. al., Global models, the biospheric approach: Theory of the Noosphere (1983)
Alexandrov and Stenchikov, Numerical modeling of climatic consequences of nuclear war (1984)
Golitsyn, Consequences of Nuclear War for the Atmosphere (1985)
But they were all published in academic journals or presented to international conferences, so they can't be the faked reports.
In 1981, Moiseyev and Alexandrov presented a paper on global atmospheric models to a forum held in Austria. Golitsyn's interest in global cooling following nuclear war dates from 1982, when he began to be involved in international discussions on the topic after reading articles in Ambio about the aftermath of nuclear war. Alexandrov and Moiseyev published "On the modelling of the climatic consequences of the nuclear war" in 1983. In 1983 they published "Global models, the biospheric approach" through the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The key paper by Alexandrov and Stenchikov, "Numerical modeling of climatic consequences of nuclear war", was reprinted in the refereed journal USSR Computational Mathematics and and Mathematical Physics in 1984. Although actively involved in research, Golitsyn did not publish "Consequences of Nuclear War for the Atmosphere" until 1985.
Covert active measures
Tretyakov claims that "Information from the study's key findings was distributed by KGB officers to their contacts in peace, anti-nuclear, disarmament, and environmental organisations in an effort to get these groups to publicise the propagandists' script." There is, however, no record of any discussion about nuclear winter outside of scientific circles in the West until late 1982, when the research on nuclear winter by Carl Sagan, Richard P. Turco, O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman and J.B. Pollack - the so-called TTAPS study - was publicised.
Sagan, an anti-nuclear campaigner, spread the findings of the TTAPS study through the news media in order to influence public debate. Earley implies that Sagan's public role, which was unusual for a scientist if it did not actually breach scientific ethics, implicates him in the alleged KGB plot. To suggest that the authors of the TTAPS study relied on forged KGB data, Earley says that at a press conference in 1983 Carl Sagan cited "the Soviet study" in support of the TTAPS research, but Sagan could not have cited it if it had never been published and the paper he was referring to was Alexandrov and Stenchikov's On the modelling of the climatic consequences of the nuclear war, which had been published in 1983 - that is, after the TTAPS study, so TTAPS could not have made use of it.
Allegations against Ambio
Tretyakov says that the KGB then "targeted" Ambio, a refereed academic journal that published a key article in the development of the nuclear winter scenario. He suggests that the article would not have been written without the intervention of the KGB. According to Earley, in 1982, Jeannie Peterson, an editor at Ambio, asked Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to write about the impact of nuclear blast on the atmosphere. His article, co-authored with John Birks, was called "Twilight at Noon". By April 1982 a draft of the Crutzen and Birks paper had been presented to a meeting of the US National Academy of Sciences by Turco. "Twilight at Noon" is mainly about particulates from large fires, nitrogen oxide, ozone depletion and the effect of nuclear twilight on agriculture. The "twilight at noon" of the title is not nuclear winter - that is to say, not a cooling of the global climate - but absence of sunlight, which they thought would reduce food production. All that Crutzen and Birks have to say about atmospheric cooling is contained in one sentence: "The normal dynamic and temperature structure of the atmosphere would therefore change considerably over a large fraction of the Northern Hemisphere, which will probably lead to important changes in land surface temperatures and wind systems."
Tretyakov does not explain in what sense Ambio was "targeted", but he implies that it commissioned articles as a result of receiving fraudulent, unpublished data that was circulated by the KGB, and that Crutzen and Birks used this data (despite the fact that, according to Tretyakov, the KGB judged it to be too ridiculous for any Western scientist to take seriously.) If Crutzen and Birks did use the data, there must be some trace of it in their paper, but there is none. Crutzen and Birks cited only data in Western publications and did not cite any work by Kondratyev, Alexandrov and Moiseyev. Nor did they make use of unattributed research or unsourced data that might conceivably be the KGB research. "Twilight at Noon" was refereed independently and if the paper made use of data for which Crutzen and Birks provided no citations - i.e., fraudulent data circulated to them by the KGB or, even more unlikely, data planted by the KGB in the peace movement and then picked up by them - one would expect the referees to have commented on it, but apparently they did not. Crutzen and Birks also acknowledge, in addition to the reading by referees, critical reading of the article in draft by another nineteen scientists. Apparently they did not notice the insertion of unreferenced data either. Tretyakov does not say which data in the article is fraudulent and neither Earley or anyone else has been able to identify it. It is hard to avoid the impression that neither Tretyakov or Earley have made a close reading of "Twilight at Noon". Earley admits that "There is no reason or evidence to suspect that Ambio, Crutzen or Birks knew the KGB were trying to instigate anti-US feeling by circulating fraudulent scientific data," and he concedes that Peterson acted independently.
Two of the authors in the Ambio anthology were indeed from the Soviet Union: E.I.Chazov, a senior physician and a member of the Praesidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and M.E.Vartanian, a senior psychiatrist. If the KGB wished to influence Peterson, Crutzen and Birks they would have been a good conduit. Chazov and Vartanian wrote about the effect of nuclear war on human behaviour, not on global climate, citing only Western publications. Tretyakov does not mention them, nor do Crutzen and Birks. Not only is there no evidence of Chazov and Vartanian being used to communicate faked data by Golitsyn et.al., to Crutzen and Birks in order to encourage them to write about nuclear winter, it was the Chazov and Vartanian paper in Ambio that inspired Golitsyn to start researching the topic.
The nuclear winter hypothesis was developed in the West
Tretyakov's story about an "Andropov doomsday report" pre-1982 is contradicted by the CIA, who have said that there was no Soviet research on nuclear winter until 1983. They identify Alexandrov as the leading scientist in this field and say he was directed to shift his research to climatology in 1976, was sent to the US in 1978 to develop a computer program compatible with Soviet computers and in 1983, after the findings of the so-called TTAPS study were known, was directed to work on nuclear winter, "probably by Yevgeniy Velikhov, a vice president of the Academy of Sciences". According to the CIA, "Velikhov's interest in Nuclear Winter stems from his participation in international scientific forums and his responsibilities as director of the Soviet effort to develop supercomputers. He probably learned of Nuclear Winter at one of the numerous international conferences he attended and recognized its potential to contribute both to the Soviet knowledge of computer science and to influence international public opinion on the nuclear 'arms race'." Tretyakov does not ackowledge the importance of international conferences in disseminating scientific knowledge and the degree to which Soviet interest in nuclear winter developed from Soviet-American collaboration.
According to Starley L. Thompson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, the nuclear winter model was developed in the United States in the early 1970s. In the early 1980s, Western modeling of the atmosphere after a nuclear exchange was ahead of Soviet achievements, which Turco described as "weak" and "primitive". US scientists had been publishing reports on similar topics since the 1950s - e.g. S.Glasstone in 1957, R.U.Ayers in 1965, E.S.Batten in 1966 and 1974, J.Hampson in 1974 and the US National Research Council in 1975. In Earley's time frame of 1979-82, work on the role of aerosols in the climate system was already underway in the West. Work on the effects of nuclear war had been initiated by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences journal, Ambio in 1980, and the United States National Research Council had set up a study panel on the dust effects of a large exchange of nuclear warheads in December 1981. In 1985, Leon Gouré (a critic of the nuclear winter hypothesis) argued that the Soviet Union was promoting the nuclear winter hypothesis in order to demoralise the West, but, from an analysis of Soviet publications, he found that Soviet scientists had made no independent contribution to the study of nuclear winter and had uncritically taken worst-case scenarios from Crutzen and Birks, TTAPS and other Western sources.
Tretyakov claims only that the KGB influenced the Crutzen and Birks paper, but that was not the only Western research on nuclear winter, and his claim that the KGB initiated research in the West means that it must have "targeted" not only the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences but also the US National Research Council and the US National Academy of Sciences. The lack of evidence and the assertion that influence was exerted via the peace movement makes this unlikely. The evidence points in the opposite direction: Soviet propaganda about nuclear winter was based on Western research.
Tretyakov's story is vague and uncorroborated
Tretyakov's claim that the nuclear winter hypothesis was a KGB fraud is often repeated along with claims that the peace movement of the 1980s was backed by Russia. Tretyakov himself says that the Soviet Peace Committee, a Soviet government organization, funded and organized demonstrations in Europe against US bases. Investigations into these claims have been inconclusive and the judgment of the CIA and MI5 is that the KGB probably did not influence Western peace movements, but whether the claims are true or not, they have no bearing on the origins of the nuclear winter theory.
Tretyakov goes well beyond the reasonable and demonstrable claim that the Soviet Union promoted the nuclear winter scenario and the more doubtful claim that it promoted peace demonstrations in the West to say that the nuclear winter hypothesis was fabricated by the KGB. There is enough in his story that is true for it to be credible to people who are not familiar with the subject: Crutzen and Birks did write a key paper in Ambio; there was a Western campaign against Pershing missiles at the same time; Kondratyev did write about dust and climate in the Karakum desert; Alexandrov did produce a mathematical model; Golitsyn did write a key paper; Sagan was in touch with Golitsyn and Alexandrov and he did promote the nuclear winter hypothesis. But none of these facts, alone or together, are evidence of a KGB plot.
Much of the story is vague:
- an absence of of dates and names,
- no sources or documents cited,
- no citation of any of the discussions in the peace and environmental movement about nuclear winter that are supposed to have taken place before before 1982,
- no explanation about how these supposed discussions influenced Crutzen and Birks's researches into particulates from large fires,
- no information whatever about the way in which Ambio was "targeted",
- no identification of the allegedly fraudulent data in the Crutzen and Birks paper.
Tretkavov is wrong about the sequence of events leading to the development of the nuclear winter scenario, wrong about the work of Kondratyev, Golitsyin, Moiseyev and Alexandrov and wrong about Crutzen and Birks. He is the only source for the story and it has never been corroborated. It is impossible to investigate because Tretyakov does not give any sources.
There are several possible explanations for its inclusion in Tretyakov's narrative:
- First, it could be true, but there is no evidence that it is. The supposedly bogus research cannot be identified apart from the Kondratyev paper, which was openly published and which no-one other than Tretyakov has said is bogus. There was no reference to any such research either in peace movement discussions, in Ambio or in anything Sagan wrote or said. If this KGB disinformation ever existed, it seems to have vanished without trace. The probability is that it never existed.
- Second, it could have been made up by the CIA, who fed Tretyakov to Earley, in order to discredit the peace movement. This is unlikely for two reasons. One, by the time the story broke in 2008, nuclear winter was old hat, the Cold War was over and the peace movement of the early 1980s was no longer important. Two, the CIA, in a paper published under FoI, are now known to contradict Tretyakov and to say that Soviet research into nuclear winter did not start until 1983.
- Third, it could have been put together by Tretyakov to ingratiate himself with the CIA. In view of the above, this is also unlikely. Tretyakov was a highly valued and well-paid defector and had no need to impress the CIA by making anything up.
- The fourth possibility is that the story began as empty boasting by an ex-colleague of Tretyakov's, that Tretyakov or his informant muddled the Soviet research on climatic modelling, dust storms and the aftermath of nuclear war and sexed up his account for Earley, and that Earley accepted it as a good story without critical examination. This is the only credible explanation. Tretyakov says he was told the story by an ex-KGB agent and that he read about the operation in the Red Banner Institute. It would be interesting to see what documents he read in the Red Banner Institute but he does not identify them and he is now dead. Until they are produced one can only conclude that the story was a fabrication.
Finally, it is important to note that most of Earley's account doesn't come from Tretyakov at all and isn't about the supposed KGB fraud. It's about Carl Sagan, whom Earley singles out for special attack, quoting only critics of the nuclear winter hypothesis and not the scientists who support it. Most of Earley's account is lifted from "The Scandal of Nuclear Winter" by Brad Sparks (National Review, November 15, 1985), and "The Melting of "Nuclear Winter" by Russell Seitz (Wall Street Journal, December 12, 1986).