When Altar Boys Get Bored–The TRW National Security Disaster

By Jay Holmes

In Santa Monica, California, in 1953, a recently “ex” FBI agent named Charles Boyce and his wife Noreen were blessed with the birth of their first child. They named their future altar boy Christopher. Noreen Boyce was a strict Catholic who avoided birth control, and eventually gave Christopher eight younger siblings. Charles Boyce had a successful career as a security expert in the aerospace industry, and even with nine children, the family enjoyed a life of affluence with a home in the fashionable Palo Verde community. Charles and Noreen Boyce were politically conservative and outspokenly patriotic. FBI agents and other law enforcement friends frequently visited their home. The successful parents doubtless had no idea that their oldest would one day betray their country.

Christopher Boyce mugshot from US Marshals Service

Christopher Boyce
mug shot from US Marshals Service

Christopher Boyce attended a Catholic elementary school, where he flourished both academically and socially. He embraced Catholicism and was an enthusiastic altar boy at the local church. He made friends easily, and his best friend was a fellow altar boy by the name of Andrew Daulton Lee. Unlike the popular “A” student Boyce, Lee struggled to maintain a “C” average and was socially awkward, but they shared something important. Chris Boyce was known to be a daredevil, even in his elementary school days, and so was Andrew Dalton Lee.

On one occasion, Boyce’s love of risk-taking led to a fall from a forty-foot tree. Unfortunately, he landed in a pile of leaves on a muddy river bed and survived. He suffered two compressed disks in his back, but the injury did not dampen his love of thrill seeking.

As teenagers, Boyce and Lee took up the hobby of falconry. Boyce became fairly expert at it, hence his eventual name, “the Falcon.”

During high school, the two lost their enthusiasm for the Catholic Church and decided that they were no longer Christian. Boyce’s grades slipped, but he remained popular with his fellow students. Lee’s grades remained poor, and he replaced his love of church with a love of cocaine. Though he’d previous had trouble attracting female companionship, he was able to use marijuana and cocaine to obtain sex with cooperative girls. He thus obtained the nickname, “the Snowman.”

If we are to understand the eventual criminal misadventures of Boyce and Lee, a.k.a. the Falcon and the Snowman, we should consider the time in which they were raised. By the late 60s, the Viet Nam war was on the news every night, and in general, the major media networks took a dim view of the federal government’s atrocious mismanagement of that conflict. The great American Optimism of the 40s and 50s had been replaced with cynicism and a healthy mistrust of authority.

After Boyce and Lee graduated high school, Boyce started college, and Lee expanded his drug business. Lee did hold legitimate jobs on occasion, but the low wages and long hours held no appeal when the easy money of drug dealing was available. Besides, as the Snowman—a successful cocaine dealer—he held a certain place of importance in the same social circles of affluent youths who had never accepted him prior to his drug dealing career.

Chris Boyce floundered in college and dropped out. At his parents’ urging and support, he started college again and dropped out again, and again. Boyce was certainly smart enough for school, but he had no interest.

Boyce’s parents were worried about their bright son’s seemingly dull future. His father had a close friend who was the security director at TRW Corporation, so he asked that friend if he could help find a job for Chris. TRW hired Chris Boyce as a clerk in 1974.

TRW manufactured components for highly advanced Top Secret communications and reconnaissance satellites for the CIA and other federal agencies. Chris Boyce worked at a TRW facility that was equipped to receive and decode information from US satellites. Thanks to his dad’s influence, Boyce, with no post high school education, no legitimate experience, and no security screening, was given a security badge and access to classified documents at TRW.

To the average reader, this might seem outrageously careless of TRW. It was. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Boyce was soon given Top Secret clearances by the CIA and the NSA.

If a proper investigation had been done, and if anyone had bothered to analyze the results, Boyce’s lack of any track record and three successive drop outs from three different colleges would have indicated a glaring lack of maturity and reliability. However, Boyce did not even receive a lie-detector test, which, while not full proof, would likely have uncovered his drug history and the fact that his best friend was the local “Snowman.” Apparently, the simple lack of an arrest record and his father’s reputation were enough to propel Chris Boyce from an entry-level status to Top Secret access within a few months of his joining TRW.

Boyce was transferred to an even higher position in the “Black Vault” at TRW. This is where the company stored Top Secret Codes, and where incoming data from satellites were decoded. We now know that Boyce discovered a “party atmosphere” within the Black Vault team. Safe in the knowledge that visitors were not allowed in the vault, the Black Vault team was using a CIA shredding machine as a daiquiri mixer. It literally was a party.

After being promoted to the Black Vault team, Boyce began reading decoded messages that were supposedly being misrouted to TRW. These included diplomatic messages. Boyce claims that, in combination with his anger at the Viet Nam War, the content of some of the messages caused him to decide to turn against the US.

One series of messages that Boyce pointed to was supposed diplomatic traffic indicating that the US was plotting the downfall of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. According to Boyce, the US government was angry at Australia because they were “threatening to pull out of Viet Nam.” The US was, indeed, unhappy with Gough and his anti-American views, but Boyce’s story sounds like something that was fed to him in contingency planning by a Soviet KGB handler. Australia pulled its last combat forces out of Viet Nam in 1972, two years prior to Boyce’s joining TRW and beginning his career as a spy for the USSR. The US pulled out its last combat troops in Viet Nam in 1973. The “Australia” line in Boyce’s justifications of his betrayal makes no sense.

Chris Boyce’s motivations for betraying the US were likely far less noble than he claims. He copied and stole documents and codes from the Black Vault to sell them to the USSR. In a lapse of judgment, he decided to use his close friend Dalton Lee, “the Snowman,” as his go-between to communicate with the Soviets.

While drug dealers and all variety of criminals are often used in intelligence operations, they are not usually trusted with more than the minimal information they need for a particular task. They are never trusted to act as couriers. Boyce had read a couple of spy novels, but apparently not the right ones. Given Lee’s basic emotional insecurity and his drug use, he was a bad choice, but Lee was the one person who Boyce could trust in terms of personal loyalty.

The Snowman was thrilled with Boyce’s suggestion that they spy for the USSR, and he quickly agreed. Lee purchased spy novels for his training regimen and travelled to Mexico City to contact the Soviet Embassy. Thus began the espionage careers of the Falcon and the Snowman. Next Wednesday, we will consider how and what the Falcon and the Snowman delivered to the USSR, and what damage they did to America.


Russia to Build Naval Base in Cuba: An Intelligence Perspective

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On Thursday, July 26, news outlets reported that Russia announced intentions to build military bases in Vietnam, the Seychelles, and Cuba. The source of the news was an interview given by Russian Vice Admiral Victor Chirkov to the Russian IRA Novosti news network.

Map courtesy of the CIA

The Russian Defense Ministry subsequently denied that Chirkov had ever discussed anything about foreign bases and pointed out that the Russian Navy would not be in charge of any foreign base agreements that Russia would make with any foreign nation.

Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the denial at a press conference in Moscow. Given that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has so loudly voiced his intentions of returning Russia to its former military might, presumably with equipment that works this time, most foreign observers were not surprised by IRA Novosti’s report.

The idea of bases in the Seychelles, Vietnam, and Cuba is hardly new. Russia previously maintained bases in these locations until financial constraints forced them to close after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When questioned about any military base deals with Russia, Vietnam’s president Truong Tan Sang said that Vietnam has no intention of allowing foreign bases in his country. He said Vietnam would make the port of Cam Ranh available to all countries, but that Vietnam would help Russia by allowing for some facilities to be built to aid military cooperation between Vietnam and Russia.

Is that clear to everyone? No Russian bases in Vietnam ever, just some military facilities for Russian ships to use. The distinction is important, I’m sure . . . to someone . . . somewhere.

The desire for a base in Vietnam is understandable these days. Besides having had a base there previously and wanting closer relations with Vietnam, Russia’s inability to affect China’s current attempt to expand its borders across the South Pacific has to be terribly frustrating to a man like Putin. Vietnam is genuinely concerned about China’s new military aggression and wouldn’t mind a little help from its old communist brothers from up north, even if they are all stinking capitalist brothers now.

As for the Seychelles, some folks might wonder why anyone other than Seychelles sailors would want a port there. The answer is that a port in the Seychelles would give Russia a base of operations for refueling, resupply, and repairs when they operate ships in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean matters because that’s where the Suez canal and the Arabian Sea lead to, and that means tons of oil are shipped through the Indian Ocean to many destinations, including China.

The case of a Russian base reopening in Cuba is somewhat more irksome for the USA. Cuba is 90 miles from Florida. Part of the resolution to the 1962 “Cuban Missile Crisis” was that the Soviet Union agreed to never again bring nuclear weapons to Cuba. If Russian capital ships port in Cuba, then there will be Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba. If asked about it, Putin might say that those ships have no nuclear weapons (which no one would believe) and that he is not bound by agreements made by the old USSR.

So far, Putin has said neither of those things and isn’t directly responding to the issue. He is still busy with the question, “What fleet would we send to those new bases?”

At present, the Russian Navy is still suffering from a lack of money and is unable to put a credible deep sea fleet in the water. Putin claims that will change, and he has been increasing the budgets of all of the Russian military branches, including the navy. Even with Putin’s stifling influence on the Russian economy and its ongoing “brain drain” of many of Russia’s brightest young people, as long as oil and gas prices remain high, Russia will continue to make huge profits from energy sales to European nations.

So what shall we guess at as Putin’s intentions? Putin can’t be happy about events in Syria. Once his intelligence service informed him that the Assad regime would likely collapse, he had to reverse his stance. After loudly proclaiming Russian support for Assad (and for the continued use of the Russian fleet’s one foreign base beyond the Ukraine), Putin had to pretend to suddenly claim the moral high ground and hedge his bets against Syria.

Being Putin can’t be easy. Whenever he thinks about it, he can’t help but be aware that no reasonable Russian would put up with having him in charge unless they absolutely had to do so. He knows that his fellow corporate giants in Russia would love an opportunity to replace him with someone less expensive and less powerful. Putin can only get so much mileage out of the “daring Putin” staged photo shoots that portray him as a macho tough guy. Always in the market for any help he can get, Putin is becoming more willing to play the imaginary Cold War card.

There’s nothing like a national emergency to get people to tolerate a reduction in freedom and a lousy economy. (We’ll write about the D.H.S. some other day). Well okay, an efficient and obedient police state apparatus helps as well, but Putin’s thugs aren’t quite back up to North Korean or Cuban standards yet, and he can’t resist working on his mythology a bit in the mean time.

So while Putin has no urgent military need for a naval base on the US doorstep, and though he can hardly afford to waste cash on one, the chance to remain in the international limelight and to stir up some nationalistic sentiment in Russia is just too hard to pass up. So how do bright young Russians feel about all this? I can’t speak for them. The next time you see one moving into Western Europe, ask him.

In the short term, none of Russia’s imperialist dreams mean much to us in the West. How much it means to us in the future will depend on how well Putin can run the Russian economy, and how much of a Russian Navy he can build and put to sea.

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‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

That G*d-D***ed (Berlin) Wall

By Jay Holmes

On a cold, January day in 1961, in a world chilled by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, I sat near a radio with my family and listened intently to the words of a man that my very young mind idolized. Even as a small child, it was not my nature to easily trust. I would listen to anyone, believe most of what they said, and count on very little of it. I liked nearly everyone and trusted few. I trusted this man and I believed his words. I had inherited the caution that my father and so many of my uncles exhibited. They and my aunts and my older cousins and siblings held great hope for this man. The new President of my country, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, told me that day my freedom did not come from government, but from God.

I was too young to attend school with my older siblings, but I knew who God was. I was certain of His presence, and I understood him completely. A half a century later, I understand far less of God than I did then, but I have never stopped believing what that man told me, and I still hear some of his words in my memory. I can still feel the great excitement and the feeling that I was witness to a monumental occasion.

The new President told me that every nation, whether they wish us well or wish us ill, should know, “. . . that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” I hear those words still.

Few words have influenced my life as those words did. Few words have influenced the world as those words did. Millions of people around the world heard those words. Some found hope and assurance, and some heard them as a challenge to their right to take freedom from others.

Seven months later, the Soviet Union erected a wall between the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, and the Western-controlled sector of Berlin. Situated deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany, West Berlin was a beacon of hope surrounded by a sea of Soviet oppression.

By 1961, nearly four million Germans living under Soviet occupation decided to abandon their homes and seek freedom in West Germany. The easiest place to cross from East Germany to West Germany was Berlin.

One night in August of 1961, the Soviet and East German troops formed a cordon along the dividing line between East and West Berlin. The next day, they began to erect a concrete wall. Streets and buildings were removed from the east side of the wall to create a killing zone.

East Germans, under the control of the Soviet Union, built barbed wire-topped fences and guard towers equipped with machine guns. Like a monster from some cheap science fiction movie, the Wall grew taller and wider over time, as if it were growing fat on the flesh of the nearly two hundred East Germans who were murdered while trying to cross it.

image from userpage.chemie.fu-berlin.de

The Soviets congratulated themselves for the effectiveness of the Wall in stemming the tide of escapees from the Soviet police state. I saw it as a shameful monument and an open admission by the Soviets that, given the opportunity, any sane man or woman would seek freedom over oppression.

During the Cold War, the great central debate between the Soviet (and Maoist) controlled East and the West centered, in theory, on the struggle between communism and capitalism. While some of my generation debated the appeal of “Marxism” vs. “Capitalism,” I avoided those debates. Whatever Marx might have said didn’t matter to me. He was long gone, and his ideas weren’t deciding policy in Moscow. How the Soviets divided their land or ran their economy was of little concern to me. That God-Damned Wall and the men, women, and children who were murdered trying to cross it were all I needed to know about which side of the Wall I preferred to live on.

In the East, the Warsaw Pact had over 3.6 million troops facing west and south. In western and southern Europe, NATO countered that with 3.7 million troops.

Surrounded as it was by East Germany, the view east from West Berlin was much less comforting. In West Berlin, approximately 10,000 allied troops, known in the USA as the Berlin Brigade, were surrounded by 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Outnumbered or not, the Berlin Brigade did not intend to ever surrender if war returned to Berlin.

The Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the political dynamic between East and West for 28 years. In June of 1987, Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate, and at the same place that John Kennedy had delivered his famous Berlin speech within sight of the Wall, Reagan now delivered a speech. In response to reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s claims that the Soviet Union sought peace and prosperity he challenged Gorbachev to, “Tear down this wall!”

In August of 1989, the unwilling Soviet “ally” Hungary opened its border between Hungary and Austria. Thousands of East Germans and other Eastern Europeans escaped to the West via Hungary. The Soviets pressured Hungary to stop the escaping Eastern Europeans. Hungary pretended to comply, but looked for opportunities to defy their KGB taskmasters.

Protests started occurring in East Germany. East Germans began to chant, “We want to leave.” Each week, the protests grew in strength.

In October, the long time East German President and Soviet boot licker Erik Honecker resigned and was replaced by a slightly less homicidal maniac named Egon Krenz. On the occasion of his retirement, Hoenecker announced to the world that the Berlin Wall would remain for at least another 50 years.

East and West Berliners began to congregate at the Wall as the protests continued to grow. Krenz had been offered up as a reformist, but East Germans recognized him for what he was, a ruthless, self-promoting politician who was, in fact, attempting to crack down on reformers in his own government.

The East German military began to show signs of mutiny. Krenz was quickly becoming a puppet king without a kingdom, and East Germany had over $100 billion in debt with no way to make payments.

Buried under deep layers of its own cynicism and impaired by factional maneuvering, the Soviet Politburo was busy with it’s own internal struggles and felt little inclination to reinforce East Germany with cash or Soviet troops. Krenz was making fast progress on the road to nowhere. His Polish and Czechoslovak allies to the east had slipped the Soviet leash, and he was beginning to understand what the Berlin Brigade must have felt like for so long.

East German protesters changed their chant. “We want to leave,” was replaced with, “We want to stay. YOU leave!”

By November, it was becoming obvious that most of the East German border guards were sympathetic to the protestors. With a possible collapse of the government looming, nobody in the East German government wanted to have to answer for ordering a slaughter of the increasingly brazen protestors.

On November 9, 1989, in an attempt to relieve the social pressure that was threatening to rupture the East German state, the East German government announced that the gates would be opened in the Wall, and that anyone who wished could pass from East to West.

Until late October, I had been in Europe. On my flight back to Washington D.C., I wondered if my dream of seeing a free Eastern Europe was about to materialize. The Soviet steamroller that had kept Eastern Europe’s puppet communist regimes in power for four decades had run out of steam.

On November 9, I returned home from a martial arts class. When I entered the living room, my wife was smiling in a way that I had not seen her smile before. She said, “You got your wish,” and she pointed to the TV.

I felt compelled to get close to the screen, as though I could hug the Berliners who were dancing on top of that God Damned Wall. I wished I had gone back to Berlin. I missed the biggest party in the history of the Cold War.

I was stunned and relieved, and simultaneously filled with joy and sadness. I felt joy for the people of Eastern Europe and for us. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wish that a few people who mattered greatly to me could have remained among us long enough to see that night. They had paid that price. They had borne that burden. It had not been in vain. I never for a second thought that it would be.

Tonight, from the distant, warm, comfortable safety of my home, I offer my humble gratitude to them for never losing their faith, and to the people of Berlin and Eastern Europe for finding their faith and their freedom.

What did the Berlin Wall mean to you?

Flight of the Konkordski: The Rest of the Story

Last week, my spy novel writing partner, Holmes, began telling us about the Flight of the Konkordski, the Russian TU-144 jet that was the Soviet version of the French/British Concorde. Part One told the apparent events at the 1973 Paris Air Show when the TU-144 exploded, killing its crew and eight French citizens. Part Two discussed the brilliant Russian engineer behind the TU-144, Andrei Tupolev. Today, Holmes tells us the rest of the story.

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By Jay Holmes

With the United States out of the SST competition due to costs and increased political resistance, the French/British team felt confident that they would be able to corner the market for SST aircraft for at least ten years. The French and British were vaguely aware that the USSR was developing an SST, but they were certain that the USSR was two to three years behind the Concorde development project.

In 1963, a British delegation led by UK Aviation Minister Julian Avery visited the USSR and was given a very limited tour of Russia’s aviation industry. One of the things the Soviets showed them was a model of the future TU-144. Avery and his team decided that the model looked like an all out copy of what was then the early version of the Concorde design.

When Avery returned to the UK, he immediately warned the French and British that they obviously had been penetrated by spies. This begs a question. Why would the warning even be required? Would the French and British not have assumed that the Concorde project was a target for the Soviets?

Soviet KGB agent Sergei Pavlov was ostensibly the head of the Aeroflot’s French operations, but he was, in fact, in charge of Soviet espionage for aviation in France. The French Intelligence Service placed Pavlov under more extensive and skillful surveillance.

Before long, Pavlov was observed collecting tire samples from a French airport employee. The French and British decided that, rather than arrest Pavlov, they would turn or “double” his French contact and feed him bad information. The degree to which the planted bad information affected the Tu-144 project can probably be accurately estimated by the British and French intelligence services, but if they have done so they are not yet talking publicly about it. In 1965, the French arrested and deported Pavlov, taking from him a complete copy of the blue prints for the Concorde landing gear.

While the obvious assumption is that the USSR spied on the Concorde in order to copy the design work, their actual goals were a bit more complex. Tupolev was under enormous pressure from the Soviet government to move quickly and to conduct a successful test flight before the Concorde did. The Tupolev firm had become famous for being able to put up a working aircraft for testing and early production, and then later refining out the problems that had been missed or ignored in development.

To Western engineers, this might seem like a risky strategy, but Andrei and Alexi Tupolev lived in a different world. The political climate in the USSR in the late 1960s was marked by much of the same urgency and desperation that had defined the USSR during World War Two. For Tupolev, beating the Concorde was more important than refining the best design. The Tu-144 needed to be flown as soon as possible, and the design could be finished later for a production run.

In the summer of 1968, the Soviets received intelligence that the Concorde would undergo its first test flight in early 1969. The Tupolev design team went into overdrive. Engineers and technicians slept at the assembly area and worked with little sleep. In December of 1968, the TU-144 flew a successful test flight. The Soviets had been able to fly the first Mach 2 airliner in history.

The Kremlin was overjoyed. Andrei Tupolev and the lead engineer, his son, Alexi, had achieved a great dream. Andrei’s expertise at redesigning hastily produced aircraft would undoubtedly help get the Tupolev “fixed” prior to production, but in the meantime they had struck a blow for the reputation of the USSR. When a few months later the Concorde made its first test flight, some of the publicity value had been lost to the TU-144s earlier flight, but the test pilots had a more “finished” product.

By the time of the 1973 Paris Air Show, the British and French likely felt more than the usual Cold War hostility to the TU-144 project. If the Soviet espionage showed in the general design of the Tupolev-144, the British and French anger about the aircraft was just as obvious.

The Concorde team was warned that a Mirage III would be in the air, waiting to intercept the TU-144 to photograph the deployed canards in flight. Naturally, the TU-144 crew was not told of the Mirage III.

The Tu-144 had its exhibition time cut in half at the last moment. Now, the TU-144 team would be flying a suddenly shortened flight plan with a control system that had been modified the night before.

At a reception the previous evening, Russian pilot Mikhail Koslov had made it clear that he intended to “push the envelope” the next day, and that he would out-fly the Concorde no matter what. At the last minute, Soviet copilot Valery Molchanov agreed to carry on board a French TV crew’s camera and film the cockpit during the exhibition flight. It seemed like a great opportunity to further the PR mission of the TU-144. The variables for creating an accident were quickly stacking high.

Here is what I suspect happened:

When the Mirage III came into position to photograph the canards of the TU-144, the pilot, Koslov, was either startled into an evasive maneuver, or, for purposes of an impressive show, simply pushed the envelope further than the airplane could go. Both possibilities are accepted by people who know much more about flight than I do. Both possibilities lead to the same result.

Pilot Mikhail Koslov, image from tu144sst.com

During the sudden maneuver, the air pressure to the engines suddenly dropped off, and some or all of the four engines stalled. The sudden change in velocity of the aircraft may have caused the heavy TV camera to strike the flight controls, complicating the pilots’ attempts to save the plane.

The pilot forced the TU-144 downward in order to gain airspeed with which to restart his engines. He only had four thousand feet of altitude with which to work, and after getting some or all of the engines running he attempted to pull out. The attempted abrupt climb exceeded the structural limits of the TU-144, and she broke up.

The explosion before hitting the ground was not unusual. The TU-144 was fueled with highly volatile JP-6 fuel. There would have been plenty of heat in the disintegrating wing root and the engine compartment to ignite the vapor that formed from the fuel being released into the fast moving air. Fuel + Oxygen Pressure + Heat = Fire. The more you have of any one of  these factors, the less you need of the other two factors. The oxygen pressure was high, and the fuel vapor was close to ideal so the ambient air temperature, itself, might have been enough to provide enough heat for ignition. No other bomb was needed.

The accident investigation report never mentioned the Mirage III. The black box flight data recorder was supposedly never recovered. This strikes my non-aviation mind as comical. Two aviation engineers agree with me that the accident in question should not have vaporized the black box.

The French and Soviets seemed to cooperate in a cover up. So what was covered up? The Soviets wanted the flight crew blamed. They were trying to sell a plane not a flight crew. The French government did not want to be blamed by its French political opponents or the French public for the eight dead French civilians. The French and the Soviets (with UK acquiescence) made a deal and jointly accepted the least uncomfortable explanation for the accident.

In the aftermath, many theories surrounding the Paris Air Show incident, the Tupolev Design, and the Mirage III’s impact on the accident have been interpreted differently by a variety of observers. It’s often easy to know someone’s political views by listening to their analysis of this and other events.

Claims have been made that the Mirage, or possibly even two Mirages, purposely flew in front of the TU-144’s intake, intentionally causing two of her engines to stall. As one of our readers has already pointed out, the French could have taken down the TU-144 without instigating a crash over a populated area. If they were going to purposely cause a crash for the TU-144, they likely would have done it while the plane was en route to Paris, and not at the Air Show.

Many Russians and Soviet sympathizers will quickly point out that the TU-144 was very different from the Concorde, and, therefore, was not a copy. It was, in fact, very different.

The TU-144 wing design was simpler than the Concorde’s on the original Tu-144, but it was changed on later models. The braking system on the TU-144 was primitive compared to the Concorde’s brakes. The hydraulic system in the TU-144 was completely unlike that of the Concorde. The Concorde used a very clever cooling system the Tu-144 did not have. The exterior noise level of the TU-144 was lower than the Concorde’s, but the noise in the passenger space was almost unbearable.

The Russians’ claim that the TU-144’s earlier first flight proves it is not a copy is nonsensical, but it’s the sort of thing that the average journalist or college freshman might believe. The TU-144 was not a copy of the Concorde, but the Tupolev design team benefitted from the Soviet espionage successes against the Concorde.

In 1977, four years after the TU-144 crash in Paris, Soviet agent Sergei Fabiew was arrested by the French intelligence services. He had been working without diplomatic cover, and the French convinced him to cooperate.

Fabiew was able to deliver cypher codes to the French that he should have destroyed long before his capture. He was obviously hedging his bets and had no desire to return to the USSR. The French were able to use the old cyphers, along with cryptology information from the Americans and the British, in order to decipher old messages from Moscow to Fabiew. It was clear that Fabiew’s claim of having provided the KGB with full sets of plans for the Concorde was not just boasting. He had gotten every bit of the Concorde at every step of the way. From who? How could the French not know at this point?

Occasionally, perhaps when the wine has flowed freely at lunch, a few French writers and journalists opine that the US government banned the Concorde from US skies out of jealousy for the Concorde, and, therefore, destroyed the future of the Concorde at its inception. No. The US aviation industry would have faced the same supersonic transport flight restrictions so they didn’t bother developing it. Furthermore, the French had originally planned a continental version of the SST, and it was the British who insisted on a transatlantic capable SST.

The Concorde went on to break the transatlantic speed record in 1999. That commercial flight record still stands. It was retired from service in 2003 after passenger demand dropped due to growing safety concerns, rapidly climbing maintenance costs, and escalating fuel costs all combined to make it unprofitable to operate.

The Tu-144? It was quickly relegated to cargo duty due to cabin noise, and inadequate cabin cooling problems and Aeroflot’s dislike for the plane’s safety and maintenance concerns.

On May 12, 2001, Alexei Tupolev died. The Konkordski, stolen or not, lives on. IN 1996 The US government funded a NASA project to operate the last TU-144 as a test bed for supersonic flight testing.

The espionage surrounding the Concorde was part of a much larger effort by both East and West to remain informed about their enemies’ flight capabilities. Those efforts stretched around the globe from hangars in Seattle to banks in Macao and Switzerland and points in between, and would require a voluminous book to describe en totem.

If it seems outrageous that the USSR spied on the Concorde project, we should remember that France, the UK, and the USA were all doing the same thing to the Soviets. The Soviet efforts against the Concorde were inconsequential compared to the spy ring they operated in Seattle and Portland against US aviation manufacturer, Boeing.

While the Concorde builders saw this as an earth shaking espionage case, as the Cold War went, this was really one of the cooler corners of that war. From the US perspective, this was a minor sideshow. To the Soviet politburo, it was important more for propaganda and commercial value than for flight development.

In late 2010, Russia quietly mentioned that it had, indeed, had the flight data recorder all along. They said that, according to the analysis of the data, it was clear that pilot error was the cause of the accident, and that, based on radar trace data from the incident, the Mirage was not in position to startle pilot Mikhail Koslov into taking evasive action.  According to the current Russian explanation, the Tupolev team made a series of decisions that were individually reasonable, but when combined, they left the pilots flying a hastily planned routine outside of previously tested parameters. According to the Russians, Koslov “pushed the envelope” too far for the prevailing conditions and exceeded the structural capabilities of the TU-144.

Half a century after getting funding for the TU-144, the Tupolev firm has sought funding from the Russian government for a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen fueled Mach 6 bomber that will enter space for Mach 20+ flight speeds and carry an 8-ton payload. If it ever comes to the Paris Air Show, I’ll be sure to avoid Paris that week. I bet if old man Tupolev were still alive, he would be up late trying to figure that one out. We’ll see where it goes.

So tell me. Based on your best analysis, why did the Konkordski crash?

Flight of the Konkordski – Where Andrei Tupolev Sat

In my last post, we looked at the crash of the TU-144, a.k.a. the Konkordski, at the June 3, 1978 Paris Air Show, and we asked, “Why, on such an important day, did such an important plane flown by some of the Soviet Union’s very best air crewmen self destruct? Today, we’ll consider the history that might give us clues to the answer. Since where you stand depends on where you sit, we will start by looking at where the TU-144’s designer sat.

Andrei Tupolev sat at a design table. He had been sitting there since graduating engineering school in 1918. If you have never liked a Russian, and you feel guilty about it, here’s your big chance to remedy that.

On November 10, 1888, Andrei Nikolayevich Tupolev was born in a dismal village near the Volga River. Tupolev was an early communist or communist sympathizer. While in college, he was arrested and had his studies delayed a few years. After graduating in 1918, Russia’s leading aviation engineers quickly recognized him as a remarkable talent.

Aviation was still in its infancy, and Tupolev was highly influential in its survival and development inside of the young Soviet Union.  We might assume that his early Party work prior to and during the Soviet revolution would have placed this remarkably productive engineer above the suspicion of the police state. Don’t be silly.

On October 21, 1937, the minions of Stalin’s insane, self-destructive Soviet police state visited the Central Aviation Institute and promptly arrested the entire staff. Why? Blame it on German engineers.

The Soviets had ignored the advice of Tupolev and his fellow visionaries at the design bureau. The Soviet Union’s aircraft were failing miserably when piloted by young, poorly trained volunteers against the German aircraft flown by Franco’s Nationalist Air Force and members of Nazi Germany’s Condor Legion.

Stalin and his cohorts had plenty of intelligence on the Luftwaffe, and they hadn’t needed to go far to get it. In violation of the Treaty of Versailles, the Soviets secretly allowed the Nazis to operate a military pilot training facility in Lipetsk, Russia starting in 1924. The USSR had watched Germany build its pilot cadre for the Luftwaffe from a grandstand seat.

Stalin’s sycophants had miscalculated (miscalculating was there most highly refined skill), and they assured their fellow idiot, Stalin, that their Soviet aircraft would be victorious over the hated Germans in the Spanish Civil War. They weren’t. Someone was to blame. Obviously, Stalin and his unqualified idiots who were making the aircraft production decisions could not be at fault. Arrest Tupolev!

Most of Tupolev’s coworkers were executed as saboteurs. He and the other survivors were moved to an NKVD work camp where they went back to designing airplanes, but with less to eat for breakfast and no warm place to sleep. Tupolev was run through a quick sham trial and convicted of sabotage. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and kept at the “aviation science” prison that the Soviet police state had so thoughtfully created for him and his fellow literates.

In 1944, Stalin ordered Tupolev released for “important work.” The important work had to do with allied aircraft that had at times landed inside the Soviet Union.

Stalin wanted Tupolev and other top Soviet engineers to examine the British and American aircraft that had flown in the European theater while he delayed their departure. American aircraft that had that had flown missions against Japan were simply impounded because the USSR was not at war with the Japanese until April 13, 1945—after the US, Great Britain, and their Pacific allies had defeated Japan.

In 1945, three US Air Force B-29 bombers landed in the Soviet Union after bombing Japan. The B-29 Flying Fortress was the most advanced heavy bomber yet produced, and Tupolev was ordered to create an exact copy of it for large scale production in the USSR. He very quickly did.

If you care to compare interior and exterior pictures of the US B-29 and the Soviet T-4, you will see that, except for a paint job, they are the same design. The T-4 was important to the USSR because it gave them an aircraft capable of delivering the nuclear weapons that they were designing in preparation for the post-war stand off they intended with their “allies.”

After Stalin left for that big gulag in the sky, the new Soviet boss, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin’s many purges as a terror. He “reformed” Tupolev and developed a friendship with him. Apparently, both Andrei and Nikita enjoyed bantering unashamedly, using the most vulgar language in front of anyone who heard their conversations.

In 1956, Tupolev’s TU-104  jet transport entered service with Aeroflot. It was only the second jet transport to enter service. Under Khruschev, Tupolev became an icon of the Soviet state. He was the poor village boy who suffered for the revolution, survived Stalin, and went on to prosper as a great engineer. It played well in the USSR. Tupolev was a very human hero that Soviet workers could relate to.

Tupolev stamp

After Leonid Brezhnev led a successful plot to remove Krushchev from power in 1964, Andrei Tupolev declined in popularity. His projects became more difficult to fund as compared to projects from other design bureaus, such as Ilyusian. Even without the patronage of Khrushchev, Tupolev remained productive, but his struggles to acquire funding became monumental. By the time of the Paris Air Show, Andrei Tupolev and the TU-144’s lead designer, his son Alexi, were both highly invested in the success of the aircraft.

France and the UK were less enthusiastic about the development of the TU-144. The United States was ambivalent toward both the French/UK Concorde and the TU-144. So where were the Americans on June 3, 1973? We will need to glance at a bit of American history to answer that question.

In the 1940s and 1950s, aviation was changing quickly. Once US Air Force Colonel Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947 in a Bell X-1 rocket plane, engineers raised their expectations for aircraft capabilities. Most of the design efforts in the USA, Europe, and the USSR were directed toward ever newer and faster fighter and bomber designs.

Passenger flight was expanding rapidly at the same time, too, as airlines hungered for more efficient, more reliable transport planes. Naturally, dreams of Supersonic Transports (“SST’s”) began to solidify into planning and design work.

In the USA, Boeing, Curtis-Wright, Lockheed, and North American all set their sights on a Mach 2.+ airliner. They and the Federal Aviation Administration estimated that eventually a maximum market for 500 aircraft would grow and justify the cost of the development and production. The US aircraft industry had extensive experience in supersonic military aircraft, and that experience helped the rapid pace of the design competition. Great designs began to emerge from the competition.

In 1966, Boeing and Lockheed each presented exciting, high performance designs to the federal government. Both designs were funded, but before they went into production, economics and the taxpayers intervened.

Ranchers in the remote areas of the US were willing to tolerate sonic “booms” generated by US Air Force and US Navy military training flights. Most rural Westerners were willing to shrug it off as “the sound of freedom.”

However, urban dwellers were not quite as forgiving. As talk of multiple daily supersonic flights became more popular, the public expressed concerns about the noise generated by supersonic flights. The market for domestic supersonic transport in the US began to dry up before it ever came to fruition. That drastically changed the economics of the SST projects.

Lockheed and Boeing both developed designs for SST’s capable of Mach 2.8 cruising speeds (as compared to the Mach 2.2 speed of the Concorde). They also both found themselves looking at a very ugly bottom line. The cost of producing and fueling the aircraft would generate passenger ticket costs that too few passengers would purchase. Between public resistance to “sonic boom” and ozone damage concerns, along with ugly economic projections, both projects lost steam quickly. In 1971, the US government stopped funding both projects.

Before the Concorde and the “Konkordski” took to the skies above Paris, the United States dropped out of the SST market, both as consumers and producers. The race field was comfortably narrowed, but the market had also dwindled. By the time of the Paris Air Show there was little margin for error for the Concorde or the Konkordski.

In the next post, we’ll explore the rest of the story.

Any questions about Andrei Tupolev and his path to the 1973 Paris Air Show?

Flight of the Konkordski – Explosion of the TU-144

By Jay Holmes

On a spring day in Paris on June 3, 1973, over 200,000 spectators at the Paris Air Show watched the new British/French Concorde Supersonic Transport perform a fly by followed by a fast, steep climb. A new age of Mach 2. passenger flights was supposedly dawning in the skies above Paris.

Image by NASA, public domain

Image by NASA, public domain

Among the spectators was an anxious Russian. While watching the Concorde, Alexi Tupolev waited for the pass of one of the most important aircraft in Soviet history. The loud roar of the approaching Tupolev-144 (“TU-144”), dubbed the “Konkordski” by Western media pundits, must have been a comfort to him.

The TU-144 represented more than an aircraft for the Soviet Union. Over a decade of research, politics, espionage, and counter espionage had gone into the design and test work that produced the TU-144. The Paris air show was a chance for the Tupolev design team to bring an advanced commercial airliner to Western markets and lay the groundwork for sales to the West.

Those sales would bring desperately needed Western currency to the Soviet state banking system. The very acceptance of the TU-144 by Western markets and media would represent a coming of age for Soviet industry in the ruthless open markets of the West. The influx of foreign currencies and the boost to reputation of the Soviets’ technical prowess were both desperately needed by Moscow.

For the great Russian engineer, Andrei Tupolev, and his son Alexi, the TU-144 was the product of years of long hours at the factory, pushing forward an ambitious project that must have been near and dear to both of their hearts. Unfortunately, Andrei Tupolev died a few months before the Paris Air Show.

Andrei and Alexi had to know that, without cash sales to airlines outside of the USSR, no amount of great design work could push the Soviet SST project further into the future. They would be out of funding. The Kremlin would not be willing to fund the massive project simply for the small numbers of planes that Aeroflot could purchase. Only Andrei’s reputation as a genius engineer and a loyal hero of the Soviet Union had convinced Soviet leaders to risk the immense investment in the development of the TU-144 transport.

The TU-144, piloted by Mikhail Koslov and Valery Molchanov, flew the routine pass by the airshow crowd and proceeded to begin a maneuver that had been designed to outdo the performance of the Concorde. In the final hours prior to the airshow flight, Soviet engineers had made last minute modifications to the flight control systems to allow the TU-144 to make an impressive turning climb. This last minute equipment modification indicates that the Soviets knew hours in advance what maneuvers its competitor, the Concorde, would make.

Although they expected a minimum five-mile air space to be maintained empty for their flight, Koslov and Molchanov were not alone in the air over Paris that day. Besides the other four members of the aircrew, they shared the air space with a French Mirage fighter. The Mirage had been tasked with flying close above the TU-144 to obtain mid-air photos of its forward canard wings.

After making an impressive starboard turn, the TU-144 appeared to be on approach for landing when it suddenly started into the steep climb. The plane canted, and apparently one of the canard wings was unable to handle the force. It detached. Some theorized that the detached canard wing punctured a wing tank.

From camera footage of the disaster, we clearly see that the TU-144 burst into flames before crashing into the ground. But how did the possible stall, or even the loss of a canard wing, cause the explosion?

Along with the six-man aircrew, eight more people on the ground died. The fireball was about the size you would expect for a downed aircraft, but the shock wave reached further. Before the story ends—and in 2011 it hasn’t quite ended yet—the shock waves reached London, Moscow, Washington D.C., Seattle and lots of back alleys at points in between.

The French Military was responsible for the accident investigation, and, at least outwardly, they maintained a cooperative stance with the Soviet Union. They even entertained requests to quickly fly some of the wreckage to the USSR.

At first, the French government claimed that there had been no Mirage fighter near the TU-144. I can hardly imagine that none of the 200,000+ spectators at the show happened to notice the Mirage (or possibly pair of Mirages) flying by the TU-144.

So why did such an important plane on such an important day, flown by some of the Soviet Union’s very best air crewmen self destruct? What happened?

Several answers have been offered. As my very wise father would say, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

In the next post, before deciding where to sit, we would do well to consider a bit of history that led the Concorde, Andrei, and Alexi Tupolev, their TU-144, and that Mirage to Paris on that spring day.

Any questions?

Update on Libya and a Tearful Good-bye

By Jay Holmes

This week, Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe, a long time friend of Qaddafi’s, stated to the international press that Moammar  Qaddafi is now his guest in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean opposition leaders claim that they have verified Momo’s presence. Mugabe’s people claim that Moammar flew out of his enclave at Sirte, but it’s just as likely that he flew out of an airstrip on the Algerian border.

The fact is that it is unlikely that anything other than shrapnel is flying out of Sirte without NATO’s acquiescence. It has not been confirmed by NATO authorities that Qaddafi or any of his principal family members are in Zimbabwe. If he is, I can only extend my condolences to the people of Zimbabwe for having to suffer yet another undeserved indignity. However, it is entirely possible that this is simply a rumor spread by Mugabe in an attempt to slacken the search for his buddy, Qaddafi, in Libya.

In honor of great work on the part of NATO and the Libyan rebels, I would like to repost this open letter I wrote to Qaddafi as a parting shot gift.

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My Open Dear John Letter to Qaddafi

By Holmes**

My Dearest Momo,

Perhaps you are surprised that I would write you now, but after all these years, I hate to see us break up this way. The lack of closure is emotionally draining for both of us. After all, my relationship with you has lasted even longer than my marriage thus far.

I was so young and impetuous when we first met. I know that some of the things that I have said and done may have hurt your feelings. Please accept that my friends and I always acted with sincerity and the best of intentions. I hope you can understand that some of the things you did were really hurtful to me and to many of my close friends, as well.

I am sitting here listening to Carol King sing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and it brings me so many fond memories of our long and often exciting friendship. All those years. . . . So many cute hats, none of which ever fit you. . . . Those charming outfits. . . . That lovely fireworks display on a romantic spring night in 1986. . . . These  memories all come flooding back to me as I sit here and laugh cry.

Seeing you in such painful difficulties these days has made me re-evaluate our long connection. I want this to all end for us on the best possible note. Although I know you have not always loved me, I am sure you have never questioned my sincerity or passion. It’s all been very real for me.

Based on my deeper understanding of our heart-felt connection, I am offering you a gift. . . . A gift from my heart. . . . In fact, in your honor, I have decided to offer this special gift to any deserving person in the world. . . . the Seventy-Two Virgins Golden Retirement Plan. In fact, out of my deep respect for you, I will ask potential retirees in the future to plan in advance by donating a small portion of their plunder to my special fund, so that I may be able to help as many needy souls as possible.

Because of all the years of joy you have brought me, I am offering this gift to you free of any of your normal financial arrangements. Unlike your other so-called friends, Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi, I won’t take a penny from you. Yes Momo, I know about that gas pipeline you built to Silvio’s house, and look at how he has repaid you! But I forgive you. And I want you to know that my friendship with Markus Wolf* in no way detracted from all we have been to each other. “Mischa” never meant a thing to me.

My dear friend, stop struggling and give yourself the rest you deserve. Those seventy-two virgins will keep you happy for eternity. I know how picky you are about your meals so I have also arranged for a lovely, doting Ukrainian nurse to be your celestial mommy. Just stop for a moment and think of your future, Momo. Imagine being young again, imagine being attractive this time, imagine four exhausted recent virgins by your side, and your mommy’s voice entering that lovely silk tent. . . .”Ooo, Momo darling. . . . come to lunch Dear. Mommy made you your favorite lamb goulash. . . .”

Please come and visit soon so that we can implement your overdue, well-deserved gift. I want to finally repay you for our long years of friendship. Come what may, never forget that we had Paris in the spring, Rome in the fall, and those wonderful picnics on the Algerian border. Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful memories.


Holmes, CEO, Celestial After-Care, Inc.

*Markus Wolf was the despised director of the foreign intelligence branch of the East German Stasi (secret police).

**Note by Piper Bayard:

Holmes, a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations, has a long and involved past with Moammar Qaddafi (“Uncle Momo”) so these events in Libya are especially moving for him. During the Cold War, Qaddafi allowed the Soviets, the East Germans, and the other Warsaw Pact countries to use Libya as a giant terrorist training camp. Sometimes there were upwards of 30 camps operating at the same time for the purpose of training terrorist groups to attack Israel and Western nations. Qaddafi even cooperated with the Irish Republican Army for a while, until the IRA decided he was too filthy even for them.

Holmes and many of his friends spent decades intimately involved in fighting the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored. The stories of their sacrifices will never be told, but they were numerous and deeply personal.

In 1986, Qaddafi was blown away (pun intended) that his vaunted, high-tech Soviet Air Defense System proved useless against a rather limited air attack by less than two dozen aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Rumors circulated that clandestine operations had simultaneously been carried out against military assets in Libya. In addition, Qaddafi’s Syrian allies had sent their best naval unit to the Gulf of Sidra with the intention of guaranteeing damage to the U.S. 6th fleet. That Syrian ship exploded shortly after casting off from its dock in Libya. Both Syria and Libya were left unenthusiastic about the prospects of any future engagements with the U.S. 6th fleet, despite the best cheerleading the Soviets could bring to bear.