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Counterintelligence in the Cold War and Beyond

Counterintelligence: Detection of espionage, sabotage, treason, sedition, subversion, disloyalty and disaffection.

Espionage played an important role in worldwide tensions between the East and West during the Cold War. Among OSI's many functions, counterintelligence has been crucial for national security and protecting the USAF. The USAF and other military services have been prime targets for spies seeking to gain military or political advantage over the United States by learning defense secrets. Spies have been both foreigners and Americans who have turned against the United States primarily for money, for ideological reasons, and occasionally as a result of blackmail.

During the Cold War stand-off between the United States, the Soviet Union and their respective allies, OSI concentrated on defensive efforts -- identifying and stopping spies -- to protect the USAF from espionage and other threats. At the height of the Cold War, Europe was the scene of intense intelligence activity on both sides as Warsaw Pact and NATO nations faced each other uneasily across the Iron Curtain. Berlin in particular was a center of spy activity. OSI detected and prevented foreign intelligence collection and briefed every U.S. Airman periodically on how to recognize, avoid and report intelligence threats.

In Asia, OSI operated in Korea, South Vietnam, Japan and other scenes of USAF activity. In the Korean War, OSI studied prisoners' stories of communist torture and brainwashing, leading to better USAF preparedness for future conflicts. During the Southeast Asia War, OSI agents formed "area source nets" in which Vietnamese and Thai nationals provided information on possible attacks on U.S. air bases. OSI agents also helped evacuate key South Vietnamese officials just before the communist takeover in 1975.

In North America, an early Cold War operation known as the "Alaska Project" prepared for a possible Soviet invasion across the North Pole. OSI set up a network of food and weapons caches in the Alaskan wilderness to help downed American pilots survive, and recruited "stay behind agents" from local populations to provide intelligence if the Soviets invaded. At U.S. bases, OSI agents helped the Strategic Air Command improve its nuclear forces' security by conducting realistic surprise intrusions. These important projects reflected the seriousness of Cold War tensions and highlighted OSI's protective function.

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