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Counterintelligence in the Cold War and Beyond

In the late 1950s, a German civilian working at USAF headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, photographed classified documents to pass to communist agents. Using a hollow spot in a stone fence (circled in photo) as a “dead drop,” he left film for others to retrieve. OSI watched and photographed the whole process. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In the late 1950s, a German civilian working at USAF headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, photographed classified documents to pass to communist agents. Using a hollow spot in a stone fence (circled in photo) as a “dead drop,” he left film for others to retrieve. OSI watched and photographed the whole process. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In the late 1950s, a German civilian working at USAF headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, photographed classified documents to pass to communist agents. OSI watched and photographed the whole process. The window from which OSI agents observed the pickup, and the direction of their photos, is marked on this photo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In the late 1950s, a German civilian working at USAF headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, photographed classified documents to pass to communist agents. OSI watched and photographed the whole process. The window from which OSI agents observed the pickup, and the direction of their photos, is marked on this photo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In the late 1950s, a German civilian working at USAF headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, photographed classified documents to pass to communist agents. OSI watched and photographed the whole process. The sequence of photos shows two communist agents innocently looking at a map, and one of them quickly grabs the film. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In the late 1950s, a German civilian working at USAF headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, photographed classified documents to pass to communist agents. OSI watched and photographed the whole process. The sequence of photos shows two communist agents innocently looking at a map, and one of them quickly grabs the film. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, a curious meeting took place. The man in the short athletic jacket is an American Airman. He scheduled a tourist trip to the fair to meet the man in the suit on his right -- who was a general in the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Since most people at the fair had cameras, photographing their meeting was simple. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, a curious meeting took place. The man in the short athletic jacket is an American Airman. He scheduled a tourist trip to the fair to meet the man in the suit on his right -- who was a general in the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Since most people at the fair had cameras, photographing their meeting was simple. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, a curious meeting took place. The man with his hand on his hip is the OSI agent who photographed the meeting between an American Airman and a general in the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Since most people at the fair had cameras, photographing their meeting was simple.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

At the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, a curious meeting took place. The man with his hand on his hip is the OSI agent who photographed the meeting between an American Airman and a general in the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Since most people at the fair had cameras, photographing their meeting was simple. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This map was used to track locations of meetings in St. Mihiel, France, with various OSI counterintelligence contacts during the early days of the Cold War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This map was used to track locations of meetings in St. Mihiel, France, with various OSI counterintelligence contacts during the early days of the Cold War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Protecting dignitaries has been one of OSI’s many functions. A special agent (inside airplane) accompanies Japanese Prime Minister Yoshida from Haneda Air Base, Japan, to a San Francisco peace conference in 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Protecting dignitaries has been one of OSI’s many functions. A special agent (inside airplane) accompanies Japanese Prime Minister Yoshida from Haneda Air Base, Japan, to a San Francisco peace conference in 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI activities in Vietnam included cooperating with Korean troops, who were responsible for ground security at Phu Cat Air Base. Here, an OSI agent poses with the Korean commander and a cache of captured Vietnamese weapons. The Koreans displayed the weapons to show the local population that they were succeeding against communist forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI activities in Vietnam included cooperating with Korean troops, who were responsible for ground security at Phu Cat Air Base. Here, an OSI agent poses with the Korean commander and a cache of captured Vietnamese weapons. The Koreans displayed the weapons to show the local population that they were succeeding against communist forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI trained Vietnamese criminal investigators in Southeast Asia. This class book from 1965 shows several training activities, including polygraphy and weapons training. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI trained Vietnamese criminal investigators in Southeast Asia. This class book from 1965 shows several training activities, including polygraphy and weapons training. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI trained Vietnamese criminal investigators in Southeast Asia. This class book from 1965 shows several training activities, including polygraphy and weapons training. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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OSI trained Vietnamese criminal investigators in Southeast Asia. This class book from 1965 shows several training activities, including polygraphy and weapons training. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI’s “Alaska Project” prepared for the possibility of a Russian invasion. Its main features were training observers and setting up stores of supplies in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. These scenes depict daily life for agents in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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OSI’s “Alaska Project” prepared for the possibility of a Russian invasion. Its main features were training observers and setting up stores of supplies in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. These scenes depict daily life for agents in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OSI’s “Alaska Project” prepared for the possibility of a Russian invasion. Its main features were training observers and setting up stores of supplies in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. These scenes depict daily life for agents in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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OSI’s “Alaska Project” prepared for the possibility of a Russian invasion. Its main features were training observers and setting up stores of supplies in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. These scenes depict daily life for agents in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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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