Maskirovka: Deception on Nuclear Weapons Programs

The Soviet security services played a critical role in building and protecting the Soviet nuclear weapons programs. Protection strategies included maskirovka, the Soviet military and intelligence term for a mixture of denial and deception measures. In 1944–1950 more than 100,000 prisoners were engaged in building secret facilities for the Soviet atom bomb. Between 1946 and 1956, 10 secret cities were built for nuclear weapons research and development, plutonium production, and warhead assembly. These cities were surrounded by barbed wire and never appeared in a Soviet atlas. The two most famous secret cities were Sarov, the Los Alamos of the Soviet weapons program, which took the artificial name Arzamas-16, and Ozersk, the first center of plutonium production, which was given the name Chelyabinsk-40.
The NKVD, MGB, and KGB were also engaged in hiding these cities from spies and technical intelligence. All papers leaving the cities were classified; “free workers” were discouraged from leaving the cities even on their vacations; freed prisoners were often exiled to the most distant locations of the far north or Siberia. The security services also vetted all employees, their families, and their contacts. In 1947 the MGB assigned 1,400 security officers to protect the facility at Sarov.
Maskirovka strategies also included building facilities in tunnels to hide the production of highly enriched uranium at Zheleznogorsk (Krasnoyarsk-26); the movement of plants and cities to remote locations; and the design of elaborate denial and deception plans to conceal facilities from American satellites. The KGB insisted that all communications between the cities and Moscow were to be conducted by landline, to prevent the interception of radio communications.
The existence of the 10 secret cities was not revealed until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Agood primer on the maintenance of Soviet nuclear secrecy can be found in Oleg Baukharin, “The Cold War Atomic Intelligence Game, 1945–70,” Studies in Intelligence 48, no. 2 (1999).

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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