The newly released Soviet "War Scare" report - previously classified "TOP SECRET UMBRA GAMMA WNINTEL NOFORN NOCONTRACT ORCON" and published today after a 12-year fight by the National Security Archive – reveals that the 1983 War Scare was real. According to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), the United States "may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger" during the 1983 NATO nuclear release exercise, Able Archer 83.
Policymakers, and now historians have had vehement disagreements about the War Scare, leading some to describe the debate as "an echo chamber of inadequate research and misguided analysis," and the CIA itself to downplay the danger in its 1984 review. This newly declassified PFIAB document, however, provides the strongest evidence to date that the danger of the War Scare was real, as the only study written with access to all US intelligence files on US/NATO actions and the Soviet response in the fall of 1983.
The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), sometimes called "the secrecy court of last resort," was instrumental in spurring the declassification of this document after the Archive's initial 2004 request. ISCAP's efforts helped break through the referral black hole that continues to prevent the public from seeing billions of other pages of documents locked in our Presidential Libraries. The George H. W. Bush Presidential Library also helped in trying to win this document's release, but was continually stymied by an "unnamed agency" that would not allow the Library to perform a declassification review, despite that "unnamed agency" failing to complete its own review since 2004.
According to documents reviewed by the Board and dissected in the declassified PFIAB report, by 1983 "The Soviets had concern that the West might decide to attack the USSR without warning during a time of vulnerability…thus compelling the Soviets to consider a preemptive strike at the first sign of US preparations for a nuclear strike." To counter this strike (which the West never intended to launch), Soviet leader Yuri Andropov initiated Operation RYaN, the Soviet human intelligence effort to detect and preempt a Western "surprise nuclear missile attack."