The Birth of a Deep Black Program
Ever wonder what doesn’t make it into a book? Here’s an example, a real-life story that I eventually decided to withdraw from THE LAST SPYMASTER because I already had so many other stories in the book. Hope you enjoy. For a second out-take, check out “Spies & the Weapons Trade,” also posted in my Spy Files. — Gayle
The Birth of a Deep Black Program
In the early 1970s when the Cold War sizzled, the Pentagon decided it needed to test U.S. armaments against Communist weapons in case of war with the Soviet Union.
The result was the Foreign Materiel Acquisitions program — FMA — with a walloping annual allocation of some $100 million that came from the Pentagon’s black budget, no questions asked.
FMA quickly developed a clever system: It gave wish lists of armaments to a handful of private U.S. companies with existing ties to the intelligence community. The companies set up dummy accounts in the same Beltway bank FMA was using. Payments were efficient — and untraceable.
To buy or steal the best the Communist bloc had to offer, the companies hired overseas — not American — arms traffickers. This enabled the companies and FMA to dodge the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids Americans to bribe foreign officials.
Not long afterwards, the U.S. Army was eager to deploy a hot new antiaircraft gun called Division Air Defense (DIVAD).
Highly computerized and state-of-the-art, DIVAD was touted for its ability to shoot down helicopters and fixed-wing, low-flying aircraft. Miraculously, it could aim simply by homing in on the noise of a helicopter’s rotors.
Despite rumors that DIVAD was defective, the army remained enthusiastic. In 1982 and 1983, it placed orders for nearly 150 of the pricey machines.
Still, the complaints continued. Finally, the Pentagon went to FMA for Soviet technology against which to test DIVAD. FMA contracted one its underworld brokers — allegedly Werner Glatt — who not only stole a brand-new attack helicopter off a Soviet factory floor, a stunning feat in itself, he smuggled it out of the country and into the United States.
The Pentagon immediately arranged a face-off at a military testing ground. Of course, it provided amenities for its VIP guests, including a portable toilet set up conveniently near the bleachers. Unfortunately, the demonstration went poorly, including the embarrassing discovery that the Soviet guns had a farther firing range than did DIVAD.
To make matters worse, a fan installed in the portable toilet turned on, blowing odors away from the dignitaries and military brass. DIVAD’s guns mistook the fan’s noise for that of a helicopter’s whirling rotors.
The big machine rotated on its chassis and blasted the outhouse into oblivion. No one was seriously injured. The loss in toilet paper was high.
The next year, after more than $1 billion had been spent developing DIVAD, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger killed it.
Still, the dramatic heist of the Soviet war bird was pivotal for FMA, proving its worth. Over the years, the shadowy program has continued to deliver secret armaments stolen or illegally bought from enemies and friends alike, coasting past revelations of its alleged financial waste and criminal acts.
Today, FMA thrives, although you’ve likely never heard of it. But that’s because it’s still black, still subversive — and even more powerful.
— Gayle Lynds