[rescue] Cold War hardware movements - was Re: WTB: Functioning VAX machine

brian Ross brian_665 at internode.on.net
Tue Feb 21 08:19:46 CST 2012

The CIA conducted a very successful smuggling operation - smuggling 
defective pieces of advanced (for the USSR) machinery to the USSR 
through various places.  This came about with the discovery of a KGB 
smuggling operation for technology.  Rather than roll the entire Soviet 
operation up, the CIA instead decided to use it, to sabotage Soviet 
projects.   Large quantities of electronics ended up in the USSR - some 
good, some bad and some deadly.  Perhaps the most spectacular success of 
the operation was a massive oil pipeline explosion in the mid-1980s 
which was observed from US early warning satellites and caused 
considerable consternation in NORAD.  The CIA had to tell them to ignore 
the alert.   Apparently the control system for the pipeline pumping 
system was deliberately designed to fail after a specified time.  The 
result was a massive buildup in pressure and when the pipes burst, they 



On 20/02/12 15:54, Meelis Roos wrote:
>> I've been told -- by people who were there -- that plenty of supposedly
>> embargoed parts were available in Moscow for the right price -- e.g. Intel
>> microprocessors.
> Not only in Moscow - the whole former USSR needed hardware and local
> producion was of low quality or low quantity (or both). So people
> organized buying stuff from abroad, in any means they could. Some knew
> people in the US who smuggled some computer with cargo ships, etc.
> For example, Cadmus Unix boxes were popular here in Estonia - there were
> quite several of them. I know the story about how the first one got
> here:
> In about 1985, people at Tartu Institute of Physics wanted to buy a new
> Unix machine - Cadmus from PCS (M|chen, Germany). It was embargoed back
> then. This did not stop the sellers. There was a computer exhibition
> hold in Tallinn and it was OK to come to exhibition with a computer, so
> a salesman came. When he arrived, two people from Inst. of Physics were
> there helping to unpack and assemble the computer. The salesman was very
> surprised that they could start it up in 30 minutes. And when they
> needed to make contract with the next buyer, the salesman asked where he
> could print it. "Where? You brought a computer, just use it!" That was
> another surprise for the salesman. He thought he had come to some
> developing country where people did not know anything about computers,
> and had top of the line technology with him (Cadmus was not even named
> Cadmus yet, it was QX68000 for Q-bus Unix 68000), and the locals could
> easily use it.
> Well, to finish it all in a legally acceptable way, the visa of the
> salesman ended "abruptly" and he couldn't take the machine back with
> him.
> I have one of the next Cadmuses (with 68020) in my museum, it is one of
> the two Cadmuses our astronomers used. Supposedly one of these was
> brought through Ethiopia but I do not know this for sure.
> The soviets produced their own Motorola 68k Unix machines too. I have
> one in the museum - Besta-88 (http://arvutimuuseum.ut.ee/images/82.jpg).
> It used 68030 CPU, Q-bus and SCSI storage.
> The legend tells it was designed in computing centre of Soviet Academy
> of Sciences and assembled in ZIL fatory on world-class assembly line.
> The assembly line part might be correct - it is of reasonable assembling
> quality. But the design part is certanly wrong.
> I have disassembled the machine and had a look inside. Maybe the case is
> of soviet design - but the plastic molded faceplate might mean even this
> is designed somewhere abroad. The internals are certainly western
> design:
> * Motorola CPU
> * NCR SCSI contoller
> * Q-bus interconnect
> * English-only  markings on PCB-s ("solder side", "component side",
> "C20", "R12" etc). One of the board has a cyrillic line about Academy
> of Sciences, USSR, but that's all.
> SCSI storage - disk and QIC tape, one of them from Maxtor. Even the
> internal power connectors were of western design - these kinds of
> connectors were not used in USSR.
> Front panel has square LEDs - also rare (but existing nonetheless) in
> USSR. Normal electronic devices user round LEDs, only some elite devices
> (like Estonia 001 high-quality stereo amplifier) used square LEDs.
> Front panel LED PCB has logo of Pyramid from UK - maybe they have
> designed the machine. I did not notice any other logos on main PCB-s.
> And, Cadmus with 68020 was still faster than Besta-88 with 68030 because
> Besta used one common bus for IO and memory but Cadmus used separate
> faster bus for memory. It was evident in C compilation speed for
> instance.
> --
> Meelis Roos (mroos at linux.ee)
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