On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War

Stephanie Schoppert - April 4, 2017

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
The test mission of the Skyhook balloon. listverse.com

Dropping Spies By Balloon

The U.S. military and the CIA always wanted to know what was going on with the Soviets, but with strong border security they were rarely able to sneak their spies into the country without being detected. They needed another plan and so they turned to General Mills and Betty Crocker for help. The Navy had a crazy idea to drop spies into the Soviet Union using balloons made by General Mills and Betty Crocker. It was about as successful as one might expect.

The plan was to fill a large balloon with helium and then a spy would be able to fly through the air and over the heavily guarded borders and drop into Soviet territory without ever being detected on radar. The plan hit a snag when a test flight using a large helium balloon ended in a very public disaster. After the crash made headlines, the Navy decided against using helium. The CIA had latched on to the idea as well and were not opposed to the idea of helium, but had trouble getting their hands on large amounts of it without government or Navy support.

So the CIA turned to hydrogen instead. The first test flight by CIA officer Walter H. Gioumau was conducted in October 1951. He used ballast and a parachute to try and direct his balloon. His first problem was a gas leak and his second problem was a rainstorm. The third problem was when he thought he heard an approaching plane…but it turned out to be a train on the ground below him.

Despite the terrifying moments of his first test flight, he did try again. The second flight went much better than the first but not well enough to keep the project going. Gioumau was deployed to Europe and the balloon division was abandoned for more reliable pursuits.

On the Brink of Destruction: 6 Crazy Plots and Schemes from the Cold War
Richard Nixon. whittiermuseum.org

Madman Theory

Richard Nixon was nothing if not a man that was willing to go all in for what he thought would get him what he wanted. He was willing to risk anything for a scheme that he thought might work, and he banked on the fact that the other major powers in the world would be much more concerned with the preservation of their own countries than he appeared to be at times. Richard Nixon may be the only world leader with a foreign policy that focused on what he called “The Madman Theory.”

Nixon believed that no one would want to push a crazy person with access to nuclear weapons. If someone with the capability to kill millions of people was irrational and unpredictable, he believed that the other world powers would do whatever it took to keep the irrational and unpredictable person happy. So he started having those around him spread rumors that he had a temper, that he was irrational, and that there was only so much his advisers could do to hold him back.

He even went forward with Operation Giant Lance which involved sending 18 B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons toward the Soviet Union. The planes flew in a manner that was easily detectable by the Soviet Union and it was meant to convince the Soviets that Nixon was willing to go to any length in order to win the Vietnam War. The planes took off on October 27, 1969 and flew flight patterns within range of the Soviet Union. Nixon called off the operation on October 30, 1969. The plan was completely top secret and no one knew about it until the plans were released as per the Freedom of Information Act.

Nixon employed the same strategy with the 1970 incursion into Cambodia, as more evidence of him being an irrational madman. The success of the strategy is debatable, as the U.S. did not succeed in intimidating the North Vietnamese enough to win the war, and the Soviets never towed the line in response to the threat. There was a high risk with not much reward to speak of.