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Communist Parades Gave the CIA What They Needed

During the dark days of the Cold War, spying on the enemy often took place in broad daylight.  Some of the best opportunities for Western intelligence to get a picture – literally – of Soviet capabilities were presented by the USSR itself at public military parades, where the normally secretive Soviets proudly showed off to the world their arsenal of advanced hardware. 

High-resolution photography from overflights, satellites, and even handheld cameras enabled the West to take accurate measurements and gather important details of various components.  Additionally, identification of the participating military units contributed to order of battle intelligence.  The presence of officials on the reviewing stand, their interactions, and speeches shed light on the nation’s political and military leadership, data coveted by Kremlinologists in the West.

Todays’ posting by the National Security Archive, based at The George Washington University, features documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and U.S. Army.  It includes records concerning coverage of a variety of military parades and intelligence reports based on the imagery obtained at those events.  Many of the latter include copies of photos taken at the time.

Read entire article at National Security Archive