Everybody knows about the top dogs of the international community, the world powers that maintain the current order by their economic and military influence aided a great deal by the very competent secret services they have, which are at times a far better alternative than direct military intervention or economic persuasion/coercion.
But there are several instances when intelligence missions were major successes, despite them being performed by agents of so-called second-tier states or those states that are regionally influential and powerful but are not world powers or a superpower like the USA, which warrants the use of the adjective impressive for these 5 non-superpower secret service successes.
In a story that has a feel to it like a house of cards tumbling down after you’ve painstakingly worked at it for ages, India’s Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW) was this close to keeping Pakistan’s nuclear program well in check once they heard rumors about its possible existence.
Because its head of services Rameshwar Nath sent a competent agent to find out if it really does exist. And he cleverly obtained he proof in the form of hair samples with a high dosage of radiation, which he got from a hair salon that the scientists frequented.
Then he even managed to get an offer of buying the blueprints of the facility (possibly to use for future sabotage), from a local inside-man in exchange for money. He just needed said money (in a foreign currency) from his own Indian government, the Prime Minister to be exact, who greatly disliked the RAW.
He not only refused, but also told Pakistan’s military leader that India knows of the nuclear program, after which Pakistan proceeded to thoroughly eliminate all the intelligence structure India had there.
In case you don’t know, Finland and the USSR weren’t exactly the best buddies. Which was unfortunate for the Finnish Army which, leaving feelings aside, made a rational analysis and concluded that the Kalashnikov rifle was indeed as efficient and praiseworthy as it was portrayed to be (and still is).
Even more, it would be exactly the kind of weapon for the tactics that the Finnish infantry was using in the mid 50s.
You see the problem. They needed that model, but there was no chance in hell that the USSR would sell it to them.
So, they took steps to cleverly acquire it indirectly from Poland (where it was circulated), by sending one officer to pose as a civilian, interested party. It worked. He bought it. Took it home, then set-up a front so they could buy 100 more, which they then reverse engineered successfully, resulting in the Finnish RK-60 model.
This story presents a win by pure brains, not guile and takes place in the Second World War soon after Denmark and Norway were conquered by the Nazis, in 1940.
After these victories, Germany requested in no unsure terms (read forced) Sweden to give them use of the telephone cables going from Scandinavia to Germany. The Swedes did so.
But great was their surprise when they noticed that the Germans were a bit lax about encrypting their messages, because they were very very sure of their world famous encryption-system preceded the even more famous Enigma code.
This predecessor was called the Geheimschreiber (developed by Siemens) and was really hard to crack. So the Germans started sometimes sending the same message without changing the code.
Since the Swedish mathematical genius Arne Beurling was alive and well back then, and apparently a patriot, it took two weeks before his country had access to the completely un-encrypted communications of the Nazi regime, all thanks to him.
Its Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was the first air force in the world to photograph the infamous Soviet nuclear bomber model called Tupolev Tu-16 Badger as it lay parked on a runway at a Soviet ice station in the Arctic called North Pole 6, in 1958.
Why this was important in the early period of the Cold War is easily understood.
When you have the specter of mutual nuclear annihilation hanging above your head, you’d like to know as much as possible about the adversary’s death dealing assets. Which is exactly what the USA felt when they exchanged intelligence with Canada regarding the Arctic region during the Cold War.
Once they had this precious photo from Canada, scientists when to work on analyzing the plane’s capabilities so that the US could counter them in case of a nuclear show-down, which thankfully didn’t happen. Yet…
A communist Australia? Might sound surprising now, but during the Cold War this was one of the Soviets’ ambitions. And since they were one of the two superpowers of the time, they had resources to back it up. In the form of agents infiltrated in Australia with the clear task of convincing, manipulating and/or coercing political figures and parties to come to the side of USSR.
On such agent was Vladimir Petrov. But apparently he wasn’t very effective and got reprimanded for this by the rulers at the Kremlin.
In a fitting example of what happens if you push the people you rely on secrecy on, Petrov started making it known to the Australians that we would possibly, maybe, sort of, like to defect. Which he did after negotiations with them turned satisfactory. Along with key information about which groups the Soviets wanted to co-opt.