So what was the greatest espionage coup in history? I’d argue against Lenin in that it had a big effect, but it was mostly just adding chaos and didn’t really achieve the goals. The “the president of the US as a FSB asset” of course sounds impressive, but the actual effect should matter too. So far it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of concrete Russian gains, just US losses. If it ultimately ends up causing a NATO breakup or something similar, then sure :(
Intercepting the Zimmermann Telegram
Cracking the Enigma and JN-25b (might not have changed the outcome of the war, but probably cut years off it)
I’ll still argue for Lenin on the Train, as that (arguably) sparked the revolution, knocking Russia out of the war. But Germany still lost, so it didn’t change the ultimate outcome. The examples you cite may have had a more permanent effect.
I would add Patton and his fake, inflatable tank army poised to invade Calais to the list. If only because Patton leading a bunch of inflatable tanks is hilarious, sorta.
The United States knew Japan was going to attack a target codenamed “AF” but didn’t know what it was. They had Midway send a fake message that their desalination plant had broken down. Japanese radio traffic then reported the plant at AF had broken down, confirming Midway as the target. This allowed the Americans to prepare for the attack and strike a mortal blow on the Japanese fleet.
What about Germany transporting Lenin into Russia during the First World War? I am not sure that is what you had in mind but it would be hard to find any act of sabotage or espionage that changed the world as much as smuggling Lenin into Russia did.
The damage to NATO isn’t about defense budgets. The strength of the alliance was never really in its hard power, though that was and is crucial. It was in its sense of unity, despite a variety of smaller squabbles and differences, and in the sense that every nation in it could rely on the other. That 's been irreparably destroyed, or at least terribly eroded. No one in NATO can trust the US now, because even when Trump is gone, the specter of a rogue president being able to pretty much trash any agreement or treaty on a whim will remain.
I enjoy reading Gibson, Varley, Watts, and others that try to see into the future. They all say a common thing. That history is too fast these days. In the 1950s and 60s the future was easy to write, because there was a certain understanding of how the future would turn out.
These days it’s not so easy. I’ve read stories that almost do it. I believe it was Gibson that wrote a story where Islam was in charge of the USA. There was a virus given to an American that was planning to overthrow the Islamic government. An Islamic agent gave it to him as a small amount of cocaine. Because of course, he was evil and did drugs. It would kill him.
Pretty out there, eh?
Lately the people I read no longer do political stories anyway near now. It’s too hard to do. It will be wrong before it is published. Who will do a story with Trump in it? Why would they try? Politics is too fast. Tomorrow will be strange. And the next day stranger still.
It’s time to do hundreds, no, thousands of years from now. The near future genre is dead.
I’m definitely not saying that Lenin on the Train didn’t have a massive permanent effect :) It’s just that none of those long-term effects were what the WW1 German high command would have wanted. And the short term effects were irrelevant, since they lost the war anyway.
Yeah, that’s a tricky one to reason about since the bomb wasn’t actually used. So it’s possible that in a world where the Soviets were ten years late with the bomb, nothing really changes. Or it’s possible that the west acts a lot more aggressively around e.g. supporting the eastern european uprisings in the '50s. Either way the counterfactuals are hard to reason about, unlike something like the Battle of Midway :)
Most definitely. In fact, the Ancient and Classical eras were full of espionage, particularly in regard to suborning walled cities. I read a history of the Punic Wars by Adrian Goldsworthy a few years back and the shenanigans involving cities and sieges were amazing.
The German High Command did get the short term effect they wanted. Russia left the war. The Eastern Front was no longer a concern for the Germans. However it didn’t matter as the arrival of the Americans proved too much for the Germans to overcome.
Not to say the Americans won the war, but the fresh troops were enough to make a difference on the Western Front.
The HoI4 mod Kaiserriech has the Germans winning WW1. The point of divergence is the decision in early 1917 to resume unrestricted submarine warfare (in the alternate timeline they decide against it and the Americans don’t enter the war).