ANN: Documents on Able Archer War Scare

Malcolm Byrne's picture
From: National Security Archive <>
Able Archer War Scare "Potentially Disastrous"

Signals intelligence showed Soviet 4th Air Army alert “included preparations for immediate use of nuclear weapons” in response to NATO exercise


Key “End of Tour Report Addendum" by Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots who oversaw Able Archer 83, subject of National Security Archive lawsuit, declassified by State Department Historian’s Office


Perroots described “ominous picture” of War Scare, the Soviet alert, and his decision not to escalate


CIA response admitted intelligence failures and possibility of “serious escalatory consequences”


Edited by Nate Jones


Washington, D.C., February 17, 2021 – “What might have happened that day in November 1983 if we had begun a precautionary generation of forces” against a Soviet alert in response to the Able Archer 83 NATO nuclear release exercise?  This is the question Lieutenant General Leonard H. Perroots asked in his January 1989 End of Tour Report Addendum published this week in the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States series, edited by Elizabeth C. Charles.


The FRUS volume, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1981–1988, Volume IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, is a collection of more than 380 declassified records documenting the beginning of the end of the Cold War.


The volume includes a trove of revelations about the 1983 War Scare, including the almost completely unredacted text of Lt. Gen. Perroots’s “parting shot before retirement” (Document 2). Perroots served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, US Air Forces Europe, during the 1983 Able Archer exercise, and rose to become the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. In January 1989, Perroots sent senior intelligence officials a classified “letter outlining his disquiet over the inadequate treatment of the Soviet war scare” before retiring from government service.


Perroots’s letter sparked a full, all-source investigation by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, culminating in its highly secret 1990 report “The Soviet ‘War Scare’” (Document 4). The National Security Archive won declassification of the PFIAB report in 2015 through an interagency appeals panel decision after a 12-year struggle.  The detailed PFIAB report concluded that the U.S. “may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger” during Able Archer, and commended Perroots for having avoided any escalation.