Alaskans asked to spy if Russia invaded

By Philip Sherwell in New York

US troops approach Japanese-held Attu Island in the Aleutians in 1943. America feared an invasion of Alaska by Russian troops during the Cold War. Picture / AP
US troops approach Japanese-held Attu Island in the Aleutians in 1943. America feared an invasion of Alaska by Russian troops during the Cold War. Picture / AP

The US security services recruited Alaskan fishermen, trappers and bush pilots as "stay-behind agents" to form a secret American resistance network if the Soviet Union staged a widely feared air invasion of the territory, according to newly declassified documents.

Project Washtub was launched by the FBI and US air force intelligence during the chilliest years of the Cold War in the early 1950s when war between Moscow and Washington often seemed imminent. "The military believes that it would be an airborne invasion involving bombing and the dropping of paratroopers," one FBI memo said.

The mission of the citizen-agents in Alaska, which was then only a US territory, would have been to slip into hiding in the wilderness and transmit intelligence about enemy movements to the American military.

A second pool of civilian agents was trained to arrange the evacuation of US military crews shot down or crashed over Soviet-held territory.

As Soviet military doctrine called for the "elimination" of local resistance in occupied territory, US officials considered the assignment so dangerous that they also recruited a reserve cadre of agents outside Alaska to be dropped in later by air if needed.

Deborah Kidwell, official historian of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, said the Washtub plans were in place from 1951 to 1959, the year that Alaska became a US state.

The plan never needed to be enacted, of course, as Moscow did not invade Alaska, but the incredible detail indicated how strongly Washington feared a Soviet incursion into territory closer to Russia than the mainland US.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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