Mead Treadwell was interviewed on February 21, 2014 by Leslie McCartney in the Dean's Conference Room at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Cameron Eggers, Treadwell's administrative assistant/scheduler was also present during the interview. In this interview, Mead discusses his education and how he came to Alaska, and sets the context of where American politics were during the Cold War. He also discusses natural resource development on the North Slope of Alaska, activities during the Cold War, his involvement with the Friendship Flight between Alaska and Russia in 1988, and ponders historical questions that could be asked about Alaska and the Cold War.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites
Date of Interview: Feb 21, 2014
Narrator(s): Mead Treadwell
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney
Videographer: Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Sue Beck
People Present: Cameron Eggers
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Professional background and experiences related to Cold War issues
Alaska's role in the Cold War
Intelligence gathering in Alaska
Radiation sources and testing and Russia's role
Use of submarines
Shooting down of Korean Airlines flight KL-007
Alaska in the Cold War Conference
Stimulating business between the United States and Russia
Meeting Russian ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, and traveling in Russia
Conference on global projects
Underlying history of the Friendship Flight from Nome to Provideniya Russia
The Friendship Flight
Historical questions that remain unanswered
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, thank you, Lieutenant Governor, for coming in today to talk to us. I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to do this. So it was actually a year ago tomorrow that we were in this very office talking about the value of doing a oral history project on the Cold War and Alaska’s involvement. You had some great stories and personal experiences that you related during that time, and so perhaps today we can revisit that. MEAD TREADWELL: Sure.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: My name’s Leslie McCartney. We’re here with Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and Cameron Eggers. Today is February the 21st, 2014, and we’re in the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library. So last year when we met, we talked about your personal passion for history. You have a BA in history, and the history of the Cold War in America is one of your favorite topics.
And I just wanted today -- maybe if you could discuss some of your personal experiences -- like what you had related to us last year or more your involvement. And really importantly, too, discuss not only what the impact of the Cold War was on Alaska, but Alaska’s impact perhaps on the Cold War. And perhaps how Alaska was so instrumental in the Cold War, maybe in the early days, the middle, and the end.
MEAD TREADWELL: Okay. LESLIE McCARTNEY: So if you’d like to just elaborate, that would be wonderful.
MEAD TREADWELL: Sure. Well, thank you. You know, I came to Alaska first in 1974 and my -- just a very quick synopsis of my career -- I worked that summer in 1974 for Governor Wally Hickel as a -- as a volunteer intern. Went back to Yale, got my BA in history, wrote my senior thesis at Yale on a fish war that Alaska had had with Japan in 1937 when Japanese mechanized trawlers began scooping up all the fish in Bristol Bay.
That had caused kind of a major policy shift in the United States or on -- on that ultimately, it was the first time we seriously considered a two-hundred-mile limit for our fisheries. And then -- then, of course, that didn’t happen until 1976.
After that I worked for the Anchorage Times covering mostly state political matters, but certainly certain -- some defense matters. Then I was an assistant press secretary for John Connelly, who ran for president. Turned down an offer to go work on the Reagan campaign in the Reagan White House. Went to Harvard Business School.
My summer at -- of 1981, I won a fellowship to work in Japan. And then Governor Hickel, his wife, Ermalee, and I traveled across the Soviet Union at the invitation of Anatoly Dobrynin, who’d been the ambassador to the United States from Russia for many years and was very high-ranking in Russia in the Russian Soviet era.
He was a member of the Politburo. And then in 1982, when I got out of Harvard Business School, I was hired by Governor Hickel, Governor Hammond, Governor Egan to be executive director of a group called the Governor’s Economic Committee on North Slope Natural Gas. And we spent most of nineteen -- the second half of 1982 -- putting together a feasibility study on selling liquefied natural gas to Japan, Korea, Taiwan. When we took that report to the Reagan National Security Council early in 1983, it was almost like we’d gotten a very big fish on the line.
It turned out -- and we didn’t really understand this until later -- how important and how essential it was to Reagan’s policies on the Cold War -- but Alaska gas and Alaska oil and Alaska coal were all used as issues with Japan -- especially Japan and Korea -- to urge those countries not to buy from the Soviet Union.
And it was part of a very, very well thought out, deliberate Reagan strategy that was backed up by a number of National Security Council documents to deny Russia cash flow from oil, gas, guns, and gold. So I just wanted to -- you know -- that’s -- so that’s what I’ll be talking about there. Then the other thing in the -- in -- later on probably two specific issues where I was very directly involved. In 1988, I was part of a -- ’87 and ’88 -- I was part of a committee that we established at the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce called the Siberian Gateway Project.
And our goal was to open up the border between Alaska and the Soviet Union, which we did successfully with the Friendship Flight in June of 1988. And then I -- I followed as -- being a pioneer -- being able to go many different places in Chukotka, Magadan, Wrangell Island -- helping to look at the economic opportunities, tourism and trade. And then still the Soviet Union was in existence and the Cold War still -- still raged on even though it was, you know, much warmer.
Then later on in the mid-‘90s, I was managing director of the Institute of the North and the -- the issue of whether or not the United States should build a missile defense, which was a very big issue in the arms-control discussions with Russia, became a central argument in the country.
And this is during the Clinton administration, and I was part of a group that got a resolution passed through the Alaska legislature, started speaking about this all over the country, and forced the United States to plan to get out of the ABM treaty, which finally happened in 2001, which is one of the reasons why we have missile defense at Fort Greely. So it’s -- it would be, you know, the first trip to -- across Russia in ’81 looking at the value of, you know, whatever happened at that time, the natural gas issues vis-à-vis the Reagan National Security Council, opening the border, and missile defense are probably the four areas where I’ve had the most direct experience.
The indirect experience and kind of one of the things that makes me happy as lieutenant governor to be celebrating twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, is that Alaska’s role in the Cold War was very significant.
I had spent a time as honorary commander of the 611th Air Support Group, which ran the old DEW-line stations. And so the DEW-line that was built in the ‘50s was -- is something that any student of the Cold War in Alaska should obviously be aware of. Another artifact of the Cold War in Alaska is in the Statehood Act. And that’s the -- it was back from what was called the Henselman Line or the PYK Line.
And this was the idea that was put forth in the Eisenhower administration that, yes, Alaska could become a state. but everything north of the Porcupine, Yukon, and Kuskokwim Rivers would not become a state -- would become instead a federal territory.
And there is in Governor Hickel’s book -- the records that we found in the Eisenhower Library when we were writing Governor Hickel’s book on the commons -- that showed how a group of Alaskans led by former Governor Wally Hickel and Senator Butrovich of Fairbanks went into Eisenhower’s Oval Office, directly confronted him on this, said this is just not going to work for Alaska.
And you can imagine how different our state would be if only the lower half of -- of this -- this territory was allowed to become a state. We certainly wouldn’t own Prudhoe Bay given the conservation agenda that followed.
I doubt there’d be oil development off the North Slope. We might well be in a situation where you have two states or a state and a Native territory -- not to argue the benefits of either one or the other, but if you take a look at what’s happened in Canada with Nunavut, that might have happened here. So --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: What was the reasoning -- sorry to interrupt -- what was the reasoning to do that? What was the rationale behind that?
MEAD TREADWELL: Well, if you look at the artifact in the Statehood Act, the artifact was that the Secretary of Defense might need the land for some reason or other. And so at any rate, the artifact in the Statehood Act basically says today the Department of Defense can take any piece of land north of the Yukon–Kuskokwim for defense purposes.
And we’ve looked at that several times to see if we could use that to open ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) in the name of energy security, for example. So that’s -- that’s one other Cold -- Cold War aspect. Fisheries relations between the United States and Russia are something I’ve studied and heard a lot about from Governor Hickel. And, you know, our general relations in fisheries.
Search and rescue with the Russians across the border were one. There are several, like, you know -- I think I probably listed for you last year a string of Alaska spy stories so to speak that are very important to get on the record, and a Cold War scholar of Alaska should be looking at the programs.
I believe this series of missions were called Cobra Ball -- Cobra Dane -- where there was a daily intelligence-gathering flight between Eielson Air Force Base and the Norwegian Air Force Base in Bodo where a KC-135, a big 707 jet loaded with sensor equipment, electronic equipment, and so forth would fly north of Russian airspace in the Arctic Ocean to collect information about what was happening.
And that would be collecting high-frequency information and so forth. There was a similar mission that flew from -- flew probably from Elmendorf or -- to -- to Japan on a regular basis that was catching information off the Kamchatka Peninsula.
So we were involved for, I would imagine, a period of close to thirty years. Very active intelligence gathering there. And in fact there’s datasets there that could be very useful to scientists looking at climate change and -- and -- and other kinds of issues.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: You also mentioned, too, that they were under the guise of seismic testing in the Brooks Range.
MEAD TREADWELL: We did a study. We did a study as the Cold War opened up. And I’ll just go back to the 1992 election. Frank Murkowski was running for re-election -- was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- brought to this campus here at UAF a guy named Bob Gates, who recently stepped down as Secretary of Defense, but he at the time had been Director of Central Intelligence.
And he had a presentation on what the Russians had been doing in terms of nuclear testing in the Arctic, where contaminants might have been coming to us.
And then I did a study -- or I commissioned a study during that time as Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Conservation -- to identify where there were sources of radiation in Alaska that -- that we should be looking at from -- from that standpoint.
Because Alaskans had great concerns about testing in Russia and what had -- might’ve come over here, testing here in the United States in Alaska where, you know, there were stories -- actual issues -- some of which have been written up in Dan O’Neill’s book, The Firecracker Boys some of which had been discussed in our -- our report.
Where radioactive sands from the Nevada test site were brought up here to test their migration in water patterns out near Point Hope, where Natives living in the Brooks Range area had been given radioactive pills to kind of see the effect on their health -- but not told what they were given.
Where there were radioisotope thermal generators or basically small nuclear piles in barrels that would create enough heat to create enough electricity to be able to run sensors, to be able to have seismic network to figure out what the Russians might be doing with testing.
And we -- and also I believe it was DOD one, one of the first active nuclear power plant generators was actually built and installed at Fort Greely, Alaska.
So that report on radiation was something that we worked on, but that was tied along with something called the Yablokoff report, which detailed Russian’s -- Russia’s emissions issues, and another kind of CIA declassification report on a US Navy program called ANWAP, I think -- Arctic Nuclear Waste Assessment Program. And so there was all this happening at the very end of the Cold War to figure out what had happened.
So those are all kind of little modules that I can speak to a little bit more. Some of the other spy stories include, you know -- there’s a book called Blind Man’s Bluff that talks about cutting into the Kamchatka cable by our submarines.
There’s, you know, if you take a look at what installations we had in Alaska -- a SOSUS network that was kind of a sentry to figure out what submarines were going in and out of the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait. If you take a look at what we’ve had at Shemya. The Shemya -- there’s a fellow named Clarence Smith whom I’ve gotten to know very well.
He was on the board of one of my -- my companies, who was an Air Force officer who for the Air Force and the intelligence community set up the listening station at Shemya, which both predicted and then confirmed the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite launch. At Shemya in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, we had a mission, I think it was called Queen’s Pawn Match or something like that where -- where we launched an ICBM out of Shemya to prove to the Russians that we could -- that we could monitor their -- their launches.
And there’ve been a number of other operations that I think some writer at some point could -- could write as a fun book.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Maybe you could elaborate a little bit more on the submarine. That -- that sounds like an interesting thing to me.
MEAD TREADWELL: Well, if you remember that, you know, in Adak, Alaska we had a Navy base that was very large in the North Pacific. I mean the community was -- at one point was large enough to support its own McDonald’s, with several thousand people living there.
You know, one of the situations that, you know, we’ve had a triad in our nuclear delivery systems for some time. You know, and those have either been missiles, airplanes, or submarines with missiles.
And so that -- that general triad and the way that we have nuclear delivery systems was all based on this awful doomsday theory that -- that no matter how big a fusillade one side might launch, the other side had to have some survivable missiles to be able to fire back.
Because if you could believe that there was survivability to fire back, then you would prevent somebody from doing a launch in the first case -- in the first place. And that was the doctrine of mutually assured destruction.
So Alaska played a major role in probably two of the three, you know, parts of the nuclear triad. B-52s weren’t based here, but there were certainly checkpoints around here, and there may well have been weapons stored here. And the government doesn’t speak to that yet today.
Then we had submarines that again weren’t based here. They were usually based in places like Washington state and so forth, but they were tested in Ketchikan in a -- in a Cold War facility that was built for testing silent running and so forth.
And that facility may still be there. I’m not sure. And then out of the base at Adak and Shemya and the Aleutians we had an underwater sensor network called SOSUS, which -- which is intended to kind of pick up noise that was -- that was happening there.
We also did a whole lot with -- with US naval ice camps to see where you could pick up sounds and sensors of Russian activity. Study our own activity to make sure that we were detectable or undetectable. Various programs to work out communication with submarines -- including the HIPAS laboratory on University of Alaska land on the Chena Road -- that’s been dismantled now, but used ways to modulate the aurora borealis to talk to -- to talk to submarines beneath the ocean.
And some very interesting spy activities on the Russian ice islands to figure out what they were doing, including one place where I guess -- a book I’ve got that describes how two -- two men were parachuted in the Russian ice island right after they had -- the Russians had abandoned it.
And they collected as much information as they could, and then they were lifted off the ice island by something called a skyhook, invented by an old family friend of ours named Robert Fulton. And the skyhook -- which you’ve seen in James Bond "Thunderball" and one of the last movies about Batman -- is one where you put up a balloon on a steel cable and an airplane with a V comes along and grabs the steel cable and winds you in like a fish.
And so, you know, that episode is -- has been described in a book -- I can show you in my library -- the Blind Man’s Bluff with the submarines. And another book -- I’ve not seen very much written about Queen’s Pawn Match and I don’t know if that’s the right name for it.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: What is Blind Man’s Bluff? What was that one?
MEAD TREADWELL: The Blind Man’s Bluff was basically how we sent a US submarine to cut into the Kamchatka communications cable to get that. And then finally there’s -- there’s yet today something called the elephant cage at Elmendorf Air Force Base that looks like, you know, an elephant cage for an elephant that would be the size of this building.
That is a large array of antennas that -- that can by and large pick up lots of high-frequency radio transmissions all over the world. And there are two that the United States has -- one here and one on Hokkaido (Japan).
And there may have been some others in -- kind of the Pakistani mountains or they’re somewhere near Iran when Iran was friendly to US interests. And that’s to listen to transmissions, you know, of various air forces and armies and so forth.
And the place where that was all activated and some of those capabilities became known was with the Russian shoot-down of KL–007 in nineteen -- I believe it was 1983. Now for most people -- don’t realize that that was one place where the Cold War did spill blood here in this part of the world.
And I had traveled on that flight very frequently. We had a -- there was a Korean Airlines 747 flight that went daily from New York City, stopped in Anchorage for fuel, would take on and put off passengers, and fly on to Seoul. And one day that airplane didn’t land at Seoul. And it turned out that the Russians had shot it down. And so here’s a 747 full of innocent people -- lost their lives.
The Russians later said they mistook it for that spy mission that flew along the Russian coast. The United States then released the transcripts they had of the tapes between the Russian commanders and the pilots to disprove, you know, what -- what the Russians were saying.
This was early in the Reagan Administration -- a very, very sad episode in Cold War history. And to my knowledge we don’t have a memorial to those victims of KL–007 here in Anchorage or, you know, in Anchorage. I don’t know if there is one in -- in Korea or not.
But that was a day -- and for me that really hit home, because I was a regular -- I mean, probably a six or eight times a year passenger on that very flight.
You know, to see that one go down. But our intelligence gathering capability was there. So, this is kind of a long hodgepodge. We probably should’ve written on the blackboard and let you ask questions, but I didn’t (inaudible) one of them.
But those are the kinds of things that I think a Cold War historian looking at Alaska would want to highlight. The other thing is, because I don’t have a classified background and because I haven’t really had a chance to be systematic about this, there’s probably much more.
And one of the things that we’re hoping to bring out in a Cold War conference in September is "what is the much more." My friend Clarence Smith, who is still alive, who had written that classified history of the national reconnaissance organization, is someone that our staff has been in touch with.
If you go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and take a look at the role of -- of the first spy satellites that were dropping -- literally dropping from space, film canisters that would be scooped up in the air -- in midair by US aircraft, the very first pictures from the spy satellite were taken of Cape Schmidt on the Russian coast. A base that would be used by the Russians to mount an attack on Alaska if there had been an attack.
A place where -- a strip over there where I’ve landed on many times actually. And let’s see, there’s so -- so, you know -- whether you’re trying to do this chronologically or how you would try to do this systematically, there’s certainly lots of fun stories about how this -- this little -- this small part of the world as far as people were concerned was very much on the minds of major policy makers.
The last thing I’d say is that if you take a look at some of the careers of major -- major Cold War figures who -- who, you know, which included Alaska, had some experience with Alaska one way or another-- I mentioned Clarence Smith who was overseeing the Shemya operation.
You can get Joe Ralston who was head of the Alaska command and later became vice chair of the Joint Chiefs. You can look at people like Bob Wallace who is now a published author about activities of the CIA.
Bob was head of the CIA’s Seattle office that included Alaska in the ‘80s, and later went on to be a leader at the science and technology division, which built all these satellites and sensors and deployed them. I’m just trying to think of -- of some others, but anyway, there’s many people who had important leadership roles who kind of made their way through our path.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. And you gave us all those names last year. That was very, very good. MEAD TREADWELL: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Are most of these people going to be going to the conference in September? Do you know? Down in Anchorage? MEAD TREADWELL: We’re trying to invite as many of them as we can.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Great. Because -- yeah. Hopefully, my colleague Karen Brewster and I will be able to come down and be able to interview some people. That’s what we’re hoping to do.
MEAD TREADWELL: Oh, fantastic.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: A wonderful opportunity for us. And then create a Project Jukebox for this to go on the internet, so -- MEAD TREADWELL: Great!
LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’d be interested in -- in the Gateway Project that you were talking about. I remember you were saying how you were trying to stimulate business between Russia and the United States and then how that --
MEAD TREADWELL: Yeah. The story of that caper is kind of interesting. I, of course, won a fellowship in Japan in 1981. And -- but the story goes back a little bit further. Governor Wally Hickel had been appointed to President Nixon’s cabinet, and Hickel recalled for me that at the first cabinet meeting Nixon announced that -- that Hickel would be invited to Russia.
Now Hickel describes that meeting as having Henry Kissinger somewhat seething in the row around the table, ‘cause Kissinger was not at that point in the cabinet -- saying something like, “What does the Interior Secretary have to do with exterior affairs?”
The reason for the invitation and the method of the invitation I deduced this way. If you read the biography of Anatoly Dobrynin, it -- it explained how Dobrynin as Russian ambassador from the time of the Kennedy administration on forward had always tried to make sure that as Russian ambassador he had a personal back channel to the president of the United States.
Well, if you’re trying to get a personal back channel as the Russian -- you know -- we can always talk. Our two countries could level everybody on earth. Let’s make sure that you have that. Dobrynin was able to have that relationship with every president save Ronald Reagan according to his biography.
So Dobrynin had made a visit with Nixon, the president-elect, and had said we want to invite your cabinet member Hickel. And the reason why is because the State of Alaska had pulled in several Russian vessels for overfishing. I say several. I -- I’m aware of at least one and there may have been another incident.
And Hickel tells the story of the White House calling and saying -- well, we always settle things in Washington with the State Department, no problem. And Hickel’s answer was -- well, that’s okay if they do it in the twelve-mile limit in American waters, but they did it in the three-mile limit. They were state waters, and you’re going to settle it right here in the courthouse across from the Captain Cook Hotel or, you know, or I’ll meet you there.
And so Dobrynin knew of this brash young governor of Alaska who wasn’t going to just let things remain as it were. So he had gotten to meet Hickel or certainly gotten on his radar screen then, and Wally had previously -- when he had established something called the North Commission -- had read a book called To the Great Ocean by Harmon Tupper, which had talked about how Americans had convinced the tsar to build the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
And he’d always been interested in seeing us build a railroad west from Fairbanks and Nenana to Nome. And so he’d had a star-studded cast when he was governor of something called the North Commission, which included Lindbergh and included Sargent Shriver and included Bill Lear of Lear and so forth.
And I’ve heard Wally tell these stories forever and ever and ever. But the main thing was that he had been invited by Dobrynin to come to Russia.
And he tells the story of how the Soviet minister of coal came with Dobrynin to his office one day and they were looking at maps of minerals in the Arctic and so forth, and Hickel had this very strong abiding interest in the Arctic, which as Secretary of the Interior was played out not only with those discussions with the Russians in Washington, but also with a young minister on the -- on Arctic issues in Canada named Jean Chretien, who became a lifelong friend of Wally’s and somebody who was our lawyer actually in the natural gas caper which I was telling you about.
But -- but anyway, with that history I get a fellowship to go to Japan -- basically ‘cause Hickel advised me anybody doing business in Alaska, working in Alaska government or politics, really should understand Japan. They’re our major trading partner.
And so I got a fellowship with the Japan Society working in a Japanese bank. And my grandmother called me from Florida and said you know I’ve -- I -- congratulations on your fellowship. You really ought to go via the Trans-Siberian Railroad. And I know you’ve always wanted to do that.
And I -- I’d talked about Russia and the Arctic myself, and I thanked her for the present. And I remember telling Governor Hickel by phone from Boston that I was thinking about going across Siberia. And he said to me once or twice -- you know, you ought to go in August, the bugs are better in August or something along those lines.
And then a mutual friend called us and said, “Wally said if you change your trip to August, he’ll go with you.” And I -- and it turned out my brother was getting married that summer and I had to change it anyway, so I called the governor. I said, “Do you want to go to Siberia together?” And he said -- well, why don’t you meet me next weekend in Washington -- or next Monday in Washington? I’ll -- I’ll get a meeting with Dobrynin and we’ll see if we can set it up.
’Cause Dobrynin had said we’ll always make this trip happen for him, and Hickel had hosted Dobrynin in Alaska a couple of times. So I spent the -- I went to Ted Stevens’ office, got pretty much every book I could get on Siberia out of the Library of Congress in a big basket, brought it to a friend’s apartment.
I pretty much sat in my skivvies all weekend reading, and I went in to Dobrynin’s office with Hickel with two yellow pages on a legal pad of places that we would want to visit in Siberia that were doing things comparable to things that we were talking about in Alaska.
Whether it was comparable to North Slope oil development in northwest Siberia. Whether it was hydroelectric projects in -- on many of the Russian rivers. Whether it was coal projects that were exporting to Asia -- those kinds of things. And Dobrynin said to us, “Well, most of these places are closed,” and -- to foreigners.
And Wally said, “Well, Mister Ambassador, I’ve taken you to Anaktuvuk.“ Well, he -- he -- and actually Dobrynin said, “And they’re not closed ‘cause we’re hiding anything. They’re closed because we don’t have any facilities for tourists.”
And Wally said, “We’re Alaskans! We’re used to no facilities. Didn’t I take you?” or “Have you ever heard of Anaktuvuk Pass?” And Hickel had apparently taken Dobrynin across Alaska at one point, where they were joking of the story of Dobrynin grabbing the microphone in an airplane as they approached the Bering Strait saying, “This is your ambassador. Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”
But -- but at any rate -- and I don’t -- I don’t know much more about that particular trip. So we gave Dobrynin our list of things that we might like to see and Dobrynin said, “Well, we’re not trying to hide anything. We’ll do the best we can.” That was sometime the spring of 1981.
I went on to Japan. I’d get a phone call from Wally once a week saying have you heard anything from Dobrynin? Nope. No, neither have I. But ultimately they came to us with a -- with a itinerary that had us fly into Khabarovsk from Japan.
Hickel had made it very clear that he didn’t want to go in anything but Russia’s front door, which he considered the Pacific. He had used that phrase with his assistant, David Parker, who later became President Gerald Ford’s scheduler, and Ford had done a meeting with -- with Brezhnev, I believe, in -- in Vladivostok after stopping in Alaska.
There was a fun story told at the Ford Library of Perry Green giving the president a beautiful fur coat, which then Brezhnev had absconded with from Ford when he got to Russia. But -- but be that as it may, that was the Hickel influence on how that trip happened, and -- and Wally got to go in the front door. So we landed in Khabarovsk, spent a day in Khabarovsk or two with Ermalee and Carl, and then we got on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and we went to Irkutsk.
And Irkutsk -- it was of course an open city, an Intourist city. We were able to stay in Intourist hotels in both of those places. We did not go to Vladivostok on -- on that trip. And then we flew from Irkutsk up to Bratsk to see a very large hydroelectric project, aluminum plant, and plywood plant. Then we went back to Irkutsk and we flew up to Yakutsk, which was a closed city, now head of the Sakha Republic.
And while we were in -- while we were there, we went up to a farming region and we also went down to see a major coal mine in Neyrungbrae(sp?), which during my fellowship as a Japanese banker, I’d actually looked at the financials of that coal mine because the Japanese, I believe through Sumitomo, were importing coal from that plant using American trucks and American material. And this in the depth of the Cold War.
One of the amazing things about that trip was -- you know, the director of that coal mine, which is much bigger than the Usibelli mine near here but, you know, I’ve been to both places -- you know, we were sitting in the superintendent’s office and he says, “Can I talk to you about the neutron bomb?”
You know, we understand that, you know, Ronald Reagan and so forth, and we just don’t -- my workers are very concerned about this neutron bomb. And the Russians made it pretty clear to us about three different places by giving us this little lecture that they were hoping that we would take this home.
And I -- I can imagine somebody from Moscow flying out to meet the superintendent, saying these Americans were coming -- you -- you want to do that. We met somebody in -- in Irkutsk -- head of a limnology institute at Lake Baikal -- and toured the spot at Lake Baikal where Eisenhower was supposed to have meet -- met Khrushchev.
But that summit had been canceled after Frances Gary Powers was shot down. And, you know, we talked then about -- you know, this was a series of Russian experts who had looked at bridging the Bering Strait. Had looked at putting a dam across the Bering Strait.
You know, a very interesting set of conversations that came up later in our lives as -- you know -- let’s see -- that was ’81 and ‘86 we tried to get them to come speak to us. And they couldn’t, but that had something to do with the Friendship Flight.
Anyway, with all that background, great trip across Russia, later got to Moscow, flew out through England. We -- we saw tremendous value in just having people compare notes.
So, you know, my attitude -- I’m much more of a conservative on those issues. Hickel was a great capitalist, but said, you know, the Russians -- his summation of the Russians was they -- they can build giant things like dams and -- and rocket ships, but they can’t get a load of potatoes across town.
And his estimation of things, you know, how agriculture was poorly organized, how many of those things were poorly organized -- fascinating notes I have from the trip.
In my case, it was, you know, for me there were so many things in this police state that seemed so inherently unnecessary. And you would ask about it, and the Russians would smile at you and they’d say yes, but we have full employment.
You know, if you -- you know, if you were exchanging a hundred dollars, four people had to go through the paperwork and everything was in triplicate and so forth. And just -- or, you know, not being allowed to just buy something at a store. But you could select it and then you’d have to go get one ticket and then you’d have to go get -- I mean, it was just a very inefficient system.
It turned out the CIA had just done a report for Reagan showing how fragile they thought the Russian economy was at the time. I left saying, you know, people are being fed. But, you know, people aren’t very happy. And the communications revolution really hadn’t happened.
But to think that eight years after visiting that -- or eight to ten years after visiting that -- the Soviet Union was over, was for me fascinating. At any rate, we left that -- there's a book written by a guy named Stefan at the University of Hawaii that noted the value of our trip in terms of thinking about opportunities of opening the border.
In 1986, we did a conference that put together -- my friend -- I was sponsored by the Global Infrastructure Fund Research Foundation out of Japan, and we did a conference at APU (Alaska Pacific University), which looked at some of the big projects to be built in the world. And we included in the teaser for the conference, you know -- was we’re to have a Russian come talk about bridging the Bering Strait.
And we had others who could talk about returning to the moon and new silk roads and reversing the flow of rivers in Eurasia to -- to bring water to places that needed it and -- I mean it was a fascinating conference and people had some really big ideas -- you know, a new sea-level Panama Canal and so forth.
And all of this was happening, and at the end of the conference a couple of reporters including a guy named Dye from the Los Angeles Times, a guy named Ken Wells from the Wall Street Journal came up and said, “False advertising, Treadwell. We sold our editors on this because you were going to have a Russian talking about bridging the Bering Strait. What happened?”
I said, “They never answered their mail.” And the guy who was gonna also talk about it was detained in China, which -- Ed McNally. That’s a -- that’s a different story.
And so Ken says, “Well, I promised my editors that’s what I’m gonna write about. You gotta help me out somehow.” And I -- I said, “Well, you know, you come up here fairly often. Why don’t you go out to Nome?” So some period of time later -- probably ’87, fall of ’87, I think it was.
That would have been sometime around that time -- Ken went to Nome and he met Jim Stimpfle. And Jim Stimpfle has -- was a realtor in Nome who had started sending faxes to the entire world. He’d send -- he sent a bunch to Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens every, you know, week.
He’d send a whole bunch to the -- to senior Russians and send them to, you know, the mayor of Provideniya. And I don’t know what his phone bill was like, but Jim Stimpfle had this idea that you could open the border between Alaska and Russia and do something with this.
And I had had the same idea, and I had been talking to, you know, people like Strobe Talbott, who was later Deputy Secretary of Transportation. But he had been Time bureau chief in Russia and had come across that border with -- with US Ambassador Watson of the IBM Watson family a few years before.
And I had met Averill Harriman before he died. And, of course, he’d been eight years old on the Harriman expedition, which had gone into Russia. And I collected a bunch of books and still have -- about books in search of Soviet gold and people like Ruth Gruber, who had a chance to go to the Soviet Arctic during the World War II. And, of course, the whole Lend Lease opening between us, where we sent lots of airplanes through Fairbanks to Russia.
And Gromyko’s visit to San Francisco to -- to essentially sign the UN charter was on a flight that went across the Bering Strait and came through Alaska on its way to San Francisco.
So, you know, the fact that we had this closed border, which had had a little porosity every once in a while, was -- was something that I’d been a student of. And Stimpfle had this idea of opening the border, and Ken Wells came back and said, “I met this really energetic and kind of nutty guy but, you know, the guy’s not going to quit on this idea -- who wants to open up tourism between Nome and Provideniya.”
And I said, “Well, I know what I’ll do.” And I got my friend Gunnar Knapp, who’s now head of ISER (Institute of Social and Economic Research) at the University of Alaska, Shane Johnson, who was the number two guy at the Alaska State Chamber. I asked the head of international trade, Dan Dixon, to go. And Dan was actually just changing his job or being changed out of that job in the Sheffield administration or Cowper administration -- I’m not sure which.
And -- and Ginna Breisford went. And the three of us from Anchorage flew to Nome and spent the weekend with Neil Colby, who headed the Nome Chamber of Commerce, Jim Stimpfle, who I would just describe as activist extraordinaire, John Handelan, who was then the mayor of Nome, and we sat down.
We talked about how we might try to convince the world to open a friendship flight. Now, at the time I was spending a lot of time with the Reagan White House national security staff, whose job was to try to shut down Russia. And I knew many of those people.
And I remember calling, I believe Norman Bailey, saying, “You know, if Reagan and Gorbachev are getting together, can’t we play up our proximity?” And there was this toast about the swimmer who went between the -- went between the -- the Diomedes. That Reagan used in the toast with Gorbachev about our proximity.
And we had all of that. But anyway, that weekend in Nome in the fall of ’87, it was very cold. We sat there and we said let’s gin up something called the -- the Siberian Gateway Project or something. Let’s get the Chamber involved.
Ginna Breisford said, “I don’t think my boss Steve Cowper would care about this to -- to save his life” or -- you know, or -- you know, it’s gonna be real tough. And we said, well, wait a second. Okay, Mr. Mayor, if you write a letter to the governor asking the governor to enlist the Chamber to make this thing open -- then, Shane, what’s going to happen? And he says, well, my boss would have to listen to a letter from the governor.
And -- and Jenna said, "Well, I’d have to write the answer to the letter from the mayor." And we said okay. So let’s write the letters and let’s write the answers right here at the kitchen table. And we did. And the mayor sent off his letter, and Shane was prepared to -- to convince his boss, George Krusz, at the Chamber to go for it.
And I believe Dave Heatwall was president of the Chamber at the time, and he later had lots to do with the Russian thing. And so it turned out that this idea, just by sending these letters off the kitchen table, caught fire.
And Ginna Breisford calls me in the following -- I don’t know -- Wednesday or something, and said well our plan is off. The governor just called me. He never calls me. Steve Cowper loves this idea and really wants to make this thing happen. And so that was fall of ’87. And then there was one other major element in this thing, which was we had to get Alaska Airlines to want to do it, and then we had to get -- Alaska Airlines had had flights in the ‘60s or early ‘70s from Anchorage to St. Petersburg.
So they kind of had played upon our Russian heritage, and St. Petersburg’s way on the other side of Russia. And there was a woman in Juneau, who still lives in Juneau, whose name is Dixie Belcher. And Dixie had formed a group called Alaska Performing Artists for Peace.
And she had raised a bunch of money and taken a bunch of, I believe, Juneau school children to Moscow, where they trained and did a concert with a group of Russian school children with the idea that these kids in the Cold War could show that we could, you know, the next generation could work together.
Well, the Russians -- whether they saw this as a propaganda coup or whatever kind of coup -- Dixie became very good friends with a guy named Gennadi Gerasimov, who was very famous in the United States at that time because he was Gorbachev’s spokesman, spoke perfect English, and was regularly seen on the Today Show talking about Glasnost and how Russia was changing.
And Gerasimov got to know and like Dixie and would come visit, and Dixie’d say well you ought to come visit Alaska. So at least twice if not three times, Gennadi Gerasimov came to visit Alaska.
And Dixie would set up a lunch with leaders in the state, and I remember there was one that I was not invited to that Governor Hickel went to at the Captain Cook Hotel. And then later Dixie would call me and say, “Gennadi’s coming. What should we do?” And we had this Chamber group sponsor a symposium for Gerasimov -- on what Alaskans would do if the border was open.
And the University was there, and the miners were there, and the airline people were there, and the trade people were there, and the transportation people were there, and -- and -- you know, by the end of that day everybody was showing what kind of significant thing could happen.
Whenever Ken Wells published his piece about Jim Stimpfle, I happened to be in Washington that day and Frank Murkowski said to me -- he said, “You know, I’ve been getting faxes from Jim Stimpfle forever. But now that this is the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Alaska Airlines called me and said, 'We want to make this happen.'”
So between the Chamber group, the governor, the connection between Dixie Belcher -- Willie Hensley played a role in this in that he’d been to Yakutsk before and -- and, you know, at Circumpolar Council had done a lot of -- kind of understanding of Native relations -- was the -- it was the ICC, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference at the time.
There was another fellow named Ted Mala, who had been working on circumpolar health. There were some scientists here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who’d been to Yakutsk on permafrost studies and for a major permafrost conference, and between -- between those Alaskans who had all kinda said -- you know, it really doesn’t make sense for us to be, you know, at arms with each other.
We should open the border and -- and see what we can do together. All of this impressed Gerasimov, who stood up at the end of the conference -- said I am here to tell you the border will be open.
And Governor Hicklel and I were in Tokyo. And then a car phone in Tokyo that day -- in early 1988 car phones were still not very common -- and the car phone rang and we were actually in the car on the way to visit with recently -- with the recent former prime minister of Japan, Yasuhiro Nakasone. And Nakasone and Reagan had been very good friends. And I’ll tell the Cold War caper there in a moment.
But -- so the phone came from Governor Cowper’s office that, yes, the Russians had approved the Friendship Flight to happen in June. And so the first person we were able to tell that we’d gotten this success was the prime minister of Japan, who we were going to talk to about Reagan Cold War policies and -- and energy and shutting down the Soviet Union.
Well, anyway, so -- so at any rate the -- Governor Cowper and Alaska Airlines put together the Friendship Flight. It happened June -- I believe it was June 12th of 1988 -- June 13th on the Russian side.
AT&T Alascom has produced a beautiful video about it. I can tell you the day was one of the headier days of my life. And I was -- let’s see, a year later at the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and, you know, I was at the pyramids the day of the, you know, at the millennium and -- and so forth. And I’ve been in Times Square New Year’s Eve crowds.
But this was just an incredibly warm feeling all day, to see families from St. Lawrence Island come together with families on the -- on the Russian side, some of whom hadn’t seen each other for years. The tears were just amazing and that whole day we really didn’t want to take that airplane off.
It was just spectacular. Out of that came several reciprocal Russian visits. One trip where the governor of Magadan, Governor Kobitz, came over with a jet load of material. And at the end, after we cleared them through customs and they didn’t sell all their trinkets, I ended up buying them, which cost me probably twenty -- twenty-five thousand dollars.
I didn’t really have that kind of money to write a check. I was a twenty-eight-year old. But we figured out a way to do it, and had a good banker. And we started the Siberia–Alaska Trading Company, which ultimately pioneered ecotourism in the Bering Strait area.
And my partner, Roman Braslavsky, and I made that happen. Shane Johnson had left the Chamber and had joined us and there were a few others. But -- so that was our effort in the caper. There were many other Alaskans who established joint ventures, made things happened.
Dave Heatwall did some mining things. The -- Perry Eaton did some things on trading groceries. We ended up doing some stuff on that.
A lot of stuff kind of back and forth across the border. But I will say now, twenty-five years after that opened, it bothers me that the level of trade between Alaska and Russia directly is only about ten million dollars, and there’s still lots more that we should be doing. But -- excuse the run-on talk -- but I’m just trying to get the story out there on tape.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: That's what we want. And you wanted to go back and -- did you want to break for a second or --?
MEAD TREADWELL: Yeah. I’ll take a drink and -- and take a break. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.
MEAD TREADWELL: -- white armies. But you know the Arctic was out of sight out of mind so, you know, whether -- that’s -- that’s a -- an historical question. Another historical question is Lindbergh in the, you know, in the early ‘40s, late ‘30s, was hired by Juan Trippe of Pan Am. And if you read Anne Lindbergh’s book North to the Orient; it tells about them coming to Alaska and checking out sites to go to the Orient. The Russians said no.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was sent to Moscow to see if the Russians would allow landing by Pan Am. Now we all know the most direct way from New York to Tokyo, New York to China, is through Alaska. And because the Russians would not allow the hopscotch stepping stones to get to the Orient, in that period of time Pan Am went with the flying boat instead.
And a piece of Russian scholarship that would be very interesting to see is what did they not understand about their geography and our geography that could’ve opened up and kept that border opened much longer time.
Then there was this glorious period when the border was open. Where we were shipping to the North for Lend Lease and Russia in both cases. And, you know, what ultimately was the security decision in Russia and on our side to kind of close it down? Then, you know, I told you about how Alaska resources were part of the end of the Cold War, and that’s a very important historical question. But the way we prosecuted the Cold War -- what was Alaska as an intelligence frontier? What were those daily flights about really? What were the submarines working on really?
What were the -- and we all knew that we were in a situation where the balloon could go up and we could be in a global thermo-nuclear war at any time. But, you know, most of the Cold War was a chess game of, you know, placing resources in a place that could checkmate somebody else’s resources.
And it would be really good to know yet today what we don’t know about what American and Russian strategic thinkers considered about this part of the world. And we may have been more strategic than we think, maybe less.
The question of what was going in Reagan’s mind and Gorbachev’s mind as they looked for rapprochement, and how our proximity played a role there -- and in things more important than toasts and opening the border.
And I remember having some of these discussions with the White House on this, but those are usually one-way discussions. They hear you, but they don’t tell you what they’re thinking. And you read about it when documents are declassified later. The issue of how the Russians look at the northern sea route today.
And we’ve just gone through a huge problem with the Russians in the Caucasus, where we’ve -- we’ve worked very hard to make sure that oil flowing out of those former Russian republics does not flow through Russia, so they can’t turn off the tap.
Yet why does America not pay attention to the fact that if twenty percent of the world’s energy is yet to be found in the Arctic, and it’s got a be shipped through the Arctic mostly by ships, that the Russians have the icebreakers, that the Russians have the shipping regime, and that we’re barely showin’ up for work.
We’re phoning it in, in terms of having icebreakers and thinking about this as a major seaway. You know, I can sit in a room and listen to a world leader say this in Iceland, say this in Norway, Sweden, Finland. But, you know, our president has yet really to mouth the words of what this means to him. Where’s Teddy Roosevelt -- who finally understood what the value of the Panama Canal was.
So those are kind of historic questions that I would recommend to any scholar. And any one of those questions is worth a book, worth a good study. I may be in there with you, you know, plowing some of this ground, but the point -- the point is this: is that we live in a fascinating part of the world, and Alaska is, you know, they call the Bering Strait the Bering Gate over at the Coast Guard.
There are yet to be seen activities in the Arctic that need to have -- need to be informed by the history between us. And I’m hopeful that study of the Cold War will -- will help us.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’m sure it will. Thank you so much. MEAD TREADWELL: Thank you.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Very much. Thank you.