Declassified CIA images show how the US spied on fearsome Soviet weapons during parades

  • According to the National Security Archives, the CIA used to spy on the Soviet Union in broad daylight at the nation’s military parades.
  • The archives have collected declassified images that were taken at ceremonies marking national holidays like May Day and the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
  • The parades were perfect settings for spies to collect intelligence on the Soviet Union, which was normally much more secretive about displaying its military capabilities.


The fascinating images provide insight about what type of information spies were collecting during the Cold War.

National Security ArchiveScrooge missiles pass by an image of Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx.

The images were taken mostly of Soviet weapons, including missiles, self-propelled guns, and launching platforms.

National Security ArchiveTaken in 1960, this image from a May Day parade in Moscow is labelled ‘400-mm (?) self-propelled guns’

Some images were labelled with the date, classification, and event.

National Security ArchiveRocket launchers pass by an image of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx.

Each photo was also labelled with the latitude and longitude, and in some cases a vague description of the source.

National Security ArchiveSA-2 Guideline Rockets on transporter trailers, taken by a ‘Soviet source.’

This formerly confidential image shows truck-mounted rocket launchers.

National Security ArchiveThe CIA assessed them to be 210-mm rocket launchers.

Ground-launched surface-to-air missiles pass by as the band plays during the 1961 May Day parade.

National Security ArchiveThe missile, identified as the V-301, had a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, according to the CIA.

This photo was labelled, ‘Exempt from automatic downgrading and declassification.’

National Security ArchiveThe CIA identified this as the SS-9, a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

According to a CIA memo, the SS-9 premiered during a Moscow parade in 1967.


This image from the 49th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution shows typical Soviet propaganda in Red Square.

National Security ArchiveThe missile system shown here was assessed to be a new anti-ballistic missile capability.

This photo appears to be mislabeled.

The ABM-1 Galosh was an anti-ballistic missile defence system arranged to protect Moscow.

ABM-X-2 is the nomenclature for project Aurora, an apparently unsuccessful attempt to expand the Galosh system.


Whoever was taking these photos seemed to have a front-row seat.

National Security Archive

Although these images were clearly geared towards the weapons systems, it’s just as interesting to see the scenery and propaganda of the era.

National Security ArchiveThe SCUD missile identified here was a mobile ballistic missile with a warhead that weighed up to 1,500 pounds.

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