Wind of change: did the CIA write the cold war’s biggest anthem?

Scorpions’ power ballad was the sound of the iron curtain’s fall – but a new podcast explores rumours that it was propaganda

By Stevie Chick

With its haunting, whistled refrain and lyrics inspired by Russia slowly thawing under glasnost, Scorpions’ 1990 power ballad Wind of Change became a potent presence in the dying days of the cold war. A creative volte-face for the German group, previously best-known for their Spinal Tap-esque album covers and threat to “rock you like a hurricane”, the song’s rallying call of rapprochement was embraced by eastern Europeans as the iron curtain rusted away. But what if this unlikely twist in the group’s career masked an even stranger truth: that the song was in fact penned by the CIA to destabilise a teetering Soviet Union?

That is the conspiracy theory explored by the Orwell prize-winning US journalist Patrick Radden Keefe in his new podcast, named after the song. Keefe first heard the rumour from one of his contacts in the intelligence community a decade ago, and has been intrigued by it ever since. Looking for a gear-change following the gruelling research for a recent book about Northern Ireland’s Troubles, he decided to make a series about it. “I imagined it being like some big international spy thriller, if it had been directed by the Coen brothers,” he laughs. Indeed, Wind of Change quickly develops a gripping – if faintly absurd – narrative, as Keefe chases clues from the US to Russia, parties with fans at a Scorpions concert in Kiev, and tries to get veteran CIA operatives to break protocol and confirm whether or not America’s elite espionage force had a budding songwriter among its ranks.

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While he concedes that this particular alleged operation seems small fry “when you set it alongside CIA-assisted coups or targeted assassinations or torture”, at the time the stakes were high. “In 2020, we look back and are like: ‘Of course the Berlin Wall was going to fall, of course the Soviet Union was going to collapse,’” he says. “But people in the CIA at the time didn’t take that for granted at all. There was a sense that the Soviet Union was going to last for ever, and the CIA needed to do everything they could to undermine that.”

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