Nobody was killed in the blast, but it did significant damage to the Soviet economy, the Washington Post said on Friday quoting the memoirs of Thomas Reed, a former Air Force secretary who served in the National Security Council.
Approved by then US president Ronald Reagan, the plan was part of "cold-eyed economic warfare" against the Soviet Union that the Central Intelligence Agency conducted under Director William Casey, said Reed, whose book, "At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War," will be published next month.
Reed said the Soviets in 1970 had created a special KGB section to plumb western research and development for badly needed technology.
The secret programme was later disclosed by a Soviet engineer to French intelligence, who in turn alerted the Reagan administration in 1981.
Shocked by the knowledge the Soviets were stealing abundant western technology and aware the United States at the time was trying to block Western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas, the CIA came up with the idea of slipping the Soviets technology that would work for a while, then fail.
"In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the west, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds," Reed writes.
The resulting explosion in the summer of 1982, said Reed, was observed from space by US satellites and caused concern among the US military who feared it was a missile liftoff.
A CIA agent quickly told the military what had happened.
"While there were no physical casualties from the pipeline explosion, there was significant damage to the Soviet economy," Reed writes.
"Its ultimate bankruptcy, not a bloody battle or nuclear exchange, is what brought the Cold War to an end."