"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.


Postby admin » Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:02 pm

Part 2 of 2

On the Oxford, in the eye of the hurricane, many of the crew were stunned. "I was thinking, Jesus Christ, we're going to blow up the world here," said acting operations officer Keith Taylor who was down in the Sigint spaces. "After the president's announcement there was shock on the ship," said intercept operator Aubrey Brown. "What the hell was going to happen. Next time they come out they will put a torpedo up our ass."

Also worried about the Oxford was John McCone, who ordered the ship pulled back. "Right after the announcement they moved us out to twelve miles," said Brown. "We were then moved out to a twenty-five-mile track" offshore." Still worried, officials instructed the Oxford to do its eavesdropping safely off Fort Lauderdale.

But much of the mission's work could not be done from that distance. "You could run some of the operations from Fort Lauderdale but not the bulk of it," said Brown. "You could do all the Morse code stuff but the Elint you couldn't do.... The next day they decided to send us back to Cuba." Brown added, "You could get some microwave sitting off Havana depending on where it is coming from and where it is going."

Within hours of Kennedy's address, intercepts began flowing into NSA. At 10:12 P.M., an NSA listening post intercepted a Flash precedence message sent from the Soviet eavesdropping trawler Shkval, near the submarine patrol, to the cargo vessel Atlantika. The Shkval then sent another message to the Alantika for retransmission to Murmansk, the home port of the submarines. Although they were unable to read the encrypted message, the US. intercept operators noted the significance of the Flash precedence in the report they quickly transmitted to Fort Meade. "This type of precedence rarely observed," said the intercept report. "Significance unknown." The network of listening posts was able to pinpoint the Shkval a few hundred miles south of Bermuda; the Alantika was about 150 miles off the US. East Coast, near Philadelphia.

In the early morning hours of October 23, other Soviet ships likewise began calling for instructions. The Soviet cargo vessel Kura, just off Havana harbor, relayed an urgent message to Moscow through another Soviet vessel, the Nikolaj Burdenko, which was approaching the US. Virgin Islands. The Russian passenger ship Nikolaevsk, approaching the eastern end of Cuba, sent Moscow a worried message: US. war vessel Nr. 889 was following her on a parallel course. Throughout the Caribbean and the North Atlantic, whenever a Soviet ship sent a weather request, indicating its position, an NSA listening post picked it up and noted its location.

At NSA, as the world awaited Moscow's response to the US. ultimatum, a report was issued indicating that the Soviets were taking ever greater control of the skies over Cuba. Sixty-three MiG pilots took to the air in a single day, and of that number more than half spoke Russian or spoke Spanish with a heavy Slavic accent. Around the world, NSA listening posts were ordered to install armed patrols around their facilities. Even in tiny Cape Chiniak, on Kodiak Island in Alaska, the threat was taken seriously. Communications Technician Pete Azzole was watching the messages rattle in the Communications Center when his eyes grew wide: "A Flash precedence message began revealing itself line by line," he recalled. "My eyes were fixed on the canary yellow paper, watching each character come to life." The more the message revealed, the more nervous Azzole became. It read:


After a few agonizing seconds, Azzole realized that the message was a practice drill.

At the White House, President Kennedy was deeply troubled over the possibility of nuclear retaliation against the United States if there was a strike against Cuba. A Pentagon official told him that the area covered by the 1,100-mile-range Soviet missiles involved 92 million people. Fallout shelters were available, though not equipped, for about 40 million. When Kennedy asked what emergency steps could be taken, the official was less than encouraging. Shelter signs could be put up and food could be repositioned. But McCone concluded that whatever was done would involve a great deal of publicity and public alarm.

Throughout the day, NSA listening posts on both sides of the Atlantic focused on about a dozen Soviet ships en route to Cuba and suspected of transporting missiles or associated equipment. Inside a listening post hidden in a snake-infested swamp in the town of Northwest, Virginia; a chilly cove in Winter Harbor, Maine; an airfield near Miami, Florida; a rolling field in Edzell, Scotland; and other locations, intercept operators triangulated every signal sent from the ships. Among those was the Urgench, which at 3: 10 P.M. was about five hundred miles from Gibraltar, sailing west toward Cuba.

But when the Urgench was next plotted, at midnight, it had reversed course and was sailing back toward the Straits of Gibraltar. Immediately, the NSA Command Center flashed word of the possible retreat to the CIA Watch Office. Harry Eisenbeiss, the watch officer, checked with the Office of Naval Intelligence, which had also received NSA's report, but ONI could not confirm the change of course and thought it might be a Soviet ploy.

In the meantime, the network of listening posts had spotted other ships also making 180-degree turns. The Bolshevik Sukhanov, which was carrying seven large crates on its deck, suspected to contain aircraft, "has altered course and is probably en route back to port," said another intercept report. Still another followed: '''HFDF [high-frequency direction finding] fix on the Soviet' cargo ship Kislovodsk, en route to Cuba, indicates that the ship has altered course to the North."

At 10:38 A.M. on Wednesday, October 24, with the Urgench continuing its retreat, another message was flashed to NSA headquarters. A copy was quickly forwarded to CIA, which in turn passed the message to the White House. An aide walked into the Executive Committee meeting and passed the note to McCone, who smiled broadly and made the announcement: "Mr. President, we have a preliminary report which seems to indicate that some of the Russian ships have stopped dead in the water." Kennedy was surprised. "Stopped dead in the water? Which ships? Are they checking the accuracy of the report? Is it true?" The NSA report convinced McCone. "The report is accurate, Mr. President. Six ships previously on their way to Cuba at the edge of the quarantine line have stopped or have turned back toward the Soviet Union."

President Kennedy ordered that "no ships be stopped or intercepted" for at least another hour, while additional information was obtained. "If the ships have orders to turn around, we want to give them every opportunity to do so..... Give the Russian vessels an opportunity to turn back. We must move quickly because the time [before the United States must act] is expiring."

Although some ships were still heading toward the barricades, the good news from NSA spread fast. National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy telephoned Under Secretary of State George Ball. "Have you got the word on what is happening at sea?" Bundy asked. Ball had not. "The six most interesting ships have turned back. Two others are turning. We are starting over here in a thinking session as to what might be done, which will be going on all afternoon. If you want to come, it would be helpful to have you.... Will you alert anyone else you wish to alert?" "I'll be over," said Ball.

The next day, Thursday, October 25, Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., met with Under Secretary of State Averell Harriman to discuss the latest developments. "Khrushchev," said Harriman, "is sending us desperate signals to get us to help take him off the hook. He is sending messages exactly as he did to Eisenhower directly after the U-2 affair. Eisenhower ignored these messages to his cost. We must not repeat Eisenhower's mistake." Among the key signals, Harriman told Schlesinger, was "the instructions to the Soviet ships to change their course."

Harriman continued: "In view of these signals from Khrushchev, the worst mistake we can possibly make is to get tougher and to escalate. Khrushchev is pleading with us to help him find a way out.... We cannot afford to lose any time. Incidents --stopping of ships, etc. -- will begin the process of escalation, engage Soviet prestige and reduce the chances of a peaceful resolution. If we act shrewdly and speedily, we can bail Khrushchev out and discredit the tough guys around him -- the ones who sold him the Cuban adventure on the theory that Americans were too liberal to fight."

When the offensive missiles had been discovered, the formal approval process for U-2 missions was ended. Now the Strategic Air Command had blanket approval to fly as many missions as needed to Cover Cuba completely. Although it was time consuming, the formal notification process had had the advantage of allowing NSA listening posts to support the flights. Intercept operators would scan the frequency spectrum in search of any hostile activity before and during the mission. If they picked up a warning indicator, they could send a message to NSA headquarters, which would notify SAC. But now that U-2 missions were being launched without notice, NSA had no way of knowing when a plane was over Cuba.

But by Friday, October 26, the results of low-level photography indicated that the Russians and Cubans were rapidly attempting to complete the four medium-range-missile site. "Although no additional missiles or erectors had been seen,~' said a Joint Chiefs report, "neither was there evidence of any intention to move or dismantle the sites. Camouflage and canvas covering of critical equipment was continuing."

At the same time, however, NSA reported that three Soviet ships suspected of being missile carriers were now steaming east, back toward Russia, as were all except one of the Soviet dry cargo ships. Only one Russian dry cargo ship was still moving toward the quarantine line; it was expected to reach there in three days.

At thirty-eight minutes past midnight on Saturday, October 27, an NSA listening post intercepted signals from three radar installations. After checking and double-checking, the intercept operators determined that the radar was "Spoon Rest," and therefore that three more SAM sites had become active. "DF line bearings indicate emitters located at Mariel," said the intercept report, which was Flashed to headquarters, "Havana east, and poss. Matanzas sites. Emitters remain active." Once again, Castro raised the stakes for the American reconnaissance pilots.

"On the twenty-seventh," said Parish, "it was kind of a tight situation -- it was a scary situation, as a matter of fact. It was a scary time, especially for those of us who had a little bit of access to information which wasn't generally available.... We worked that week and pulled our watches, nobody was off."

Later that morning, Major Rudolf Anderson took off in a U-2 from McCoy Air Force Base at Orlando, Florida. The routine flight was expected to last about three and a half hours. Over Cuba, Anderson pushed his plane northward toward the town of Banes.

At an afternoon Executive Committee meeting, Secretary of Defense McNamara made a routine report on the day's daylight reconnaissance mission. "One mission aborted for mechanical reasons, according to preliminary reports," he said. "One plane is overdue and several are said to have encountered ground fire." He then recommended a number of night missions. But President Kennedy held off on a decision until more details could be obtained on the day's reconnaissance. He then ordered that missions be flown the next day without fighter escort. "If our planes are fired on," he said, "we must be prepared for a general response or an attack on the SAM site which fired on our planes. We will decide tomorrow how we return fire after we know if they continue their attacks on our planes."

An aide quickly walked in and handed a note to Joint Chiefs Chairman Maxwell Taylor. Major Anderson's U-2 had been shot down near Banes. "The wreckage of the U-2 was on the ground," Taylor was told; "the pilot had been killed." Taylor recommended an air attack on the SAM site responsible. McNamara said that we must be ready to attack Cuba by launching 500 sorties on the first day. Invasion, he said, had "become almost inevitable."

At NSA, data were immediately called in from air, sea, and ground eavesdropping platforms in an attempt to discover the details of the shootdown. Director Blake ordered new rules, as follows: As a first priority, every listening post was to monitor in real time all reactions to U.S. reconnaissance flights. "Any time the Cubans scrambled a flight," said Hal Parish, "we were supposed to tell ... why they scrambled and who they were after -- very often they were after U.S. aircraft along the coast.. "When we were still flying the U-2s and we got what appeared to be Cuban threats to the U-2s with MiG aircraft, we had it arranged.... we would call General [John] Morrison [at NSA] first to get his okay, then we would call SAC ... and they would contact the aircraft."

Once a warning was received, the reconnaissance flight would immediately break off from the mission and fly to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. There, NSA analysts would meet the plane and debrief the crew. "You'd debrief in the airplane off the end of the runway," said Parish. "Pick. up all the tapes and bring them out to the building and put our linguists to work all night long working on those tapes in order to provide an assessment of whatever happened that day [and have it out] by six o'clock."

In order to further protect the pilots, electronic countermeasures needed to be developed that could jam or deceive the Soviet SA-2 missile. But to develop these countermeasures, NSA would first have to intercept the missile's telltale fusing signals, which activated the warhead. That, however, required forcing the Cubans to fire off one more of their missiles. To accomplish this, DC-130 aircraft began launching high-altitude Ryan 147 drones over the island. The Ryans were equipped with electronics that made them appear larger than they actually were, about the size of a U-2.

Each drone also carried onboard equipment to collect the critical fusing signals and retransmit them, in the few seconds before it was blasted from the sky, to a specially equipped type of RB-47 Strato-Spy codenamed Common Cause. One of the RB-47s was constantly in the air off the Cuban coast. "The plan was to lure the Cuban missile sites into firing at the drone," said Bruce Bailey, an Air Force signals intelligence officer, "thus providing the desired electronic intelligence to the RB-47." But the Cubans refused to fire any more missiles. "The Cubans had been assured that such a site or base would be struck immediately," said Bailey. "Obviously they believed that and refused to fire. The mission soon became more appropriately known as 'Lost Cause.'"

At 7:15 on the evening of October 30, as the crisis grew hotter, Robert Kennedy asked Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to meet with him in his office at the Justice Department in half an hour. "In the last two hours we had found that our planes flying over Cuba had been fired upon," Kennedy told the ambassador, as he noted in a top secret memo to Dean Rusk. "One of our U-2's had been shot down and the pilot killed.... This was an extremely serious turn of events. We would have to make certain decisions within the next twelve or possibly twenty-four hours. There was very little time left. If the Cubans were shooting at our planes, then we were going to shoot back." Dobrynin argued that the U.S. was violating Cuban airspace, but Kennedy shot hack that if we had not been violating Cuban airspace then we would still have believed what he and Khrushchev had said-that there were no long-range missiles in Cuba. "This matter was far more serious than the air space over Cuba and involved people all over the world," Kennedy added.

"I said that he had better understand the situation and he had better communicate that understanding to Mr. Khrushchev," Kennedy later noted in the long secret memorandum. "Mr. Khrushchev and he had misled us. The Soviet Union had secretly established missile bases in Cuba while at the same time proclaiming, privately and publicly, that this would never be done. I said those missile bases had to go and they had to go right away. We had to have a commitment by at least tomorrow [October 31] that those bases would be removed. This was not an ultimatum, I said, but just a statement of fact. He should understand that if they did not remove those bases then we would remove them. His country might take retaliatory action but he should understand that before this was over, while there might be dead Americans there would also be dead Russians."

Dobrynin asked Kennedy whether he was proposing a deal. "I said a letter had just been transmitted to the Soviet Embassy which stated in substance that the missile bases should be dismantled," Kennedy wrote, "and all offensive weapons should be removed from Cuba. In return, if Cuba and Castro and the Communists ended their subversive activities in other Central and Latin American countries, we would agree to keep peace in the Caribbean and not permit an invasion from American soil." But Khrushchev had earlier proposed a swap: take the American missiles away from his doorstep in Turkey, and he would take the Soviet missiles from Cuba. Dobrynin once again brought up that proposal. "If some time elapsed," Kennedy said, mentioning four or five months, "I was sure that these matters could be resolved satisfactorily."

But Kennedy emphasized that there could be no deal of any kind. "Any steps toward easing tensions in other parts of the world largely depended on the Soviet Union and Mr. Khrushchev taking action in Cuba and taking it immediately." According to his memorandum, "I repeated to him that this matter could not wait and that he had better contact Mr. Khrushchev and have a commitment from him by the next day to withdraw the missile bases under United Nations supervision for otherwise, I said, there would be drastic consequences."

Shortly after Kennedy left, Dobrynin sent an enciphered cable to Khrushchev. "'Because of the plane that was shot down, there is now strong pressure on the president to give an order to respond with fire if fired upon,'" he wrote, quoting Kennedy. "'A real war will begin, in which millions of Americans and Russians will die.' ... Kennedy mentioned as if in passing that there are many unreasonable heads among the generals, and not only among the generals, who are 'itching for a fight.' ... The situation might get out of control, with irreversible consequences."

Then the ambassador relayed Kennedy's proposal. "The most important thing for us, Kennedy stressed, is to get as soon as possible the agreement of the Soviet government to halt further work on the construction of the missile bases in Cuba and take measures under international control that would make it impossible to use these weapons. In exchange the government of the USA is ready, in addition to repealing all measures on the 'quarantine,' to give the assurances that there will not be any invasion of Cuba.... 'And what about Turkey,' I asked R. Kennedy. 'If that is the only obstacle ... then the president doesn't see any unsurmountable difficulties in resolving this issue.... However, the president can't say anything public in this regard about Turkey,' R. Kennedy said again. R. Kennedy then warned that his comments about Turkey are extremely confidential; besides him and his brother, only 2-3 people know about it in Washington.... R. Kennedy gave me a number of a direct telephone line to the White House." Once again Do brynin quoted Robert Kennedy. "'Time is of the essence and we shouldn't miss the chance.'"

Robert Kennedy returned to the White House, where the members of the Executive Committee held a late-night session. McNamara recommended, and the president approved, the call-up of twenty-four air reserve squadrons, involving 14,200 personnel and 300 troop carriers. President Kennedy then said that if, the reconnaissance planes were fired on the next day, "then we should take out the SAM sites in Cuba by air action."

At a late-night meeting at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that "unless irrefutable evidence of the dismantling of the offensive weapons in Cuba were obtained," an air strike should be launched no later than October 29.

Shortly before midnight, Hal Parish entered NSA for his midnight-to-eight A.M. shift. "When I reported in," he said, "there was a note there to have by six o'clock the following morning in the hands of the White House .the wrap-up of the U-2 shootdown. Wasn't hard to do-we had about two minutes, three minutes of tracking on it ... just some tracking coming in from just north of Guantanamo ... seemed to be a SAM that brought him down.... There was nothing that I ever saw in communication indicating who (whether a Soviet or a Cuban) pushed the button.... About two years later, from some intercept that was picked up on one of the aircraft carriers, we got the entire tracking sequence of the shootdown. We got the whole mission tracking from the time he hit Cuba all the way down until he made his turn over Guantanamo and then the tracking sort of ceased...."

On Sunday morning, October 28, a new message from Khrushchev was broadcast on Radio Moscow. "The Soviet government," said the announcement, "has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as 'offensive,' and their crating and return to the Soviet Union." The crisis was over.


As the Russians began withdrawing, NSA continued its intensive watch. "I remember during the period from the time I went down in October," Hal Parish recalled, "there was not a day 1 did not come to work until Christmas. Then I just took part of Christmas Day off." For the eaves droppers, things changed dramatically. Suddenly the need for the Russians to hide their presence on Cuba disappeared, so in addition to Spanish, many Russian-language communications were being intercepted. "All the communications that we had that were Cuban turned Soviet and we had what had to be called the Soviet forces in Cuba," said Parish. "Suddenly, these Spanish-speaking pilots disappeared and were replaced by Russian pilots. The [Soviet] ... communications in the HF [high-frequency] area at that time appeared again virtually overnight."

Intercept operators listened as the ballistic missile sites were dismantled and the SAM sites were turned over to the Cubans. "After the offensive weapons were removed, some of the supportive weapons were also removed," Parish said. Each time a SAM site was turned over to the Cubans, various signals changed. "So we were able through Elint to tell when the Soviets were pulling out of a given SAM site. We got an entire training schedule in Havana where they were talking about how they were going to train the Cubans."

As the Soviets pulled out, NSA detected tense relations between them and Cuban forces. According to Parish, one telephone conversation involved a very large shipment of tainted meat that the Soviets had sent the Cubans. Castro himself was intercepted saying "very, very bad things about the Russians," Parish said. "And in fact we were required to read that over the telephone to -- I'm not sure who it was, State Department, CIA, DIA -- but we had to have a translator read this sort of verbatim over the line and he [Castro] had some very, very, harsh and bad things to say about the Russians. I do recall the gentleman turning red as he was reading this because they wanted a verbatim translation of it." In fact, the original transcript sent to the White House contained deletions in place of Castro's expletives. Almost immediately Robert Kennedy called NSA and demanded that they send the uncensored version -- blue language and all.

"During the crisis," said Parish, "I have no doubt they [the missile sites] were under Soviet control, and in fact we pretty well know they were totally Soviet manned." According to another NSA official, "There were times when the Cubans and the Soviets were -- I don't mean fighting literally, but contesting each other as to who was in charge of the missile site, and you'd hear Spanish cursing in the background and Soviet unhappiness."

At the time of the crisis, neither the NSA nor the CIA knew whether the Soviets had any nuclear warheads in Cuba. "We had photographs of missile launchers," said Robert McNamara, "but we thought the warheads were yet to come." It was only in the 19905 that the truth was discovered. "It took thirty years to learn there were 161 nuclear warheads there, including 90 tactical warheads to be used against an invasion," McNamara said. Then, holding two fingers a fraction of an inch apart, he added, "And we came that close to an invasion ... We came so close-both Kennedy and Khrushchev felt events were slipping outside their control.... The world came within a hair breadth of nuclear war."


As Soviet ships navigated through the Caribbean on their long voyage home, their decks crowded with hastily crated missiles and launchers, Khrushchev may have been chuckling. While the United States focused on the offensive ballistic missiles brought to Cuba, none of which were likely ever to have been used, Khrushchev had been monitoring the progress of a far more secret and far more useful construction project on the island. It was to be a major Soviet intelligence coup. In a sparsely populated area known as Lourdes, just southeast of Havana, Soviet technicians continued work on one of the largest eavesdropping bases ever built.

NSA surrounded the Soviet Union with listening posts and ferret flights during the 1950s and early 1960s. Every time a new monitoring station was built, Khrushchev felt the electronic noose grow tighter. In Germany, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere, intercept operators noted every time an aircraft took off or a ship left port. Telemetry was collected from Soviet missiles, and telephone conversations were snatched from the air.

Khrushchev knew he could not reciprocate. There were no Soviet allies along America's borders to accommodate Russian eavesdroppers. Thus the USSR was forced to send antenna-covered trawlers crawling along America's coasts. It was a cumbersome and expensive proposition. For every trawler bobbing in the waves, five thousand miles from home, a fleet of support vessels was needed because the trawlers could not pull into port. Fuel had to be supplied, equipment had to be repaired, food had to be delivered, and the endless tapes had to be brought back to Moscow to be analyzed and translated. Castro solved all Khrushchev's problems and provided Moscow with an electronic window on the United States into the twenty-first century.

Over a vast area of twenty-eight square miles, Soviet engineers and signals intelligence specialists erected acres of antennas to eavesdrop on American communications. Diamond~shaped rhombic antennas, pointing like daggers at the US. coast only ninety miles away, tapped into high-frequency signals carrying telephone calls as far away as Washington. Large dishes were set up to collect signals from American satellites. High wires were strung to pick up the very-low- frequency submarine broadcasts. Giant rectangular antennas, like drive-in movie screens, were erected to intercept microwave signals. Windowless cement buildings were built to house the intercept operators, the codebreakers, and the walls of printers that would rattle out miles of intercepted data communications. Khrushchev might have lost a fist, but he had gained an ear.


With the crisis over and the threat of nuclear war now abated, attention once again turned toward covert operations within Cuba. Earlier, shortly after learning of the offensive missiles on October 15, an angry Robert Kennedy had called a meeting of the Operation Mongoose cabal. He opened the meeting by expressing "the general dissatisfaction of the President" with the progress of Mongoose. He pointed out that the operation had been under way for a year, that the results were discouraging, that there had been no acts of sabotage, and that even the one that had been attempted had failed twice.

Richard Helms, the CIA's deputy planning director, later commented: "I stated that we were prepared to get on with the new action program and that we would execute it aggressively." NSA, however, discovered that among the sabotage targets of Operation Mongoose were several key Cuban communications facilities-the same facilities that NSA was eavesdropping on, deriving a great deal of signals intelligence. Officials quickly, and loudly, protested. "We suggested to them that it was really not the smartest thing to do," said Hal Parish.

In fact, in the days following the crisis, NSA did everything it could to secretly keep the Cuban telecommunications system fully working. The more communications equipment broke or burned out, the less NSA could intercept, and thus the less the U.S. intelligence community knew about Cuba. Adding to, the problems was the economic embargo of Cuba, which kept out critical electrical supplies such as vacuum tubes for military radios. NSA devised a covert channel by which to supply these components to the Cuban government.

"The tubes would burn out, requests would come in, and backdoor methods had to be utilized in order to get the necessary tubes in to keep this RCA-designed system on the air so we could continue to collect it," said Parish. "I think a lot of them were channeled through Canada at the time, because the Canadians had relations with the Cubans. "When the tubes would wear out -- these were not small tubes, these were large tubes and components -- they would make contact with somebody and the word would reach us and they would come to see the agency, the right part of it, and we would insist that those things be provided."


As the danger of nuclear war with Russia receded like a red tide, Cuba once again came into full view and the Kennedy administration returned to combat mode. NSA continued to listen with one ear cocked toward Russia and the other toward Cuba. Just before Christmas 1962 McCone wrote to McGeorge Bundy, "NSA will continue an intensive program in the Sigint field, which has during recent weeks added materially to all other intelligence."

On Havana's doorstep, the civilian-manned USNS Muller relieved the Oxford, and ferret flights kept up their patrols a dozen miles off the Cuban coast. Because the Muller was civilian, its crew got less liberty time than a military crew would, so the ship was able to spend a greater percentage of its time at sea -- about twenty-five days a month -- than Navy ships such as the Oxford. It was home ported in Port Everglades, the commercial port for Fort Lauderdale.

"Duty station for the Muller was seven miles off Havana," said Bill Baer, the operations officer on the ship at the time. "We and Castro recognized the six-mile limit, so seven miles was a small safety valve. We traveled back and forth on a six-mile track parallel to the coast. The major reason for this particular spot was a multichannel UHF national communications system that RCA had installed. It ran from Havana, east and west, along the spine of the island and connected Havana with each city in the country." Traveling slowly hack and forth, the Muller had a direct tap into much of Cuba's communications.

But the spy ship was no secret from Castro and he would occasionally vent his anger. "We only had a selection of small arms including M-l rifles, carbines, shotguns, and so forth," recalled Baer. "We took this responsibility very seriously because we knew the Cubans knew who we were and they used to do things to harass us."

In an unusual move, Baer was made operations officer on the ship even though he was an Army officer. He had been stationed at NSA when he heard of the opening and volunteered. Another Army intercept operator on board. was Mike Sannes. "Since they used microwave, we had to be [in] line-of-sight," Sannes explained. "Castro used to call us the 'big ear.' One time we knew he was going to crash a small plane into us and then board us in an 'act of mercy.' We had a spotter in the mast -- remember this is a civilian ship and had no [large] guns -- he saw the plane approaching and we were monitoring on the hand-held radio. Suddenly everything went quiet. A few minutes later he came running in saying, 'I'm not staying up there. He's going to hit us!' They scrambled some jets from Key West who were on alert, and they chased him off."

Sannes said Cuban harassment was common. "Often they sent gunboats out to harass us, sometimes every few hours so we couldn't sleep. Occasionally they shot across our bow. We had a real gung-ho skipper. We had scuttles fore and aft. We would have sunk the boat if we were in danger of being boarded.. Once the engine quit and we started drifting into shore. It was very early on a foggy morning. We drifted close enough into Havana harbor that we were looking up at the hotels on the beach. We got the engine working and headed back out to sea. They never noticed us."

To assist the CIA's covert operations in Cuba, NSA intercept operators were assigned to monitor the communications of anti-Castro forces. On January 16 one of these technicians picked up a conversation from an individual in downtown Havana who said, "It would be a good idea to assassinate Fidel on El Cocuyo Road." The intercept operator noted on his report, "This group must be penetrated."

Amusingly, one of the most important pieces of information to come along came not from an NSA intercept of a diplomatic cable to Moscow but from a ten-hour interview Castro gave to Lisa Howard, a reporter for ABC News. In the interview, Castro clearly indicated for the first time that he was hoping for a rapprochement with the United States. The CIA acquired a transcript of the interview secretly, through an NSA intercept before the broadcast.

Upon receiving the information, the CIA's John McCone became extremely worried that word would leak out about their possession of it. On May 2, 1963, CIA Deputy Director Marshall Carter wrote to Bundy:

Mr. McCone cabled me this morning stating that he cannot overemphasize the importance of secrecy in this matter and requested that I take all appropriate steps along this line to reflect his personal views on its sensitivity. Mr. McCone feels that gossip and inevitable leaks with consequent publicity would be most damaging. He suggests that no active steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time and urges most limited Washington discussions, and that in these circumstances emphasis should be placed in any discussions on the fact that the rapprochement track is being explored as a remote possibility and one of several alternatives involving various levels of dynamic and positive action. In view of the foregoing, it is requested that the Lisa Howard report be handled in the most limited and sensitive manner.

Throughout the summer of 1963, there were endless discussions of sabotage -- which targets to strike, what kind of explosives to use, whether the strike should come from inside Cuba or outside it, whether local volunteers or paid agents should be used. But even while the CIA hawks were plotting their campaign of sabotage, a group of Kennedy administration doves, including UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, were working on another track. Attached to Stevenson's UN mission in New York was William Attwood, who had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Guinea in West Africa. Attwood had met Castro and spent considerable time with him on a number of occasions while practicing his earlier profession as a journalist. A Guinean diplomat had told him of a recent meeting with Castro in which the Cuban leader had expressed his dissatisfaction with his status as a Soviet satellite and was looking for a way out. The diplomat told Attwood of Castro's receptiveness to changing course and moving toward nonalignment. Attwood received a similar message from another friend, Lisa Howard.

As the CIA continued to plot sabotage missions, President Kennedy began to explore Castro's apparent olive branch. He approved a quiet approach by Attwood to Dr. Carlos Lechuga, Cuba's ambassador to the UN, using ABC's Lisa Howard as a go-between. On September 23, a small party was arranged at Howard's New York City apartment and both Lechuga and Attwood were invited. The diplomatic matchmaking was successful. "Lechuga hinted that Castro was indeed in a mood to talk," Attwood said later in a secret memorandum. "Especially with someone he had met before. He thought there was a good chance that I might be invited to Cuba if I wished to resume our 1959 talk." Robert Kennedy thought the idea had some merit but was against Attwood traveling to Cuba; he saw the trip as "risking the accusation that we were trying to make a deal with Castro." Kennedy preferred that the meeting take place either in New York, during a visit by Castro to the UN, or in a neutral country, such as Mexico.

Howard, continuing in her role as unofficial intermediary, mentioned Attwood to Major Rene Vallejo, a Cuban surgeon who was also Castro's right-hand man and confidant. On October 31, Vallejo called Howard, telling her that Castro would very much like to talk to Attwood anytime and appreciated the importance of discretion to all concerned. Castro, he said, would therefore be willing to secretly send a plane to Mexico to pick up Attwood and fly him to a private airport near Veradera where Castro would talk to him alone. The plane would fly him back immediately after the talk. In this way there would be no risk of identification at Havana airport.

Vallejo sent a further message to Attwood, through Howard, on November 11. "Castro would go along with any arrangements we might want to make," Attwood wrote in a memorandum. "He specifically suggested that a Cuban plane could come to Key West and pick up the emissary; alternatively they would agree to have him come in a U.S. plane which could land at one of several 'secret airfields' near Havana. He emphasized that only Castro and himself would be present at the talks and that no one else -- he specifically mentioned [Che] Guevara -- would be involved. Vallejo also reiterated Castro's desire for this talk and hoped to hear our answer soon."

But President Kennedy insisted that before any U.S. official travel to Cuba, Vallejo or some other Castro representative come to the United States to outline a proposal. He also demanded absolute secrecy concerning the discussions. "At the President's instruction I was conveying this message orally and not by cable," McGeorge Bundy told Attwood, extremely worried about a leak or a written record. He added in a memorandum for the record, "The President hoped he [Attwood] would get in touch with Vallejo to report that it did not seem practicable to us at this stage to send an American official to Cuba and that we would prefer to begin with a visit by Vallejo to the U.S. where Attwood would be glad to see him and to listen to any messages he might bring from Castro."

Attwood passed the message through Howard to Vallejo, and a few days later they spoke together on the telephone for the first time. One Friday, he sent a memorandum to the White House detailing the conversation. "Vallejo's manner was extremely cordial," Attwood noted. "He said that 'we' would send instructions to Lechuga to propose and discuss with me 'an agenda' for a later meeting with Castro. I said I would await Lechuga's call."

But President Kennedy did not see Attwood's memorandum. At the moment it arrived he was traveling in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.


That Friday, November 22, 1963, was much like any other day at NSA. In the early morning hours, Cuban intercepts from the ferret ship USNS Muller had ricocheted off the moon and down to NSA. The backlogged Cuban analysts and cryptologists of B Group were only now putting out translations of messages intercepted weeks earlier. One of those was a report by a Cuban official on the country's internal problems with rebels. "I believe that the approaching Presidential elections in the United States will strengthen reactionary forces from within and without," said the worried official. "Therefore, there is a need for a strong gorilla [sic] collar around Cuba."

In the courtyard in front of the main building, a powerful yellow steam shovel was scooping up tons of dirt for the large basement of the new nine-story, 511,000-square-foot headquarters tower as the agency continued to expand. Other heavy equipment was clearing dense woodlands for more than 1,200 new parking spaces.

In Room 1W040, the cover for the next edition for the NSA Newsletter was being laid out. It was a drawing of Santa Claus jumping out of a fireplace, with the headline "Sixth NSA Annual Family Christmas Program, Dec. 8, 2:00 PM." A line of employees, getting ready for the weekend, was forming at the NSA Federal Credit Union, which had grown to 5,647 members. At 11:30 A.M., in Room 1W128, the NSA Sun, Snow and Surf Club was holding its second annual Ski Fashion Show. As part of the show, the main lobby of the Operations Building contained a large display of the latest skis, boots, and other equipment. Later that night, the NSA Drama Club was scheduled to present the rueful comedy The Pleasure of His Company at the Fort Meade Service Club.

That Friday was slow in the NSA Sigint Command Center. The duty officer logged some messages in; Sergeant Holtz arrived at ten o'clock to pick up a few tapes; at 1:30 P.M. a Strategic Air Command surveillance mission codenamed Brass Knob sent a preflight message. Five minutes later, couriers assigned to secretly collect cables from Western Union and the other communications companies over the weekend were briefed.

Then, at 1:36, a bulletin flashed over the radio. Don Gardiner of the ABC radio network cut into a local program to report that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. NSA Director Gordon Blake was sitting at his desk in his third- floor office when he heard the news. At the White House, crowded around a large circular table in the West Basement's staff mess, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was deep in debate following a late lunch. Across the Potomac, General Maxwell Taylor and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were meeting in the Pentagon's Gold Room with the commanders of the West German Bundeswehr. Down the hall in his E-Ring office, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara was discussing the $50 billion budget with a half-dozen aides.

At the CIA, Director John McCone was finishing lunch with a small group of fellow spies in his private dining room. His deputy, Marshall Carter, was quail shooting at the Farm, the secret CIA training facility on the York River near Williamsburg, Virginia. "When this monstrously terrible thing happened," Carter wrote several days later, "we returned at once.... He was a great and good and totally dedicated, totally selfless man -- our national blessing is that President Johnson is too."

At fourteen minutes past two, General Blake sent out a message alerting all NSA stations and listening posts. Twenty-two minutes later he sent out another message over NSA's restricted communications links. "President Kennedy is dead." At the eavesdropping base at Kamiseya in Japan, the operations center suddenly went quiet. George Morton stopped what he was doing. "Thousands upon thousands of miles away," he later said, "someone had shot my commander-in-chief. I could not believe it. Neither could anyone else." In South Africa, NSA's spy ship the USNS Valdez was docked in Capetown. One of the crewmembers, Dave Ball, who had once served as a cook for President Kennedy, held a moving memorial service.

As the world mourned, NSA continued to eavesdrop. Immediately after the assassination, NSA initiated a large-scale manual and computer review of all. available signals intelligence information, including all traffic between the United States and Cuba. At the time, NSA was intercepting about 1,000 messages ~ day worldwide. Suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's name was entered into the computer search. A short time later, additional names provided by the FBI from Oswald's address book were added. At the same time, between twenty-five and fifty analysts manually reviewed all traffic between Cuba and New Orleans and Cuba and Dallas, and some traffic between Cuba and Russia.

Fifteen hundred miles to the south, Navy intercept operators, monitoring both Cuban and "Soviet Forces Cuba" communications, listened in as Cuban military forces were placed on high alert. "A state of alert is ordered for all personnel," said the intercepted message. "Be ready to repel aggression." A message intercepted from the Polish embassy in Havana indicated that "military units are being relocated" and a new military draft was called. Intercepts flooded in from other listening posts. Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia also suddenly went on alert. One foreign ambassador in Havana cabled home a report of a large movement of troops, adding a note about Castro: "I got the immediate impression that on this occasion he was frightened, if not terrified."

From early intercepts of Cuban diplomatic communications, it was clear that, far from being involved, Castro's people were as mystified by the assassination as the rest of the world. "The assassination of Kennedy," said one message from Havana to its embassy in Mexico City, "was a provocation against world peace, perfectly and thoroughly planned by the most reactionary sectors of the United States." An intercept of a message from Brazil's ambassador to Cuba back to his Foreign Office indicated that Cuban officials "were unanimous in believing that any other president would be 'even worse'" than Kennedy.

Many of the intercepts to and from foreign embassies in Washington were acquired as a result of secret agreements between NSA and the major U.S. telecommunications companies, such as Western Union. Under the NSA program codenamed Shamrock, the companies agreed to illegally hand over to NSA couriers, on a daily basis, copies of all the cables sent to, from or through the U.S. This was the preferred method of communications for most of the foreign diplomatic establishments in Washington and New York. Highly secret messages were sent the same way, but written in code or cipher. The NSA's Vint Hill Farms Station eavesdropped on those diplomatic facilities that used their own high- requency equipment to communicate. Still other intercepts flowed into NSA from the agency's worldwide listening posts.

In the hours and days following the assassination, a wide variety of intercepts poured into NSA. The diplomatic wires were heavy with speculation about America's future and details concerning preparations for the funeral. Shortly after the assassination, NSA intercepted a message between Chile's ambassador to Washington and his Foreign Ministry in Santiago. "In diplomatic circles," he noted, "it is believed that, in the absence of other Democratic figures of the first rank who could aspire to the presidency in the November 1964 election, the present Attorney General becomes, with the death of President Kennedy, the first choice to succeed him for the presidential term which will begin in January 1965." He added, "News has just arrived that at 1438 [2:38 P.M.] (Eastern time) Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as President of the United States before a federal district judge."

Egyptian diplomats speculated that Kennedy was assassinated as a result of his stand on racial equality. Dutch intercepts showed uncertainty over whether foreign ambassadors would be invited to the funeral. The Argentine ambassador told Buenos Aires that the assassination "will considerably weaken in the next few months the international policy of the West, particularly with regard to the USSR." He then said, for NSA, the worst words imaginable. "1 shall continue to report via air mail." A listening post eavesdropping on Turkish diplomatic communications picked up a comment by the American ambassador to Turkey fixing blame for the murder. "After signing the register which is open in the American Embassy [in Ankara] on the occasion of the death of Kennedy, I saw the [American] Ambassador. He is of the opinion that Russia and Cuba had a finger in the assassination."

The United Nations was also an important target for NSA. In a message transmitted back to the Middle East, a delegation of Palestinians blamed the assassination on a Jewish plot: "Behind the mysterious crime is a carefully plotted Zionist conspiracy. The late President was likely to win the coming presidency elections without supplicating the Zionist sympathy or seeking the Jews [sic] vote. Aware of the fact that their influence and power in the United States are based upon the Jews vote, the Zionists murdered the courageous President who was about to destroy that legend of theirs. His assassination is a warning to the rest of the honorable leaders. Reveal their conspiracy to the supreme judgement of the world. Be careful, you are the hope of the Palestinians." Likewise, the Italian ambassador to Syria cabled Rome saying that the government in Damascus saw Zionism behind the murder.

A diplomat in Leopoldville, in Congo, reported: "Certain ill-intentioned persons are rejoicing over the death of the President of the United States of America, considering that grievous event a sign of victory for them." The Argentine ambassador to Budapest reported that the Hungarian people "were deeply touched," and that the government attributed the killing to "fascist elements inspired by racial hatred." The Polish ambassador to the United Nations expressed his concern to War saw over the "alarming ... anti-Communist hysteria that has been turned on."

The day after the assassination, intercept operators picked up a statement by Castro: "In spite of the antagonism existing between the Government of the United States and the Cuban Revolution, we have received the news of the tragic death of President Kennedy with deep sorrow. All civilized men always grieve about such events as this. Our delegation to the Organization of the United Nations wishes to state that this is the feeling of the people and of the Government of Cuba." This was a generous statement, considering that Kennedy had spent the past two years waging a secret war against him and that CIA agents had plotted his murder.

In the aftermath of the assassination, Meredith K. Gardner, one of NSA's top Soviet codebreakers, was assigned to examine a number of items taken from assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and suspected to contain codes or ciphers. The Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination, was particularly intrigued by a Russian novel, Glaza Kotorye Sprashivayut ("Questioning Eyes"). Oswald had apparently cut eight letters out of page 152. But this was too little to go on. "The manner of perforating only a few letters," wrote Gardner, "does not conform to any known system.... We believe, nevertheless, that it is most likely that the letters were cut out for some purpose related to Oswald's photographic experiments."

Oswald's Soviet-made portable radio receiver was also examined, "with negative results." Also, wrote Gardner in his internal NSA report, "the names appearing in Lee's and [his wife] Marina's address books have been checked against NSA files but no Comint references have been discovered.... In addition to the information on the addresses developed in the personality check, a separate study of NSA address files is being made. "While this study is not yet complete, results have so far been negative and there is no reason to expect that anything beyond what the personality check has already turned up will be discovered."

Finally, Gardner noted, "The appearance of the term 'micro dots' on page 44 of Lee Oswald's address book aroused our suspicions, particularly in that it was associated with the address of the photographic firm where he was once employed."

The mention of NSA's Comint files and the possibility of microdots became a sensitive issue within NSA. Frank Rowlett, special assistant to Director Blake, hid any reference to them from the final report sent to the Warren Commission. In a memorandum to Deputy Director Tordella, Rowlett wrote, "I have eliminated two items from the original Memorandum for the Record.... These are the references to 'micro dots' ... and the Comint reference." He added, "I suggest that you informally (possibly by telephone) call the Commission's attention to the appearance of the term 'micro dot' on page 44 of Oswald's address book. You might indicate that this reference aroused our suspicion but that we do not feel competent to make an exhaustive examination of the materials for the presence of micro dots -- such an examination should be conducted by the FBI or CIA. If micro dots are actually found, we would be happy to collaborate to the fullest degree required in the analysis of these dots."

Rowlett was also worried about letting the commission know of NSA's highly secret communications intelligence data base. "I do not believe a statement that we have checked the names against the NSA files needs to be made since .. it identifies the existence of sensitive Comint records." Tordella agreed, and the sanitized report was sent to the commission.


Shortly after the assassination, Lisa Howard told Attwood that she had been contacted by Dr. Lechuga. Lechuga said that he had received a letter from Castro authorizing him to have the discussion with Attwood earlier requested by Kennedy. Howard passed the message on to Attwood, who later that day met with Lechuga for the first time. After expressing his condolences, Lechuga confirmed that he had been authorized to begin preliminary talks with him; however, he made no mention of the letter from Castro. Then, in light of the assassination, Lechuga inquired as to how things now stood. Attwood said he would have to let him know.

Gordon Chase of the National Security Council later discussed the matter in a memorandum to Bundy. "The ball is in our court," he wrote. "Bill owes Lechuga a call. What to do? Bill thinks that we have nothing to lose in listening to what Castro has to say; there is no commitment on our side. Also, it would be very interesting to know what is in the letter. I am also dying to know what's in the letter and two weeks ago I would not have hesitated. But things are different now, particularly with this Oswald business. At a minimum, such a talk would really have to be a non-event. I, for one, would want to think this one over carefully. They also agreed, that from this point on, there was no further need to use Lisa Howard as an intermediary."

"I assume you will want to brief the President," Chase wrote in another memorandum to Bundy. It now seemed a million years since Kennedy had given his okay to the peace feeler. Chase was convinced that any hope for normalization had died with the late president. "The events of November 22 would appear to make accommodation with Castro an even more doubtful issue than it was," he said. "While I think that President Kennedy could have accommodated with Castro and gotten away with it with a minimum of domestic heat, I'm not sure about President Johnson. For one thing, a new President who has no background of being successfully nasty to Castro and the Communists (e.g. President Kennedy in October, 1962) would probably run a greater risk of being accused, by the American people, of 'going soft.'"

The Cubans, too, knew that the moment Kennedy died, so did any chance of reestablishing normal relations with the United States. "Lechuga," Attwood wrote Chase, "and the Cubans in general, probably feel that the situation has changed since President Kennedy's assassination. Deep down, they probably don't expect anything hopeful from us." If contacts were to continue, Attwood said, he wanted to call Lechuga within a couple of weeks; otherwise, the matter "would lose momentum and wither on the vine."

But Lyndon Johnson had no interest in accommodation. Instead, he moved the entire issue of Cuba back to square one. In a memorandum following his first meeting with the new president, CIA Director John McCone noted, "He asked.. how we planned to dispose of Castro." Johnson later approved a return to the bankrupt and ineffective policies of sabotage and covert action.

Two weeks later, on New Year's Day, 1964, ABC News aired an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro. Among those watching was the French ambassador to Washington. On January 3, he wired a summary of the interview back to Paris: "Until the tragic death of President Kennedy, he [Castro] thought that the normalization of Cuban relations with the American administration was possible.... He appeared 'full of hope' as to the future of his relations with President Johnson." The message was intercepted by NSA and passed on to the White House.
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Part 1 of 2



As Nate Gerson's plane approached Churchill, a windy, desolate icebox on the western shore of Canada's Hudson Bay, he may have looked out and had the same thought as another visitor: "Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles." In 1957, NSA asked the physicist to find a way to capture valuable but elusive Soviet whispers as they drifted over the North Pole and into Canada. For a number of years, Canada had maintained a bizarre listening post near Churchill -- a ship on stilts. Like a steel ark, it sat high above a sea of giant rhombic eavesdropping antennas planted in the tundra and pointing in every direction.

But rather than listening to Soviet bomber pilots, Gerson and an NSA colleague ended up spending two days and nights in the wardroom of the landed ship playing liar's dice with the intercept operators. As a result of unique atmospheric conditions, no signals of any type could get through. They had been absorbed like 'a sponge by the auroral sky. Gerson knew that the only way to get around the problem was to move farther north-way north-as close to Russia as they could get. His idea was to build a listening post north of all human habitation on the planet, on a speck of land less than five hundred miles from the North Pole: Alert. Like a beacon, it sits on the northern tip of desolate Ellesmere, an Arctic island nearly the size of England and Scotland combined but with a population of less than a hundred permanent residents. It was hell in reverse, a place of six-month nights where marrow freezes in the bone. The nearest tree is more than fifteen hundred miles south.

Unknown, even today, is the spy war that raged at the top of the world -- the true Cold War. Here, the two superpowers came closest together -- and were even joined, during the bitter winter, when America's Little Diomede Island and Russia's Big Diomede Island were linked by an ice bridge. It was also each nation's Achilles' heel, where the distances were too great and the living conditions too intolerable to maintain an effective manned defense. "Study your globe," warned General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, the former chief of the Army Air Force, "and you will see the most direct routes [between the United States and Russia] are not across the Atlantic or Pacific, but through the Arctic." If a third world war were to break out, Arnold cautioned, "its strategic center will be the North Pole." The Arctic was also the perfect place for both, sides to engage in a wizard war of electronic eavesdropping.

During the late 1950s and the 1960s, both superpowers secretly used drifting ice islands for espionage. Born of ancient glaciers, the barren wastelands are made of freshwater and can be 150 feet thick or more. They drift slowly in long, circular patterns close to the North Pole. Teams of scientists and intelligence officers would be placed on the dangerous ice floes for up to a year at a time. As the floe migrated through the Arctic Sea, like a ghost ship adrift and lost, the polar spies used advanced acoustical equipment to detect hostile subs, while special antennas and receivers eavesdropped on the other side.

It was a perilous way to spy. On September 23, 1958, Air Force Captain James F. Smith, an intelligence officer, Russian linguist, and Arctic survival expert, stepped from a small plane onto Drifting Station Alpha. Alpha was a barren oval chunk of floating drift ice less than a mile long, a hundred or so miles from the North Pole. It was home to nineteen other scientists and technicians. Smith had been assigned to command, the outpost for the next year, but within weeks of his arrival conditions turned severe. A punishing Arctic storm with fierce winds and brutal currents threatened to break up the portion of the ice island where most of the structures and equipment were located. Wood buildings had to be moved to a safer location; some tore apart and were lost in the process.

A second storm followed a week later, causing nearly a third of the ice floe to break away -- and then came still another storm, this one "with particularly vicious winds," noted Smith. It closed the improvised runway, pushing it farther from the camp and covering it with waist-high drifts of rock-hard snow. Despite the continuous night, sleeping was sometimes difficult because of the Arctic Sea's unearthly chant. "Standing at the edge of the camp floe," Smith wrote, "one could hear the soft rumbling and feel vibrations, occasionally punctuated by sharp cracks, grinding and crashes as large pieces were forced up, broke and tumbled."

With great difficulty, the runway was reopened. Smith recommended the evacuation of half the staff until conditions stabilized. Two rescue missions were launched but had to turn back because of severe weather. Then yet another storm struck, the fourth in less than six weeks. Sharp cracks with sawtooth edges like pinking shears zigzagged across the ice and extended into the camp. Forty percent of the micro-island broke away, and the runway was severed. In the oily darkness of the Arctic night, one of the men turned a flashlight to the gaping crevasse and exclaimed, "Ten feet wide and ten thousand feet deep."

Nevertheless, the team was able to convert one section of the runway into a useable landing strip. With a warning that another major storm was due within twenty-four hours, Smith finally had some luck. He was notified that a C-123 aircraft from Thule, Greenland, would arrive shortly. Quickly abandoning all they could not carry, the team rushed to the landing strip. Minutes later the plane touched down, sending a white cloud into the black sky. Then, almost immediately, it was airborne once again, loaded with the twenty men and their few belongings. Drifting Station Alpha, and all its equipment, was abandoned to the ruthless, grinding polar sea.

But the advantages of spying from the ice cap were irresistible. A permanent listening post at Alert, Nate Gerson concluded, would allow the United States and Canada to eavesdrop on Soviet signals obtainable only near the North Pole. "Reception at the polar cap site of Alert," he said, "would avoid the large number of auroral absorption events found at Churchill. It would also permit the West to gain knowledge that the Soviets already had obtained from observations at their. periodic experimental sites on the Arctic Ocean ice pack." Canada's equivalent of the NSA, then known as the Communications Branch of the National Research Council (CBNRC), ran the operation. "Don McLeish [of the CBNRC] later told me," said Gerson, "'We do not acknowledge the existence of CBNRC.' NSA had the same philosophy."

Once the listening post was established, said Gerson, "we considered the possibility of intercepting Soviet signals between thirty and fifty megahertz at Alert via auroral E ionization. We instituted a test similar to what the Soviets had done on their ice floe station, which recorded at Alert instances when signals in this frequency band could be received."

Then, as now, Alert is the "most northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world," according to a booklet issued to employees at the listening post. In the early 1960s, it employed about a hundred people. Ten years later the number had doubled, and in the early 1990s Alert's population was about 180. On a mantle of ice more than half a mile thick, the human population of Ellesmere Island is dwarfed by herds of musk oxen -- children of the ice age -- and snow-white wolves. Robert E. Peary used the island as a base for his 1909 expedition to the North Pole.

Since it was first established in the late 1950s, Alert has been Canada's most important listening post for eavesdropping on Russia. China is also a target. Yet it is so far north that it is unable to communicate with Ottawa using satellites in stationary orbits over the equator. A relay station farther south is required, in Eureka on Ellesmere Island. Until a recent upgrade in communications, it was necessary to fly all the intercept tapes to Ottawa on weekly flights by Hercules aircraft.

According to Gerson, one of the NSA's pioneers in signals intelligence from space, at one point Russian and Canadian eavesdroppers nearly came eye to eye when a Soviet ice station drifted almost into Canadian territorial waters near Alert. Communications to and from these stations were a target of the listening post. In fact. intelligence interest was so great in the Russian floating espionage platforms that a highly secret and extremely dangerous operation was conducted in an attempt to find out just how sophisticated the icy spy bases were.

On April 27, 1959, the Soviets set up a base on a 4-1/2-mile-long ice floe about halfway between Russia's Wrangel Island, near western Alaska, and the North Pole. Named North Pole 8, for three years the station drifted slowly with the current, creeping northward toward the pole at about two miles a day. On the remote floating island, reminders were everywhere of the place they had left behind, from large wall posters in the mess hall showing workers honoring Lenin, to pictures of pinup girls hanging in the sleeping quarters. In free moments, technicians would occasionally prop themselves on the edge of the ice dressed only in swim trunks for a picture to take back home.

Like America's Drifting Station Alpha, North Pole 8 was a troublesome hunk of ice. Twice it was necessary to relocate the entire camp because of jagged cracks that cut across the runway. In the winter of 1962, ravaging storms forced the station's commander, I. P. Romanov, to order an emergency evacuation. As powerful pressure ridges threatened to turn the island into ice cubes, crewmembers rushed for the rescue aircraft, leaving behind uneaten food still on the dinner table and a wide assortment of equipment. Light planes had been used because of the damaged runway. On March 19, 1962, after 1,055 days of continuous occupation, the station was finally abandoned.

For nearly a year, since 1961, Leonard A. LeSchack, a lieutenant (junior grade) in the Office of Naval Research (ONR), had been working on a highly secret project aimed at discovering just what kind of spy equipment the Russians used on their ice stations. Now, with the abandonment of North Pole 8, he had found his perfect island. The son of Russian immigrants, LeSchack had turned twenty-seven less than two weeks earlier. He had studied geology in college and soon after graduation was chosen to take part in an exploration of Antarctica as part of the International Geophysical Year. In search of more adventure, LeSchack signed up for Naval Officers' Candidate School and after receiving his gold bars talked his way into an assignment on an ice island. Later, while assigned to ONR in Washington, he learned about the Russian abandonment of North Pole 8.

LeSchack knew that getting onto the deserted island with its damaged runway was not that difficult. The two-man inspection team could simply parachute in. The problem was getting them out: the station had no runway, it was too far for helicopter assistance, and it was too iced in for ships. But the junior officer had an idea: a low-flying plane could snatch the men out. LeSchack knew that a method had been developed for extracting clandestine CIA agents from denied territory such as China. The system was a modification of a technique used for the airborne pickup of mail pouches. The mail sack would be attached to a transfer wire strung between two poles. The plane would fly low and slow over the long transfer wire and a hook would grab hold of it. Crewmembers would then reel in the mailbag.

The system had been developed by Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., a professional inventor, and LeSchack asked him to modify it for use on his project. It was simple yet finely tuned. The person to be retrieved wore a harness connected to a long nylon lift line. A weather balloon would then raise the lift line five hundred feet. The retrieval aircraft would fly at the line and snag it in a V-shaped yoke attached to the nose. The weather balloon would release and the plane would gradually pull the person upward; his or her body would assume a position parallel to the ground. A winch would then be used to pull him through a hatch in the plane. Experiments, first with sandbags, then with sheep and pigs, and finally with a human, proved the device worked.

Armed with the Fulton Skyhook, LeSchack won approval for Operation Coldfeet. To get the men covertly to and from the Russian ice island, LeSchack turned to the CIA. The agency authorized the use of its secret proprietary airline, Intermountain Aviation, based at Marana Air Park north of Tucson, Arizona.

In late May 1962, as the long clutch of winter gave way to above-zero temperatures, the team gathered at Barrow, on the northern tip of Alaska. After several days of searching, the ragged, abandoned Soviet ice base was located. LeSchack and his partner, Air Force Captain James F. Smith, the intelligence officer and Russian linguist who had survived a harrowing several months on Drift Station Alpha, boarded the CIA's B-17 for the long flight to North Pole 8. More than six hours later, in the twenty-four-hour daylight, the plane reached the vicinity of the island. The plane's pilot, Connie M. Seigrist, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs, was astonished. "It was the most desolate, inhospitable-looking, and uninviting place I had ever seen," he recalled.

A short time later, Seigrist spotted the chalky white oval, dotted with small buildings. In the back of the plane, an adrenaline rush hit Smith and LeSchack. After once again checking his main and reserve parachutes, Smith went first, hitting the frigid air as if it were a wall of ice and then almost impaling himself on one of the tall Russian antennas. Then LeSchack dove in and, after a sharp tug on his straps, drifted slowly down to a feather landing in the soft snow.

After a night of rest on Russian bunks, they began exploring the ghost land. Like anthropologists discovering a long-lost civilization, they were surprised by what they saw. "What a horror!" LeSchack exclaimed when he entered the kitchen. "Food was still on the stove, frozen in greasy skillets. There was dried blood all over, and animal carcasses, including dog carcasses, were lying around in an adjacent shed." There were films for entertainment; the walls were plastered with posters exhorting the polar spies to work hard for the Communist Party. Over the next few days, the two Americans conducted a detailed exploration of every part of the floe. Film was found of North Pole 8's crew; there was a shot of a burly Russian sunbathing on the ice in his trunks. Personal mementos had been left behind in the scramble to escape. In one letter, a 'mother admonished her son to bundle up in plenty of clothes. Photographs were taken of equipment suspected of being used for acoustical surveillance and of the antenna field and ionospheric laboratory that had likely been used for eavesdropping.

On May 31, a CIA plane with a strange forklike contraption on the nose set out to retrieve Smith and LeSchack. But the ice floe had been lost. Several days went by, and more missions, but North Pole 8 had disappeared in a bewildering sea of white. From the plane, the Arctic Ocean resembled the cracked shell of a hard-boiled egg, splintered into small fragments. On one of those fragments, the two Americans continued cataloging items as they waited for their pickup. They had enough food, and weather conditions were good.

Finally, on June 2, while he was lugging gear on a toboggan to one of the huts, LeSchack heard the plane. He instantly began jumping up and down and signaling with his arms. As the CIA plane flew into position, Smith and LeSchack prepared to be yanked off the island. Three balloons were inflated, including one for a duffle bag of Russian papers, film, gear, and other salvaged items. The Intermountain B-17 made a long, slow pass and snatched up the booty bag with no trouble. Now it was LeSchack's turn.

Aboard the plane, pilot Seigrist was struggling to avoid vertigo as white merged with white. "Instantly upon loss of sight of the buildings," he recalled, "the horizon definition disappeared into the gray ice crystal-dominated atmosphere. I was instantly in a situation that could be imagined as flying in a void."

Three hundred feet below, LeSchack was having his own problems. Holding the balloon like a child at a fair, he went to a clear spot for pickup. But as he released the helium-filled bag, it was caught by a sudden updraft. The nylon line should have gone five hundred feet straight up, but instead strong winds aloft made it ascend at an angle. LeSchack became almost weightless. The balloon then began dragging him backward toward a dangerous ridge. As he bounced against the hard snow, unable to stop himself, LeSchack tried frantically to grab onto something, anything, to. keep himself from being dragged. His face mask twisted, cutting off his vision. Finally, after endless seconds, he was able to plow small holes in the ice and snow with his mitten-covered hands. This gave him just enough traction to slow and then stop.

Unable to assume the standard sitting position, he just lay motionless on the ice. Moments later he felt a jerk and was airborne, but this time he was being lifted by the B-17 and not the wind. The awkward position in which he'd been picked up caused him difficulties. He was dragged by the plane as if water-skiing on his belly behind a superfast speedboat. But six and a half minutes after the Skyhook plucked him off North Pole 8, he was safely pulled into the tail of the spy plane.

Aware of LeSchack's difficulties, Smith attempted to hold on to a tractor when he released his balloon but lost his grip and also became a human sled. For more than two hundred feet, on his way toward the Arctic Ocean, he bounced and banged against sharp ice projections until he managed to catch his heel in a ridge. Seconds later he felt like Peter Pan. "I was flying," he recalled. The Skyhook raised him as though in an elevator at first and then slowly turned him horizontal. Minutes later the tail position operator reeled him in like a prize marlin, his third catch of the day.

Back in Washington, analysts went over LeSchack and Smith's 300-plus photographs, 83 documents, and 21 pieces of equipment. Much of the gear, they concluded, was "superior in quality to comparable U.S. equipment." They also found empty cartons for thousand-foot reels of magnetic tape, the sort used for recording signals intelligence, but no tapes. And although they found a number of radio-related items and manuals, they turned up no undersea acoustic equipment. Whatever had existed was likely dumped off the island. As for the used magnetic tapes, the Russians probably took them along.


By 1961, following the enormous financial and intellectual push given the agency during the last few years of the Eisenhower administration, NSA was slowly beginning to emerge from its cocoon. Its budget had risen to an impressive $116.2 million, of which $34.9 million was for research and development of new computers and eavesdropping equipment. More and more the VVhite House, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department were depending on NSA signals intelligence. Although still unable to penetrate high-level Soviet ciphers, the agency had broken the cipher systems of more than forty nations, including Italy, France, the United Arab Republic, Indonesia, Uruguay, and even some Soviet satellite countries, such as Yugoslavia. Some breaks relied more on deception than on cryptanalytic skill or brute force. The codes and ciphers of Turkey, for example, were obtained by bribing a code clerk in Washington.

Around the world, on land, in the air, at sea, and even in space, NSA was extending its reach. Throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, listening posts were growing like steel weeds to snare every escaping signal from the Communist East and West. More than 6,000 operators manned over 2,000 intercept positions around the world.

The polar regions continued to be prime locations for listening posts. On barren, ice-locked islands off Alaska, shivering intercept operators kept the NSA's electronic ear cocked day and night toward the Bering Sea and Siberia's frozen frontier. "I can't go there, it's too cold," thought Navy intercept operator Mike Stockmeier when he received his orders to a remote, foreboding corner of Alaska's Kodiak Island. It was a place known less for humans than for powerful brown bears, some of which, when about to attack, stood ten feet tall on their hind legs. Landing at a small airstrip on the island, Stockmeier was met by a hearty, bearded fellow cryptologist. "He-appeared to be straight off the sled dog track," recalled Stockmeier, "as he quickly helped us pack our seabags in the carry-all for the three-hour ride." Their destination, over a narrow, winding road, was Cape Chiniak on the easternmost point of the island.

By the mid-1960s, the snug listening post at Cape Chiniak, nestled beneath sheltering, ice-sculptured peaks, had grown to about sixty men. A dog named Sam in a Navy sweater "kept us safe from whatever roamed free on Kodiak," said Stockmeier. From the sea, colliding low-pressure systems often brought howling sixty-knot gales and pea-soup visibility.

"The Hole," Stockmeier said, referring to the operations building, "could be a taxing place to work. From the door combo which sometimes required the oncoming watch to chip away the ice to find the numbers, to battling the cold drafts and sometime snow flurries which found their way under the shack and up through various holes in the deck [floor], people manned their post through all adversity."

At the center of the Hole sat the heavy base of the tall intercept and direction-finding antenna. The device protruded through the roof like a steel tree, snaring signals from the Soviet Northern Fleet. As it slowly rotated, reflecting the low Arctic sun, it helped pinpoint the location of warships and submarines as they transmitted messages to their shore bases. These coordinates were then transmitted to Net Control in Wahiawa, Hawaii.

The least desirable chore was destroying the overflowing cans of ashes after the highly secret intercept reports had been shredded and I then burned. "The most exciting part of burn detail was dumping the ashes," said Stockmeier. "This meant dumping the ashes in the ocean -- not easy to do -- or driving down to Chiniak Creek and probably having to chop a hole in the ice and dumping the ashes to be washed out to sea."

Among the harshest assignments was Adak, an unforgiving rock lost in the Bering Sea at the tail end of the Aleutian chain. One veteran of the listening post, Edward Bryant Bates, put his memories to rhyme:

Cold and icy blue, as it appeared from offshore view
Tundra grass in tufts and bands
Pushing up through snow and hard coastal sands
Clam Lagoon, where G.I. tents of olive green
White blanketed by snow kept most unseen
One small Quonset hut aside; where secret 'orange' messages in airspace tried to hide.
But were intercepted by those inside

"I have been told by a native of this forsaken land," Karl Beeman wrote during his tour, "that the island is gradually making progress in the general direction of the Arctic Circle due entirely to the unbelievable strength of the winds." Beeman studied art at Harvard before entering the Navy and winding up at Adak. On a day off he went for a brief hike toward Mount Moffett, a towering peak a few miles from the listening post. The morning was clear and the sun was strong but on a spit of land near the icy sea he became disoriented and then stranded. Days later rescue workers found his body. Unable to free himself, trapped in the brutal winds he had earlier written about, he preferred death, committing suicide with a gun he was carrying.

While some listening posts were built in icy Arctic wastelands, others sat on mountaintops or hung precariously on the edge of cliffs. Among the most secret was an isolated monitoring station on the shores of the Caspian Sea in northern Iran. Set against a, rugged, boulder-strewn background, the snow-white, pockmarked radomes -- ball-shaped radar domes -- made the station look, like an advanced moon base. Run by the CIA, it had a unique mission.

Although the effort to locate Soviet early-warning radars along border areas had been growing in success, finding radars hidden deep inside the USSR had proved nearly impossible. But then someone remembered an incident at Cape Canaveral: during the test launch of a Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile, a signal from a ground-based radar a thousand miles away had bounced off the IRBM and reflected. down to the Cape, The CIA had used the experience to develop a system codenamed Melody, which they placed on the banks of the Caspian Sea. The idea of Melody was to focus Elint antennas on Soviet ballistic missiles during their test flights and follow their trajectory, The experiment worked beyond expectations, The intercept antennas were able to pick up signals from Soviet high-powered radars well over the horizon as they bounced off the missiles. Eventually, over the years, the Caspian Sea station was able to produce an electronic map of virtually all the ground-based Soviet missile-tracking radars, including the antiballistic missile radar systems at a test range a thousand miles away.

But Melody was not as successful in locating early-warning radars, especially a new surface-to-air missile system codenamed Tall King. At the time, it was considered essential to map all the Tall King radars to prevent the shootdown of American bombers in the event of war, Also, the CIA had a peacetime interest in knowing the locations of all surface- o- air missile bases. The agency was then completing work on a superfast, super-high-flying successor to the U-2, codenamed Oxcart, (The SR-71 would be a later variant.) Because Soviet missiles were reaching ever greater heights, and because the Oxcart was designed to overfly Russia, discovering the precise locations of these potentially deadly radar systems was vital.

The solution was to be found on the moon. Scientists determined that Tall King radar signals, traveling in a straight line, would eventually collide with the moon at least part of the day. The trick would be to catch the signals as they bounced back to earth. To accomplish this, a complex "catcher's mitt" was built. Near Moorestown, New Jersey, a giant sixty-foot satellite dish was aimed at the lunar surface. Attached to it were very sensitive Elint receivers tuned to the Tall King frequency. Over time, as the earth and moon revolved and rotated, all of the Tall King radars eventually came within view and were charted.

Still other listening posts rose like desert flowers in the African sands. At Wheelus Air Base in Libya, a thousand miles of sand surrounded American eavesdroppers on three sides, with 500 miles of Mediterranean to the north. "Even though we were on the coast," said an intercept operator who was assigned to the Air Force 6934th Radio Squadron Mobile during the 1950s, "temperatures reached 110-120 degrees when a sandstorm (or ghiblis as they are called) rolled in. All air stopped blowing and you're burning up." But the desert listening post was an excellent place to eavesdrop on Soviet high- requency communications. "In my time in Libya, we copied most everything out of Russia," he said, "all the way to Vladivostok submarine pens in the Sea of Japan."

Antennas also sprang up where Allied bombs once fell. In Germany and Japan, dozens of listening posts were built amid the ruins of former enemy naval and military bases. In Berlin, the rubble from the war was bulldozed into an enormous manmade mountain outside the center of the city, in the Teufelsberg district. On top of that mountain, the highest point around, the Army Security Agency built a listening post that became one of NSA's most important ears on Soviet and East German communications throughout the Cold War. Known as Field Station, Berlin, it held the unique distinction of twice winning NSA's prestigious Travis Trophy for best worldwide listening post.

For several years in the mid-1980s, intercept operators were mystified because during the same two weeks every year they could pick up key East Bloc signals unobtainable at any other time. Eventually they realized that those two weeks coincided with the American cultural festival. Suddenly someone noticed the giant Ferris wheel. "It was acting as a great big antenna," said Bill McGowan, who was an Army captain working at the listening post. "We got excellent reception. One year we went and asked them to leave it up for another month."

Once the North Sea port for the German navy's mighty fleet, Bremerhaven became another major eavesdropping site targeting Soviet bloc ships and submarines. Aubrey Brown, an intercept operator there, still remembers straining to hear every sound. "You're trying to pull out just the slightest thing you can hear. And sometimes it's very, very weak so you put these things directly over your ear and turn the volume up as high as you can get it."

Inside the listening post's operations building, intercept operators would work "cases," as the larger Soviet ships -- cruisers and battleships -- were known. Once a Russian signal was captured, the intercept operator would type out the five-letter code groups on a typewriter with Cyrillic keys. "Every operator there had an assignment and they had a particular frequency they were listening to ... ," Brown said. "Each operator there had a particular case they were listening to. And in Bremerhaven it was all Soviet and East German and Polish -- mostly Russian -- communicating with their homeport."

Not only did each person have his own case to work, but also three or four intercept operators were assigned to search positions. "What they did was sit there and continuously go through frequency after frequency, just scanned the entire spectrum listening and copying it and looking it up in books and seeing what it was," said Brown. "Because at times there were frequency changes and you could catch them early if you had this kind of scanning going on. Or sometimes there were things that went on that no one knew about and you would find them. So the best operators in the group generally manned the search positions."

To monitor East German naval activity in the Baltic Sea, a listening post was built in the tiny village of Todendorf, a name that roughly translates to "Village of Death." Located near the northern city of Kiel, a port on the Baltic, the fog- shrouded base was home to about 150 naval intercept operators. There the "Merry Men of Todendorf," as they called themselves, lived in a barracks warmed by a coal-fired stove and dined on schnitzel sandwiches and three-egg Bauernfruhstucke.

To better monitor the Communists, the technicians frequently drove mobile intercept vans and trucks to a remote stretch of Fehmarn Island in the Baltic Sea. There, under difficult conditions, they would set up their temporary listening post. "One would have had to experience manhandling a bulky antenna system to the top of a two-and-a-half-ton van in freezing rain," said one of the Merry Men. "And enduring days ... spent warming hash, soup, or canned spaghetti on a hot plate and trying to cook eggs in a coffee pot, napping in a sleeping bag inside the freezing cab of the van. Or accompanying a five-ton equipment truck while listening to the never ending roar of the portable generator, and suffering the indignities of life without a restroom. Fresh water was limited to what could be carried in jerry cans, the nearest toilet was ten .miles away, and showers were out of the question until the mission was terminated and they returned to Todendorf." Later, another small listening post, made up of vans the size of semitrailer trucks, was established at Dahme on the German Riviera. One telemetry intercept operator described Dahme as "a target-rich environment."

Other listening posts in West Germany snuggled close to Soviet bloc land borders or hung on the edge of steep cliffs.

Following massive Warsaw Pact maneuvers in an area of Czechoslovakia that NATO considered a major invasion corridor, the Army Security Agency quickly established a monitoring base on a nearby West German mountain. Long white vans packed with sensitive eavesdropping, recording, and transcribing equipment were airlifted 3,500 feet up to Eckstein, a peak on Hoher Bogen mountain in the Bavarian forest. Elint towers, odd-shaped antennas secured in cement, warning signs, and radomes that looked like giant Ping-Pong balls were erected. "At night, one could see the lights of Pilsen and Prague," recalled F. Harrison Wallace, Jr., a former Sigint specialist assigned to Eckstein. "Eckstein was chosen because there was a clear view eastward from the top of the cliff-twelve hundred feet straight down." Eventually the site began to look like a parking lot for eavesdropping vans. Eckstein was home to about a hundred personnel, including Russian and Czech linguists and a dozen traffic analysts.

For those assigned to such remote border listening posts, life could be very rough. Seventy-mile-per-hour blizzard winds tore at Eckstein's small trailers and Quonset hut and buried them in snow up to eight feet. "There was no running water on the mountain," said Wallace. "Water for coffee, hot chocolate, and washing had to be carried to 'the Hill' in five gallon Jerry cans." Sanitation consisted of a single, two-hole wooden outhouse, covered with heavy icicles in the winter, that simply sent the waste down the side of the cliff.

Despite the isolation of Eckstein, there were moments of excitement. "The finest hour for Eckstein," said Wallace, "was the 'Prague Spring' of 1968,'" when the Soviet army brutally invaded Czechoslovakia to crush a budding rebellion. Eckstein was able to provide NSA with minute-by-minute details of the invasion. The remote listening post also played a key role in eavesdropping on Soviet involvement in the Israeli-Egyptian Yom Kippur War of 1973. Communications intercepted at Eckstein indicated that the Russians were planning to consolidate Warsaw Pact supplies in Prague before airlifting them to Egypt.

Another rich source of Soviet bloc communications was overflights of East Germany. To facilitate the transportation of personnel and supplies to West Berlin, which sat like an island in a Soviet sea, negotiators had agreed on three narrow air corridors connecting it with West Germany. For NSA, these air corridors became veins of gold. The twenty-mile-wide paths together covered about one-sixth of East Germany. Masquerading as routine cargo flights through the corridors, U.S. Air Force C-130E and C-97G aircraft packed with eavesdropping gear would secretly monitor Communist bloc communications as they flew over the corridors.

These missions were 'conducted by the secretive 7405 Support Squadron which was located at Wiesbaden Air Base in West Germany. Operating under codenames such as Creek Rose, Creek Stone, and Creek Flea, the squadron flew 213 signals intelligence missions during the first half of 1967, clocking more than 915 hours in the air and snaring 5,131 intercepts. On their slow transits to and from West Berlin, the "back-enders" operated a variety of receivers, recorders, signal analyzers, and direction finders. Specialized NSA equipment, a part of Project Musketeer Foxtrot, was also installed. The goal was to pinpoint hostile radar systems and dissect their electronic pulses so that, in the event of war, American fighters and bombers would be able to avoid, jam, or spoof anti-aircraft weapons.

With the ability to look deep into East German territory, intercept operators picked up enormous amounts of intelligence on the Russian systems. NSA's Project Musketeer Foxtrot, said one intelligence report, "provided precise measurements of the Tall King radars. Numerous intercepts of 'unusual' Tall King modes during this project indicated more sophisticated operation than previously suspected." Other intercepts revealed the parameters of Soviet Fan Song radars, used to guide surface-to-air missiles, and the exact location of a new Fire Can radar associated with Russian 57- and 85- millimeter anti-aircraft cannons. In June 1967, as Israel launched the Six-Day War, the Ravens were able to detect East German missile equipment being moved close to the West German border.

Turkey also became prime real estate for NSA, especially because of its proximity to Soviet missile testing areas. In 1957, a listening post was built near the village of Karamursel on the Sea of Marmara, about thirty-seven miles southeast of Istanbul. Eventually, a giant elephant-cage antenna dominated the horizon. In the outdoor cafes nearby, Turkish farmers sipped cay from glass cups and inhaled bitter smoke from waterpipes and the local Yeni Harmen cigarettes.

At 9:07 A.M., on April 12, 1961, activity inside the listening post grew frenzied. At that moment, far to the north, a giant Vostok 1 rocket rose from its launch pad. Sitting within the massive spacecraft was Colonel Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, twenty-seven, the son of a peasant family from the rural village of Klushino near Smolensk; and now dubbed by his fellow cosmonauts the Columbus of the Cosmos. For the first time in history; a person was being sent into space. But the Soviet government, out of fear of a mishap or disaster, kept the liftoff enormously secret. Only after Gagarin had returned safely was an announcement made, Despite the secrecy, however, intercept operators at Karamursel were able to monitor the liftoff and flight moment by moment, including the conversations between Gagarin and mission control.

"We couldn't listen [directly] to the spacecraft because it was encrypted -- the back-and-forth between [it and] the space station," said a former intercept operator at Karamursel. "But by satellite we would be able to eavesdrop on their [Russian] local, unencrypted lines within the space center and over those lines we could hear the conversations with the cosmonauts because they would have an open speaker in the background. They would be using a frequency that no one else was and we were able to just lock in on that."

Among the very few Westerners to have listened to the world's first manned space mission as it was happening was Karamursel intercept operator Jack Wood. "Our mission," he said, "was the number one mission in the world -- to monitor the Russian manned space program. After nearly forty years, I still remember the excitement of hearing Yuri Gagarin's voice over my headset.... We were all tuned in for that historic moment. Loose translation: 'I see you and hear you well, OK.'"

The flight nearly ended in tragedy, however. As the spacecraft was about to reenter earth's atmosphere, two parts of the vehicle failed to separate as planned and the capsule began spinning out of control. "Malfunction!!!" Colonel Yevgeny Karpov, Gagarin's commander, scribbled angrily in his notes at the space center. Karpov saw disaster. "Don't panic! Emergency situation." But after ten minutes the parts broke away, the spacecraft steadied, and the landing was successful.


In Japan, the dust from World War II Allied bombing attacks had barely settled when American eavesdroppers began setting up shop. In charge of finding an ideal location to eavesdrop on Russia, China, and North Korea was Navy Captain Wesley Wright, a pioneer cryptologist, who was based in Tokyo as chief of NSA Pacific. Wright remembered the tunnels at Corregidor in the Philippines and had heard of similar tunnels in a place called Kamiseya, an area of rice paddies in the shadow of Mount Fuji. The tunnels were used to store torpedoes for air attacks against American ships. Wright decided that the tunnels could now be turned against the Communists as a secret listening post. The low ambient electrical noise in the rural area made for good reception.

At the time, the tunnels of Kamiseya were a mess. The floors were covered in three inches of water, and the rusty overhead rails used for moving torpedoes were still in place. Gradually the tunnels were made livable, lighting was installed, SP-600 high-frequency receivers were brought in, guards were assigned, other buildings were built or restored. Dozens of rhombic antennas, arranged in rosette patterns, were constructed to sweep in the Communist communications. A rotating switch allowed the intercept operators to choose the antenna that best received their target. Along the walls of the tunnel were columns of metal racks with thick black cables snaking from the receivers. Soon, long ribbons of seven-ply fan-fold carbon paper, covered with rows of Russian words and code groups, were flowing from Underwood typewriters twenty-four hours a day. More intercept positions were built in an adjacent building. Known as the pantry, the windowless room there had cream and green rubber tiles on the floor and globe lights above each "posit."

By 1965, Kamiseya had become the largest Navy listening post in the world, with over a thousand people raking the ether for Soviet and other Communist communications. Some of the intercept operators went on temporary assignment aboard one of the many ships sailing in the waters near the target countries. Others would fly aboard EP-3B ferret aircraft that eavesdropped near the massive Soviet port of Vladivostok and elsewhere. After their sea and airborne missions, the intercept operators would return to Kamiseya with 7-1/2 inch magnetic tapes containing captured signals. Linguists in headsets would then spend hours sifting through the data, listening for nuggets of useful intelligence to be sent to NSA. The base had an extensive library, bursting with foreign-language dictionaries, other books, and magazines. It was also "net control" for the entire Pacific, receiving direction-finding reports from listening posts stretching from California to Okinawa. Kamiseya would then triangulate the exact location of Soviet ships and submarines over millions of square miles of ocean.

Among many other listening posts set up in Japan was one at Misawa Air Base, 400 miles north of Tokyo. It had originally been built by the Japanese with the idea of establishing a northern base from which long-range bombers could be launched toward Alaska. The facility was eventually used to train Japanese teams to sabotage Allied aircraft during the final months of the war. But as U.S. forces closed in on Japan, carrier-based Hell Cats raked Misawa's buildings and runways for several days. B-29 raids followed, virtually demolishing the base. Nevertheless, following Japan's surrender the Army Corps of Engineers quickly moved in and turned the former sabotage base into a major listening post for eavesdropping on China and western Russia.

Also to eavesdrop on China, a listening post was built on the Japanese island of Okinawa, 300 miles east of the Chinese mainland. Constructed near the town of Sobe, Torii Station was home to intercept operators who were attached to the 51st Special Operations Command. Traffic and cryptanalysts worked nearby at the Joint Sobe Processing Center. Among the targets was high-level Chinese army and diplomatic traffic. "Security was hermetic on that post," said David Parks, an Army intercept operator who was stationed there in the mid-1960s. "Once you left the building never a word passed between you and your comrades about anything that may have happened at work. At work everything was compartmentalized.... If there was a need for an individual to visit a part of the building that they were not cleared for then an escort would have to be arranged."

Nearby was an expansive antenna farm consisting of three square miles of rhombic antennas, and up a hill was a giant circular elephant-cage antenna. The eavesdropping was done at the windowless operations compound where, says Parks, "you would hear the music played twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to mask any stray radio signal that might escape." Just inside the entrance and off a long hallway were the Morse intercept rooms manned by the various services -- each one targeting their Chinese counterpart.

Sitting in front of a pair of R-390 receivers, the intercept operators would have one tuned to a target, known as the "control." When the control stopped to listen for a response, the intercept operator would search for this other station -- called the out-station -- with the other receiver. Likewise, each earphone would be connected to separate receivers. To make life difficult, sometimes there were as many as ten out-stations.

Some targets would be assigned, while at other times the intercept operator would twist knobs searching for new targets. Prize targets in eluded coded Chinese messages -- streams of numbers in groups of four. Once these were located, the intercept operator would type them out on six-ply carbon paper. A room supervisor would eavesdrop on the eavesdroppers to make sure they were not just copying the loud, easy signals, known as ducks. "If the room supervisor thought you were just padding your time by copying ducks," said Parks, "he would call you on the intercom and say something like, 'Get off of that duck, Parks, and back on the knobs.'"

At the time, the sounds of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, ripping apart Chinese society, echoed through the listeners' earphones. "It was reflected in the stuff we copied every day," said one intercept operator. "For instance, they sent quotations of Chairman Mao back and forth as a kind of one-upsmanship. They would get on the net and they would all have their Little Red Books. And they would send a page and a paragraph number and a quote within that to another operator and then everybody would jump back and say, Well, here, read this one and I'm a better commie than you are." Like the Red Guards, the intercept operators had a copy of Mao's Little Red Book close at hand.

"They're humans too," said the intercept operator, "and that humanness comes through. You learn these people as you work the job because it is the same people day in and day out and you learn their quirks and their tempers and everything about them. You know their 'fist' and the sound of their transmitter. You can tell if they've changed a tube in that transmitter after a while.

"They knew full well that we were copying them," said Parks, "and tried to throw us off of the scent all the time. They had their bag of tricks and we had ours. A typical search would have me incrementally turning the knob and listening to each and every Morse station I came across. The airwaves were full of signals of all types, voice transmissions, Morse, teletype, beacons, fax transmitters sending photo images for the newspapers and wire services. There was indeed a seeming 3-D soundscape to the radio medium. We used such terms as 'up' or 'down' and 'under' in describing where a target might be in relation to a signal. There were known islands of sound imbedded at fixed points in the soundscape. It was not unusual for one op to say to another, Your outstation (target) is underneath that RCA teletype at 3.5 megs [megahertz]. I would know just where he meant."

Among the most difficult traffic to copy were coded diplomatic communications. "Diplomatic traffic was the top of the heap," said Parks. "The analysts wanted that copied as clean as possible; if you couldn't do that, you were off the job." Parks once intercepted an unknown embassy employee "who was transmitting, in English, a blow-by-blow description of the embassy being invaded and the door to his code room being chopped down by a rioting crowd. Frantic little guy, lost his mind and maybe his life. I've always wondered what happened to him. I also wonder if the 'riot' had a purpose other than frustration. On my end I was sweating bullets as there was brass standing two deep around my intercept position urging me to get it all. Every page of six-ply that came off my mill was immediately ripped off and handed around. The embassy op finally went 'nil more heard.'"

Air Force intercept operators also worked on Okinawa, eavesdropping on Chinese air communications. One of their most important tasks was to listen closely as American signals intelligence planes flew eavesdropping missions near the coast of mainland China, occasionally penetrating the country. Twice daily, missions would be launched from either Taipei, at the north end of the island,. or Tainan, at the southern end. One of the Mandarin Chinese intercept operators who followed those flights from Torii Station was Robert Wheatley. "Along the way, our ground stations would listen in on the Chicom [Chinese Communist] fighter squadrons as they'd scramble and rise up to meet the recon planes," he said. "It was almost like a game of cat and mouse to the pilots involved. "When our planes would come over a given fighter squadron's sphere of coverage, the MiGs would scramble and follow along below until the next squadron up the coast would scramble and take over the chase. But the ceiling of the Russian-made MiG 21 was far below that of our reconnaissance planes, and generally speaking, the MiGs were no real threat to them."

But occasionally one of the MiGs would get lucky. "Wheatley recalls once receiving a Flash message from a listening post in Taiwan. "It detailed the shootdown of one of our airborne reconnaissance platforms by a Chinese MiG-21 over the China mainland," he said. "The MiG pilot had made a 'zoom climb' to the highest altitude he could make. At the moment he topped out, he released his air-to-air rockets. The linguist listening in on the fighter pilot reported what he'd heard him say. Translation: 'Climbing to twenty thousand [meters] ... Rockets fired! I fixed his ass! I fixed his ass!' The meaning of that was dismayingly clear. The 'game' had become deadly serious! The account of what had happened was instantly passed to us on Okinawa via encrypted Teletype transmission. We were instructed to listen for any references to the shootdown by any of the Chinese ground stations that we listened in on."

As word of the shootdown got around, said "Wheatley, "the mood in the radio ops room took on the air of a funeral. I would liken it to the moment that America learned of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Some of those on board that plane were guys with whom we'd attended language school. And all were fellow airmen -- brothers -- whether we knew them or not. Were it not for the luck of the draw, anyone of us could have been aboard that flight. Everyone in the room was stunned, silent, and ashen-faced. We never did find out if there were any survivors among the crew of the aircraft. I suspect not. But we never heard any more on the matter, for we did not have the 'need to know.'"

Picking just the right spot for the secret bases was as much a matter of intuition as of science. In trying to "locate intercept stations," said former NSA research chief Dr. Howard Campaigne, "it's well to know which would be the best places. They were often surprises. Intercept stations were not effective when they thought they would be, and vice versa." Sometimes the best place to listen to a target was on the exact opposite point on earth-the antipodal spot. "One of the things we worked at was antipodal reception," said Campaigne. "When a radio station sends out waves, the ionosphere keeps [them] in like a whispering gallery and [they're] concentrated at the antipodes and we were able to demonstrate such reception. Unfortunately, the earth is so clustered that the end of every diameter has got water in at least one half of the places. So there aren't very many places that are any good."

One spot where "hearability" was near perfect was the rugged, windswept desert of Eritrea in East Africa. Reputed to be the hottest place on earth, it is a land of geographic extremes, where gray mountains suddenly rise like fortress walls from broad rocky grasslands, and Oceans of sparsely vegetated lowlands marry vast seas of sand. On April 30, 1943, in the middle of World War II, U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Clay Littleton landed there while searching for a good location for a radio station in North Africa. Tests showed that Eritrea, just north of the equator and with an altitude of 7,600 feet, was practically an audio funnel, and an intercept station was quickly set up, as was a large relay facility. Operational spaces, containing ten-inch-thick bombproof concrete walls, were built underground, near the capital of Asmara.
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Part 2 of 2

In the early 1960s a conga line of trucks, straining against the heat and blowing sand, hauled 6,000 tons of heavy steel to the secret base. By then Eritrea had become federated with Ethiopia. Planned for Kagnew Station, whose name comes from the Ethiopian word meaning to bring order out of chaos, was a pair of massive satellite dishes to capture Soviet signals bouncing off the moon, and others relayed from earth-or biting satellites. One was to be a dish 85 feet in diameter and the other was to be possibly the largest movable object ever built -- a massive bowl 150 feet wide sitting on top of a rotating pedestal capable of tracking the arc of the moon. When built, it would rise from the desert like a great chalice, an offering to the gods.

A few years earlier, Kagnew Station had been the scene of perhaps NSA's first and Drily strike. Arthur Adolphsen arrived at the listening post straight from snowbound Germany in January 1957 wearing a hot Ike jacket. A year later he and the other intercept operators moved into a new operations building. The move, however, brought with it numerous new regulations and restrictions on personal activity throughout the base. "The Operations Center ... went on strike some time after we moved on the new base [December 1957]," said Adolphsen. "It lasted for about four days; no one could hear any signals.

"After three or four days of not much traffic being sent to Washington a planeload of NSA people showed up and wanted to know what was going on. We had a meeting of all operations personnel in the gym and they asked us what we wanted, and there were many that were brave enough to stand up and let them know. It was brought on by the post command removing stripes and privileges for very minor infractions. They would not let us have autos and motorbikes, restricted everyone to base, and so forth. To my knowledge no personnel got punished, but the entire post command, right down to the chaplain, got replaced."

By 1967 Ethiopia was attempting to turn Eritrea from a largely independent partner in federation into simply another province, and a rebel movement developed within Eritrea to fight the Ethiopian government. The tension was felt acutely at NSA, which feared that an Eritrean coup might jeopardize its listening post. The agency therefore sought ,to eavesdrop both on the Ethiopian government and on the rebels. However, it had long been a rule at NSA that the agency would not eavesdrop on the host country from within the host country. And because a number of Ethiopians worked close to some of the operations at Kagnew Station, it was felt that any attempt to eavesdrop· from within would quickly leak out. In such an event the entire mission could be forced out of the country. So NSA turned to its British counterpart, the GCHQ. to do the listening.

At the time the closest GCHQ listening post was in the British colony of Aden (now part of Yemen) across the Red Sea. The British were having problems of their own. With only a few months to go before they pulled out of the colony. a civil war had developed over which local political faction would take over control of the new nation. Ordinarily NSA would have done the eavesdropping from the U.S. embassy in Aden but it was feared that the U.S. embassy might be forced out, especially if the new government was Marxist, as it turned out to be. The British, however, would be allowed to remain, if only to clear up administrative issues. Thus it was decided to eavesdrop on the Ethiopian government from the British High Commission office in Aden, which on independence would become an embassy.

After a crash course at Bletchley Park, three GCHQ intercept operators were sent to Aden for the operation. The listening post was set up in a secure room in the building, the operators hidden under the cover of communications specialists, and the antennas disguised as flagpoles. "The priority tasks from the NSA were of course the Ethiopian military, from which a coup could be expected," said Jock Kane, one of the intercept operators. Tensions in Ethiopia continued to mount and it was finally decided to pull out of the country entirely. The enormous antennas were dismantled and the intercept operators sent back to NSA a decade later, in 1977.

The wide oceans also needed to be covered in order to eavesdrop on Russian ships, and submarines as they came up briefly to transmit their rapid "burst" messages. Sitting almost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between Africa and Brazil, is a speck of rock named Ascension Island. Formed by successive volcanic eruptions, the lonely dot rises steeply from the blue-black waves like a massive aircraft carrier anchored to the seabed. Dense vegetation is interspersed with harsh fields of volcanic rock that locals call "hell with the fires turned off." Nevertheless, the British island is ideally suited to eavesdrop on millions of square miles of ocean. Thus, the Central Signals Organization, the overseas branch of GCHQ, found it an ideal location for a major high-frequency and satellite listening post.

In the northern Pacific, it would have been difficult to find a more isolated spot for a listening post than Midway Island, a coral atoll about halfway between California and Japan. Lost in the great ocean, Midway consists of two islands: Sand Island, which is three miles square and has a landing strip, and Eastern Island, a speck of sand less than a mile square, where the listening post was built. "I looked and looked and could only see the white crests of the waves below us on the Pacific Ocean," said Phillip Yasson, a Navy intercept operator, of his first flight to the island. "As the plane got lower and lower in altitude, I had this feeling of landing on the water because that ,was the only thing visible." The men assigned to the listening post were quartered in an old movie theater that had been bombed during World War II. "You could stand in the middle of the island," said Yasson, "make a 360-degree turn, and still see the ocean except for where the buildings blocked the view."

In the operations building, the intercept operators eavesdropped on Soviet ships and submarines and attempted to pinpoint them with a high-frequency direction finder. Midway was too small for a giant elephant-cage antenna, so instead they, used vertical wires. Nevertheless, reception was very good. "Surrounded by water, it was a good choice," said Yasson. "There were plenty of signals." During the midnight shift, one of the intercept operators would divide his time between eavesdropping on the Russians and washing the clothes for the others on the, watch. The principal hobby of the eighteen people on the island was collecting the colorful glass orbs that occasionally washed up-floats from old Japanese fishing nets. Swimming was hazardous because of sharks. For company the intercept operators had gooney birds-lots of gooney birds. One survey put their numbers at more than two hundred thousand. The stately black and white birds -- black-footed albatrosses -- with seven-foot wingspreads glide gracefully to earth but then frequently have trouble with their landing gear, tumbling headfirst into the sand.

The vast Indian Ocean, which stretches from the coastline of East Africa to islands of East Asia and the shores of Australia, presented a particularly formidable problem. The solution involved the dislocation of an entire native population, the taking over of a British colony, and the creation of one of the most forbidding territories on earth.

In the early 1960s, the British government began taking an unusual interest in a sparse, remote group of islands located nearly in the center of the Indian Ocean. Known as the Chagos Archipelago, it was an almost forgotten dependency of Mauritius, one of Britain's larger island colonies, which lay 1,200 miles to the south. As the Mauritius islanders began to agitate for independence, Britain inexplicably offered them freedom, plus £3 million, if they would give up their claim to the scruffy, distant sandbars and atolls of the Chagos. The Mauritius government accepted. Later, away from the glare of publicity, London made a brief, quiet announcement. At a time when it was freeing its distant lands from the bonds of colonialism, Britain was suddenly creating a new colony. The tiny Chagos Archipelago, a collection of dots lost in millions of square miles of ocean, would become the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT.

With the ink barely dry on the paperwork, Britain turned around and just as quietly handed the colony over to the United States, gratis, for fifty years. The purpose was the building of an unidentified "defence installation." There was no debate in Parliament and virtually no publicity.

Because of the U.S. government's need for secrecy, between 1965 and 1973 the entire native population of some 2,000 had to be evicted from the islands, where they and their relatives had lived quietly for hundreds of years. A visitor in the late 1950s, before the islands became an "American colony," reported, "There was a chateau ... whitewashed stores, factories and workshops, shingled and thatched cottages clustered around the green ... and parked motor launches." According to one of the islanders, "We were assembled in front of the island because the Americans were coming for good. We didn't want to go. We were born there. So were our fathers and forefathers who were buried in that land."

Although the islanders were all British subjects, they were removed bodily and dispersed once NSA prepared to move in. "They were to be given no protection, and no assistance, by the Earl, the Crown, or anybody else," wrote one outraged British writer, Simon Winchester:

Instead the British Government, obeying with craven servility the wishes of the Pentagon -- by now the formal lessees of the island group -- physically removed every man, woman and child from the islands, and placed them, bewildered and frightened, on the islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles. British officials did not consult the islanders. They did not tell them what was happening to them. They did not tell anyone else what they planned to do. They just went right ahead and uprooted an entire community, ordered people from their jobs and their homes, crammed them on to ships, and sailed them away to a new life in a new and foreign country. They trampled on two centuries of community and two centuries of history, and dumped the detritus into prison cells and on to quaysides in Victoria [Seychelles] and Port Louis [Mauritius], and proceeded, with all the arrogant attitudes that seemed peculiar to this Imperial rump, promptly to forget all about them.

In the spring of 1973, a group of NSA officials and fourteen intercept operators and analysts from the three military cryptologic organizations arrived on the largest island of the group, Diego Garcia, to begin hearability tests. Named after the Portuguese sailor who discovered it four hundred years earlier, the island is a thin, horseshoe-shaped atoll, thirty- seven miles from tip to tip, that barely rises above the rolling waves. The NSA team, codenamed Jibstay, set up a series of intercept antennas, including a small elephant cage known as a "pusher." Also, NSA shipped a portable eavesdropping van to the island. It was not long before the Soviets began snooping around to see what NSA was up to. "A Soviet trawler maintained station just off the receiver site," said Monty Rich, a member of the Jibstay team. "The trawler was relieved for a short time by a Soviet Navy Sverdlov-class cruiser."

Gregor McAdam was one of the first Navy Seabees on Diego Garcia and helped construct some of the early buildings. "All we had was seahuts to live in," he said. "And lots of donkeys, chickens, flies up the ass, and Double Diamond beer. Once every couple of weeks a shipment of beer would come in, but if you didn't get right over to the club (a Quonset hut) and snap up some cases, you're S.O.L. and stuck with the Double Diamond or Pabst Blue Ribbon." Even in those early days, he said, the Russians took a great interest in the construction. "We had a radio station that used to play 'Back in the USSR' for the Russian trawler that was always offshore."

On Diego Garcia, cryptologic technicians nicknamed "wizards" worked in the windowless Ocean Surveillance Building located at "C Site." There, as part of a worldwide Advanced Tactical Ocean Surveillance System, codenamed Classic Wizard, they served as the Indian Ocean downlink for the highly secret White Cloud satellite program. This consists of constellations of signals intelligence satellites that are able to pinpoint and eavesdrop on ships and submarines across the vast oceans. Others, in the High Frequency Direction Finding Division, monitored the airwaves for thousands of miles in all directions for any indications of Soviet sea activity.

One wizard, who spent two tours on Diego Garcia, was Steven J. Forsberg, a Navy cryptologic technician. Despite the isolation and remoteness of the base, he said, the ocean surveillance compound was also closely guarded by a detachment of U.S. Marines. "On those few occasions when they could stay awake at night guarding our site," he said, "which had never been, and never would be, attacked, they often played 'quick draw' with their loaded .45s. Well, one night some guy accidentally squeezed the trigger while doing so." To cover himself the Marine reported that the shot came from a sniper. As a result the Marines went to full alert. "Security was driving around in a truck with a loudhorn telling people to go inside," he said. Other Marines "lined up on the roof in full gear and with loaded weapon's. If you came near the barracks, a guy would scream, 'Lock and load!' and you'd hear all those M-16 bolts slamming. Then they'd yell, 'Turn around and walk away! Deadly force authorized!'"

So highly protected is Diego Garcia that even when a small private sailboat, crossing the Indian Ocean, pulled close to shore asking to resupply water and do some emergency repairs, it was ordered to keep away from the island. Eventually the boat was allowed to remain offshore until daybreak, but a spotlight was constantly trained on it. Then as soon as the morning came, patrol boats forced the sailboat back out onto the deep ocean. Under the terms of the 1966 agreement between Britain and the United States, no one without formal orders to the area was permitted entry to any of the islands.

By 1989 the Naval Security Group had personnel serving at forty-eight listening posts around the world, with 15 percent conducting operations at sea aboard ninety ships.

To avoid the problem of overdependence on British intercepts, which partly led to the surprise at Suez, NSA began expanding its presence on Cyprus, ideally positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, it began training its antennas on the Middle East rather than exclusively on the Soviet Bloc. To the north, east, and west of Nicosia, Cyprus's capital, listening posts were set up. At Karavas, about fifty Soviet and Slavic linguists eavesdropped on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Other monitoring stations were set up in Mia Milea, in Yerolakkos, and near Troodos Mountain. On the south coast, at Akrotiri, intercept operators listened for indications of war in the Middle East, while also eavesdropping on peace negotiations. In Nicosia, signals intelligence personnel were based in the embassy to relay back to NSA intercepted diplomatic cables. During the 1990 Gulf War, the listening posts played a key role and also spearheaded the hunt for the hostages in Lebanon.

By far the most difficult -- and at the same time most important -- body of water in which to spy was the Barents Sea. Like an ice pack on Russia's forehead, the half-million square miles of dark, unforgiving, polar-cold water held some of Russia's deepest secrets. It was a frozen world of white, gray, and black where the blunt hulls of onyx-colored submarines began and ended their long patrols in search of American subs under the Atlantic Ocean. It was also where new missiles were tested and glacier-shaking nuclear weapons were detonated. The thin winter ice allowed the Russian Northern Fleet to conduct exercises year-round, and the sky above was like a mechanical aviary for the Soviet Air Force. The air was electric with signals. The problem for NSA was how to get an antenna and tape recorder into one of the most secret and heavily protected areas on earth.

Black and moonless, the late night was an odd time to start painting. In the dim reddish glow from a low-observation flashlight, George A. Cassidy began applying thick coats of steel-gray paint to the submarine's tall sail. It was mid- September 1965 and the frigid spray from the North Sea deposited a dewlike film on the sailor's dark pea coat. In an hour the giant "SS-352," identifying the sub as American, had been painted over on both sides of the tower. The USS Halfbeak's covert mission had begun.

A month before, late at night on August 17, Cassidy had reported to a basement office in NSA's Operations Building for a Top Secret codeword briefing on his new assignment. "One of our missions," recalled the former Elint intercept operator, "was to bring back any rocket telemetry that we could get." At the time, the White House was very concerned about advances in Soviet ballistic missile capabilities. An over-the-pole attack launched from one of the ICBM bases close to the Barents Sea was the most likely scenario for World War III. U.S. Sigint aircraft would occasionally fly into the area in an attempt to collect signals, but their presence was immediately obvious and sensitive activities would be halted until it departed. The only way to capture the telemetry -- key signals revealing the operational performance of the missile that were transmitted back to its control center -- was by stealth. A submarine would have to penetrate deep into Soviet territorial waters in perhaps the most dangerous sea on the planet.

To hide the true nature of their mission, even from the crew, Cassidy and the three other intercept operators were given "radiomen" patches for their uniforms. Their orders never even mentioned the name of the ship they were being assigned to. It simply used the words "U.S.S. Classified" The U.S.S. Classified turned out to be a twenty-year-old diesel submarine named the USS Halfbeak, which was berthed at the naval base in New London, Connecticut. Although outwardly like any other sub, eavesdropping antennas had been attached to the Halfbeak's electronic countermeasures (ECM) mast, and a special receiver had been installed in the periscope well beneath the conning tower.

The intercept operators, not being part of the regular crew, were squeezed in wherever there was space. "I lived in the forward torpedo room, among eighteen torpedoes and six torpedo tubes," said Cassidy. His bed was a piece of plywood sandwiched between Mark 24 wire-guided torpedoes -- each with 500 pounds of explosives packed into its warhead. Nearby were two Mark 45 nuclear-tipped torpedoes with tags labeled "War Shot."

It was late September when the Halfbeak finally reached its operational area off Russia's Kola Peninsula. Inside the crowded metal tube, life was cold, dirty, and quiet. To ensure radio silence, tubes had been removed from the communications equipment and locked in a safe. Adding to the discomfort, one of two stills that converted salt water into freshwater had broken down. Thus, each man was given a large tomato soup can to fill with water once a day for washing. Then about half the heaters quit. "I remember lying in my bunk scraping the frost off the torpedo above me," recalled Cassidy.

Despite the problems, the mission went on. Beneath the black, crawling waves the Halfbeak slowly maneuvered toward its target, a heavily protected island off the Russian coast where much of the Soviet missile testing was taking place. During the day, the sub operated on battery power, cruising quietly at periscope depth sixty-two feet below the surface. Once the passive sonar indicated that no surface contacts were above, the mast with the Sigint equipment would be raised about six feet above the waves.

"If it was daylight, we would be running fairly slow so it wouldn't make a wake," said Cassidy, "because if you went over four knots underwater, this would start throwing up a plume." At night the diesel engine would be fired up and the snorkel mast would be raised to provide fresh air to the crew and to charge the batteries. Ever closer the sub approached -- well past the twelve-mile territorial limit and just a few miles off the beach. Through the periscope, the men could see beefy Russian women hanging out laundry.

Down in the makeshift Sigint spaces, behind a closed door in the control room, the intercept operators listened like electronic bird-watchers for telltale sounds. They attempted to separate the important signals -- the wobbling, squeaking, chirping sounds that reveal key radar and telemetry systems -- from a cacophony of static. "We used to practice all the time listening to tapes of different Soviet radar," said Cassidy. "So if we heard it, we could tell what it was. Before we would go on a mission, we would train ourselves by sitting in front of these tapes that operators had made while out on patrol." At the same time, they measured and photographed the squiggly electronic waves that rippled across the orange screens of the Elint receivers.

"We had special equipment that was made up of eight to twelve little receivers that would each receive a frequency that the Soviets transmitted telemetry on," recalled Cassidy. "On this run the main interest was the telemetry. But any Russian signal you were able to tape was good because all this went into a database.... And this would all be piped into a recorder, so whenever we heard telemetry coming from the island, we would start to record it. The rockets could be anything from satellite launches to missiles. We heard a lot of fire control radar along with it. We had capabilities of intercepting twelve to fourteen channels." To capture Soviet voice communications, one of the intercept operators was a Russian linguist.

The greatest worry was discovery. Thus, great care was taken to watch and listen for any approaching Soviet aircraft, ship, or submarine. For weeks all went well despite the Halfbeak's risky location. But early on a dark morning in late October, Cassidy heard the distinctive whistle of a "mushroom" radar, indicating that somewhere overhead was an approaching Soviet TU-95 Bear -- a large and deadly strategic bomber with swept wings and four huge turboprop engines. At almost the same moment, he also picked up the signal of a Russian destroyer bearing down on the Halfbeak's location. "I have contact!" Cassidy yelled to the captain. "Very weak TU-95 aircraft mushroom radar and a Soviet surface ship."

The troubles only got worse. "And then I heard this whish," Cassidy recalled, "and I knew it was a flat-spin radar from a Soviet "Foxtrot -- or "Whiskey" -- class submarine. After I told the captain, we pulled all the antennas and masts down. This was at night-early in the morning. We were snorkeling, which means we had the diesel engines running. We went to Battery Operation and then to Battle Stations Torpedo. We pulled the plug-it went down. We knew we had in the air at least one Soviet aircraft. We knew we had at least one Soviet destroyer and very possibly a Soviet conventional submarine out there."

The captain took the Halfbeak deep -- about three hundred feet -- and managed to hide under a dense layer of salt water that deflected any enemy sonar signals. Sailing at four knots, the boat headed south out of harm's way. By afternoon, with the danger apparently over, the Halfbeak headed back toward its operational area near the missile-testing island, arriving early the next morning. But now there was a new problem: through the periscope, as it was rising toward the surface, the captain noticed something strange. Everywhere he looked, all he could see were thick logs floating above. Sigint was out of the question. "We couldn't really put the ECM mast up in that stuff because it had these little thin antennas sticking out, and if you hit that with a log it's going to ruin the watertight integrity of the antenna," recalled Cassidy. He suspected that the Russians had dumped the wood deliberately in order to hinder the sub's spying.

Determined to continue the mission, the captain sailed the Halfbeak to another part of the island's coastline and raised the camouflaged ECM mast containing the eavesdropping antennas. By then, however, the Russians were aggressively searching for the intruder and once again, late in the afternoon, Cassidy heard the ominous sounds. This time it was two Soviet destroyers and the signal was Strength Five-the highest, meaning the destroyers were almost on top of them. "I have two Strength Five Russian waterborne platform emissions!" Cassidy yelled to the captain. Then sonar reported the presence of another sub nearby. The captain immediately ordered a dive and set Battle Stations Torpedo. Through a small side tube, a number of white, four-inch pills were fired into the water. Like giant Alka-Seltzer tablets -- they were designed to create clouds of bubbles to hide the escaping sub. "We must have fired twenty of those," recalled Cassidy. "We used that and prayed."

In the control room Cassidy could clearly see the depth gauge about four feet away. It had a red mark at 350 feet, indicating the test depth-the safety limit for the sub. To his horror, the needle slipped past the mark and continued downward as the old boat began to squeak and groan. "Are we supposed to go below 350 feet?" he yelled to the sailor at the controls.

"We do whatever the old man says," the man yelled back. "Oh God," Cassidy suddenly yelled. "We're sinking. The water's coming in!" Above him he heard a "pop" and ice-cold water poured down on his head. Luckily it was only the snorkel drain breaking, releasing about five gallons of water that had accumulated in the tube.

As the sub continued to descend to about 400 feet, a short distance from the muddy seafloor, the sonar men could hear pinging sounds from the Soviet ships searching for them above. Next the captain ordered Sedge Quiet. "This is where you basically shut off everything except for the gyroscope and the electric motor that's turning the shaft," said Cassidy. "Lights were reduced, heating was off, the galley ranges were off, hydraulics were off." With the hydraulic system inoperative, it took two sailors to steer the sub, using small handles that pop out of the wheel.

Hour after hour after hour the Halfbeak quietly maneuvered deep in the Barents Sea as sonar continued to pick up a heavy presence on the surface. At one point a sonar man heard what he thought was an explosion from a depth charge. Crew members were ordered to remove their shoes to keep down the noise. "We were warned about banging anything, coffee cups," said Cassidy. "No noise at all. It was like a tomb in there."

Eventually the oily air began turning thin and rancid. The captain passed the word to break out the carbon dioxide absorbent -- cans of powder would be spread on bunks to help draw the deadly gas from the air. Nevertheless, the sub's doctor warned that the oxygen levels were becoming dangerously low. Sailors, including Cassidy, passed out and had to be revived. Two large oxygen canisters were placed in the central part of the sub, and it was suggested that those who felt faint should take a few deep breaths from the masks attached.

Without electric power, all that the galley could come up with was peanut butter, crackers, and Kool-Aid, but few had the strength to go there anyway. "It was so hard to breathe, you didn't even want to walk from the forward torpedo room to the galley, which was probably about one hundred feet," recalled Cassidy. "Because it was too much effort, you had a hard time breathing. And it was cold; it was damp. They were holding us down. We could not surface because they were above us. Sonar could hear their engines. There were four separate surface contacts around us, plus a probable submarine."

Finally, after about twelve or thirteen hours, the pinging began to cease. After another hour, to make sure that the Soviet ships had departed, the Halfbeak slowly began to rise. "He said you know we could probably surface now, but we are going to take another hour and I want you to just search and search and listen, listen, listen," said Cassidy. "And they would put a new operator on about every fifteen or twenty minutes for another good set of ears. When they were positive that there were no surface contacts around, we just squeaked up. I searched all the bands for aircraft ... and when the captain and the exec [executive officer] were as sure as anybody could be that there were no signals up there, we came up to periscope depth. This was early morning. Looked around with the attack scope and the regular scope and saw nothing. And once they were happy with that, they put up the snorkel mast.... The first time we snorkeled after being down so long, the fresh air was so clean and pure it hurt you, it actually hurt your lungs."

With most of the mission completed and the Soviets hot on their trail, the captain decided to head back to New London. There, the dozens of intercept tapes were double-wrapped and sent by courier to NSA for analysis. As with most missions, the intercept operators were never informed what the agency learned as a result of the dangerous mission. They did not have the required "need to know." And in the ship's history of the USS Halfbeak, the year 1965 has been eliminated.

Throughout the Cold War, similar missions continued. Even as late as 2000, the Barents Sea remained prime eavesdropping territory for American submarines. That summer, the bullet-shaped bow of the USS Memphis, a 6,000- ton attack sub, slipped quietly out of its home port of Groton, Connecticut, and disappeared beneath the frosty whitecaps of the Atlantic. Its target was a major naval exercise by the Russian Northern Fleet-the largest such exercise in a decade. Among the fifty warships and submarines participating in the mock battle was a steel leviathan named the Kursk, a double-hulled, nuclear-powered submarine twice the length of a Boeing 747. On board were about two dozen Granit sea- skimming cruise missiles as well as torpedoes. It was the pride. of the nation-the most modern submarine in the Russian Navy.

On Saturday morning, August 12, the Kursk, with 118 crewmembers aboard, was off the Kola Peninsula cruising at periscope depth, about sixty feet below the sea's heaving swells. Some distance away, maintaining radio silence, the USS Memphis eavesdropped on the maneuvers. Sticking above the surface like the necks of tall, gray giraffes were antenna- covered masts. Down below, intercept operators searched through the static for fire control signals and pilot chatter while sonar men plotted the pinging sounds of other steel fish. Then at precisely 11:28, the sub's sonar sphere -- a giant golfball attached to the bow, containing over 1,000 hydropones -- registered the sound of a short, sharp thud. Two minutes and fifteen seconds later a powerful, fish-scattering boom vibrated through the sensitive undersea microphones. The blast was so powerful, the equivalent of up to two tons of TNT, that it was picked up by seismic stations more than 2,000 miles away.

On the Kursk, a room-size hole opened up in the forward torpedo room, turning the smooth curved bow into a jagged bean can and sending the sub on a deadly dive to the bottom. Sailors who didn't die immediately likely survived only hours. The cause of the disaster was probably the onboard explosion of a missile or torpedo. But given the long cat-and- mouse history of American submarine espionage in the Barents Sea, senior Russian officials pointed the finger at an undersea hit-and-run collision with a U.S. sub.

Six days later, the Memphis surfaced and quietly sailed into a Norwegian port. There it off-loaded boxes of recording tapes containing an electronic snapshot of the worst submarine disaster in Russia's history -- the undersea sounds of the dying Kursk and the surface voices of the confused rescue efforts. The tapes, flown to Washington, largely confirmed the theory that the tragedy was caused by internal explosions. They also confirmed the continuing value of sending eavesdroppers deep into the Barents Sea's perilous waters.

While many listening posts were quietly built in distant places with tongue-twisting names, others were built much closer to home. On an ancient English estate, an elephant cage rose like a modern-day Stonehenge. Chicksands Priory, in what is today Bedfordshire, dates to the time of William the Conqueror.

Once home to an order of Gilbertine monks and nuns, by World War II Chicksands had become host to a secret Royal Air Force intercept station. In 1948 the U.S. Air Force moved in and began eavesdropping on Soviet communications. By mid-December of the same year Chicksands was intercepting 30,000 five-figure groups of coded traffic a day. Three years later, however, that number had skyrocketed to 200,000 groups a day.

Communications security operators at Chicksands also began intercepting U.S. Air Force communications. The operation was aimed at analyzing Air Force voice, Morse code, and teletypewriter radio transmissions for violations of security. If they could read the messages or pick up clues to pending operations, it was assumed, so could Soviet eavesdroppers.

Earl Richardson arrived at Chicksands to join the Security Service in 1953, fresh out of communications school at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Sitting in front of a Hammarlund Super-Pro SP-600 high-frequency receiver mounted in a rack, he would slowly turn the half. dozen black dials. His job was to search for sensitive U.S. Air Force messages mistakenly sent in the clear; or identify lazy communicators using made-up voice codes in a poor attempt to mask classified information. The results were put in "Transmission Security Analysis Reports" and sent out to offending commands. There, the radio operator would receive a stern lecture and warning. According to one former Chicksands operator, "Much of the caution was perverse and focused on not being caught again by the Security Service, which in time came to be perceived as an enemy more real than the Warsaw Pact."

Another elephant cage quietly rose in the Scottish village of Edzell, a farming area nestled in the foothills of the Grampian Hills, thirty-five miles south of Aberdeen. It replaced listening posts in Bremerhaven, Germany, and in Morocco, and soon became host to Army and Air Force eavesdroppers as well. A key target was the shadowy Soviet merchant fleet.


While NSA concentrated on building its electronic wall around the Communist world, much of the Southern Hemisphere- South America and Africa -- escaped close scrutiny. That was one of the key reasons for building a Sigint navy. As the ships slid out of dry dock, they began hauling their antennas and eavesdroppers to places too difficult to reach with land- based listening posts and too remote for regular airborne missions.

Tired of the daily routine at the listening post in Bremerhaven, Aubrey Brown volunteered for a ship NSA was having converted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was late on a winter night when he arrived. As he boarded the gray-hulled USS Oxford, the decks were littered with acetylene tanks, welder's torches, and buckets of iron rivets. After sea trials off Norfolk, Virginia, the ship set sail for South America, a continent brimming with signals for its virgin ears, on January 4, 1962.

At the time, U.S. officials feared that the Communist "fever" that had struck Cuba would spread throughout the continent. Later that month, in Punta del Este, a beach resort in Uruguay, foreign ministers from the Organization of American States were planning to meet to discuss many of these issues. The meeting was seen by the US. State Department as an opportunity to push for collective action against Cuba, such as a resolution that all countries still having diplomatic and commercial ties with that nation move to break them. It was thus a logical place for the Oxford's first mission.

As the Oxford sailed south, intercept operators eavesdropped on one of the assigned targets, government communications links in British Guyana, considered very sensitive because it belonged to our close Sigint partner, England.

Arriving off Montevideo, on the north shore of the Rio de la Plata estuary; the Oxford was almost unnoticed amid the fleet of cargo ships heavy with wool, hides, and textiles. On board, hidden below decks, the intercept operators tuned in, listening for telephone calls and messages to and from the delegates attending the conference a few miles east at the resort.

Afterward, they moved a short distance west, up the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires. "We would go into bays to intercept microwave links, and to really intercept that well you had to have your receiving antenna in between their transmitting antenna and their receiving antenna. So to do this we would get into bays," said George A. Cassidy, an Elint specialist who sailed on a later Oxford South American cruise. For microwave communications, which contain a great deal of telephone and other voice communications, the Elint operators used a piece of equipment called the RYCOM, which received the signal and then broke it into hundreds of channels. "We were intercepting South American military voice traffic," said Cassidy. "We would record on magnetic recorders."

In addition to receivers, a row of nearly a dozen printers constantly pounded out intercepted teletype messages. "If it started printing out five-number code groups, then we knew we had something," said Cassidy. "And if it was Cyrillic, which was really a good find, then we had linguists aboard that could read it ... If it was a frequency that nobody had noted before, and it was five-number code groups, that was a keeper.. We would save those and they would go back to NSA."

Another piece of equipment in the Elint spaces was so secret that it was hidden even from the captain, although not for national security reasons. Forbidden to have a TV on the ship, the intercept crew nevertheless rigged up a small one and attached it to one of the rotating intercept antennas. 1t was painted gray, and "Special Access" was written on it. "The captain came in for inspection and had no idea what it was.... said Cassidy, a veteran of submarine espionage missions on the USS Halfbeak.

Upon leaving Buenos Aires on its first South American journey, the Oxford headed for another target on its list, a large atomic research station in Argentina's southern Patagonia region. However, according to Aubrey Brown, "the weather conditions were so bad we couldn't get into that position. We tried to do it for days, but we finally had to turn around and come back."

While off the coast, the intercept operators did pick up information that the president of Argentina had been overthrown. They whipped off Flash message to NSA, but because of atmospheric conditions, instead of three to five minutes, it took hours to send. "By the time it got there I'm sure it was old news," said Brown. Although the ship had the moon-bounce dish, according to Brown it seldom worked. "The moon-bounce mission was more cover story than anything else," he said. "There were only one or two guys that were working on it. We may have used it once or twice. It was mostly cover story."

On the way north, more than fifty miles offshore, they ran into trouble. "At one point when we were off Argentina," said Brown, "we were pursued by an Argentine warship because we were not flying the flag.... So they couldn't identify us, didn't know what nationality. It was a relatively old Argentinean naval vessel, but it was a warship. It pursued us because it wanted to know what kind of ship we were. It was very unusual not to have colors. Nothing flying from the mast. So we ran from it. They pursued us but we were monitoring all the traffic to and from the ship, which was all Morse code. We finally outran them."

Another of the Oxford's missions was to attempt to locate spies in South America who were thought to be communicating by ham radio. "So we set off on this fool's mission to monitor all the ham communications in Latin America for these spies who were communicating with each other on ham radio," said Brown. "And of course there was nothing there."

Finally the ship pulled into Rio de Janeiro. Brazil had great influence within Latin America and was another major NSA target. Key elections were scheduled for May and the CIA had spent truckloads of money to secretly influence the outcome. Using several phony front organizations, the CIA dumped some $12 million, and possibly as much as $20 million, on anticommunist candidates.

The eavesdroppers had good fortune. The Brazilian navy welcomed the NSA ship and put it in their naval area. Even better, the mooring they were' assigned lay between two microwave links carrying sensitive Brazilian naval communications. According to Brown, the mooring "put the guys in the rear section, the Elint people, in direct line of all the Brazilian navy microwave communications. We copied everything we could when we pulled into port."

Passing through the Caribbean on their way back to the United States, the Sigint operators on the Oxford were often instructed by NSA to pay particular attention to communication links between Fort-de- France, the capital of Martinique in the French West Indies, and Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa. For years Aime Cesaire, the Martinican writer and former Communist, had led an independence movement on the island. Along with Leopold Sedar Senghor, the president of Senegal, they were founders of the Negritude movement, which protested French colonial rule. "Every time we got it [the link] up they wanted copy from that," said George Cassidy. "It had something to do with the Soviets. They [the intercepted messages] were code groups."

Cassidy added, "A lot of times we would get messages from NSA or NSG [Naval Security Group] and they would say, 'Here's a list of frequencies, keep an eye on these things.' It was like going hunting. That was the mindset we were in. We were on the ship and we were hunting for these things and when we found them we felt pretty good."

Like South America, Africa was becoming "hearable" as a result of NSA's eavesdropping navy.


In its earliest days, NSA had planned for its fleet of spy ships to be small, slow, civilian-manned trawlers rather than the large floating listening posts such as the USS Oxford. The model was to be the Soviet trawler fleet that loitered off such places as the space launch center at Cape Canaveral and the large submarine base at Charleston, South Carolina. "I was called to Washington in the mid-fifties and asked could we monitor a Soviet Navy maneuver," recalled retired Navy Captain Phil H. Bucklew, who was involved in the Navy's Special Warfare program at the time. "They wanted me to rig a fishing boat with electronic equipment and operate it in the Caspian Sea at a time of the Soviet maneuvers and asked, 'Is it feasible?' I replied, 'I guess it's feasible; it's starting from scratch. I don't welcome the opportunity but I believe we would be the most capable source if you decide to do it.' I heard nothing more on that."

Instead of fishing trawlers with their limited space, the NSA chose to build its eavesdropping fleet with small and ancient cargo vessels. "I was probably the father of it at NSA," said Frank Raven, former chief of G Group, which was responsible for eavesdropping on the non-Commu nist world. "It was one of the first projects that I started when I got to G Group.... What we wanted was a slow tub, that was civilian, that could mosey along a coast relatively slowly, take its time at sea."

The first to join the Sigint navy was the USNS Valdez, which at 350 feet long was considerably smaller and slower than the Oxford. In fact, its call sign was "Camel Driver." Run by the civilian Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) rather than the U.S. Navy, it was powered by a straight-drive, 1,750-horsepower Bush and Sulzer diesel engine, and had a six-foot screw with a six-foot pitch.

In December 1961, the Valdez sailed to Cape Town, South Africa, where it became NSA's African Queen." By the time it arrived, antennas bristling from its deck and masts, it was a salty sailor. Built in 1944 at the Riverside Yard in Duluth, Minnesota, it had spent most of its life as a seagoing pickup truck, hugging coastlines as it transported barrels of nails one way and bales of cotton another. It was named after a Medal of Honor winner killed in action near Rosenkrantz, France, in the waning days of World War II.

"On her maiden voyage she picked up Chinese telemetry signals, a first," said Raven. From Cape Town, the ship also eavesdropped on Soviet missile tests. As listening posts in Turkey and Iran collected telemetry on the launch of ICBMs from Kapustin Yar, the Valdez would be in position in the South Atlantic. There it could easily pick up the signals from the missile as it headed for its target area southwest of what is now Namibia.

Shortly after the Valdez reached Cape Town, a second ship, the USNS Lieutenant James E. Robinson, also became operational. A third, the USNS Sergeant Joseph E. Muller, was still undergoing conversion. More ships were planned, but Navy officials objected, arguing that future NSA spy ships must be Navy vessels. "They complained very bitterly about the speed of the Valdez," said Frank Raven. "After all, it could make six knots if the wind were blowing right.... Well, if you had a crisis in the Pacific and your ship was in the Atlantic you couldn't get it there in time. This was the sort of argument."

As a result, NSA's navy switched from civilian Valdez-type ships to the U.S. Navy Oxford-type ships, a decision that Raven greatly objected to on the grounds that the civilian ships were far less conspicuous. "The Valdez was my dream ship," he said. "She was the damnedest tub. One of our stock jokes was that we had a bow wave painted on the thing -- just so it would appear she was moving."

While the Oxford was to be NSA's ears along South America, the Valdez was to be its floating listening post along the coasts of Africa. It and its sister ships had the advantage of being little noticed as they bobbed like corks riding the tide along a coastline. At eight to ten knots, the coastal transports had exactly half the speed of the Oxford. They also cost about half a million dollars per year less to operate than the Ox. Also, being outside the Navy and run by civilian masters, the Valdez-type ships could cut through the cumbersome bureaucracy: they could operate at sea for longer periods, and overhauls could be performed in foreign ports rather than U.S. Navy facilities.

On the other hand, its speed allowed the Oxford to react more quickly when needed and also enabled it to conduct "shadow missions," following suspicious foreign ships. And the larger number of signals intelligence personnel, six officers and 110 enlisted men, versus 4 officers and 91 enlisted for the Valdez, enabled the Oxford to target and intercept more communications. "The bigger ships," said Marshall S. Carter, "could carry so much more equipment, so much more sophisticated equipment, so much better antennas."

Getting its reams of intercepts to headquarters was a major problem for NSA's African Queen." As it eavesdropped along the East African coast, the ship would pull into ports and a crewmember, in civilian clothes, would hand-carry the pouches of intercepts to the nearest American embassy. The documents would then be flown back to NSA by diplomatic courier. But some ports, such as Mombasa, Kenya, were not near any American diplomatic facilities. A crewmember would have to I fly with the material to Nairobi, where the closest American embassy was located. This greatly worried NSA: the crewmembers did not have diplomatic immunity, so the pouches could be opened or seized by customs officials, who would find copies of their own government's secret communications. "Revelation of some sensitive material could prove extremely embarrassing to the U.S.," said one NSA report that discussed the problem.

During the Valdez's slow crawl up and down the long African coasts, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian linguists eavesdropped on a continent in chaos, tearing itself away from its old colonial bosses only to come under the violent domination of new; Cold War masters. In the waves and swells of the Indian Ocean off Tanzania, intercept operators carefully twisted their dials hoping to pick up communications between Dar es Salaam and Havana. In April 1965, the Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara, wearing an olive-green beret and smoking a cigar, quietly arrived in the Congo with a force of Cuban guerrilla fighters. They saw the struggle by supporters of the murdered Patrice Lumumba against Joseph-Desire Mobutu and his American and Belgian backers as a continuation of a worldwide revolution against imperialism. They came to lend their support and expertise in guerrilla warfare.

The intercept operators knew that Dar es Salaam was serving as a communications center for the fighters, receiving messages from Castro in Cuba and relaying them on to the guerrillas deep in the bush. Guevara transmitted his progress reports and requests for supplies back through that same channel. Every day at 8:00 A.M., 2:30 P.M., and 7:00 P.M., one of Guevara's radio operators would also make contact with the jungle base at Kigoma.

But Guevara knew the dangers posed by sloppy and too frequent use of radios. "It seems excessive to me," he cautioned one of his fighters, "to communicate three times a day with the other side and twice a day with Dar es Salaam. Soon you won't have anything to say, the gasoline will be used up and codes can always be broken. This is without considering that planes can locate the base. Apart from the technical conditions, I recommend that you analyze the possibility of having normal daily communication with Kigoma at a set time once a day for extraordinary news and once every two or three days with Dar es Salaam. That will allow us to save gasoline. They should be at night, and the radio should be protected against an air attack. I think your idea of the shortwave is a good one, with simple codes that are changed frequently."

Despite his caution, the signals to and from Che Guevara were easy pickings for the Valdez.


The Valdez, one small ship monitoring an enormous continent, was later joined by the USS Liberty, a large floating listening post like the Oxford A veteran of World War II like the Valdez, the Liberty had also served honorably during the Korean War, making the lonely transit across the Pacific eighteen times to bring supplies to American forces fighting there. Worn, its hull streaked with rust, the ship was finally retired to a naval boneyard in 1958,"but five years later it was recalled to active duty for service in the Cold War and fitted with four .50-caliber machine guns -- two forward and two aft. Its next war would prove to be the most deadly of all.

As the Valdez crawled up the east coast of Africa, Liberty moseyed down the west coast, its forty-five antennas tuned in to a continent convulsing. Cruising slowly in calm seas near the entrance to the Congo River, intercept operators kept an eye on the endless trail of debris washing into the ocean. "Those of us aboard Liberty waited to see if any bodies surfaced," said one crewmember; "loss of life was an everyday occurrence." But separated from the deadly shoreline by a dozen miles of ocean, the sailors on the spy ship felt relatively safe. Suddenly, however, that all changed.

As he did every morning, Bobby Ringe went to the mess hall, quickly downed his breakfast, and then went topside for a few minutes of fresh air and sun before lining up for muster. Within a few hours, however, he was doubled over in excruciating pain. The ship's doctor determined that Ringe had appendicitis and needed immediate surgery. But before the operation, Ringe needed to be anesthetized and the only means available was the administration of a spinal tap, a procedure familiar to the doctor and his corpsman. As the anesthesia began to flow from the syringe, however, Ringe began violent convolutions. Without anesthetic an operation was out of the question.

After some quick messages between the Liberty and the headquarters for the Atlantic fleet, it was determined that there was only one way to save Ringe's life. He had to be transported to Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo (not to be confused with Mobutu's similarly named Congo), where a U.S. Navy plane would be waiting to fly him to a hospital in Tripoli, Libya. But this meant a dangerous cruise up the Congo River, deep into the violent madness they were eavesdropping on: a forbidden voyage for a ship full of spies.

Commander Daniel T. Wieland, the captain of the Liberty, turned his ship toward the wide mouth of the Congo -- "an immense snake uncoiled," wrote Joseph Conrad, "with its head in the sea ... and its tail lost in the depths of the land." Although his charts of the river were very old and out-of-date, Wieland gambled that if he held the ship close to the center of the waterway he would not run aground. As the broad Atlantic disappeared behind, the verdant coastline closed in ahead, like a pair of green pincers. Life slowly began materializing from every. direction as the poky gray ship, like an awkward tourist, disappeared into the heart of Africa. Dozens of pirogues, huge hollowed-out hardwood trees, bobbed and weaved in the current. Aboard larger, flat-bottom boats, traders offered such goods as tortoises, bats, and baskets of caterpillars. In the distance was a "pusher," a double-decker boat pushing half a dozen barges teeming with humanity, a floating city of perhaps five thousand people. The pusher was on its way to Stanleyville, twelve hundred winding miles into the jungle.

It was night by the time the Liberty reached Brazzaville. Captain Wieland cut his engines and allowed the river's strong current to bring 'her to a stop. The anchor was dropped and crewmen quickly swung the emergency ladder into place. Ringe was carefully lowered into a boat that took him to shore and the waiting aircraft.

As the excitement died down, the crew quickly became aware that this was not going to be a simple mooring. Gathering around the aft of the ship was a growing number of small boats and barges. Soon the flotilla became a blockade. Across the river from Brazzaville was Leopoldville, capital of the other Congo, Mobutu's Congo. For years Brazzaville had served as home to a number of rebel factions fighting against the Leopoldville government. The fleet of boats had been sent from Leopoldville accompanied with a demand for an inspection visit in the morning. Officials worried that the ship was secretly supplying arms for guerrilla fighters in Brazzaville.

To allow representatives of one of the ship's eavesdropping targets to come aboard for an inspection was unthinkable, but there was little they could do about it. Everywhere there were copies of secret intercepted messages and tapes, perhaps even containing the words and voices of some of those on the inspection party. Encrypted, high-priority messages were sped to the director of NSA and Atlantic Fleet Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. While the Navy responded with a message saying they had no objection to the inspection, NSA became apoplectic. "DIRNSA [Director, NSA] responded saying there was no way an inspection team would board Liberty," said Robert Casale, one of the enlisted cryptologists on board.

An escape plan was quickly devised. Curtains were drawn, all unnecessary lights were turned off, noise was kept to a minimum, and topside activity was completely halted. "The ship, for all intents and purposes," said Casale, "visibly disappeared." At 11:00 P.M., the ship's winch slowly began raising the anchor. The idea was to allow the Congo River's strong current to turn the ship away from the land and downriver. As the anchor pulled free and the ship began to turn, moans and creaks could be heard from the old hull. When the bow was pointing downriver, the engines were started, the gears shifted to forward, and the ship began vibrating fore and aft. The Liberty lurched ahead and began picking up speed, ramming the fragile boats and sending Congolese men and women tumbling into the dark, dangerous river. "There was an enormous sound of disintegrating wood and other sounds that we never heard before," recalled Casale. "We could only imagine the boats and barges blockading us being destroyed by the Liberty's bow as she sought the sanctuary of the Atlantic Ocean."

When word finally passed that the, Liberty had cleared Congolese waters and had made it to the open ocean, a cheer resounded throughout the ship. "We had chanced fate and were successful," said Casale.
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Part 1 of 3



For four years NSA's African Queen" lumbered inconspicuously up and down the wild and troubled East African coast with the speed of an old sea turtle. By the spring of 1967, the tropical waters had so encrusted her bottom with sea life that her top speed was down to between three and five knots. With Che Guevara long since gone back to Cuba, NSA's G Group, responsible for the non-Communist portion of the planet, decided to finally relieve the Valdez and send her back to Norfolk, where she could be beached and scraped.

It was also decided to take maximum advantage of the situation by bringing the ship home through the Suez Canal, mapping and charting the radio spectrum as she crawled slowly past the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. "Now, frankly," recalled Frank Raven, former chief of G Group, "we didn't think at that point that it was highly desirable to have a ship right in the Middle East; it would be too explosive a situation. But the Valdez, obviously coming home with a foul bottom and pulling no bones about it and being a civilian ship, could get away with it." It took the ship about six weeks to come up through the canal and limp down the North African coast past Israel, Egypt, and Libya.

About that same time, the Valdez's African partner, the USS Liberty, was arriving off West Africa, following a stormy Atlantic crossing, for the start of its fifth patrol. Navy Commander William L. McGonagle, its newest captain, ordered the speed reduced to four knots, the lowest speed at which the Liberty could easily answer its' rudder, and the ship began its slow crawl south. On May 22, the Liberty pulled into Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast, for a four-day port call.

Half the earth away, behind cipher-locked doors at NSA, the talk was not of possible African coups but of potential Middle East wars. The indications had been growing for weeks, like swells before a storm. On the Israeli-Syrian border, what started out as potshots at tractors had quickly escalated to cannon fire between tanks. On May 17, Egypt (then known as the United Arab Republic [UAR]) evicted UN peacekeepers and then moved troops to its Sinai border with Israel. A few days later, Israeli tanks were reported on the Sinai frontier, and the following day Egypt ordered mobilization of 100,000 armed reserves. On May 23, Gamal Abdel Nasser blockaded the Strait of Tiran, thereby closing the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping and prohibiting unescorted tankers under any flag from reaching the Israeli port of Ela1. The Israelis declared the action "an act of aggression against Israel" and began a full-scale mobilization.

As NSA's ears strained for information, Israeli officials began arriving in Washington. Nasser, they said, was about to launch a lopsided war against them and they needed American support. It was a lie. In fact, as Menachem Begin admitted years later, it was Israel that was planning a first strike attack on Egypt. "We had a choice," Begin said in 1982, when he was Israel's prime minister. "The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."

Had Israel brought the United States into a first-strike war against Egypt and the Arab world, the results might have been calamitous. The USSR would almost certainly have gone to the defense of its Arab friends, leading to a direct battlefield confrontation between U.S. and Soviet forces. Such a dangerous prospect could have touched off a nuclear war.

With the growing possibility of U.S. involvement in a Middle East war, the Joint Chiefs of Staff needed rapid intelligence on the ground situation in Egypt. Above all, they wanted to know how many Soviet troops, if any, were currently in Egypt and what kinds of weapons they had. Also, if U.S. fighter planes were to enter the conflict, it was essential to pinpoint the locations of surface-to-air missile batteries. If troops went in, it would be vital to know the locations and strength of opposing forces.

Under the gun to provide answers, officials at NSA considered their options. Land-based stations, like the one in Cyprus, were too far away to collect the narrow line-of-sight signals used by air defense radar, fire control radar, microwave communications, and other targets.

Airborne Sigint platforms -- Air Force C-130s and Navy EC-121s -- could collect some of this. But after allowing for time to and from the "orbit areas," the aircrews would only have about five hours on station- too short a time for the sustained collection that was required. Adding aircraft was also an option but finding extra signals intelligence planes would be very difficult. Also, downtime and maintenance on those aircraft was greater than for any other kind of platform.

Finally there were the ships, which was the best option. Because they could sail relatively close, they could pick up the most important signals. Also, unlike the aircraft, they could remain on station for weeks at a time, eavesdropping, locating transmitters, and analyzing the intelligence. At the time, the USS Oxford and Jamestown were in Southeast Asia; the USS Georgetown and Belmont were eavesdropping off South America; and the USNS Muller was monitoring signals off Cuba. That left the USNS Valdez and the USS Liberty. The Valdez had just completed a long mission and was near Gibraltar on its way back to the United States. On the other hand, the Liberty, which was larger and faster, had just begun a new mission and was relatively close, in port in Abidjan.

Several months before, seeing the swells forming, NSA's G Group had drawn up a contingency plan. It would position the Liberty in the area of "L0L0" (longitude 0, latitude 0) in Africa's Gulf of Guinea, concentrating on targets in that area, but actually positioning her far enough north that she could make a dash for the Middle East should the need arise. Despite the advantages, not everyone agreed on the plan. Frank Raven, the G Group chief, argued that it was too risky. "The ship will be defenseless out there," he insisted. "If war breaks out, she'll be alone and vulnerable. Either side might start shooting at her.... I say the ship should be left where it is." But he-was overruled.

On May 23, having decided to send the Liberty to the Middle East, G Group officials notified John Connell, NSA's man at the Joint Reconnaissance Center. A unit within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the JRC was responsible for coordinating air, sea, and undersea reconnaissance operations. At 8:20 that spring evening, amid the noisy clatter of teletype machines, a technician tapped out a brief Flash message to the Liberty:


In the coal-black Ivoirian night, an island of light lit up the end of the long wooden pier where the USS Liberty lay docked. Beyond, in the harbor, small dots of red and green blinked like Christmas-tree lights as hulking cargo ships slowly twisted with the gentle tide.

It was around 3:45 A.M. when Lieutenant Jim O'Connor woke to a knock on his stateroom door. The duty officer squinted as he read the message in the red glow of an emergency light. Still half asleep, he mumbled a curse and quickly threw on his trousers. "It was a message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff," O'Connor recalled telling his cabinmate. "Whoever heard of JCS taking direct control of a ship?" Within minutes reveille sounded and the Liberty began to shudder to life. Less than three hours later, the modern skyline of Abidjan disappeared over the stern as the ship departed Africa for the last time. Silhouetted against the rising sun was the large moon-bounce antenna on the rear deck, pointing straight up as if praying.

For eight days, at top speed, the bow cut a silvery path through 3,000 miles of choppy Atlantic Ocean. The need for linguists was especially critical on the Liberty, which, because of her West African targets, carried only French and Portuguese language experts. Therefore, five Arabic linguists -- two enlisted Marines and three NSA civilians -- were ordered to Rota to rendezvous with the Liberty. Although the ship already had numerous Russian linguists, it was also decided to add one more, a senior analytical specialist.

NSA had originally wanted to also put Hebrew linguists on the ship, but the agency just didn't have enough. "I mean, my God," said Frank Raven, "you're manning a crisis; where are you going to get these linguists from? You go out and ask the nearest synagogue? We got together every linguist we could manage and we not only sent them to Rota but then we have to back up every military station in the Middle East -- we're sending them into Athens, we're sending them into Turkey -- by God, if you can speak Arabic and you're in NSA you're on a plane!"

As the Liberty steamed northward, Marine Sergeant Bryce Lockwood was strapped in a signals intelligence plane flying 30,000 feet above the frigid Norwegian Sea off Iceland. Lockwood was an experienced signals intelligence intercept operator and Russian linguist; he and his crewmembers were shadowing the Russian Northern Fleet as it conducted summer war games. But the ferret operation had been plagued with problems. A number of the missions had been canceled as a result of aircraft equipment failures and the one Lockwood was on intercepted only about three minutes of Russian voice, which was so garbled that no one could understand it.

During the operation, Lockwood was temporarily assigned to the U.S. Navy air base at Keflavik, Iceland. But as the Russian exercise came to an end, he headed back to his home base, the sprawling Navy listening post at Bremerhaven, where he specialized in analyzing intercepted Russian communications. The plane flew first to Rota, where he was to catch another military flight back to Germany. However, because it was the Memorial Day weekend, few U.S. military flights were taking off; he was forced to spend the night. That afternoon Lockwood went to a picnic, had a few beers, and then went to bed early in his quarters.

About 2:00 A.M. he was suddenly woken up by some loud pounding on his door. Assuming it was just a few of his fellow Marines wanting to party, he pulled the cover over his head and ignored it. But the banging only got louder. Now angry, Lockwood finally threw open the door. Standing in front of him in the dim light was a sailor from the duty office. "I have a message with your name on it from the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he said somewhat quizzically. "You're assigned to join the USS Liberty at 0600 hours. You better get up and pack your seabag." It was a highly unusual order, a personal message from the JCS at two in the morning; Lockwood had little time to ponder it.

It was just an hour or so after dawn on the first of June when the Liberty slid alongside a pier in Rota. Already waiting for them were Lockwood and the five Arabic linguists. A short time later, thick black hoses, like boa constrictors, disgorged 380,000 gallons of fuel into the ship's tanks while perspiring sailors in dungarees struggled to load crates, of vegetables and other food. Several technicians also retrieved boxes of double-wrapped packages and brought them aboard. The packages contained supersensitive signals intelligence data left for them by the Valdez as she passed through Rota on the way back to Norfolk. Included were critical details on Middle East communication patterns picked up as the Valdez transited the area: "who was communicating on what links-Teletype, telephone, microwave, you name it," said Raven.

As she steamed west across the Mediterranean to Rota, the Valdez had also conducted "hearability studies" for NSA in order to help determine the best places from which to eavesdrop. Off the eastern end of Crete, the Valdez discovered what amounted to a "duct" in the air, a sort of aural pipeline that led straight to the Middle East. "You can sit in Crete and watch the Cairo television shows," said Raven. "If you're over flat water, basically calm water, the communications are wonderful." He decided to park the Liberty there.

But the Joint Chiefs of Staff had other ideas. In Rota, Commander McGonagle received orders to deploy just off the coasts of Israel and Egypt but not to approach closer than twelve and a half nautical miles to Egypt or six and a half to Israel. Following some repairs to the troublesome dish antenna, the Liberty cast off from Rota just after noon on June 2.

Sailing at seventeen knots, its top speed, the Liberty overtook and passed three Soviet ships during its transit of the Strait of Gibraltar. From there it followed the North African coastline, keeping at least thirteen miles from shore. Three days after departing Rota, on June 5, as the Liberty was passing south of Sicily, Israel began its long-planned strike against its neighbors and the Arab-Israeli war began.


On June 5, 1967, at 7:45 A.M. Sinai time (1:45 A.M. in Washington, D.C.), Israel launched virtually its entire air force against Egyptian airfields, destroying, within eighty minutes, the majority of Egypt's air power. On the ground, tanks pushed out in three directions across the Sinai toward the Suez Canal. Fighting was also initiated along the Jordanian and Syrian borders. Simultaneously, Israeli officials put out false reports to the press saying that Egypt had launched a major attack against them and that they were defending themselves.

In Washington, June 4 had been a balmy Sunday. President Johnson's national security adviser, Walt Rostow, even stayed home from the office and turned off his bedroom light at 11:00 P.M. But he turned it back on at 2:50 A.M. when the phone rang, a little over an hour after Israel launched its attack. "We have an FBIS (Foreign Broadcast Information Service] report that the DAR has launched an attack on Israel," said a husky male voice from the White House Situation Room. "Go to your intelligence sources and call me back," barked Rostow. Ten minutes later, presumably after checking with NSA and other agencies, the aide called back and confirmed the press story. "Okay, I'm coming in," Rostow said, and then asked for a White House car to pick him up.

As the black Mercury quickly maneuvered through Washington's empty streets, Rostow ticked off in his mind the order in which he needed answers. At the top of the list was discovering exactly how the war had started. A few notches down was deciding when to wake the president.

The car pulled into the Pennsylvania Avenue gate at 3:25 and Rostow was quickly on the phone with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who was still at home. "I assume you've received the Flash," he said. They agreed that, if the facts were as grim as reported, Johnson should be awakened in about an hour. Intelligence reports quickly began arriving indicating that a number of Arab airfields appeared to be inoperative and the Israelis were pushing hard and fast against the Egyptian air force.

Sitting at the mahogany conference table in the Situation Room, a map of Vietnam on the wall, Rostow picked up a phone. "I want to get through to the President," he said. "I wish him to be awakened." Three stories above, Lyndon Johnson picked up the phone next to his carved wood bedstead. "Yes," he said.

"Mr. President, I have the following to report." Rostow got right to business. "We have information that Israel and the DAR are at war." For the .next seven minutes, the national security adviser gave Johnson the shorthand version of what the United States then knew.

About the same time in Tel Aviv, Foreign Minister Abba Eban summoned U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour to a meeting in his office. Building an ever larger curtain of lies around Israel's true activities and intentions, Eban accused Egypt of starting the war. Barbour quickly sent a secret Flash message back to Washington. "Early this morning," he quoted Eban, "Israelis observed Egyptian units moving in large numbers toward Israel and in fact considerable force penetrated Israeli territory and clashed with Israeli ground forces. Consequently, GOI [Government of Israel] gave order to attack." Eban told Barbour that his government intended to protest Egypt's action to the UN Security Council. "Israel is [the] victim of Nasser's aggression," he said.

Eban then went on to lie about Israel's goals, which all along had been to capture as much territory as possible. "GOI has no rpt [repeat] no intention taking advantage of situation to enlarge its territory. That hopes peace can be restored within present boundaries." Finally, after half an hour of deception, Eban brazenly asked the United States to go up against the USSR on Israel's behalf. Israel, Barbour reported, "asks our help in restraining any Soviet initiative." The message was received at the White House at two minutes before six in the morning.

About two hours later, in fl- windowless office next to the War Room in the Pentagon, a bell rang five or six times, bringing everyone to quick attention. A bulky gray Russian Teletype suddenly sprang to life and keys began pounding out rows of Cyrillic letters at sixty-six words a minute onto a long white roll of paper. For the first time, an actual on-line encrypted message was stuttering off the Moscow-to-Washington hot line. As it was printing, a "presidential translator" -- a military officer expert in Russian-stood over the machine and dictated a simultaneous rough translation to a Teletype operator. He in turn sent the message to the State Department, where another translator joined in working on a translation on which both U.S. experts agreed.

The machine was linked to similar equipment in a room in the Kremlin, not far from the office of the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Known formally as the Washington-Moscow Emergency Communications Link (and in Moscow as the Molink), the hot line was activated at 6:30 P.M. on August 30, 1963, largely as a result of the Cuban missile crisis.

The message that June morning in 1967 was from Premier Alexei Kosygin. The Pentagon and State Department translators agreed on the translation:

Dear Mr. President,

Having received information concerning the military clashes between Israel and the United Arab Republic, the Soviet Government is convinced that the duty of all great powers is to secure the immediate cessation of the military conflict.

The Soviet Government has acted and will act in this direction. We hope that the Government of the United States will also act in the same manner and will exert appropriate influence on the Government of Israel particularly since you have all opportunities of doing so. This is required in the highest interest of peace.

A. Kosygin

Once the presidential translator finished the translation, he rushed it over to the general in charge of the War Room, who immediately called Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara several floors above. McNamara had arrived in his office about an hour earlier. "Premier Kosygin is on the hot line and asks to speak to the president," the War Room general barked. "'What should I tell him?"

"Why are you calling me?" McNamara asked.

"Because the hot line ends in the Pentagon," the general huffed. (McNamara later admitted that he had had no idea that the connection ended a short distance away from him.) "Patch the circuit over to the White House Situation Room, and I'll call the president," McNamara ordered.

McNamara, not having been in on the early morning White House calls, assumed Johnson would still be sleeping, but he put the call through anyway. A sergeant posted outside the presidential bedroom picked up the phone. "The president is asleep and doesn't like to be awakened," he told the Pentagon chief, not realizing that Johnson had been awake since 4:30 A.M. discussing the crisis. "I know that, hut wake him up," McNamara insisted.

"Mr. President," McNamara said, "the hot line is up and Kosygin wants to speak to you. What should we say?"

"My God," Johnson replied, apparently perplexed, "what should we say?" McNamara offered an idea: "I suggest I tell him you will be in the Situation Room in fifteen minutes. In the meantime, I'll call Dean and we'll meet you there." Within half an hour, an American-supplied Teletype was cranking out English letters in the Kremlin. Johnson told Kosygin that the United States did not intend to intervene in the conflict. About a dozen more hot-line messages followed over the next few weeks.


As the first shots of the war were being fired across the desert wasteland, NSA had a box seat. A fat Air Force C-130 airborne listening post was over the eastern Mediterranean flying a figure-eight pattern off Israel and Egypt. Later the plane landed back at its base, the Greek air force section of Athens International Airport, with nearly complete coverage of the first hours of the war.

From the plane, the intercept tapes were rushed to the processing center, designated USA-512J by NSA. Set up the year before by the U.S. Air Force Security Service, NSA's air arm, it was to process intercepts -- analyzing the data and attacking lower-level ciphers -- produced by Air Force eavesdropping missions throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. Unfortunately, they were not able to listen to the tapes of the war immediately because they had no Hebrew linguists. However, an NSA Hebrew linguist support team was at that moment winging its way to Athens. (To hide their mission and avoid the implication of spying on Israel, Hebrew linguists were always referred to as "special Arabic" linguists, even within NSA.)

Soon after the first CRITIC message arrived at NSA, an emergency notification was sent to the U.S. Navy's listening post at Rota. The base was the Navy's major launching site for airborne eavesdropping missions over the Mediterranean area. There the Navy's airborne Sigint unit, VQ-2, operated large four-engine aircraft that resembled the civilian passenger plane known as the Constellation, an aircraft with graceful, curving lines and a large three-section tail. Nicknamed the Willy Victor, the Ee-121M was slow, lumbering, and ideal for eavesdropping -- capable of long, twelve- to eighteen-hour missions, depending on such factors as weather, fuel, altitude, intercept activity, and crew fatigue.

Within several hours of the tasking message, the EC-121 was airborne en route to Athens, from where the missions would be staged. A few days before, a temporary Navy signals intelligence processing center had been secretly set up at the Athens airport near the larger U.S. Air Force Sigint facility. There, intercepts from the missions were to be analyzed and the ciphers attacked.

After landing, the intercept operators were bused to the Hotel Seville-in Iraklion near the Athens airport. The Seville was managed by a friendly Australian and a Greek named Zina; the crew liked the fact that the kitchen and bar never closed. But they had barely reached the lobby of the hotel when they received word they were to get airborne as soon as possible. "We were in disbelief and mystified," said one member of the crew. "Surely, our taskers did not expect us to fly into the combat zone in the dead of the night!" That was exactly what they expected.

A few hours later, the EC-121 was heading east into the dark night sky. Normally the flight took about two or three hours. Once over the eastern Mediterranean, they would maintain a dogleg track about twenty-five to fifty miles off the Israeli and Egyptian coasts at an altitude of between 12,000 and 18,000 feet. The pattern would take them from an area northeast of Alexandria, Egypt, east toward Port Said and the Sinai to the El Arish area, and then dogleg northeast along the Israeli coast to a point west of Beirut, Lebanon. The track would then be repeated continuously. Another signals intelligence plane, the EA3B, could fly considerably higher, above 30,000 to 35,000 feet.

On board the EC-121 that night was Navy Chief Petty Officer Marvin E. Nowicki, who had the unusual qualification of being a Hebrew and Russian linguist. "I vividly recall this night being pitch black, no stars, no moon, no nothing," he said. "The mission commander considered the precariousness of our flight. He thought it more prudent to avoid the usual track. If we headed east off the coast of Egypt toward Israel, we would look, on radar, to the Israelis like an incoming attack aircraft from Egypt. Then, assuming the Israelis did not attack us, when we reversed course, we would then appear on Egyptian radar like Israeli attack aircraft inbound. It, indeed, was a very dangerous and precarious situation."

Instead, the mission commander decided to fly between Crete and Cyprus and then head diagonally toward El Arish in the Sinai along an established civilian air corridor. Upon reaching a point some twenty-five miles northeast of El Arish, he would reverse course and begin their orbit.

"When we arrived on station after midnight, needless to say the 'pucker factor' was high," recalled Nowicki; "the crew was on high, nervous alert. Nobody slept in the relief bunks on that flight. The night remained pitch black. What in the devil were we doing out here in the middle of a war zone, was a question I asked myself several times over and over during the flight. The adrenaline flowed."

In the small hours of the morning, intercept activity was light, "The Israelis were home rearming and reloading for the next day's attacks, while the Arabs were bracing themselves for the next onslaught come daylight and contemplating some kind of counterattack," said Nowicki. "Eerily, our Comint and Elint positions were quiet." But that changed as the early- morning sun lit up the, battlefields. "Our receivers came alive with signals mostly from the Israelis as they began their second day of attacks," Nowicki remembered. Around him, Hebrew linguists were furiously "gisting" -- summarizing -- the conversations between Israeli pilots, while other crew members attempted to combine that information with signals from airborne radar obtained through electronic intelligence.

From their lofty perch, they eavesdropped like electronic voyeurs. The NSA recorders whirred as the Egyptians launched an abortive air attack on an advancing Israeli armored brigade in the northern Sinai, only to have their planes shot out of the air by Israeli delta-wing Mirage aircraft. At one point Nowicki listened to his first midair shootdown as an Egyptian Sukhoi-7 aircraft was blasted from the sky. "We monitored as much as we could but soon had to head for Athens because of low fuel," he said. "We were glad to get the heck out of there."

As they headed back, an Air Force C-130 flying listening-post was heading out to relieve them.


Down below, in the Mediterranean, the Liberty continued its slow journey toward the war zone as the crew engaged in constant general quarters drills and listened carefully for indications of danger. The Navy sent out a warning notice to all ships and aircraft in the area to keep at least 100 nautical miles away from the coasts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. But the Liberty was on an espionage mission; unless specifically ordered to change course, Commander McGonagle would continue steaming full speed ahead. Meanwhile, the Soviet navy had mobilized their fleet. Some twenty Soviet warships with supporting vessels and an estimated eight or nine submarines sailed toward the same flashpoint.

On hearing that war had started, Gene Sheck, an official in NSA's K Group section, which was responsible for managing the various mobile collection platforms, became increasingly worried about the Liberty. Responsibility for the safety of the ship, however, had been taken out of NSA's hands by the JCS and given to the Joint Reconnaissance Center. Nevertheless, Sheck took it upon himself to remind NSA's representative at the mc, John Connell, that during the Cuban missile crisis five years earlier, the Oxford had been pulled back from the Havana area. Then he asked if any consideration was being given to doing the same for the Liberty. Connell spoke to the ship movement officer at the JRC but they refused to take any action.

Although analysts in K Group knew of the Liberty's plight, those in G Group did not. Thus it was not until the morning of June 7 that an analyst rushed into Frank Raven's office and asked incredulously, "For God's sake, do you know where the Liberty is?" Raven, believing she was sitting off the east end of Crete as originally planned, had barely begun to answer when the analyst blurted out, "They've got her heading straight for the beach!" By then the Liberty was only about ten hours from her scheduled patrol area, a dozen miles off Egypt's Sinai Desert.

"At this point," recalled Raven, "I ordered a major complaint [protest] to get the Liberty the hell out of there! As far as we [NSA] were concerned, there was nothing to be gained by having her in there that close, nothing she could do in there that she couldn't do where we wanted her.... She could do everything that the national requirement called for [from the coast of Crete]. Somebody wanted to listen to some close tactical program or some communications or something which nobody in the world gave a damn about -- local military base, local commander. We were listening for the higher echelons. Hell, you don't want to hear them move the tugboats around and such, you want to know what the commanding generals are saying."

The JRC began reevaluating the Liberty's safety as the warnings mounted. The Egyptians began sending out ominous protests complaining that US. personnel were secretly communicating with Israel and were possibly providing military assistance. Egypt also charged that US. aircraft had participated in the Israeli air strikes. The charges greatly worried American officials, who feared that the announcements might provoke a Soviet reaction. Then the Chief of Naval Operations questioned the wisdom of the Liberty assignment.

As a result of these new concerns, the JRC sent out a message indicating that the Liberty's operational area off the Sinai was not set in stone but was "for guidance only," Also, it pulled the ship back from 12-1/2 to 20 nautical miles from the coast. By now it was about 6:30 P.M. in Washington, half past midnight on the morning of June 8 in Egypt, The Liberty had already entered the outskirts of its operational area and the message never reached her because of an error by the US. Army Communications Center at the Pentagon.

About an hour later, with fears mounting, the JRC again changed the order, now requiring that Liberty approach no closer than 100 miles to the coasts of Egypt and Israel. Knowing the ship was getting dangerously close, Major Breedlove in the IRC skipped the normal slow message system and called Navy officials in Europe over a secure telephone to tell them of the change. He said a confirming message would follow. Within ten minutes the Navy lieutenant in Europe had a warning message ready.

But rather than issue the warning, a Navy captain in Europe insisted on waiting until he received the confirmation message. That and a series of Keystone Kops foul-ups by both the Navy and Army -- which again misrouted the message, this time to Hawaii -- delayed sending the critical message for an incredible sixteen and a half hours. By then it Was far too late. More than twenty years had gone by since the foul-up of warning messages at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, yet it was as if no lesson had ever been learned.

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Postby admin » Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:13 pm

Part 2 of 3

At 5:14 A.M. on Thursday, June 8, the first rays of sun spilled softly over the Sinai's blond waves of sand. A little more than a dozen miles north, in the choppy eastern Mediterranean, the Liberty continued eastward like a lost innocent, 600 miles from the nearest help and oblivious to at least five warning messages it never received. The "Plan of the Day" distributed throughout the ship that morning gave no hint of what was in store. "Uniform of the Day" for officers was "tropical wash khaki" and, for enlisted men, "clean dungarees." The soda fountain, crewmembers were informed, would be open from 6:00 P.M. until 7:30 P.M.

Just after sunup, Duty Officer John Scott noticed a flying boxcar making several circles near the ship and then departing in the direction of Tel Aviv. Down in the NSA spaces, Chief Melvin Smith apparently also picked up signals from the plane, later identified as Israeli. Shortly after the plane departed, he called up Scott and asked if he had had a close air contact recently. Scott told him he had, and Smith asked which direction it had gone in. "Tel Aviv," said Scott. "Fine, that's all I want to know," replied Smith. Scott glanced up at the American flag, ruffling in a twelve-knot breeze, to check the wind direction, and then scanned the vast desert a little more than a dozen miles away. "Fabulous morning," he said without dropping the stubby binoculars from his eyes.

But the calmness was like quicksand -- deceptive, inviting, and friendly, until too late. As the Liberty passed the desert town of El Arish, it was closely watched. About half a mile away and 4,000 feet above was an Israeli reconnaissance aircraft. At 6:03 A.M. the naval observer on the plane reported back to Israeli naval headquarters. "What we could see was the letters written on that ship," he said. '"And we gave these letters to the ground control." The letters were "GTR- 5," the Liberty's identification. "GTR" stood for "General Technical Research" -- a covert designation for NSA's fleet of spy ships.

Having passed El Arish, the Liberty continued on toward the Gaza Strip. Then, about B:30 A.M., it made a strange, nearly 180-degree turn back in the direction of El Arish and slowed down to just five knots. The reason for this maneuver was that the ship had at last reached Point Alpha, the point on the map where it was to begin its back-and-forth dogleg patrol of the Sinai coast.

For some time, Commander McGonagle had been worried about the ship's proximity to the shore and about the potential for danger. He called to his cabin Lieutenant Commander David E. Lewis, head of the NSA operation on the ship. "How would it affect our mission if we stayed farther out at sea?" McGonagle asked. "It would hurt us, Captain," Lewis replied. "We want to work in the UHF [ultra-high-frequency] range. That's mostly line-of-sight stuff. If we're over the horizon we might as well be back in Abidjan. It would degrade our mission by about eighty percent." After thinking for a few minutes, McGonagle made his decision. "Okay," he said. "We'll go all the way in."

The reconnaissance was repeated at approximately thirty-minute intervals throughout the morning. At one point, a boxy Israeli air force Noratlas NORD 2501 circled the ship around the starboard side, proceeded forward of the ship, and headed back toward the Sinai. "It had a big Star of David on it and it was flying just a little bit above our mast on the ship," recalled crewmember Larry Weaver. "We really thought his wing was actually going to clip one of our masts.... And I was actually able to wave to the co-pilot, a fellow on the right-hand side of the plane. He waved back, and actually smiled at me. I could see him that well. I didn't think anything of that because they were our allies. There's no question about it. They had seen the ship's markings and the American flag. They could damn near see my rank. The under way flag was definitely flying. Especially when you're that close to a war zone."

By 9:30 A.M. the minaret at El Arish could be seen with the naked eye, like a solitary mast in a sea of sand. Visibility in the crystal clear air was twenty-five miles or better. Through a pair of binoculars, individual buildings were clearly visible a brief thirteen miles away. Commander McGonagle thought the tower "quite conspicuous" and used it as a navigational aid to determine the ship's position throughout the morning and afternoon. The minaret was also identifiable by radar.

Although no one on the ship knew it at the time, the Liberty had suddenly trespassed into a private horror. At that very moment, near the minaret at El Arish, Israeli forces were engaged in a criminal slaughter.

From the first minutes of its surprise attack, the Israeli air force had owned the skies over the Middle East. Within the first few hours, Israeli jets pounded twenty-five Arab air bases ranging from Damascus in Syria to an Egyptian field, loaded with bombers, far up the Nile at Luxor. Then, using machine guns, mortar fire, tanks, and air power, the Israeli war machine overtook the Jordanian section of Jerusalem as well as the west bank of the Jordan River, and torpedo boats captured the key Red Sea cape of Sharm al-Sheikh.

In the Sinai, Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers pushed toward the Suez Canal along all three of the roads that crossed the desert, turning the burning sands into a massive killing field. One Israeli general estimated that Egyptian casualties there ranged from 7,000 to 10,000 killed, compared with 275 of his own troops. Few were spared as the Israelis pushed forward.

A convoy of Indian peacekeeper soldiers, flying the blue United Nations flag from their jeeps and trucks, were on their way to Gaza when they met an Israeli tank column on the road. As the Israelis approached, the UN observers pulled aside and stopped to get out of the way. One of the tanks rotated its turret and opened fire from a few feet away. The Israeli tank then rammed its gun through the windshield of an Indian jeep and decapitated the two men inside. When other Indians went to aid their comrades, they were mowed down by machine-gun fire. Another Israeli tank thrust its gun into a UN truck, lifted it, and smashed it to the ground, killing or wounding all the occupants. In Gaza, Israeli tanks blasted six rounds into UN headquarters, which was flying the UN flag. Fourteen UN members were killed in these incidents. One Indian officer called it deliberate, cold-blooded killing of unarmed UN soldiers. It would be a sign of things to come.

By June 8, three days after Israel launched the war, Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai had become nuisances. There was no place to house them, not enough Israelis to watch them, and few vehicles to transport them to prison camps. But there was another way to deal with them.

As the Liberty sat within eyeshot of El Arish, eavesdropping on surrounding communications, Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners. In the shadow of the El Arish mosque, they lined up about sixty unarmed Egyptian prisoners, hands tied behind their backs, and then opened fire with machine guns until the pale desert sand turned red. Then they forced other prisoners to bury the victims in mass graves. "I saw a line of prisoners, civilians and military," said Abdelsalam Moussa, one of those who dug the graves, "and they opened fire at them all at once. When they were dead, they told us to bury them." Nearby, another group of Israelis gunned down thirty more prisoners and then ordered some Bedouins to cover them with sand.

In still another incident at El Arish, the Israeli journalist Gabi Bron saw about 150 Egyptian POWs sitting on the ground, crowded together with their hands held at the backs of their necks. "The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death," Bron said. "I witnessed the executions with my own eyes on the morning of June eighth, in the airport area of El Arish."

The Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki, who worked in the army's history department after the war, said he and other officers collected testimony from dozens of soldiers who admitted killing POWs. According to Yitzhaki, Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai, including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish.

Ironically, Ariel Sharon, who was capturing territory south of El Arish at the time of the slaughter, had been close to massacres during other conflicts. One of his men during the Suez crisis in 1956, Arye Biro, now a retired brigadier general,. recently admitted the unprovoked killing of forty-nine prisoners of war in the Sinai in 1956. "I had my Karl Gustav [weapon] I had taken from the Egyptian. My officer had an Uzi. The Egyptian prisoners were sitting there with their faces turned to us. We turned to them with our loaded guns and shot them. Magazine after magazine. They didn't get a chance to react." At another point, Biro said, he found Egyptian soldiers prostrate with thirst. He said that after taunting them by pouring water from his canteen into the sand, he killed them. "If I were to be put on trial for what I did," he said, "then it would be necessary to put on trial at least one-half the Israeli army, which, in similar circumstances, did what I did." Sharon, who says he learned of the 1956 prisoner shootings only after they happened, refused to say whether he took any disciplinary action against those involved or even objected to the killings.

Later in his career, in 1982, Sharon would be held "indirectly responsible" for the slaughter of about 900 men, women, and children by Lebanese Christian militia at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps following Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Despite his grisly past, or maybe because of it, in October 1998 he was appointed minister of foreign affairs in the cabinet of right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sharon later took over the conservative Likud Party. On September 28, 2000, he set off the bloodiest upheaval between Israeli forces and Palestinians in a generation, which resulted in a collapse of the seven-year peace process. The deadly battles, which killed over 200 Palestinians and several Israeli soldiers, broke out following a provocative visit by Sharon to the compound known as Haram as-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews. Addressing the question of Israeli war crimes, Sharon said in 1995, "Israel doesn't need this, and no one can preach to us about it -- no one."

Of the 1967 Sinai slaughter, Aryeh Yitzhaki said, "The whole army leadership, including [then] Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff [and later Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin and the generals knew about these things. No one bothered to denounce them." Yitzhaki said not only were the massacres known, but senior Israeli officials tried their best to cover them up by not releasing a report he had prepared on the murders in 1968.

The extensive war crimes were just one of the deep secrets Israel had sought to conceal since the start of the conflict. From the very beginning, an essential element in the Israeli battle plan seemed to have been to hide much of the war behind a carefully constructed curtain of lies. Lies about the Egyptian threat, lies about who started the war, lies to the American president, lies to the UN Security Council, lies to the press, lies to the public. Thus, as the American naval historian Dr. Richard K. Smith noted in an article on the Liberty for United States Naval Institute Proceedings, "any instrument which sought to penetrate this smoke screen so carefully thrown around the normal 'fog of war' would have to be frustrated."

Into this sea of lies, deception, and slaughter sailed the USS Liberty, an enormous American spy factory loaded with $10.2 million worth of the latest eavesdropping gear. At 10:39 A.M., the minaret at El Arish was logged at seventeen miles away, at bearing 189 degrees. Sailing at five knots, the Liberty was practically treading water.

By 10:55 A.M., senior Israeli officials knew for certain that they had an American electronic spy in their midst. Not only was the ship clearly visible to the forces at El Arish, it had been positively identified by Israeli naval headquarters.

The Israeli naval observer on the airborne reconnaissance mission that had earlier observed the Liberty passed on the information to Commander Pinchas Pinchasy, the naval liaison officer at Israeli air force headquarters. "I reported this detection to Naval Headquarters," said Pinchasy, "and I imagine that Naval Headquarters received this report from the other channel, from the Air Force ground control as well." Pinchasy had pulled out a copy of the reference book Jane's Fighting Ships and looked up the "GTR-5" designation. He then sent a report to the acting chief of naval operations at Israeli navy headquarters in Haifa. The report said that the ship cruising slowly off El Arish was "an electromagnetic audio-surveillance ship of the U.S. Navy, named Liberty, whose marking was GTR-5."

Not only did the ship have "GTR-5" painted broadly on both sides of its bow and stern, it also had its name painted in large, bold, black letter" "U.S.S. LIBERTY."

Although no one on the Liberty knew it, they were about to have some company.


"We were 'wheels in the well' from Athens about mid-morning," said Marvin Nowicki, who was aboard the EC-121 headed back to the war zone. In the rear NSA spaces, the crew strapped on their seat belts. It was an everyday routine. The VQ-2 squadron would fly, on average, six to twelve missions per month against Israel and the Arab countries of the Middle East. Exceptions took place when higher-priority Soviet targets came up, for example when the Soviet fleet conducted exercises in the Mediterranean or Norwegian Sea. Nowicki himself accumulated over 2,000 hours in such spy planes over his career.

Back at Athens Airport, the 512J processing center had been beefed up to help analyze the increasing flow of intercepts. Three NSA civilian Hebrew linguists had arrived and were attacking the backlog of recording tapes. The pile had grown especially large because the Air Force had no Hebrew linguists for their C-130 Sigint aircraft. "As it turns out," said Nowicki, "they were blindly copying any voice signal that sounded Hebrew. They were like vacuum' cleaners, sucking every signal onto their recorders, with the intercept operators not having a clue as to what the activity represented."

In charge of the half-dozen Elint specialists aboard the EC-121, searching for radar signals and analyzing their cryptic sounds, was the evaluator, who would attempt to make sense of all the data. Elsewhere, several intercept operators were assigned to monitor VHF and UHF radio-telephone signals. In addition to Chief Nowicki, who could translate both Hebrew and Russian, there were two other Hebrew and two Arabic linguists on board.

Soon after wheels-up from Athens, a security curtain was pulled around the "spook spaces" to hide the activity from members of the flight crew who did not have a need to know. In front of the voice-intercept operators were twin UHF/VHF receivers, essential because the Israelis mostly used UHF transceivers, while the Arabs used Soviet VHF equipment. To record all the traffic, they had a four-track voice recorder with time dubs and frequency notations. Chief Nowicki, the supervisor, had an additional piece of equipment: a spectrum analyzer to view the radio activity in the form of "spikes" between 100 to 150 megahertz and 200 to 500 megahertz. It was very useful in locating new signals.

About noon, as they came closer to their orbit area, the activity began getting hectic. Fingers twisted large black dials, sometimes quickly and sometimes barely at all. ""When we arrived within intercept range of the battles already in progress," Nowicki recalled, "it was apparent that the Israelis were pounding the Syrians on the Golan Heights. Soon all our recorders were going full blast, with each position intercepting signals on both receivers."

In addition to recording the voices of the Israeli and Egyptian troops and pilots, the linguists were frantically writing down gists of voice activity on logs and shouting to the evaluator what they were recording. The evaluator in turn would then direct his Elint people to search for corresponding radar activity. At other times, the Elint operators would intercept a radar signal from a target and tip off the linguists to start searching for correlating voice activity. A key piece of equipment was known as Big Look. It enabled the Elint operators to intercept, emulate, and identify the radar signals, and to reverse-locate the -- -to trace them back to their source.


Sixty miles north of Tel Aviv, atop Mount Carmel, Israel's naval command post occupied a drab former British Royal Air Force base built in the 1920s. Known as Stella Maris, it contained a high-ceilinged war room with a large map of Israel and its coastal areas on a raised platform. Standing above it, senior naval officials could see the location of ships in the area, updated as air reconnaissance passed on the changing positions of various ships. Since dawn that morning, the Liberty had been under constant observation. "Between five in the morning and one in the afternoon," said one Liberty deck officer, "I think there were thirteen times that we were circled."

About noon at Stella Maris, as the Liberty was again in sight of El Arish and while the massacres were taking place, a report was received from an army commander there that a ship was shelling the Israelis from the sea. But that was impossible: The only ship in the vicinity of El Arish was the Liberty, and she was eavesdropping, not shooting. As any observer would immediately have recognized, the four small defensive 50mm machine guns were incapable of reaching anywhere near the shore, thirteen miles away, let alone the buildings of El Arish. In fact, the maximum effective range of such guns was just 2,200 yards, a little over a mile. And the ship itself, a tired old World War II cargo vessel crawling with antennas, was unthreatening to anyone -- unless It was their secrets, not their lives, they wanted to protect.

By then the Israeli navy and air force had conducted more than six hours of close surveillance of the Liberty off the Sinai, even taken pictures, and must have positively identified it as an American electronic spy ship. They knew the Liberty was the only military ship in the area. Nevertheless, the order was given to kill it. Thus, at 12:05 P.M. three motor torpedo boats from Ashdod departed for the Liberty, about fifty miles away. Israeli air force fighters, loaded with 30mm cannon ammunition, rockets, and even napalm, then followed. They were all to return virtually empty.

At 1:41 P.M., about an hour and a half after leaving Ashdod, the torpedo boats spotted the Liberty off El Arish and called for an immediate strike by the air force fighters.


On the bridge of the Liberty, Commander McGonagle looked at the hooded green radar screen and fixed the ship's position as being 25-1/2 nautical miles from the minaret at El Arish, which was to the southeast. The officer of the deck, Lieutenant (junior grade) Lloyd Painter, also looked at the radar and saw that they were 17th miles from land. It was shortly before two o'clock in the afternoon.

McGonagle was known as a steamer, a sailor who wants to constantly feel the motion of the sea beneath the hull of the ship, to steam to the next port as soon as possible after arriving at the last. "He longed for the sea," said one of his officers, "and was noticeably restless in port. He simply would not tolerate being delayed by machinery that was not vital to the operation of the ship." He was born in Wichita, Kansas, on November 19, 1925, and his voice still had a twang. Among the first to join the post-World War II Navy, he saw combat while on a minesweeper during the Korean War, winning the Korean Service Medal with six battle stars. Eventually commanding several small service ships, he had taken over as captain of the Liberty about a year earlier, in April 1966.

A Chief of Naval Operations once called the Liberty "the ugliest ship in the Navy," largely because in place of powerful guns it had strange antennas protruding from every location. There were thin long-wire VLF antennas, conical electronic- countermeasure antennas, spiracle antennas, a microwave antenna on the bow, and whip antennas that extended thirty- five feet. Most unusual was the sixteen-foot dish-shaped moon-bounce antenna that rested high on the stern.

Despite the danger, the men on the ship were carrying on as normally as possible. Larry Weaver, a boatswain's mate, was waiting outside the doctor's office to have an earache looked at. Muscular at 184 pounds, he exercised regularly in the ship's weight room. Planning to leave the Navy shortly, he had already applied for a job at Florida's Cypress Gardens as a water skier. With the ability to ski barefoot for nine miles, he thought he would have a good chance.

As for Bryce Lockwood, the Marine senior Russian linguist who had been awakened in the middle of a layover in Rota, Spain, and virtually shanghaied, his wife and daughter had no idea where he was. Having boarded the ship on such short notice, Lockwood had gone to the small ship's store to buy some T-shirts and shorts. While waiting to go on watch, he was sitting on his bunk stamping his name in his new underwear.

On the stern, Stan White was struggling with the troublesome moon-bounce antenna. A senior chief petty officer, he was responsible for the complicated repair of the intercept and cipher gear on board. The giant dish was used to communicate quickly, directly, and securely with NSA back at Fort Meade, and for this purpose both locations had to be able to see the moon at the same time. But throughout the whole voyage, even back in Norfolk, the system was plagued with leaking hydraulic fluid. Now another critical part, the klystron, had burned out and White was attempting to replace it.

Below deck in the Research Operations Department, as the NSA spaces were known, Elint operators were huddled over round green scopes, watching and listening for any unusual signals. Charles L. Rowley, a first-class petty officer and a specialist in technical intelligence collection, was in charge of one of the Ehnt sections. "I was told to be on the lookout for a different type of signal," he said. "I reported a signal I thought was from a submarine.... I analyzed it as far as the length of the signal, the mark and space on the bods, and I could not break it, I didn't know what it was, I had no idea what it was .. and sent it in to NSA." But NSA had an unusual reaction: "I got my butt chewed out. They tried to convince me that it was a British double-current cable code and I know damn good and well that it wasn't." In fact, the blackness deep beneath the waves of the eastern Mediterranean was beginning to become quite crowded.

One deck down, just below the waterline, were the Morse code as well as Russian and Arabic voice-intercept operators, their "cans" tight against their ears. Lined up along the bulkheads, they pounded away on typewriters and flipped tape recorders on and off as they eavesdropped on the sounds of war. Among their key missions was to determine whether the Egyptian air force's Soviet-made bombers, such as the TU-95 aircraft thought to be based in Alexandria, were being flown and controlled by Russian pilots and ground controllers. Obtaining the earliest intelligence that the Russians were taking part in the fighting was one of the principal reasons for sending the Liberty so far into the war zone.

In another office, communications personnel worked on the ship's special, highly encrypted communications equipment.

Nearby in the Coordination -- "Co-ord" -- spaces, technicians were shredding all outdated documents to protect them from possible capture. Others were engaged in "processing and reporting," or P&R. "Processing and reporting involves figuring out who is talking," said Bryce Lockwood, one of the P&R supervisors, "where they're coming from, the other stations on that network, making some kind of sense out of it, forwarding it to the consumers, which primarily was the NSA, the CIA, JCS."

But as the real war raged on the shore, a mock war raged in the Coord spaces. One of the Arabic-language P&R specialists had developed a fondness for Egypt and had made a small Egyptian flag that he put on his desk. "The guys would walk by and they would take a cigarette lighter," recalled Lockwood, "and say, 'Hey, what's happening to the UAR [United Arab Republic, now Egypt] over there?' And they would light off his UAR flag and he would reach over and say, 'Stop that,' and put the fire out, and it was getting all scorched."

Then, according to Lockwood, some of the pro-Israel contingent got their revenge. They "had gotten Teletype paper and scotch-taped it together and with blue felt marking pens had made a gigantic Star of David flag. This thing was about six feet by about twelve feet-huge. And stuck that up on the starboard bulkhead."


"You'd better call the forward gun mounts," Commander McGonagle yelled excitedly to Lieutenant Painter. "I think they're going to attack!" The captain was standing on the starboard wing, looking at a number of unidentified jet aircraft rapidly approaching in an attack pattern.

Larry Weaver was still sitting outside the doctor's office when he first heard the sound. A few minutes before, an announcement had come over the speaker saying that the engine on the motor whaleboat was about to be tested. "All of a sudden 1 heard this rat-a-tat-tat real hard and the first thing I thought was, 'Holy shit, the prop came off that boat and went right up the bulkhead,' that's exactly what it sounded like. And the very next instant we heard the gong and we went to general quarters."

Stan White thought it sounded like someone throwing rocks at the ship. "And then it happened again," he recalled, "and then general quarters sounded, and by the captain's voice we knew it was not a drill. Shortly after that the wave-guides to the dish [antenna] were shot to pieces and sparks and chunks fell on me."

"I immediately knew what it was," said Bryce Lockwood, the Marine, "and I just dropped everything and ran to my GQ station which was down below in the Co-ord station."

Without warning the Israeli jets struck -- swept-wing Dassault Mirage IIICs. Lieutenant Painter observed that the aircraft had "absolutely no markings," so that their identity was unclear. He then attempted to contact the men manning the gun mounts, but it was too late. "I was trying to contact these two kids," he recalled, "and I saw them both; well, I didn't exactly see them as such. They were blown apart, but I saw the whole area go up in smoke and scattered metal. And, at about the same time, the aircraft strafed the bridge area itself. The quartermaster, Petty Officer Third Class Pollard, was standing right next to me, and he was hit."

With the sun at their backs in true attack mode, the Mirages raked the ship from bow to stern with hot, armor-piercing lead. Back and forth they came, cannons and machine guns blazing. A bomb exploded near the whaleboat aft of the bridge, and those in the pilothouse and the bridge were thrown from their feet. Commander McGonagle grabbed for the engine order annunciator and rang up all ahead flank.

"Oil is spilling out into the water," one of the Israeli Mirage pilots reported to base.

Charles L. Rowley, an electronics intelligence specialist who doubled as the ship's photographer, grabbed his Nikon and raced to the bridge to try to get a shot of the planes. Instead, the planes shot him. "They shot the camera right out of my hands," he recalled. "I was one of the first ones that got hit."

In the communications spaces, radiomen James Halman and Joseph Ward had patched together enough equipment and broken antennas to get a distress call off to the Sixth Fleet, despite intense jamming by the Israelis. "Any station, this is Rockstar," Halman shouted, using the Liberty's voice call sign. "We are under attack by unidentified jet aircraft and require immediate assistance."

"Great, wonderful, she's burning, she's burning," said the Israeli pilot.

As Bryce Lockwood rushed into the Co-ord unit, most of the intercept operators were still manning their positions. Suddenly one of the other Russian voice supervisors rushed over to him excitedly, having at last found what they had been looking for, evidence of Soviet military activity in Egypt. "Hey, Sarge, I found them, I found them," he said. "You found who?" Lockwood asked. "I got the Russkies."

Now the operators began frantically searching the airwaves, attempting to discover who was attacking them. At the same time, Lockwood and some others started the destruction procedure. The Marine linguist broke out the white canvas ditching bags, each about five feet tall. The bags were specially made with a large flat lead weight in the bottom and brass fittings that could be opened to let in the water so they would sink to the bottom faster. At the top was a rope drawstring. "We had a room where we did voice tape transcripts," said Lockwood, "and there were literally hundreds of reel-to-reel tapes in there that had to be put in those ditching bags. So we got these ditching bags and started putting these tapes in there. These were voice conversations of, mostly, DAR targets. All the tapes and transcripts were loaded in the bags, a lot of code manuals, and so forth."

At 2:09, the American aircraft carrier DSS Saratoga, operating near Crete, acknowledged Liberty's cry for help. "I am standing by for further traffic," it signaled.

After taking out the gun mounts, the Israeli fighter pilots turned their attention to the antennas, to sever the Liberty's vocal cords and deafen it so it could not call for help or pick up any more revealing intercepts. "It was as though they knew their exact locations," said Senior Chief Stan White. Lieutenant Commander Dave Lewis, in charge of the NSA operation on the ship, agreed. "It appears to me that every tuning section of every HF antenna had a hole in it," he said. "It took a lot of planning to get heat-seeking missiles aboard to take out our entire communications in the first minute of the attack. If that was a mistake, it was the best-planned mistake that has ever been perpetrated in the history of mankind."

Not hearing anything from the Saratoga for a few minutes, the radio operator repeated his call for help. "Schematic, this is Rockstar. We are still under attack by unidentified jet aircraft and require immediate assistance," But the Saratoga demanded an authentication code. Unfortunately, it had been destroyed during the emergency destruction and the Saratoga operator was giving him a hard time about it. "Listen to the goddamned rockets, you son-of-a-bitch," the Liberty radioman screamed into his microphone.

"He's hit her a lot," reported an Israeli Army commander at El Arish, where the war crimes were taking place. "There's black smoke, there's an oil slick in the water."

Then the planes attacked the bridge in order to blind her, killing instantly the ship's executive officer. With the Liberty now deaf, blind, and silenced, unable to call for help and unable to move, the Israeli pilots next proceeded to kill her. Designed to punch holes in the toughest tanks, the Israeli shells tore through the Liberty's steel plating like hot nails through butter, exploding into jagged bits of shrapnel and butchering men deep in their living quarters.

"Menachem, is he screwing her?" headquarters asked one of the pilots, excitedly.


As the Israelis continued their slaughter, neither they nor the Liberty crew had any idea that witnesses were present high above. Until now. According to information, interviews, and documents obtained for Body of Secrets, for nearly thirty- five years NSA has hidden the fact that one of its planes was overhead at the time of the incident, eavesdropping on what was going on below. The intercepts from that plane, which answer some of the key questions about the attack, are among NSA's deepest secrets.

Two hours before the attack, the Navy EC-121 ferret had taken off from Athens and returned to the eastern Mediterranean for its regular patrol. Now it was flying a diagonal track from Crete and Cyprus to El Arish and back. "When we arrived within intercept range of the battles already in progress," said Marvin Nowicki, "it was apparent that the Israelis were pounding the Syrians on the Golan Heights. Soon all our recorders were going full blast, with each position intercepting signals on both receivers [Hebrew and Arabic]. The evaluator called out many airborne intercepts from Arab and Israeli aircraft. We were going crazy trying to cope with the heavy activity."

Then, a few hours later, about the time the air attack was getting under way, Nowicki heard one of the other Hebrew linguists excitedly trying to get his attention on the secure intercom. "Hey, Chief," the linguist shouted, "I've got really odd activity on UHF. They mentioned an American flag. I don't know what's going on." Nowicki asked the linguist for the frequency and "rolled up to it." "Sure as the devil," said Nowicki, "Israeli aircraft were completing an attack on some object. I alerted the evaluator, giving him sparse details, adding that we had no idea what was taking place." For a while the activity subsided.


Deep down in the NSA spaces Terry McFarland, his head encased in ear~ phones, was vaguely aware of flickers of light coming through the bulkhead. He had no idea they were armor-piercing tracer bullets slicing through the Liberty's skin. The "flickers" were accompanied by a strange noise that sounded like chains being pulled across the bottom of the ship. Then McFarland looked up to see "Red" Addington, a seaman, race down the ladder from above with blood running down his right leg. "Somebody's up there shootin' at us," he said.

When the attack started, Larry Weaver had run to his general quarters station but it was located on an old helicopter pad that left him exposed and vulnerable. He grabbed for a dazed shipmate and pushed him into a safe corner. "I said, 'Fred, you've got to stay here, you've just got to because he's coming up the center,'" Weaver recalled. "I yelled, screaming at him probably, and finally he said he would stay." Then the only place Weaver could find to hide was a small chock, the kind used to hold lines. "I got in the fetal position," he said, "and before 1 closed my eyes I looked up and I saw the American flag and that was the last thing I saw before I was hit. And 1 closed my eyes just waiting for hell's horror to hit me. And 1 was hit by rocket and cannon fire that blew two and a half feet of my colon out and 1 received over one hundred shrapnel wounds. It blew me up in the air about four and a half, five feet. And just blood everywhere. It felt like a really hot electrical charge going through my whole body."

Stan White raced for the enclosed NSA spaces, cutting through the sick bay. "Torn and mutilated bodies were everywhere," he said. "Horrible sight! On the mess deck I ran into one of my ETs [electronics technicians], he had a hole in his shoulder and one you could see through in his arm. The sound of the shells and rockets was overwhelming and I can only tell you that I didn't know a person could be so terrified and still move."

Lloyd Painter was also trying to get to his general quarters station on the mess decks. "I was running as fast as I could," he recalled. "By the time I got to the Chief's Lounge, the entrance through the lounge to the mess docks, I saw [Petty Officer John C.] Spicher, our postal clerk, lying there cut in half with strafing."

As soon as the Mirages pulled away they were replaced by Super Mystere fighters which first raked the ship from stern to bow and then crisscrossed it broadside. A later analysis would show 821 separate hits on the hull and superstructure. Now in addition to rocket, cannon, and machine-gun fire, the Mysteres attacked with thousand-pound bombs and napalm. Deafening explosions tore through the ship and the bridge disappeared in an orange-and-blackball. Lying wounded by shrapnel, his blood draining into his shoe, was Commander McGonagle. Seconds later they were back. Flesh fused with iron as more strafing was followed by more rockets which were followed by napalm.

"He's going down low with napalm all the time," shouted someone with the Israeli Southern Command at El Arish, where soldiers were hiding the slaughtered prisoners under the sand.

Crisscrossing the ship almost every forty-five seconds, the Mysteres let loose more napalm -- silvery metallic canisters of jellied gasoline that turned the ship into a crematorium. Not satisfied, the flight leader radioed to his headquarters. "It would be a mitzvah [blessing] if we can get a flight with iron bombs," he said. "Otherwise, the Navy's going to get here and they're going to do the shooting." With the iron bombs, the pilot was hoping for the coup de grace -- to sink the ship before the Navy arrived to finish her off. In World War II, during the battle of Midway, American dive-bombers sank three Japanese aircraft carriers with such bombs in only ten minutes.

One of the quartermasters raced down to the mess deck. "The captain's hurt," he yelled to Lieutenant Painter, "and the operations officer was dead, and the executive officer is mortally wounded." Painter charged up to the bridge.

"Pay attention," one of the pilots told his headquarters. "The ship's markings are Charlie Tango Romeo 5," he said, indicating that the Liberty's identification markings were CTR-5. (Actually, they were GTR-5.) Then, with the American flag having been shot down during earlier passes, he added, "There's no flag on her."

"Leave her," replied headquarters.

As the last fighter departed, having emptied out its on-board armory and turned the Liberty's hull into a flaming mass of gray Swiss cheese, sailors lifted mutilated shipmates onto makeshift stretchers of pipe frame and chicken wire. Damage control crews pushed through passageways of suffocating smoke and blistering heat, and the chief petty officer's lounge was converted into a macabre sea of blood-soaked mattresses and shattered bodies. A later analysis said it would take a squadron of fifteen or more planes to do such damage as was inflicted on the ship.


At 2:24, minutes after the air attack, horror once again washed over the crew. Charles Rowley, the ship's photographer, was lying in the wardroom being treated for shrapnel wounds when armor-piercing bullets began penetrating the bulkhead. Through the porthole he saw three sixty-two-ton motor torpedo boats rapidly approaching in attack formation. Closing in at about forty knots, each of the French-built boats had a crew of fifteen and were heavily armed with a 40mm cannon, four 20mm cannons, and two torpedoes. Like a firing squad, they lined up in a row and pointed their guns and torpedo tubes at the Liberty's starboard hull. Seeing that the Israeli fighters had destroyed the American flag, Commander McGonagle ordered the signalman to quickly hoist another-this one the giant "holiday ensign," the largest on the ship.

Almost immediately, the boats opened up with a barrage of cannon fire. One armor-piercing bullet slammed through the ship's chart house and into the pilothouse, coming to rest finally in the neck of a young helmsman, killing him instantly. Three other crewmen were slaughtered in this latest shower of steel.


Back up in the EC-121 ferret, the Hebrew linguist called Nowicki again. "He told me about new activity and that the American flag is being mentioned again. I had the frequency but for some strange reason, despite seeing it on my spectrum analyzer, couldn't hear it on my receiver, so I left my position to join him to listen at his position. I heard a couple of references to the flag during an apparent attack. The attackers weren't aircraft; they had to be surface units (we later found out at USA512J it was the Israeli motor torpedo boats attacking the Liberty). Neither [the other Hebrew linguist] nor I had ever heard MTB attacks in voice before, so we had no idea what was occurring below us. I advised the evaluator; he was as mystified as we were."

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Postby admin » Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:13 pm

Part 3 of 3

"Stand by for torpedo attack, starboard side," McGonagle shouted frantically into the announcing system. The Israelis were ready for the kill. At 2:37 P.M., the safety plug was pulled from a 19-inch German-made torpedo on Motor Torpedo Boat 203. Seconds later it sped from its launcher and took direct aim at the Liberty's NSA spaces. Four other torpedoes -- more than enough to sink the largest aircraft carrier -- were also launched. Had all or most of them hit their mark, the Liberty's remaining life would have been measured in minutes. Through a miracle, only one struck home. But that hit was devastating.

Down in the NSA spaces, as the sound of shells hitting the hull grew louder, Petty Officer Ronnie Campbell jammed a sheet of paper into his typewriter and started pounding out a letter to his wife. "Dear Eileen," he started, "you wouldn't believe what's happening to us ..."

Nearby, Bryce Lockwood had been summoned to help carry the ditching bags up to the main deck and throw them overboard. He stepped from the NSA spaces out into the passageway and a few seconds later, he said, "There was just a -- I have the sense of a large object, and then a tremendous flash and explosion, just a sheet of flame. It was the torpedo -- I was less than ten feet from it. The first thought that crossed my mind -- 'Well, it looks like it's over with. I guess I'm coming home, Lord. At least Lois and the kids are taken care of.' There were twenty-five men that were killed all around me." The torpedo struck dead center in the NSA spaces, killing nearly everyone inside, some by the initial blast and others by drowning -- including Ronnie Campbell, who never finished his letter. "The whole irony," said Lockwood, "is that that Israeli torpedo struck within just a few feet of the Star of David flag that had been taped to the starboard bulkhead."

Frank Raven of G Group later talked to several of the few survivors from the NSA spaces. "They told me that they saw the torpedo ... in the room with them. The torpedo came right through the side of the ship before it exploded-they saw it before it exploded. They had the torpedo in the room with them. It came right through the side of the ship and they jumped behind desks and things of that sort and it went off."

Down on the mess deck, where many of the wounded were being treated, Donald W. Pageler had just finished giving blood. Following the torpedo-attack warning, someone told him to throw himself across the wounded. "I did just as I was told," he said.

Stan White heard the announcement just as he was about to go down a hatch. "'We knelt down and braced ourselves against the bulkheads and, waited. You could hear the shells from the torpedo boats hitting the ship -- seemed like a long time but wasn't, I'm sure. And then the torpedo hit. The ship was lifted up out of the water somewhat, the place filled with smoke, and the lights went out. I was praying before it hit, and after it hit I concluded the prayer with 'Please take care of my wife and two little children.' We had kids late in our marriage and I thought how little time I had had with them."

At the moment of the announcement, Larry Weaver, having had his colon blown out by a rocket, was lying on a table in sick bay. "I could feel a lot of warmth from the blood," he said. "They said, 'Stand by for torpedo run, starboard side.' And I said, 'Fred, get me a life jacket, get one on me.' ... Well we got hit by the torpedo and it's like a giant grabbed the ship and threw it.... And right afterwards they called [prepare to] abandon ship."

Despite his injuries, Weaver tried to make it to one of the life rafts. "And I was going as fast as I could and I remember my feet were going through blood that was running down the deck like a small river, I will never forget that." But by the time he reached his life raft, it had been destroyed. "My life raft was all blown to smithereens, there just wasn't anything left of it.... And there was a guy beside me, a couple feet beside me, and you could just hear the incoming shells. All of a sudden he was there and the next thing I knew he wasn't and I was slipping, trying to hold on to the rail, and there was a lot of blood and I looked down and T was standing on what was left of his thigh. I remember the skin and the hair from his legs underneath my foot. And I was sliding."

The firing continued, now from the torpedo boats. Weaver and a number of other wounded were placed on gurneys between metal barriers. "We were laying there," he recalled, "and if I was to summarize what it sounded like, we were all praying. And it just almost sounded like a guru type of chant, like a mum-mum-mum-mum, that's the way it sounded because all these guys were wounded and we were all praying and almost in the same tone. And J remember the sound of that. And we could hear them [shells] hitting the bulkhead, just unbelievable. I was so scared to close my eyes because I thought I would never open them again."

Still down near the NSA spaces was Bryce Lockwood, who had been knocked unconscious. When he awoke all he could feel was cold, frigid, oily water. Around him were more than two dozen dead intercept operators, analysts, and communications personnel. The water was pouring in from the massive torpedo hole below the waterline, and smoke, oil, and darkness filled the space. Lockwood heard a groan behind him and found one sailor alive, Petty Officer Joseph C. Lentini. The sailor's leg had been smashed by an armor-piercing bullet and then crushed by a bulkhead when the torpedo struck. In spite of the difficulties, Lockwood managed to free the sailor's leg, put him over his shoulder, and climb up the ladder to the next level, where he again passed out.

Once again he awoke as the water, climbing still higher, washed over him. Desperate to escape, he again put the sailor on his shoulder and climbed a second ladder-but now the top hatch had been sealed shut to help prevent the ship from sinking. Two, three, four times Lockwood dropped Lentini into the rising water as he pounded on the hatch with one hand, held a flashlight with the other, and screamed at the top of his lungs. Each time he would retrieve Lentini, reclimb the ladder and continue pounding. Finally, a sailor doing a damage control survey opened the hatch and found Lockwood with the wounded Lentini who, his leg shredded, was still clinging to life. Lockwood was later awarded the Silver Star for his heroism. Lentini survived. He was one of two sailors Lockwood saved.

Immediately after the attack, one of the boats signaled by flashing light, in English, "Do you require assistance?" McGonagle, with no other means to communicate, hoisted the flags indicating that the ship was maneuvering with difficulty and that they should keep clear. Instead, the torpedo boats continued to terrorize the crew, firing at the ship, at firefighters, at rescue personnel, and even at the life rafts in their racks. Larry Weaver, whose raft was destroyed, said: "They must have known where they [the rafts] were. They tried to blow them out in their racks."

To prevent anyone from escaping the badly wounded ship, the Israelis even destroyed the few surviving life rafts that were put into the water following the call to abandon ship. "I watched with horror as the floating life rafts were riddled with holes," said Lieutenant Lloyd Painter, in charge of the evacuation. "No survivors were planned for this day!" Stan White, the top enlisted man on the ship, also witnessed the lifeboat attack. "'When 'prepare to abandon ship' was announced, what was left of our lifeboats were released overboard; these were immediately machine-gunned by the torpedo boats. It was obvious that no one was meant to survive this assault."

Jumping overboard to escape the sinking ship was also not an option. "If you don't go down with the ship," said Seaman Don Pageler, "you're going to jump overboard. If you jump overboard, the way these people were attacking us, we knew they would shoot us in the water. We did firmly believe that there was no way they intended to capture anybody."

Earlier that day, the Israelis had massacred civilians and prisoners in the desert; now they were prepared to ensure that no American survived the sinking of the Liberty. Another witness to the lifeboat attacks was shipfitter Phillip F. Tourney. "As soon as the lifeboats hit the water they were sunk. They would shoot at us for target practice, it seemed like. They wanted to kill and maim and murder anyone they could.... One of the torpedo boats picked a life raft up and took it with them." "They made circles like they were getting ready to attack again," added former petty officer Larry B. Thorn, who also witnessed the sinking of the life rafts. "Our biggest fear was that the Israeli commandos ... would come back and get us that night and finish the job," said Phillip Tourney.

The Israelis, not knowing what intelligence NSA had picked up, would have had reason to suspect the worst -- that the agency had recorded evidence of the numerous atrocities committed that morning only a few miles away. This would be devastating evidence of hundreds of serious war crimes, approved by senior Israeli commanders.

Indeed, many Israeli communications had been intercepted. "We heard Israeli traffic," said section supervisor Charles L. Rowley. Much of what was recorded was to be listened to and analyzed later, either at the secret processing station in Athens or back at NSA.

As the Liberty continued to burn and take on water from the forty-four-foot hole in its starboard side, damage control crews dodged Israeli shells to try to save it. Commander McGonagle, however, was quietly considering killing it himself. He had glimpsed an Israeli flag on one of the torpedo boats, and he feared that next the Israelis would attempt to board the ship, kill everyone not yet dead, and capture the supersecret NSA documents. (Because of the constant strafing by the fighters and the torpedo boats, the crew had been unable to throw overboard any of the ditching bags.) Rather than let that happen, he told his chief engineer, Lieutenant George H. Golden, about the Israeli flag and, said Golden, "told me that he wanted to scuttle the ship. I told him that we were in shallow water [the depth was 35 to 40 fathoms], that it would be impossible to do that. If it came to that point we would need to get our wounded and everybody off the ship and move it out into deeper water where we can scuttle it. And he asked me how long it would take me to sink the ship. And I gave him a rough idea of how long it would take for the ship to sink after I pulled the plug on it. But we had to be out in deep water-we were too shallow, and people could get aboard the ship and get whatever that was left that some of them might want."


High above, the intercept operators in the EC-121 ferret continued to eavesdrop on voices from the war below, but they heard no more mentions of the American flag. "Finally," said Chief Nowicki, "it was time to return to Athens. We recorded voice activity en route home until the intercepts finally faded. On the way home, the evaluator and I got together to try to figure out what we copied. Despite replaying portions of the tapes, we still did not have a complete understanding of what transpired except for the likelihood that a ship flying the American flag was being attacked by Israeli air and surface forces."

After landing on the Greek air force side of the Athens airport, Nowicki and the intercept crew were brought directly to the processing center. "By the time we arrived at the USA-512J compound," he said, "collateral reports were coming in to the station about the attack on the USS Liberty. The first question we were asked was, did we get any of the activity? Yes, we dared to say we did. The NSA civilians took our tapes and began transcribing. It was pretty clear that Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats attacked a ship in the east Med. Although the attackers never gave a name or a hull number, the ship was identified as flying an American flag. We logically concluded that the ship was the USS Liberty, although we had no idea she was even in the area and could become the object of such an attack." At the time, based on the fractured conversations he heard on the intercepts, Nowicki just assumed that the attack was a mistake.

The question then was whether to send a CRITIC to NSA, CRITIC being the highest priority for intercept intelligence. "After much deliberation," Nowicki said, "we decided against the CRITIC because our information was already hours old. To meet CRITIC criteria, information should be within fifteen minutes of the event.... It had been quite a day and other days remained before us. We returned to the Hotel Seville for rest and relaxation, feeling a sense of exhilaration but not comprehending the chaos and calamity taking place on the Liberty at that very moment as she struggled to leave the attack area."


The message sent by the Liberty shortly after the attack requesting immediate help was eventually received by the Sixth Fleet, which was then south of Crete, 450 miles to the west. Suddenly high-level communications channels came alive. At 2:50 P.M. (Liberty time), fifty minutes after the first shells tore into the ship and as the attack was still going on, the launch decision was made. The aircraft carrier USS America, cruising near Crete, was ordered to launch four armed A-4 Skyhawks. At the same time, the carrier USS Saratoga was also told to send four armed A-1 attack planes to defend the ship. "Sending aircraft to cover you," the Sixth Fleet told the Liberty at 3:05 P.M. (9:05 A.M. in Washington). "Surface units on the way."

At 9:00 A.M. (3,00 P.M. Liberty) bells sounded and the first CRITIC message, sent by either the America or the Saratoga, stuttered across a role of white Teletype paper in NSA's Sigint Command Center. The senior operations officer then passed it on to Director Marshall Carter. With Carter in his ninth-floor office was Deputy Director Tordella. At 9:28 A.M. (3:28 P.M. Liberty) Carter sent out a CRITIC alert to all listening posts. "USS Liberty has been reportedly torpedoed by unknown source in Med near 32N 33E," said the message. "Request examine all communications for possible reaction/reflections and report accordingly."

Eleven minutes after the CRITIC arrived at NSA, the phone rang in the Pentagon's War Room and European Command Headquarters told the duty officer that the Liberty had been attacked by unknown jet fighters.

At that moment in Washington, President Johnson was at his desk, on the phone, alternately shouting at congressional leaders and coaxing them to support his position on several pieces of pending legislation. But four minutes later he was suddenly interrupted by Walt Rostow on the other line. "The Liberty has been torpedoed in the Mediterranean," Rostow told Johnson excitedly. A minute later, the adviser rushed into the Oval Office with a brief memorandum. "The ship is located 60 to 100 miles north of Egypt. Reconnaissance aircraft are out from the 6th fleet," it said. "No knowledge of the submarine or surface vessel which committed this act. Shall keep you informed."

In the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara called Carter at NSA for precise information on the ship, its personnel, and other details. Carter told him what he knew but said that the Naval Security Group, which manned and operated the ship, would have the most up-to-date facts. Carter told McNamara that he would have Captain Ralph E. Cook, the Security Group's director, call him immediately. Carter then called Cook's office, only to discover that he was at the dentist's. Cook's deputy, a Captain Thomas, got on the phone, and Carter told him to call McNamara at once. About ten minutes later McNamara again called Carter and said he still hadn't heard from anyone. After a few more minutes of crossed wires, McNamara and Thomas finally talked.

NSA's worst fears had come true. "After considerations of personnel safety," said Tordella, "one of General Carter's and my immediate concerns, considering the depth of the water and the distance of the ship off shore, had to do with the classified materials which she had on board." Tordella got on the phone to the Joint Reconnaissance Center and spoke to the deputy director, a Navy captain named Vineyard. "I expressed my concern that the written material be burned if at all possible and that the electronic equipment be salvaged if that were possible," he said.

But Tordella was not prepared for what he heard. According to NSA documents classified top secret/umbra and obtained for Body of Secrets, Tordella was told that some senior officials in Washington wanted above all to protect Israel from embarrassment. "Captain Vineyard had mentioned during this conversation," wrote Tordella, "that consideration was then being given by some unnamed Washington authorities to sink[ing] the Liberty in order that newspaper men would be unable to photograph her and thus inflame public opinion against the Israelis. I made an impolite comment about the idea." Almost immediately Tordella wrote a memorandum for the record, describing the conversation, and then locked it away.

Concern over the secrets on the ship grew and Carter said he was prepared to order the ship scuttled to prevent their loss. He only reconsidered when informed that the shallowness of the water made compromise of materials and equipment "a distinct possibility." Then he began worrying about the security of the material if the ship ended up sinking. "If it appeared the ship was going to sink," Carter told Vineyard, "it was essential that the security of the sinking site be maintained.... It would be necessary to get down and remove the sensitive material from the ship."

Also, there was discussion of sending in a replacement ship, the USS Belmont A cover story for the Liberty was then quickly devised. "She was a communications research ship that was diverted from her research assignment," it said, "to provide improved communication-relay links with the several US. embassies around the entire Mediterranean during the current troubles."

On the America and Saratoga, the pilots were instructed to "destroy or drive off any attackers who are clearly making attacks on the Liberty" They then catapulted into the air toward the Liberty at 3:45 P.M. Liberty time (9:46 A.M. "Washington).

At 4:00 PM. on the Liberty (10:00 A.M. Washington), the crew was still screaming for help. "Flash, flash, flash," Radioman Joe Ward shouted into his microphone. "I pass in the blind. [That is, he didn't know who was picking up the transmission.] We are under attack by aircraft and high-speed surface craft. I say again, flash, flash, flash." By then, unencrypted voice messages had been filling the open airwaves for two hours. If the Israelis were monitoring the communications, as they did continuously during the war, they would now have begun to worry how soon the American fighters would arrive.

From the White House Situation Room, Rostow phoned Johnson at 10:14 A.M. (4:14 P.M. Liberty) to tell him that the ship was "listing badly to starboard. The Saratoga has launched 4-A4's and 4-A1's." Johnson feared that the attack had been conducted by Soviet planes and submarines and that the United States was on the verge of war with Russia. Later he called all his advisers for an emergency meeting in the Situation Room.

About the same moment that Joe Ward was again pleading for help, Commander Ernest C. Castle, the U.S. naval attache in Tel Aviv, was summoned urgently to Israeli Defense Force Headquarters. There, he was told that Israeli air and sea forces had attacked the Liberty "in error." Castle raced back to the embassy and at 4: 14 P.M. Liberty time (10:14 P.M. Washington), he dashed off a Flash message to Washington concerning this development. Strangely, NSA claims that it first learned of Israel's involvement fifteen minutes before Castle was called by the Israeli Defense Forces and half an hour before Castle's Flash message. It has never been explained how NSA discovered this.

At the White House, Johnson was relieved to learn that the attackers were not Soviet or Egyptian. There would be no war today. But he became very worried that the Russians, through Sigint, radar, or observation, would become aware that a squadron of American fighters was streaking toward the war zone, and that if the USSR suspected that America had suddenly decided to become involved, it would launch an attack. So at 11:17 AM. (5:17 P.M. Liberty) he sent a hot- line message to Kosygin in Moscow.

The small office next to the War Room had lately become a busy place. Supervisor Harry O. Rakfeldt, a Russian- speaking Navy cryptologic chief, was already pounding out a hot-line message to Moscow, one of a number he had sent during the crisis, when the White House phone rang. Army Major Pawlowski, the presidential translator, picked it up, listened for a moment, then told Rakfeldt to notify Moscow to stand by for an emergency message. Immediately Rakfeldt stopped typing, dropped down several lines, and sent "Stand by for an emergency message." Then, as Major Pawlowski dictated, Rakfeldt typed the following alert:

We have just learned that USS Liberty, an auxiliary ship, has apparently been torpedoed by Israel Forces in error off Port Said. We have instructed our carrier Saratoga, now in the Mediterranean, to dispatch aircraft to the scene to investigate. We wish you to know that investigation is the sole purpose of this flight of aircraft and hope that you will take appropriate steps to see that proper parties are informed. We have passed the message to Chernyakov but feel that you should know of this development urgently.

The message arrived in the Kremlin at 11:24 A.M. Washington time; Kosygin replied about forty-five minutes later that he had passed the message on to Nasser.

Black smoke was still escaping through the more than 800 holes in the Liberty's hull, and the effort to hush up the incident had already begun. Within hours of the attack, Israel asked President Johnson to quietly bury the incident. "Embassy Tel Aviv," said a highly secret, very-limited-distribution message to the State Department, "urged de-emphasis on publicity since proximity of vessel to scene of conflict was fuel for Arab suspicions that U.S. was aiding Israel." Shortly thereafter, a total news ban was ordered by the Pentagon. No one in the field was allowed to say anything about the attack. All information was to come only from a few senior Washington officials.

At 11:29 A.M. (5:29 P.M. Liberty), Johnson took the unusual step of ordering the JCS to recall the fighters while the Liberty still lay smoldering, sinking, fearful of another attack, without aid, and with its decks covered with the dead, the dying, and the wounded. Onboard the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Geis, who commanded the carrier force in the Mediterranean, was angry and puzzled at the recall and protested it to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

Admiral Geis was shocked by what he heard next. According to information obtained for Body of Secrets, "President Lyndon Johnson came on with a comment that he didn't care if the ship sunk, he would not embarrass his allies." Admiral Geis told Lieutenant Commander David Lewis, the head of the NSA group on the Liberty, about the comment but asked him to keep it secret until after Geis died. It was a promise that Lewis kept.


The hole in the Liberty's twenty-three-year-old-skin was nearly wide enough to drive a bus through; the ship had a heavy list to starboard, most of its equipment was destroyed, thirty-two of its crew were dead (two others would later die) and two-thirds of the rest wounded; its executive officer was dead, and its commanding officer was badly hurt. Despite all this, the Liberty was heroically brought back to life and slowly made her way toward safer waters. To keep the ship from sinking, the hatches to the flooded NSA spaces had been dogged down, sealing the bodies of the twenty-five Sigint specialists inside.

Throughout the long night, propped up in a chair on the port wing of the bridge, Commander McGonagle continued to conn his ship, using; the North Star ahead and the long wake behind for direction. Shortly after dawn, 16-1/2 hours after the attack, help finally arrived. Rendezvousing with the Liberty, 420 miles east-southeast of Soudha Bay, Crete, were the American destroyers Davis and Massey.

Helicopters soon arrived and began lifting litters containing the most seriously wounded to the deck of the America, still 138 miles away. There they were transported by plane to Athens and then to the naval hospital in Naples. At the completion of the transfer, after eighteen continuous hours on the bridge, the weary skipper finally headed to what was left of his cabin. Despite his injuries, he remained with the ship until she docked in Malta.

As the wounded landed at Athens Airport, NSA civilians at USA 512J a short distance away finished transcribing most of the tapes from the previous day's EC-121 ferret mission. They then sent the raw information back to NSA over the agency's special channel, SPINTCOMM ("Special Intelligence Communications"). Later, the civilians were instructed to pack up the original tapes and send them by armed courier to NSA as soon as possible.

At NSA, concern had shifted from the rescue of the crew to the possible loss of sensitive documents from Liberty's ruptured signals intelligence spaces. Boats from the destroyers were ordered to search around the Liberty for two hours looking for classified papers that might be washing out from the gaping, pear-shaped hole. Later, as the Liberty sailed slowly toward Malta, a major concern was the possibility that Russian ships would attempt to retrieve the flotsam. "Do whatever is feasible to keep any Soviet ships out of Liberty's wake," the Sixth Fleet commander was told. "Maintain observation of Liberty's wake and if possible find out what sort of documents are being lost in the wake ... take whatever steps may be reasonable and appropriate to reduce possibility of compromise, noting that a compromise could have both political and technical aspects."

Like a shark sensing blood, a Soviet guided-missile destroyer did tag along with the Liberty for a while, but the two American destroyers and a fleet ocean tug trailed Liberty to recover any papers before the Russians had a chance to grab them. Along the way, the tug used boathooks and grab nets to pick up the top secret material. When the tug could not recover a document, it ran over it w1ith the propeller and then backed down over it to shred the paper into small pieces. Despite this vigilance, the bodies of five technicians washed out of the hole and were never recovered.

Another concern at Fort Meade was the three NSA civilian Arabic linguists on the ship. They had earlier been flown to Rota, where they joined the crew. One, Allen M. Blue, had been killed; another, Donald L. Blalock, had been injured; and a third, Robert L. Wilson, had survived unscathed. Marshall Carter ordered an NSA official to meet the ship in Malta and provide maximum assistance in getting Blalock and Wilson back to the United States as quickly and as quietly as possible.

Once the Liberty pulled into Malta on June 14, the effort to bury the incident continued at full speed ahead. A total news blackout was imposed. Crewmembers were threatened with courts-martial and jail time if they ever breathed a word of the episode to anyone -- including family members and even fellow crewmembers. "If you ever repeat this to anyone else ever again you will be put in prison and forgotten about," Larry Weaver said he was warned.

Now that the ship was safely in dry dock, the grisly task of searching the NSA spaces, sealed since the attack six days earlier, also began. ' "I took a crew .. down in the spaces to inventory the classified equipment and info," said f.ormer senior chief Stan White. "The smell was so awful it can't be described. We got the bodies out and then the pieces of bodies were picked up and put in bags and finally the inventory. The sights and smells I am still sometimes aware of today." Seaman Don Pageler also spent two and a half days helping to search and clean out the cavernous compartment. At one point he lifted a piece of equipment only to make a grim discovery. "Below it was this guy's arm.... I looked at the muscle structure and I knew whose arm it was. I didn't know him well but I knew who he was."

In July 1967, the Liberty returned to Norfolk from Malta. There it languished while NSA tried unsuccessfully to obtain $10.2 million from the Pentagon to restore her to signals intelligence operational status. When that effort failed, the Liberty was decommissioned, on June 28, 1968. In 1970 the ship was turned over to the U.S. Maritime Administration and sold for $101,666.66. In 1973 the ship came to an ignominious end in Baltimore's Curtis Bay shipyard as welders' torches at last did what the Israeli attack hadn't. She was cut up and sold for scrap.

On April 28, 1969, almost two years after the attack, the Israeli government finally paid about $20,000 to each of the wounded crewmen. This compensation was obtained, however, only after the men retained private counsel to negotiate with Israel's lawyers in Washington. A substantial portion of the claim, therefore, went to lawyers' fees. Ten months earlier, the Israelis had paid about $100,000 to each of the families of those killed.

Finally, the U.S. government asked a token $7,644,146 for Israel's destruction of the ship, even though $20 million had been spent several years earlier to convert her to a signals intelligence ship and another $10.2 million had gone for the highly sophisticated hardware. Yet despite the modest amount requested, and the agony its armed forces had caused, the Israeli government spent thirteen years in an unseemly battle to avoid paying. By the winter of 1980, the interest alone had reached $10 million. Israeli ambassador Ephraim Evron then suggested that if the United States asked for $6 million - and eliminated the interest entirely -- his country might be willing to pay. President Jimmy Carter, on his way out of office, agreed, and in December 1980 accepted the paltry $6 million.


In the days following the attack, the Israeli government gave the U.S. government a classified report that attempted to justify the claim that the attack was a mistake. On the basis of that same report, an Israeli court of inquiry completely exonerated the government and all those involved. No one was ever court-martialed, reduced in rank, or even reprimanded. On the contrary, Israel chose instead to honor Motor Torpedo Boat 20o, which fired the deadly torpedo at the Liberty. The ship's wheel and bell were placed on prominent display at the naval museum, among the maritime artifacts of which the Israeli navy was most proud.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Israel had attacked the ship and killed the American servicemen deliberately, the Johnson administration and Congress covered up the entire incident. Johnson was planning to run for president the following year and needed the support of pro-Israel voters. His administration's actions were disgraceful. Although Captain McGonagle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in saving the ship and bringing it back to safety, senior White House officials decided to keep the occasion as quiet as possible. Because the medal, the nation's highest honor, is only rarely awarded, it is almost always presented by the president in a high-profile White House ceremony. But McGonagle's award was given by the secretary of the Navy in a low-profile, hastily arranged gathering at the Washington Navy Yard, a scrappy base on the banks of the smelly Anacostia River.

"I must have gone to the White House fifteen times or more to watch the president personally award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Americans of special valor," said Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, who became Chief of Naval Operations within weeks of the attack. "So it irked the hell out of me when McGonagle's ceremony was relegated to the obscurity of the Washington Navy Yard and the medal was presented by the Secretary of the Navy. This was a back- handed slap. Everyone else received their medal at the White House. President Johnson must have been concerned about the reaction of the Israeli lobby."

Later, a naval officer connected with the awards told Jim Ennes, a lieutenant on the ship, the reason. "The government is pretty jumpy about Israel," he said. "The State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador if his government had any objections to McGonagle getting the medal. 'Certainly not!' Israel said. But to avoid any possible offense. McGonagle's citation does not mention Israel at all, and the award ceremony kept the lowest possible profile."

In the period immediately after the incident. several quick reviews were conducted by the Navy and CIA, among other agencies. However, they dealt principally with such topics as the failure of the Naval Communications System and how the crew of the ship performed during the crisis. No American investigators ever looked into the "why" question or brought the probe to Israel, the scene of the crime. Investigators simply accepted Israel's bizarre "mistake" report at face value. This was a document which included such statements as a claim by the torpedo-boat crew that the Liberty -- an ancient World War II cargo ship then loitering at five knots -- was attempting to escape at an incredible thirty knots (the Liberty's top speed was seventeen knots) -- outracing even their torpedo boats. This was the reason, the report said, for calling in the air force.

The Israeli report then said that their observers checked in Jane's Fighting Ships and misidentified the Liberty as El Quseir, an Egyptian troop and horse transport. But Jane's gave the top speed of El Quseir as only fourteen knots; how could a ship supposedly doing thirty knots have been mistaken for it? Jane's also contained details on the Liberty, the same details that Commander Pinchas Pinchasy, at air force headquarters, had used to positively identify the ship. (And Pinchasy had reported the identification to Israeli naval headquarters.)

The Israeli report also said that the whole reason for the attack was to stop the Liberty, with its few short-range machine guns, from bombarding the town of El Arish, more than a dozen miles away. This was nonsense.

Nevertheless, most of the U.S. investigations took the path of least resistance, the one onto which they were pushed by the White House, and accepted the "mistake" theory. Incredibly, considering that 34 American servicemen had been killed and 171 more wounded, and that a ship of the U.S. Navy had been nearly sunk (no U.S. naval vessel since World War II had suffered a higher percentage [69 percent] of battle casualties), Congress held no public hearings. With an election coming up, no one in the weak-kneed House and Senate wanted to offend powerful pro-Israel groups and lose their fat campaign contributions.

But according to interviews and documents obtained for Body of Secrets, the senior leadership of NSA, officials who had unique access to the secret tapes and other highly classified evidence, was virtually unanimous in their belief that the attack was deliberate. They strongly believed that Israel feared what the Liberty might have intercepted, and therefore ordered it killed leaving no survivors.

Israel has never wavered on one critical point: that no one ever saw a flag flying from the Liberty during either the air or sea attack, despite the virtually unanimous agreement among survivors that flags were flying during both periods. "Throughout the contact," said the "mistake" report, "no Israeli plane or torpedo boat saw an American or any other flag on the ship."

But former Chief Marvin Nowicki, the senior Hebrew linguist on the EC-121 flying above the scene, knows what he heard. "As I recall, we recorded most, if not all, of the attack," he said. "I heard a couple of references to the flag during an apparent attack." Nowicki, who later received a Ph.D. in political science and taught public administration at the college level, is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, who originally assumed his information would help clear Israel. Instead, it convicts the government. If the Israelis did see the flag, then the attack was coldblooded murder-like the hundreds of earlier murders committed by Israelis that day at El Arish.

As soon as the incident began, Marshall Carter appointed a small task force led by Walter Deeley, a senior official in the Production Organization, the agency's Sigint operations division. The task force was to keep track of all information regarding the Liberty and prepare a report for the director. Unlike the other probes, this one included all the signals intelligence details -- the intercept tapes from the EC-121, and inter views with the signals intelligence survivors from the Liberty. Because of the enormous secrecy in which NSA held its Sigint operations, and especially because the information involved its most secret activity -- eavesdropping on a close ally -- the details were never shared with anyone else. In the end, Walter Deeley came to the only possible conclusion, given his knowledge of Israel's intelligence capabilities. "There is no way that they didn't know that the Liberty was American," he said, suggesting premeditated murder.

NSA Director Carter agreed. "There was no other answer than that it was deliberate," he told the author in a 1980 interview, although he asked that the information be kept off the record at the time. Carter has since died.

NSA's deputy director, Dr. Louis Tordella, also believed that the Israeli attack was deliberate and that the Israeli government was attempting to cover it up. According to highly classified and long-hidden NSA documents obtained for Body of Secrets, Tordella not only put his belief in an internal memorandum for the record but also expressed his view to Congressman George Mahon (D-Texas) of the House Appropriations Committee. "Mr. Mahon probed several times to discover the reason for the Israeli attack," wrote Tordella on June 20, 1967, nearly two weeks after the incident. "I told him we simply did not know from either open or intelligence sources but that, by now, there probably was a fair amount of denial and cover-up by the Israelis for the sake of protecting their national position. He asked my private opinion of the attack and I said that, for what it was worth, I believed the attack might have been ordered by some senior commander on the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly suspected that the Liberty was monitoring his activities.

"He asked if a mistake of this sort was common or should be expected," Tordella continued. "I told him that I thought a ship the size of the Liberty was unlike and much larger than Egyptian ships and that an obviously cargo-type vessel should not reasonably be mistaken by com petent naval forces or air pilots for an Egyptian man-of-war. At best I estimated that the attacking ships and planes were guilty of gross negligence and carelessness." So angry was Tordella over the attack and cover-up that he scrawled across the top of the Israeli "mistake" report: "A nice whitewash."

Finally, U.S. Air Force Major General John Morrison, at the time the deputy chief -- and later chief -- of NSA's operations, did not buy the Israeli "mistake" explanation, either. "Nobody believes that explanation," he said in a recent interview with the author. "The only conjecture that we ever made that made any near sense is that the Israelis did not want us to intercept their communications at that time." When informed by the author of the gruesome war crimes then taking place at El Arish, Morrison saw the connection. "That would be enough," he said. "Twelve miles is nothing.... They wouldn't want us to get in on that." He added: "You've got the motive.... What a hell of a thing to do."

Even without knowledge of the murders taking place nearby in the desert, many in NSA's G Group, who analyzed the intercepts sent back by both the Liberty and the EC-121, were convinced that the attack was no mistake. And among the survivors of the Liberty, the conviction is virtually unanimous. "The Israelis got by with cold-blooded, premeditated murder of Americans on June 8, 1967," said Phillip F. Tourney, president of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, in July 2000. "There is widespread cynicism that our elected officials will not go up against the powerful Israeli lobby out of fear.. This cover-up must be investigated, now."

For more than thirty years, Captain William L. McGonagle refused to say a single word on the issue of whether the killing of his crew was done with foreknowledge or by mistake. Finally, dying of cancer in November 1998, he at last broke his long silence. "After many years I finally believe that the attack was deliberate," he said. "I don't think there has been an adequate investigation of the incident.... The flag was flying prior to the attack on the ship." McGonagle died less than four months later, on March 3, 1999, at the age of seventy-three.

Even without the NSA evidence, many people in the administration disbelieved the Israeli "mistake" report. "Frankly, there was considerable skepticism in the White House that the attack was accidental," said George Christian, Johnson's press secretary at the time. "I became convinced that an accident of this magnitude was too much to swallow. If it were a deliberate attack the question remains, of course, of whether it was a tactical decision on the part of elements of the Israeli military or whether it was ordered by high officials."

Another NSA review, conducted fifteen years later and classified Top Secret/Umbra, ridiculed the decision by the Israeli court of inquiry that accepted the "mistake" theory and exonerated all Israeli officials. "Exculpation of Israeli nationals," it said, "apparently not being hindmost in the court's calculations." Next the review accused the Israeli fighter pilots of outright perjury:

Though the pilots testified to the contrary, every official interview of numerous Liberty crewmen gives consistent evidence that indeed the Liberty was flying an American flag -- and, further, the weather conditions were ideal to assure its easy observance and identification. These circumstances -- prior identification of the Liberty and easy visibility of the American flag -- prompted the Department of State to inform the Israeli Government that "the later military attack by Israeli aircraft on the USS Liberty is quite literally incomprehensible. As a minimum, the attack must be condemned as an act of military recklessness reflecting wanton disregard for human life." (Emphasis in original.)

The pilots, said the report, were not the only ones lying: the story told by the torpedo-boat crewmen who blew up the ship -- after missing with their first four torpedoes -- was also unbelievable. The torpedo-boat crew claimed that they had mistaken the Liberty for an Egyptian troop transport, El Quseir. At the time of the attack, the Egyptian ship was rusting alongside a pier in the port of Alexandria, 250 miles from where the Liberty was attacked, and along that pier El Quseir remained throughout the war. The location of every Egyptian ship would have been a key piece of intelligence before Israel launched its war. According to the long-secret 1981 NSA report:

The fact that two separate torpedo boat commanders made the same false identification only raises the question of the veracity of both commanders. The El-Kasir [El Quseir] was approximately one-quarter of the Liberty's tonnage, about one-half its length, and offered a radically different silhouette. To claim that the Liberty closely resembled the El-Kasir was most illogical. The Department of State expressed its view of the torpedo attack in these words:

"The subsequent attack by Israeli torpedo boats, substantially after the vessel was or should have been identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same reckless disregard for human life. The silhouette and conduct of USS Liberty readily distinguished it from any vessel that could have been considered hostile.... It could and should have been scrutinized visually at close range before torpedoes were fired."

Finally the NSA report, fifteen years after the fact, added:

A persistent question relating to the Liberty incident is whether or not the Israeli forces which attacked the ship knew that it was American ... not a few of the Liberty's crewmen and [deleted but probably "NSA's G Group"] staff are convinced that they did. Their belief derived from consideration of the long time the Israelis had the ship under surveillance prior to the attack, the visibility of the flag, and the intensity of the attack itself.

Speculation as to the Israeli motivation varied. Some believed that Israel expected that the complete destruction of the ship and killing of the personnel would lead the U.S. to blame the UAR [Egypt] for the incident and bring the U.S. into the war on the side of Israel ... others felt that Israeli forces wanted the ship and men out of the way.

"I believed the attack might have been ordered by some senior commander on the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly suspected that the Liberty was monitoring his activities," said Tordella. His statement was amazingly astute, since he likely had no idea of the war crimes being committed on the Sinai at the time, within easy earshot of the antenna groves that covered the Liberty's deck.

On the morning of June 8, the Israeli military command received a report that a large American eavesdropping ship was secretly listening only a few miles off El Arish. At that same moment, a scant dozen or so miles away, Israeli soldiers were butchering civilians and bound prisoners by the hundreds, a fact that the entire Israeli army leadership knew about and condoned, according to the army's own historian. Another military historian, Uri Milstein, confirmed the report. There were many incidents in the Six Day War, he said, in which Egyptian soldiers were killed by Israeli troops after they had raised their hands in surrender. "It was not an official policy," he added, "but there was an atmosphere that it was okay to do it. Some commanders decided to do it; others refused. But everyone knew about it."

Israel had no way of knowing that NSA's Hebrew linguists were not on the ship, but on a plane flying high above. Nevertheless, evidence of the slaughter might indeed have been captured by the unmanned recorders in the NSA spaces. Had the torpedo not made a direct hit there, the evidence might have been discovered when the tapes were transmitted or shipped back to NSA. At the time, Israel was loudly proclaiming -- to the United States, to the United Nations, and to the world -- that it was the victim of Egyptian aggression and that it alone held the moral high ground. Israel's commanders would not have wanted tape recordings of evidence of the slaughters to wind up on desks at the White House, the UN, or the Washington Post. Had the jamming and unmarked fighters knocked out all communications in the first minute, as they attempted to do; had the torpedo boat quickly sunk the ship, as intended; and had the machine gunners destroyed all the life rafts and killed any survivors, there would have been no one left alive to tell any stories.

That was the conclusion of a study on the Liberty done for the U.S. Navy's Naval Law Review, written by a Navy lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Walter L. Jacobsen. "To speculate on the motives of an attack group that uses unmarked planes and deprives helpless survivors of life rafts raises disturbing possibilities," he wrote, "including the one that the Liberty crew was not meant to survive the attack, and would not have, but for the incorrect 6th Fleet radio broadcast that help was on its way -- which had the effect of chasing off the MTBs [motor torpedo boats]."

Since the very beginning, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, appointed Chief of Naval Operations shortly after the attack, has also been convinced that the assault was deliberate. "I have to conclude that it was Israel's intent to sink the Liberty and leave as few survivors as possible," he said in 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of the assault. "Israel knew perfectly well that the ship was American."

And in a CIA report received by that agency on July 27, 1967, a CIA official quotes one of his sources, who seems to be an Israeli government official:

[Regarding the] attack on USS LIBERTY by Israeli airplanes and torpedo boats ... He said that, "You've got to remember that in this campaign there is neither time nor room for mistakes," which was intended as an obtuse reference that Israel's forces knew what flag the LIBERTY was flying and exactly what the vessel was doing off the coast. [Deletion] implied that the ship's identity was known six hours before the attack but that Israeli headquarters was not sure as to how many people might have access to the information the LIBERTY was intercepting. He also implied that [deletion] was no certainty on controls as to where the intercepted information was going and again reiterated that Israeli forces did not make mistakes in their campaign. He was emphatic in stating to me that they knew what kind of ship the USS LIBERTY was and what it was doing offshore.

The CIA called the document "raw intelligence data," and said it was one of "several which indicated a possibility that the Israeli Government knew about the USS Liberty before the attack."

In fact, another CIA report, prepared in 1979, indicates that Israel not only knew a great deal about the subject of signals intelligence during the 1967 war, but that Sigint was a major source of their information on the Arabs. "The Israelis have been very successful in their Comint and Elint operations against the Arabs," said the report. "During the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis succeeded in intercepting, breaking, and disseminating a tremendous volume of Arab traffic quickly and accurately, including a high-level conversation between the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser of the UAR and King Hussein of Jordan. Over the years the Israelis have mounted cross-border operations and tapped Arab landline communications for extended periods. The Israelis have also on occasion boobytrapped the landlines."

The same CIA report also made clear that after collecting intelligence on the Arab world, spying on the United States was Israel's top priority: "The principal targets of the Israeli intelligence and security services are: ... (2) collection of information on secret US. policy or decisions, if any, concerning Israel."

A mistake or mass murder? It was a question Congress never bothered to address in public hearings at the time. Among those who have long called for an in-depth congressional investigation was Admiral Thomas Moorer, who went on to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Congress to this day," he said, "has failed to hold formal hearings for the record on the Liberty affair. This is unprecedented and a national disgrace." Perhaps it is not too late, especially for a Congress that rushes into lengthy hearings on such momentous events as the firing of a few employees from a travel office in the White House.

Throughout its history, Israel has hidden its abominable human rights record behind pious religious claims. Critics are regularly silenced with outrageous charges of anti-Semitism -- even many Liberty crew-members who managed to survive the bloody attack and dared call for an investigation. Evidence of Israel's deliberate killing of civilians is as recent as May 2000. The British Broadcasting Corporation has charged that the death of one of its drivers that month was caused by a deliberate and unprovoked strike on civilian targets during an Israeli tank attack.

The driver was Abed Takkoush, a news assistant for the BBC in Lebanon for twenty-five years. Takkoush was killed on May 23, when an Israeli Merkava tank, in Israel, fired an artillery shell across the southern Lebanon border at his blue Mercedes. "I saw Abed lurch out of the driver's side of the car and then fall to the ground," said Jeremy Bowen, the BBC reporter whom Takkoush had driven to the scene. As Bowen rushed to help the driver, Israelis opened up on him with machine-gun fire. They also fired at a Lebanese Red Cross truck as it attempted to come to the rescue.

According to the BBC's account, which is supported by extensive video footage from its own camera crew and those of four other television news organizations, the killing was totally unprovoked. "Everything was quiet," said Bowen. There had been no gunfire, rocket attacks, or artillery exchanges during the day as Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon, which they had occupied for more than two decades. Bowen was close enough to the border to wave at residents of a local kibbutz across the fence. Predictably, as it did in the case of the attack on the Liberty, the Israeli government claimed the shooting was a "mistake." But the BBC was not buying that, and instead began investigating whether Israel could be accused of a war crimes violation under the Geneva Convention.

Even more damningly, the BBC contends that its news film shows that the Israeli Army "appeared to be sporadically targeting vehicles" driven by Lebanese civilians along the same stretch ''of road earlier on May 23 and on May 22, despite the absence of any "retaliatory fire from the Lebanese side of the border."

Since the Israeli attack on the Liberty, U.S. taxpayers have subsidized that country's government to the tune of $100 billion or more -- enough to fund NSA for the next quarter of a century. There should be no question that U.S. investigators be allowed to pursue their probe wherever it takes them and question whoever they need to question, regardless of borders. At the same time, NSA should be required to make all transcripts available from the EC-121 and any other platform that eavesdropped on the eastern Mediterranean on June 8, 1967. For more than a decade, the transcripts of those conversations lay neglected in the bottom of a desk drawer in NSA's G643 office, the Israeli Military Section of G Group.

The time for secrecy has long passed on the USS Liberty incident, in both Israel and the United States. Based on the above evidence, there is certainly more than enough probable cause to conduct a serious investigation into what really happened -- and why.
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Part 1 of 2



Despite the trauma of losing a ship and many of its men, neither the NSA nor the Navy learned much; in less than a year more blood would run across gray decks, and another seagoing listening post would be lost.

Long before the Liberty was attacked, the Navy had become disenchanted with the entire NSA oceangoing program. Navy personnel had become little more than seagoing chauffeurs and hired hands for NSA, permitted to eavesdrop on targets of great interest to the Navy only when doing so could not in any way interfere with the program's primary mission of monitoring NSA's targets. To listen to foreign naval signals, the Navy had to stick its analysts in awkward, antenna-covered mobile vans placed aboard destroyers and destroyer escorts. But doing so meant pulling the ships out of normal service to patrol slowly along distant coasts, rather than taking part in fleet exercises and other activities. It was a highly inefficient operation, combining the minimum collection capability of a crowded steel box with the maximum costs of using a destroyer to cart it around.

"The Navy was very interested in having a trawler program of their own," said Gene Sheck, formerly a deputy chief within NSA's collection organization, K Group. Sheck managed the mobile platforms, such as the Sigint aircraft, ships, and submarines. "The Navy position pretty clearly was that they wanted a Navy platform controlled by Navy, responsive to Navy kinds of things." The Navy said they needed their own fleet not just for collecting signals intelligence, but also for a wide variety of intelligence activities. A fleet would be useful, they said, for such things as hydrographic intelligence -- analyzing the salinity of the ocean at various locations, which could enable better tracking of Soviet submarines.

But NSA was not buying that. "It was totally Sigint," Sheck said. "men they tried to tell us about all this other collection, it consisted of a rope and a bucket, and it pulled water out of the ocean ... I said, 'You're not going to get away with [this] garbage. The director of NSA is going to have a lot to say about what you do with Sigint platforms.'"

Nevertheless, despite the NSA's serious misgivings over its loss of control, the Navy began laying out ambitious plans for its own Sigint fleet. "We talked once ... about having small intelligence gathering ships ... two hundred of them," said one Navy admiral who was in volved. Chosen as the maiden vessel for the Navy's own spy fleet was the US.S. Banner (AGER -- Auxiliary General Environmental Research -- 1), a humble little craft that had spent most of its life bouncing from atoll to atoll in the Mariana Islands and was then on its way back to the United States to retire in mothballs. At 906 tons and 176 feet, the twenty-one-year-old ship was a dwarf compared with the 10,680 tons and 455 feet of the Liberty.

Like a short football player overcompensating for his size, the Banner wasted no time in sailing into harm's way. It was assigned to the Far East, and its first patrol, in 1965, took it within four miles of Siberia's Cape Povorotny Bay to test the Soviets' reaction to the penetration of their twelve-mile limit. At the time, the United States disputed the US.S.R.'s assertion of that limit. As the Banner chugged north toward Siberia, a frigid storm began caking ice forward and on the superstructure. Still closer, and Soviet destroyers and patrol boats began harassment exercises, darting in and out toward the bobbing trawler, sometimes closing to within twenty-five yards before veering away. But as a fresh storm began brewing, the fear of capsizing under the weight of the ice predominated, and the Banners skipper, Lieutenant Robert P. Bishop, radioed his headquarters in Yokosuka and then swung 180 degrees back toward its base in Japan. Several hours later a reply came through, ordering him back and warning him -not to be intimidated. Bishop obeyed and turned back into the storm, but finally gave up after progressing a total of 'minus two miles over the next twenty-four hours.

During sixteen missions over the next two years, the Banner became the tough gal on the block, always looking for a fight. And on its patrols off Russia, more often than not it found one. It had been bumped, nearly rammed, buzzed by Soviet MiGs and helicopters, and come under threat of cannon fire. In each case, the Banner managed to wiggle out of the potentially explosive situation.

Sam Tooma was a civilian oceanographer on the ship who helped maintain the cover story. Employed by the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, he would take various readings from the ocean during the missions. "We were operating twelve miles (at least) off [the Soviet port of] Vladivostok in February," he recalled. "The' wind was blowing off the mainland at a ferocious speed. It was sort of raining, sleeting, and God knows what else ... I wear glasses, and they were coated with ice, as was the rest of my face. It took forever to take a station. I don't know how many times I thought that if Hell were the worst place on earth, then I was in Hel1. I have never been more miserable in my whole life as when I was on the deck of the Banner trying to collect oceanographic data.

"We were constantly being harassed by the Russians," said Tooma, who would frequently discuss with the captain what would happen if the ship were attacked or towed into Vladivostok. "Right now there fire aircraft on standby ready to take off if they pull some fool stunt like that," he ,vas told. "Our aircraft would destroy the naval base, including this ship." One March, Tooma was on the bridge when a Soviet ship began heading straight for the Banner. "Some of the watch- tanders started to act quite excited and began yelling about the 'crazy Russians,' " he said. "The captain ordered the helmsman to maintain course. According to international rules of the road, we had the right of way. Meanwhile, the distance between them and us was closing quite rapidly. We continued to maintain course, until I thought that we were all doomed. At the last second, the captain ordered the helmsman to go hard right rudder. I'm glad that he didn't wait any longer, because all we got was a glancing blow. We had a fairly nice dent in our port bow." Later Tooma was ordered never to mention the incident.

Codenamed Operation Clickbeetle, the Banner's signals intelligence missions became almost legendary within the spy world. The reams of intercepts sent back to Washington exceeded expectations and NSA, now the junior partner, asked that the scrappy spy ship try its luck against China and North Korea. The change in assignment was agreed to and the harassment continued. The most serious incident took place in the East China Sea off Shanghai in November 1966, when eleven metal-hulled Chinese trawlers began closing in on the Banner. However, after more than two and a half hours of harassment, Lieutenant Bishop skillfully managed to maneuver away from the danger without accident. "There were some touchy situations," said retired Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper. "At times she was harassed by the Chinese and retired. Occasionally the Seventh Fleet had destroyers waiting over the horizon .... Banner was highly successful, so successful that Washington then wanted to convert two more. The first of these was the Pueblo." The second would be the USS Palm Beach.

A sister ship of the Banner, the Pueblo was built in 1944 as a general-purpose supply vessel for the US. Army. She saw service in the Philippines and later in Korea, retiring from service in 1954, where she remained until summoned back to duty on April 12, 1966. Over the next year and a half she underwent conversion from a forgotten rust bucket into an undercover electronic spy at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington. She was commissioned in May 1967.

"The Liberty[-size] ships were owned by NSA pretty much and were designed and operated in support of their operations, strictly collection for NSA," said Lieutenant Stephen R. Harris, a Harvard graduate who was selected to run the Sigint operation on the ship. "Pueblo and company were supposed to be more tactical support to the fleet, although I don't think that ever came to be, so we were operating in support of the Navy. However, all the data that we would have gathered went to NSA for their more detailed analysis." Before his assignment to the Pueblo, Harris was assigned to a naval unit at NSA headquarters and also went on hazardous Sigint missions aboard submarines cruising close to hostile shores.

Chosen to skipper the Pueblo was Lloyd Mark (Pete) Bucher, a Navy commander with a youth as rough as a provocative cruise on the Banner. Bounced from relative to relative, then put out on the street at age seven, he eventually ended up in an orphanage and, finally, at Father Flanagan's Boys Town. Then he dropped out of high school, joined the Navy, and eventually was commissioned after receiving his high school diploma and a degree from the University of Nebraska. A submariner, he had always dreamed of skippering his own sub. Instead, he was put in charge of a spy boat that spent most of its time sailing in circles. Adding to the insult, he discovered that a large section of his own ship was ,only partly under his command. He had to share responsibility for the signals intelligence spaces with NSA and its Naval Security Group. In these spaces, he had to first show Harris, a junior officer, that he had a need to know before he could learn some of the secrets held by his own ship.

In October 1967, Harris flew to Washington for briefings on the ship by NSA and the Naval Security Group. "The location of the first mission hadn't been decided upon," he said, "but I was sure we were going to do some productive things. So I selected a list of countries which I thought were significant, and went around to various offices at NSA and talked to people about them. North Korea was on my list. I remember feeling, 'Well, we might go there.'"

Through an agreement between the Navy and NSA, it was decided that the Banner and Pueblo "would do one patrol in response to Navy tasking and then one patrol in response to NSA tasking," said Gene Sheck of K Group. "It was decided that because the Banner ... had completed a patrol off the Soviet coast, that why don't you guys, Navy, you take the first patrol of the Pueblo and designate where you want it to go.... They, the Navy, determined that the ship ought to operate off North Korea in 1967. And we, NSA, at that particular point in time, had no problem with that." The Pueblo's missions would be codenamed Ichthyic, a word that means having the character of a fish.

A few weeks later, the Pueblo departed the West Coast on the first leg of its journey to Japan, where it was to join the Banner on signals intelligence patrols in the Far East.


While Harris was walking the long halls at NSA, getting briefings, reading secret documents, and scanning maps, a man with darting eyes was walking quickly up a sidewalk on Sixteenth Street in northwest Washington. A dozen blocks behind him stood the North Portico of the White House. Just before reaching the University Club, he made a quick turn through a black wrought-iron fence that protected a gray turn-of-the-century gothic stone mansion. On the side of the door was a gold plaque bearing the letters "CCCP" -- the Russian abbreviation of "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

A few minutes later, Yakof Lukashevich, a slender Soviet embassy security officer with stiff, unruly hair, greeted the man. "I want to sell you top secrets," the man impatiently told the Russian. "Valuable military information. I've brought along a sample." With that, he reached into the front pocket of his jacket and handed Lukashevich a top secret NSA keylist for the U.S. military's worldwide KL-47 cipher machine. With it, and the right equipment, the Russians would be able to break one of America's most secret cipher systems. "My name is James," the man said. "James Harper." It was the beginning of a long and profitable relationship. Within weeks Harper would also be selling the Soviets keylists for the KW-7, a cipher system more modern and secret than the KL-47. Over KW-7 passed some of the nation's most valuable information.


The afternoon was as gray as the Pueblo's wet bow when the ship steamed gently into the Yokosuka Channel. Sailors in midnight-blue pea coats and white Dixie Cup hats raced about in the frigid December wind arranging thick brown lines and shouting instructions as the ship nudged alongside Pier 8 South at Yokosuka Naval Base, just south of Tokyo. After nearly a year of preparation, the Pueblo was now positioned for the start of its first mission.

Across the Sea of Japan sat its target, North Korea, a mysterious volcano sending out increasingly violent tremors after a decade of lying dormant. Starting in May, teams of heavily armed agents began landing in rear areas of South Korea with orders to test the guerrilla environment. Since September, trains had twice been sabotaged. In October and November there were seven attempts to kill or capture U.S. and South Korean personnel in or near the DMZ. Finally, several ambushes resulted in the death of six American and seven South Korean soldiers. Between January 1 and September 1, 1967, there had been some 360 incidents of all types, compared with 42 for the entire previous year.

Despite the growing storm clouds, the approval process for the Pueblo's first mission was moving ahead like a chain letter. The outline for the operation was contained in a fat three-ring binder, the Monthly Reconnaissance Schedule for January 1968. Full of classification markings and codewords, it was put together by the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Joint Reconnaissance Center. Inside the black notebook was a menu of all of the next month's technical espionage operations, from U-2 missions over China to patrols by the USNS Muller off Cuba to deep penetrations into Russia's White Sea by the attack submarine USS Scorpion. The Navy had evaluated the Pueblo's mission, a dozen miles off the North Korean coast, as presenting a minimal risk.

On December 27, at 11:00 in the morning, middle-ranking officials from an alphabet of agencies gathered in the Pentagon's "tank," Room 2E924, to work out any differences concerning the various platforms and their targets. The action officers from the CIA, NSA, DIA, JCS, and other agencies routinely gave their approvals, and the binder -- "the size, of a Sears, Roebuck catalogue," said one former official -- was sent on its way. Two days later, a courier hand-carried it around to the various agencies for final approval. At the Pentagon, Paul H. Nitze, the deputy secretary of defense, signed off on it, and at the White House, the National Security Council's secret 303 Committee, which reviews covert operations, gave the Pueblo mission an okay. There were no comments and no disapprovals.

But at NSA, one analyst did have some concerns. A retired Navy chief petty officer assigned to B Group, the section that analyzed Sigint from Communist Asia, knew that North Korea had little tolerance for electronic eavesdropping missions. Three years earlier, they had attempted to blast an RB-47 Strato-Spy out of the air while it was flying in international airspace about eighty miles east of the North Korean port of Wonsan. This was the same area where the Pueblo was to loiter-only much closer, about thirteen miles off the coast.


Codenamed Box Top, the RB-47 flight was a routine Peacetime Airborne Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO) mission. It departed from Yokota Air Base in Japan on April 28, 1965, and headed over the Sea of Japan toward its target area. "We were about six hours into one of those ho-hum missions on a leg heading toward Wonsan harbor, approximately eighty nautical miles out," recalled one of the Ravens, First Lieutenant George V Back, "when the hours of boredom suddenly turned into the seconds of terror." Raven One, Air Force Captain Robert C. Winters, intercepted a very weak, unidentifiable airborne intercept (AI) signal that he thought might have come from somewhere off his tail. "At approximately the same time," said Back, "we received a message that there were 'bogies' in the area. Neither the pilot nor the copilot observed any aircraft and we continued the mission."

A short while later, Back, down in the cramped, windowless Sigint spaces, intercepted a signal from a ground control radar and began recording it. By then the plane was about thirty-five to forty miles off Wausau Harbor. "Suddenly the aircraft pitched nose down and began losing altitude," he said. "The altimeter was reading about twenty-seven thousand feet and unwinding." "They are shooting at us," yelled Henry E. Dubuy, the co-pilot, over the intercom. "We are hit and going down." Back began initiating the ejection process and depressurized the Raven compartment. Next the co-pilot requested permission to fire, "Shoot the bastard down," shouted Lieutenant Colonel Hobart D. Mattison, the pilot, as he made repeated Mayday calls into his radio. He then asked for a heading "to get the hell out of here."

"By this time," recalled Back, "all hell had broken loose. The pilot had his hands full with the rapidly deteriorating airplane; the co-pilot was trying to shoot the bastards visually; the navigator was trying to give the pilot a heading; the Raven One was dumping chaff, and the second MiG-17 was moving in for his gunnery practice." The two North Korean MiG-17s came in shooting. "There was no warning, ID pass, or intimidation," said Back, "just cannon fire." The planes were too close for the RB-47's fire control radar to lock on to them.

By now the Strato-Spy was severely wounded. The hydraulic system failed and fire was coming from the aft main tank. Two engines had also been hit, and shrapnel from number three engine exploded into the fuselage; Nevertheless, said Back, "both engines continued to operate but number three vibrated like an old car with no universal joints."

Dubuy, the co-pilot, fired away at the MiGs but without tracers it was hard to tell where he was shooting. The MiGs would dive down, then quickly bring their nose up and attempt to rake the underside of the plane with cannon fire. Down in the Raven compartment, Robert Winters released a five-second burst of chaff during one of the firing passes, hoping to throw off the MiG's radar. Dubuy watched as the MiG nearly disappeared in the chaff. cloud before breaking off. Finally the MiGs began taking some fire. One suddenly turned completely vertical and headed toward the sea, nose down. The other MiG headed back toward Wonsan.

As Colonel Mattison leveled out at 14,000 feet, the plane was still trailing smoke. The aft; wheel well bulkhead was blackened and nearly buckled from the heat of the fire, and the aircraft was flying in a nose-down attitude because of the loss of the aft main fuel tank. Mattison assured the crew that he had the plane under control but told them to be ready to bailout. Despite the heavy damage, the Strata-Spy made it back to Yokota and hit hard on the runway. "We porpoised about eighty feet back into the air where we nearly hit the fire suppression helicopter flying above us," said Back. Once the plane had come to a stop, he added, "we exited, dodging emergency equipment as we headed for the edge of the runway."


With that incident and others clearly in mind, the Navy chief in B Group went down to the operation managers in K Group. "This young fellow had a message drafted," said Gene Sheck of K-12, "that said, 'Boy, you people have got to be complete blithering idiots to put that ship off North Korea, because all kinds of bad things are going to happen'. Therefore cancel it.' It had very strong [language], not the kind of political message you'd ever get out of the building." An official from K Group therefore rewrote the message, the first warning message Sheck had ever sent out:

The following information is provided to aid in your assessment of CINCPAC's [Commander-in-Chief, Pacific] estimate of risk:

1. The North Korean Air Force has been extremely sensitive to peripheral reconnaissance flights in the area since early 1965. (This sensitivity was emphasized on April 28, 1965, when a U.S. Air Force RB-47 was fired on and severely damaged 35 to 40 nautical miles from the coast.)

2. The North Korean Air Force has assumed an additional role of naval support since late 1966.

3. The North Korean Navy reacts to any ROK [Republic of Korea] naval vessel or ROK fishing vessel near the North Korean coast line.

4. Internationally recognized boundaries as they relate to airborne activities are generally not honored by North Korea on the East Coast of North Korea. But there is no [Sigint] evidence of provocative harassing activities by North Korean vessels beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast.

The above is provided to aid in evaluating the requirements for ship protective measures and is not intended to reflect adversely on CINCPACFLT [Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet] deployment proposal.

Marshall Carter approved the message and at 10:28 that Friday night it rattled onto a cipher machine at the Defense Intelligence Agency's Signal Office in the Pentagon. There a clerk routed it up to the War Room, where a watch officer sent a copy to the chief of the JCS's Joint Reconnaissance Center, Brigadier General Ralph Steakley.

"This was the first voyage in which we were having a vessel linger for a long period of time near North Korean waters," Carter recalled. "It therefore was a special mission as we saw it. We knew that she was going to stay in international waters. We had no evidence that the North Koreans at sea had ever interfered with or had any intentions to interfere with a U.S. vessel outside of their acknowledged territorial waters. Nevertheless, our people felt that even though all of this information was already available in intelligence community reports it would be helpful if we summed them up and gave them to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for whatever use they might make of them or assistance in evaluating this particular mission."

Had NSA wished, it could have called off the entire mission. But because this first Pueblo operation was being run solely by the Navy, officials were reluctant to use their big foot. "NSA has a pretty strong voice," said Sheck. "If NSA had gone out with a message or a position on that book (the monthly reconnaissance schedule] in that time frame, I'm sure the mission probably would not have gone. There have been a few cases where NSA has done that. An airborne mission that might provoke the director of NSA to say, 'We don't want to do that.' ... But nobody did that. Even this message ,is a little wishy-washy, because of the position NSA's in. It was a Navy patrol proposed by Navy people in response to Navy tasking, and we were an outsider saying, 'You really ought to look at that again, guys. If that's what you want, think about it.'"

On January 2, 1968, after the New Year's holiday, General Steakley found his copy of the warning message when he returned to his office. But rather than immediately bringing it to the attention of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, DIA, and the 303 Committee, which had only a few days earlier approved the mission, he buried it. First he changed its NSA designation from "action"-which would have required someone to actually do something about it-to "information," which basically meant "You might find this interesting." Then, instead of sending it back to the people who had just signed off on the mission, he pushed it routinely on its way to the office of the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, in Hawaii. At CINCPAC headquarters, the message was first confused with the Pueblo approval message, which arrived at about the same time, and then ignored because of the "information" tag.

An earlier "action" copy had also been sent to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, but because the DIA Signal Office mistakenly attached the wrong designator, it wound up in limbo and was lost for the next month.

There was still one last chance for NSA's warning message to have an impact. One copy had been passed through back channels to the head of the Naval Security Group in Washington. When Captain Ralph E. Cook saw the "action" priority tag, he assumed that the matter would be debated among senior officials in Hawaii, among them his own representative, Navy Captain Everett B. (Pete) Gladding. Nevertheless, he passed a copy on to Gladding to give him a heads-up.

With rosy cheeks and a web belt that stretched wide around his middle, Gladding looked more like Santa Claus than an electronic spy. As director of the Naval Security Group, Pacific, he managed a broad range of signals intelligence missions, including those involving the Banner and the Pueblo. Located behind a cipher-locked door on the top floor of the old U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters at Pearl Harbor, his offices were close to the World War II codebreaking center. And as in the disastrous series of events that led to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, once again a warning message was lost or ignored and men would be put in peril. Although Gladding later denied ever having received the message, other officers said he did get it. In any case, rather than NSA's warning, the approval with its "minimal risk" advisory was sent from Hawaii to Japan, and the Pueblo made preparations to get under way.

The highly secret operations order instructed the Pueblo to:

• Determine the nature and extent of naval activity [in the] vicinity of North Korean ports of Chongjin, Songjin, Mayang Do and Wonsan.
• Sample electronic environment of East Coast North Korea, with emphasis on intercept/fixing of coastal radars.
• Intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet naval units.
• Determine Korcom [Korean Communist] and Soviet reaction respectively to an overt intelligence collector operating near Korcom periphery and actively conducting surveillance of USSR naval units.
• Evaluate USS Pueblo's (AGER-2) capabilities as a naval intelligence collection and tactical surveillance ship.
• Report any deployment of Korcom/Soviet units which may be indicative of pending hostilities or offensive actions against U.S. forces.

Finally, the order added: "Estimate of risk: Minimal."

Lieutenant Stephen Harris, in charge of the signals intelligence operation on the ship, was disappointed when he read the Pueblo's operational order a few weeks before departure. "I was very upset when we found out we were going to North Korea," he said, "because we were configured to cruise off the [Soviet Union's] Kamchatka Peninsula ... primarily Vladivostok and secondarily Petropavlovsk. That's where we were supposed to be going, and that's where all the training for our guys came from. And then to find out we were going to North Korea, I thought what a waste.... It was our first mission and somebody thought, Well, this will give these guys a chance to learn how to do it. Well, we had all done this before.

"Supposedly our inventory of intelligence information on North Korea was not very current so they thought, Well, here's a chance to update that. But it just caused no end of trouble for us, I mean even before we got under way, because I had a bunch of Russian linguists on board. We had to get these two Marines from [the naval listening post at] Kamiseya who, they knew about ten words of Korean [Hangul] between the two of them. .. They were good guys but they had not been really seasoned in the language and this type of collection."


"Answer all bells," shouted the officer of the deck. "Single up." In the pilothouse, Boatswain's Mate Second Class Ronald L. Berens held the ship's wheel in his two hands and gently turned it to port. Heavy, low-hanging clouds seemed to merge with the gray seas on the morning of January 5, 1968, as the Pueblo slipped away from her berth. Over the loudspeaker came the sounds of a guitar -- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing "The Lonely Bull," adopted by Commander Bucher as the ship's theme song. It would be the most prescient act of the entire voyage. As the Pueblo disappeared over the horizon, the North Korean volcano began to erupt.

One of the Sigint technicians, Earl M. Kisler, later began a long poem:

Out of Japan on the fifth of Jan.
The Pueblo came a-steamin'.
Round Kyushu's toe, past Sasebo,
You could hear the captain a-screamin',

"XO!" he said,
"Full speed ahead! We've got us some spyin' to do!
Timmy, be sharp!'' Then with Charley Law's charts,
Away like a turtle we flew.

For several months now, Pyongyang KCNA International had been broadcasting frequent warnings in English about U.S. "espionage boats" penetrating North Korean territorial waters. These messages had been picked up by the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service. "It (the United States] infiltrated scores of armed boats into the waters of our side, east of Chongjin port on the eastern coast to conduct vicious reconnaissance," said one broadcast on November 27. Chongjin was to be one of the Pueblo's key targets. Another report, on November 10, quoted a "confession" by a "spy" caught from one of the boats. "Drawn into the spy ring of the Central Intelligence Agency," he said, "I had long undergone training mainly to infiltrate into the north in the guise of a fisherman."

As the weeks and months progressed, the warnings grew more belligerent. Often they quoted the accusations of North Korean major general Pak Chung Kuk. "As our side has declared time and again," he said in a report on December 1, "it had no alternative but to detain the ships involved in hostile acts, as a due self-defense step." In January, a warning aimed directly at the Pueblo was even quoted in a Japanese newspaper, the Sankei Shimbun: North Korean forces would take action against the Pueblo if it continued to loiter near territorial waters. All of this "open source intelligence" was readily available to NSA and Naval Security Group officials in Hawaii and Japan.

One day after the Pueblo parked herself little more than a gull's breath outside North Korea's twelve-mile limit, still another warning was issued. "The U.S. imperialist aggressor troops again dispatched from early this morning ... spy boats disguised as fishing boats into the coastal waters of our side off the eastern coast to perpetrate hostile acts. As long as the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops conduct reconnaissance by sending spy boats, our naval ships will continue to take determined countermeasures." The Pueblo had sailed into a spider's web.

Late on the evening of January 19, a group of thirty-one North Korean army lieutenants quickly navigated their way through a labyrinth of mines, brush, barbed wire, fences, and other obstacles. They were penetrating the formidable demilitarized zone, a machetelike scar that sliced North from South Korea. For weeks they had been training with sixty- ound packs on their backs, mapping the route, and clearing a path. Now, armed with submachine guns, nine-inch daggers, and grenades that hung from their South Korean army fatigues, they were heading in the direction of Seoul at about six miles an hour.


At that moment the Pueblo, unaware of the tremors taking place little more than a dozen miles to the west, was sailing slowly south toward Wonsan. After leaving Japan, the ship had been hammered by a fierce winter storm and had taken several dangerous rolls while tacking. By the time she reached her northernmost point, an area where North Korea meets Russia, the weather was so cold that ice covered the ship's deck and superstructure. Wearing the warmest clothing he could find, Seaman Stu Russell ventured on deck to take a look around. "Although the seas were calm, the humidity was rising, and as a result, ice was forming on every surface of the ship," he recalled. "Had anyone seen the ship in this condition it would have appeared to be a ghost ship floating on a gray sea."

Then Russell turned his attention toward the bleak shoreline. "The world looked black and white with shades of gray," he said. "There was no color to it. The sky was overcast, the sea had a leadlike sheen to it, and the mountains in the distance were black, with a coating of white on their northern flanks.... Few if any of us had ever experienced cold such as this, and we were ill prepared for it." The heavy ice worried Bucher, and he ordered the crew to begin chipping it away with sledgehammers, picks, whatever they could find.

From morning til dark,
A gray Noah's ark,
We bounced and quivered along.
But instead of a pair of all animals rare,
We carried agents, about 83 strong.

The mercury dropped the further north that we got,
So cold, frost covered my glasses,
So cold, ice covered the fo'c'sle and bridge,
So cold we froze off our asses.

The Pueblo was hardly bigger than an expensive yacht; space was tight, and within the Sigint area it was at a premium. In addition to the KW-7, one of the most modern cipher machines in the US. government, the space held a WLR-1 intercept receiver, an assortment of typewriters, and nearly five hundred pounds of highly secret documents. Another hundred pounds were generated during the voyage. About twenty-two weighted and perforated ditching bags were stored on board -- not enough to hold all the documents in the event of an emergency. For routine destruction of documents at sea, a small incinerator was installed against the smokestack. Since it could only handle about three or four pounds of paper at a time, it was not considered useful for emergency destruction. The ship also had two shredders that could slice an eight-inch stack of paper in about fifteen minutes. To destroy equipment, there were sledgehammers and axes in both the Sigint and cipher spaces.

Because the twenty-eight enlisted Sigint specialists labored mysteriously behind a locked door and seldom socialized with the other members of the crew, friction occasionally developed. "We had a crew meeting and we were told that the mission of this ship was none of our business," said one member of the ship's crew, "and we were not to discuss anything about it or speculate about it. And if we went by the operations spaces and the door was open we were to look the other way. And these guys were all prima donnas and they reported to NSA and there was always friction between the guys that had to do the hard work and the [Sigint crew]."

On January 20, the warnings of General Pak once again vibrated through the ether. "In the New Year, the U.S. imperialist aggressors continued the criminal act of infiltrating armed vessels and spy bandits, mingled with South Korean fishing boats, into the coastal waters of our side.... Major General Pak Chung Kuk strongly demanded that the enemy side take immediate measures for stopping the hostile acts of infiltrating fishing, boats including armed vessels and spy boats into the coastal waters of our side." The messages, broadcast in English, were repeated ten times in Hongul, the Korean language, creating great public anxiety in North Korea about unidentified ships. But Bucher was never informed of the warnings.

As Bucher maintained radio silence off the North Korean coast, the clandestine force of North Korean lieutenants dressed as South Korean soldiers reached the outskirts of Seoul. Three hours later they arrived at a checkpoint a mile from the entrance to the Blue House, the residence of South Korean president Park Chung Hee. When questioned by a guard, the lead lieutenant said that his men belonged to a counterintelligence unit and were returning from operations in the mountains. They were allowed to pass, but the guard telephoned his superior to check out the story. Minutes later the night lit up with muzzle flashes and the still air exploded with the sounds of automatic weapons. Through much of the early morning the fighting went on. The guerrillas were massively outnumbered; most were killed and a few surrendered. Had they succeeded, the assassination might have triggered an all-out invasion from the North. The calls for retaliation were quick and strong.

By noon the next day, January 22, the Pueblo lay dead in calm waters. A short twenty miles to the south and west was Wonsan.

On the way to this spot, the ship had begun trolling for signals through its three operational areas, codenamed on the map Pluto, Venus, and Mars. In the Sigint spaces, the technicians, under the command of Stephen Harris, worked twenty- our hours a day in three shifts. But the electronic pickings were slim near two of their key targets, the ports of Chongjin and Songjin. Adding to the problems, the two Hongul linguists weren't fully qualified and some of the equipment had been malfunctioning. As the men fought off boredom, Bucher began thinking the entire mission was going to be a bust.

Then, as they approached their third key target, Wonsan, the activity suddenly began picking up. Signals were logged, recorded, and (if any words were recognizable) gisted.

From "Venus" to "Mars,"
Charley shootin' the stars,
Songjin, Chongjin, and Wonsan,
The Pueblo a-bobbin'
Our receivers a-throbbin',
Us sly secret agents sailed along.

If a ship passing by were to see us they'd die.
"Ha! A harmless and leaky ill craft."
Our ship may be leaky,
But by God we're sneaky,
In the end we'll have the last laugh

Soon the Pueblo had company. A pair of North Korean fishing boats approached, and one made a close circle around the ship: There was no question; they were had. "We were close enough to see the crew looking back at us," recalled Stu Russell, "and they looked upset. On the bridge we could make out what looked like several military personnel who were looking back at us with binoculars. Maybe they were political commissars who kept an eye on the crewmembers to make certain they didn't defect. But this group didn't look like they wanted to defect, they looked like they wanted to eat our livers."

Bucher ordered photographs taken of the boats and then decided it was time to break radio silence. He drafted a situation report and gave it to his radioman to send out immediately. But because of the Pueblo's weak transmitting power and low antenna, as well as difficult propagation conditions in the Sea of Japan, the message was not going through.

That night the crew watched Jimmy Stewart in The Flight of the Phoenix, about a group of people stranded in the Sahara Desert after a plane crash. Others played endless games of poker or read in the berthing compartment.

In South Korea, television viewers watched as the one live captive from the failed Blue House raid was paraded on national television-a great humiliation for North Korea. Although most of the people of North Korea did not have televisions, their officials at Panmunjom, where northern, southern, and American negotiators met, had access to TVs and witnessed the spectacle. They may have been left with the feeling that one humiliation deserves another.

The next morning, January 23, a hazy mist obscured the North Korean island of Ung-do, sixteen miles west, Bucher considered it the best place from which to sit and eavesdrop on Wonsan. From there, the sensitive Sigint equipment could pick up some of the more difficult signals as far inland as fifteen miles. About 10:30 A.M., an Elint specialist in the Sigint spaces sat up, adjusted his earphones, and began listening intensely as he studied the green scope in front of him. He had just intercepted two radar signals from subchasers although he could not determine their range or bearing.

Half an hour later, the ship managed to connect with the Naval Security Group listening post at Kamiseya. Once the right circuit was found, the signal was clear and strong and the situation report was finally sent. Then the ship reverted to radio silence.

About noon, as the Pueblo was broadcasting to Kamiseya, an intercept operator there began picking up signals from a North Korean subchaser, SC-35. It was the same one that the Elint operator on the Pueblo was following. The captain of the subchaser reported to his base his position, about eighteen miles off the coast and twenty-five miles from Wonsan. That was very close to where the Pueblo sat dead in the water.

By now Bucher was on the flying bridge, peering through his "big eyes" -- twenty-two-inch binoculars. He could see that the fast-approaching boat was an SO-1 class subchaser, hull number 35. He could also see that the boat was at general quarters and that its deck guns -- a 3-inch cannon and two 57mm gun mounts -- were manned and trained on his ship. A quick check through the files indicated that the SO-1 also carried two rocket launchers. Bucher ordered flags raised indicating that the Pueblo was engaged in hydrographic research, its cover. But the subchaser just drew closer and began circling the ship at a distance of about 500 yards. On the Pueblo, all hands were ordered to remain below decks to disguise the number of persons on board.

In North Korea, a shore station reported the contact to higher command. "Subchaser No. 35 has approached a 300-ton vessel which is used for radar operation ... it is believed the vessel was not armed and that it was an American vessel."

At 12:12, SC-35 signaled the Pueblo, "What nationality?"

Bucher ordered the ensign raised and then the hydrographic signal. Next he called the photographer to the bridge to get some shots of the incident and ordered the engines lit off in preparation for some fancy maneuvering if necessary. Despite the worrisome guns pointed his way, he thought that this was simple harassment and decided to report it to Kamiseya. After all, the captain of the Banner had told him about a number of similar incidents.

"A guy comes steaming back from that kind of thing," said NSA's Gene Sheck, referring to the captain of the Banner, "and he says to the skipper of the Pueblo, 'Lloyd, baby, you got nothing to worry about. They do that every day. They'll come out. They'll harass you. You wave back. You blink a few things at them and they'll go away. Everybody knows that. We knew it. They do it to our reconnaissance, airborne reconnaissance missions. Nobody gets excited about that."

But, added Sheck, "Here come these guys-only they weren't playing."

At 12:20, Chief Warrant Officer Gene Lacy noticed a number of small dots on the horizon, approaching from Wonsan. Through the big eyes, Bucher identified them as three North Korean P-4 motor torpedo boats headed his way.

Seven minutes later, on its third swing around the Pueblo, SC-35 hoisted a new signal: "Heave to or I will open fire on you." Lieutenant Ed Murphy, the executive officer, again checked the radar and confirmed that the Pueblo was 15.8 miles from the nearest land, North Korea's Dug-do island. Bucher told the signalman to hoist "I am in international waters." Down in the Sigint spaces, First Class Petty Officer Don Bailey, who had just transferred to the Pueblo from NSA's USNS Valdez, kept in continuous contact with Kamiseya. "Company outside," he transmitted to the listening post in Japan, then asked them to stand by for a Flash message.

Although Bucher had no way of knowing it, as far as the North Koreans were concerned the game was already over. At 12:35, the shore station reported that "subchaser has already captured U.S. vessel." About that time, the three torpedo boats had arrived and were taking up positions around the ship while two snub-nosed MiG-21s began menacing from above.

Bucher passed the word over the internal communications system to prepare for emergency destruction. He then turned to his engineering officer, Gene Lacy, and asked him how long it would take to scuttle the ship. Lacy explained that the Pueblo had four watertight bulkheads. Two of those would have to be opened to the sea. They could be flooded with the ship's fire hoses, but that would take a long time, about three or more hours. A quicker method, Lacy told Bucher, would be to open the cooling water intakes and outlets in the main engine room and cut a hole into the auxiliary engine room from the main engine room. Once this was done, Lacy said, the ship could go down in forty-seven minutes. But the problem was that many of the life rafts might be shot up during an attack; without enough life rafts, and with the bitter January water cold enough to kill a person exposed to it in minutes, Bucher gave up on the idea.

New flags were going up on one of the torpedo boats: "Follow in my wake. I have pilot aboard." Then a boarding party transferred from the SC-35 to one of the torpedo boats, and PT-604 began backing down toward the Pueblo's starboard bow with fenders rigged. Men in helmets with rifles and fixed bayonets stood on the deck. Next came the signal "Heave to or I will open fire."

Bucher, hoping to somehow extricate the ship, ordered hoisted the signal "Thank you for your consideration. I am departing the area." Bucher knew there was no way his tub could outrun the forty-knot torpedo boats. Me considered manning the 50mm machine guns but decided against it, believing it was senseless to send people to certain death. He was still hoping to somehow make a "dignified" departure. Yet, with the North Koreans about to board his ship, he still had not ordered emergency destruction down in the Sigint spaces. Bucher gave the quartermaster instructions to get under way at one-third speed.

As the Pueblo began to move, the torpedo boats began crisscrossing the ship's bow and SC-35 again signaled, "Heave to or I will fire." Bucher ordered the speed increased to two-thirds and then to full speed. SC-35 gave chase, gaining rapidly on Pueblo's stern. To the side, sailors aboard PT-601 uncovered a torpedo tube and trained it on the ship. Down in the Sigint spaces, Don Bailey's fingers flew over the keyboard. "They plan to open fire on us now," he sent to Kamiseya.

SC-35 then instructed all North Korean vessels to clear the area. He said he was going to open fire on the U.S. vessel because it would not comply with North Korean navy instructions.

Seconds later the boat let loose with ten to twenty bursts from its 57mm guns. At almost the same moment, the torpedo boats began firing their 30mm machine guns. The men in the Sigint spaces threw themselves on the deck. Personnel on the flying bridge dove into the pilothouse for cover. About four minutes later, general quarters was finally sounded. But Bucher immediately modified the command, forbidding personnel from going topside. He wished to keep anyone from attempting to man the 50mm guns.

SC-35 let loose with another burst of heavy machine fire. Most of the rounds were aimed over the ship, but something struck the signal mast. Bucher collapsed with small shrapnel wounds in his ankle and rectum. Everyone then hit the deck. "Commence emergency destruction," Bucher ordered. Bailey notified Kamiseya, "We are being boarded. Ship's position 39-25N/127-54.3E. SOS." Over and over he repeated the message. In the Sigint spaces, sailors were destroying documents. Bailey was pleading. "We are holding emergency destruction. We need help. We need support. 80S. Please send assistance." It was now 1:31 P.M.

In the Sigint spaces, the emergency destruction began slowly and with great confusion. Fires were started in wastepaper baskets in the passageways outside the secure unit. About ten weighted ditching bags were packed with documents and then stacked in the passageways, Using axes and sledgehammers, the cipher equipment was smashed.

Back at Kamiseya, intercept operators heard the subchaser notify its shore command that he had halted the U.S. ship's escape by firing warning shots. One of the torpedo boats then informed its base that two naval vessels from Wonsan were taking the U.S. ship to some unidentified location.

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Postby admin » Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:25 pm

Chapter 2 of 2

By now, U.S. forces in the Pacific were becoming aware of the desperateness of the situation. Flash messages were crisscrossing in the ether. Although some 50,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in South Korea, most near the demilitarized zone, the ongoing war in Vietnam had sapped American airpower in South Korea. The U.S. Air Force had only six Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers in the country. These "Thuds," the largest single-engine, single- eat fighters ever built, were capable of carrying 18,500-pound bombs. But at the time, they were armed only with nuclear weapons, to take out targets in China in the event the balloon went up. Removing the nuke-alert packages and replacing them with air-to-ground weapons would take hours.

Also on runways in South Korea were 210 combat-ready South Korean fighters and interceptors that could reach the Pueblo before dark. "The Koreans requested from the United States permission to save the Pueblo," said one U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. But the U.S. officer, in charge of American and UN forces in South Korea, Army General Charles H. Bonesteel III, refused to allow them to launch. He feared the South Korean air force might respond "in excess of that necessary or de sired" and thus launch an all-out war, impossible to contain.

The next closest aircraft were in Japan, where the US. had seventy-eight fighters parked on runways. But because of agreements with the Japanese government prohibiting offensive missions from bases in that country, these were also unavailable on short notice.

Four hundred and seventy miles south, steaming at twenty-seven knots toward Subic Bay in the Philippines, was the USS Enterprise, the largest aircraft carrier in the world. On the rolling decks of the nuclear-powered flat-top were sixty attack aircraft, including twenty-four F-4B Phantoms capable of Mach 2 speed. But by the time the confused messages regarding the Pueblo reached the carrier, it was too distant for its aircraft to reach the Pueblo before it would arrive in Wonsan.

That left Okinawa, which was nearly as distant as the Enterprise. Although it was part of Japan, at the time it was also an American protectorate and could be used to launch hostile attacks. The island was home to the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, made up of combat-experienced fighter jocks who had flown numerous missions against targets in Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam. Some wore the famous "100 Missions/North Vietnam" patch on their flight jackets. Others, who had flown across the Red River on missions into the heart of North Vietnam, wore the "River Rats" patch.

An orange-red flash exploded from the end of a huge J-75 turbojet engine and a deep-throated roar vibrated across Okinawa's Kadena Air Base. The first of a dozen F-105s screeched down the runway. The pilots wanted to fly straight to the Pueblo, attack the North Korean torpedo boats, and then fly to Osan Air Base in South Korea for refueling, But instead they were ordered to refuel first at Osan.


By now Bucher realized that there was no escape. He considered that any further resistance would result in the needless slaughter of the crew. Depending on how well the destruction was going in the Sigint spaces, he decided, he would offer no more resistance and would surrender the ship. At 1:34 P.M. he ordered "All stop" and instructed the signalman to hoist the international signal for "Protest." The 57mm fire halted but the 30mm fire continued sporadically. Bucher estimated that he was now about twenty-five miles from the North Korean shore. "We are laying to at present position," Hailey transmitted. "Please send assistance. We are being boarded."

Bucher left the bridge and ran to his stateroom to check for classified information. Finding nothing revealing the Pueblo's true mission, he handed a few documents and his personal sidearm to someone in the passageway and ordered him to throw them overboard. On his way back, he looked in on the destruction taking place in the Sigint spaces and then headed back to the bridge. On SC-35 was the signal, "Follow me. I have pilot on board." Bucher complied and ordered his quartermaster to make a slow, five-degree turn. Bailey notified Kamiseya, "We are being escorted into probably Wonsan." A few minutes later he again pleaded for help: "Are you sending- assistance?" Kanliseya replied, "Word has gone to all authorities. COMNAVFORJAPAN [Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan] is requesting assistance."


At NSA headquarters near Washington it was the middle of the night when the CRITIC and Flash messages began stuttering from cipher machines. "For ten days," said NSA's Henry Millington, who conducted a highly secret study of the incident, "nobody knew where they were."

"That happened around two o'clock in the afternoon, Korean time," recalled Gene Sheck of NSA's K Group, "which was like two o'clock in the morning here. I got a call to come to work and I came in and General Morrison was at work." At the time, Major General John Morrison was NSA's operations chief. "And General Morrison decided that he was going to be the guy in charge of the Pueblo, whatever problem we had with them. He called all kinds of other people, but Morrison was kind of running the show at that particular time." A short time later, Marshall Carter arrived-but he didn't stay long. "You know," he told Morrison, "there's no sense both of us standing here while this thing is trying to work itself out. You stay here, gather all the data, and I'm going to be back in at six-thirty or seven o'clock in the morning."

In addition to the safety of the crew, one of the chief concerns at NSA through the early-morning hours was whether the North Koreans had been able to capture the Pueblo's cipher material, especially old NSA keylists, which would enable easy deciphering of U.S. material already intercepted. These lists -- one per month -- explained the daily settings for the cipher machines. Across the top of the eight-by-ten sheets of paper were the words in bold red ink: "TOP SECRET -- SPECAT": "Special Category." The keylists consisted of instructions on which numbers to set the dozen rotors in the machine on, and other technical details. With these lists and the right equipment, the North Koreans would be able to break the code of every naval unit using the same ciphers.

From Kamiseya the question went out to the Pueblo. "What keylists do you have left? ... Please advise what keylists you have left and if it appears that your communications space will be entered."


At about two o'clock, Bucher suddenly ordered another "All stop" in order to check on the progress of the destruction and to give more time for its completion. But almost immediately SC-35 closed to a range of about 2,000 yards and fired. Upward of 2,000 rounds pounded the ship's thin quarter-inch steel skin. Rapid-fire bursts sent shells into the laundry room, the small-arms locker, the wardroom, and a number of passageways. Near the captain's cabin, Fireman Duane Hodges was picking up some papers to destroy when he was thrown to the deck, his leg nearly severed and his intestines torn from his lower abdomen. As he lay dying, blood from his severed arteries washed from one side of the passageway to the other as the ship rolled with the waves. Nearby, Fireman Steven Woelk suddenly felt a burning in his chest and groin from razorsharp shrapnel. Blood also poured profusely from the thigh of Marine Sergeant Robert Chicca, a linguist. Sprawled across another passageway was Radioman Charles Crandal, jagged shards of hot metal spiking from his leg.

In order to stop the firing, Bucher ordered full ahead at one-third speed. He then turned the conn over to Lacy and raced down to check on the destruction. Along the way he saw the broken, twisted form of Duane Hodges in the crimson passageway. He pushed open the door to the Sigint spaces and saw some of the men hugging the deck. "Get up and get going!" Bucher shouted. "There's a man with his leg blown off out there." He then saw three large mattress covers overflowing with secret documents. Turning to Stephen Harris, he shouted, "Get this stuff out of here."

Rushing into the cipher spaces, at 2:05 P.M. Bucher dictated a message:


Two minutes later, Kamiseya replied:


Back in the pilothouse, Bucher again asked about the possibility of scuttling the ship but once again he was told it could not be done quickly. Down in the Sigint spaces, Don Bailey was at last hearing some encouraging words. Karniseya was reporting that everyone was turning to, doing everything they could, and "figure by now Air Force got some birds winging your way." "Sure hope so," replied Bailey. "We are pretty busy with this destruction right now. Can't see for the smoke.... Sure hope someone does something. We are helpless."

On shore, concern over the NSA material was growing. At 2:18, Bailey was again asked about the status of the classified material and cipher machines. In the choking darkness, Bailey said that the KW-7 and some of the printed circuit boards for the KW-37 and the KG-14 remained. Time was quickly running out and there was no way everything would be destroyed. The major problem was Lieutenant Harris's decision to attempt to burn the documents rather than jettison them overboard. This was because the regulations said that jettisoning was not permitted in water less than 600 feet deep, and the Pueblo was then in water little more than 200 feet deep. Bucher authorized a message sent saying that destruction would not be complete.

In the passageways, technicians built small bonfires of dense cryptographic manuals. Into the inferno went stacks of raw intercept forms covered with row after row of intercepted five-number code groups; keylists classified "Top Secret/Trine"; and NSA "Techins" -- technical instructions on how to conduct signals intelligence. Supersecret manual after supersecret manual, file drawer after file drawer. But the space was too small, the fires too weak, and the smoke too thick. Ninety percent of the documents would survive.

Destruction was also on the minds of the North Koreans. About 2:20 one patrol craft instructe8. another to watch for attempts by U.S. personnel to throw things into the water. SC-35 reported that the U.S. crew was ditching some items and burning others. The Koreans then ordered Bucher to come to all stop. Without consulting any of the other officers, Bucher agreed to surrender and allow the boarding party to come aboard. The twin screws spun to a halt, sending large bubbles to the surface. A few minutes later Bailey, hunched over his cipher machine, notified Kamiseya. "Destruction of publications has been ineffective," he wrote. "Suspect several will be compromised." Kamiseya then requested a list of what had not been destroyed.

Back on deck, Bucher passed the word to lay aft and assist the boarding party. The carbine normally kept on the bridge was thrown overboard. At someone's suggestion, he then notified everyone that the only information they were required to give was name, rank, and serial number.

Realizing that he did not have on his officer's cap, Bucher then left the bridge; went to his cabin, where he wrapped his wounded ankle with a sock, put on his cap, and returned to the bridge. It would be a dignified surrender. No small arms would be broken out, no machine guns manned, no attempt made to scuttle the ship or destroy the engines. The tarps would never even be removed from the 50mm machine guns, a process that would have taken about three minutes.

At 2:32, officers from the North Korean People's Army (KPA), in charge of the attack boats, boarded the Pueblo. "We have been directed to come to all stop," Bailey notified Kamiseya, "and are being boarded at this time," A minute later, he transmitted his last message. "Got four men injured and one critically and going off the air now and destroy this gear. Over," Kamiseya answered, "Go ahead," and then asked the ship to transmit in the clear. But there would be no more messages from the Pueblo.

Met by Bucher, the boarding party came aboard without resistance. It consisted of two officers and eight to ten enlisted men. All were armed and none spoke English. Accompanied by Bucher, they went to the pilothouse and the bridge, where crewmembers were ordered to the fantail. All hands below decks, said Bucher, were to immediately lay up to the forward well area, The helmsman was then brought back to the wheelhouse to take the helm, "Each time the mike was keyed there was a very audible click which preceded whatever was being said," recalled Stu Russell. "Each time that thing was clicked, I was sure that they were giving the order to fire into us, It was possible that no one in the free world, no one in the U.S. military knew we had been captured and that the Koreans might as well kill us then and there and cover the whole
thing up."

For the first time since 1807, when Commodore James Barron gave up the USS Chesapeake after it was bombarded and boarded by the crew of the HMS Leopard off Cape Henry, Virginia, an American naval commander had surrendered his ship in peacetime.

Back at Kamiseya, intercept operators kept close track of the Pueblo by eavesdropping on the SC-35 and the other escorts as they radioed their positions, about every five minutes, to their shore command in North Korea.

About 4:00 P.M., a second boarding party arrived with a senior North Korean colonel and a civilian pilot. The pilot relieved the Pueblo's helmsman, who was taken to the forward berthing compartment. Together with Bucher, the colonel inspected the ship. White canvas ditching bags, bursting at the seams with highly classified documents and equipment, still lined the passageway; only one had ever been thrown overboard.

When Bucher and the North Korean colonel entered the cipher-locked Sigint spaces, a bulging white laundry bag stuffed with documents sat in the middle of the floor. The WLR-l intercept receivers were still in their racks; only the faces had been damaged. Also undamaged was perhaps the most secret Sigint document on the ship: NSA's Electronic Order of Battle for the Far East. The EOB was a detailed overlay map showing all known Russian, Chinese, and Korean radar sites and transmitters as well as their frequencies and other key details. The information was critical in case of war. Knowing where the radar systems were located and on what frequencies they operated would allow U.S. bombers and fighters to evade, jam, or deceive them through electronic countermeasures. Knowing that the United States possessed that information, the various countries might now change the frequencies and other technical parameters, thereby sending the NSA back to square one. Within days the document would be on a North Korean desk. "That's guys' lives. That's pilots' lives," said Ralph McClintock, one of the Pueblo's cryptologic technicians, years later.

Following the inspection, about 4:30 P.M., Bucher was ordered to sit on the deck outside his cabin. At that moment, U.S. Air Force officials were notified by Kamiseya that the Pueblo was now within North Korean waters. All help was called off. The F-4s in South Korea had not finished converting to conventional weapons, and the F-105s from Okinawa were still an hour away from their refueling base in South Korea. They were ordered to refuel as scheduled but not to attack. The United States had given up on Bucher and his crew.

"They were on their own," said NSA's Gene Sheck. "They were literally one hundred percent on their own."

At about 8:30 P.M., the Pueblo arrived in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and was tied up at a pier about ten miles northwest of Wonsan. Several high-ranking officers from the KPA then came on board to interview Bucher in his cabin. Afterward the crewmembers were blindfolded, had their hands bound, and were led " off the ship. A crowd of people who had gathered near the pier shouted and spat at them and then tried to grab them, only to be restrained by guards using rifle butts. They were then put on a bus for the start of the long journey to Pyongyang. "We were, it seemed, being guided to the crowd," said Stu Russell. "I was amazed that only a few minutes before, I thought I was scared as much as I could possibly be. I was beyond scared. No, now I was beyond that feeling and entering into emotional arenas that I didn't know existed. My feet and legs were no longer part of my body, they were part of a mechanical system over which I had no control."

We sailed quiet free until Jan. 23,
When out of nowhere there came
Six boats from the west,
The KPA's best.
Six hunters, and Pueblo fair game.

What a sensation we caused in this nation,
When caught red-handed that day.
A slight irritation, quite advanced inflammation,
In the rectum of the DPRK.

As the North Koreans were tying the spy ship to the pier in Wonsan, Lieutenant General Marshall Carter was walking to his corner office on the ninth floor of NSA's Headquarters Building. Eight-thirty P.M. in Korea on January 23 was 6:30 A.M. in Washington on that same day, fourteen hours earlier. There to greet Carter was Air Force Major General John Morrison, his operations chief. He had been at work for hours attempting to make sense of events. Others soon arrived at the director's office for a briefing. Among those standing in front of his mahogany desk, near an oversize globe, were Gene Sheck of K Group; Milt Zaslow, chief of B Group; and Louis Tordella.

Because the Pueblo was a joint NSA-Navy operation, Carter knew he was going to have a great deal of explaining to do, particularly about why such a risky mission was launched in the first place. Then Milt Zaslow, who was responsible for analysis of Sigint from Communist Asia, handed Carter a copy of the earlier warning message that NSA had sent out for action. By now most, including Carter, had forgotten about it. "General Carter read it, and then he got up and [took] what I thought was the greatest political position anybody could take," recalled Sheck. "He said, 'I don't want anybody in this room to call or to bring to anybody's attention the existence of this message. They will find out themselves, and when they do they will be sufficiently embarrassed about the whole situation that I don't have to worry about that and you don't have to worry about that, but I consider that message as kind of saving our ass."

Following the briefing, NSA officials began planning what to do next. Zaslow argued that they should immediately bring the Banner up from Japan to take the Pueblo's place, only with a destroyer or two for protection. The operation could be accomplished within fifty-seven hours, he said. Sigint flights would also be increased south of the demilitarized zone and unmanned drones would be used over North Korea. In addition, President Johnson personally approved the use of the superfast, ultra-high-flying SR-71 reconnaissance plane to overfly North Korea in an attempt to precisely locate the ship and its crew. Another top priority was recovering any highly secret material jettisoned from the Pueblo.

However, Gene Sheck was totally opposed to now putting the Banner in harm's way after what had happened to the Pueblo. "Our reaction was," he said, "you ought to be careful, Mr. Zaslow, because you know, if they've done that to the Pueblo We would say, 'That's kind of a dumb thing to do.' ... and there was a lot of argument in the building whether that made sense or not." Eventually it was decided to position the Banner within the safety of a naval task force south of the 38th Parallel.


Twenty-five miles south of NSA, at the White House, President Lyndon Johnson was secretly planning for war. Within hours of the incident, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and his generals were leaning over curled maps, revising America's war plan for North Korea. At 10:00 A.M. on the day following the attack, McNamara called a war council to discuss preparations for combat with North Korea. It was to be an enormously secret deliberation. "No word of the discussion in the meeting should go beyond this room," everyone was warned. "Our primary objective is to get the men of the Pueblo back," said McNamara. "Return of the ship is a secondary objective."

There would be a limited call-up of the reserves. Upwards of 15,000 tons of bombs were to be diverted to the area from the war in Vietnam. "There are about 4,100 tons of aircraft ordnance in Korea now," said General Earle G. Wheeler, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "with about 10,000 more on the way. We need Strike, Bullpup, Walleye, Falcon, Sparrow, and Sidewinder missiles."

Admiral Moorer said that he could maintain two aircraft carriers off Korea for about six weeks without affecting the war in Vietnam. A plan to mine Wonsan harbor would also be drawn up and nine surveillance/ attack submarines would be sent into the area. "This could be done completely covertly, and within a week," said Moorer. More naval gunfire support -- cruisers and destroyers -- could be brought in. A blockade of selected harbors was also a possibility, as were "reprisal" actions against North Korean ships on the high seas.

The Joint Chiefs recommended moving fifteen B-52 bombers to Okinawa and eleven more to Guam. "We had F-4s lined up wingtip to wingtip," said General Charles Bonesteel, in charge of U.S. and UN forces in Korea, "and if the North Koreans had wished to run the risks and indulge in a five-day war of their own, they could have really provided Time-Life Incorporated with some ghastly sights."

Known as Operation Combat Fox, what followed became the largest strategic airlift in U.S. Air Force history. More than 8,000 airmen, hundreds of combat-ready aircraft, and millions of pounds of bombs, rockets, ammo, and supplies were flown in. Among the options were selective air strikes against North Korea. "Our first action, should we become involved," said the Air Force Chief of Staff, "should be to take out the North Korean air capability."

At the same time, according to NSA documents obtained for Body of Secrets, the Pentagon began planning still another trumped-up "pretext" war, this time using the Banner to spark a full-scale conflict with Korea. "They wanted to provoke the North Koreans into doing something so they could get back at them," said NSA's Sheck. Manned by only a crew of two -- a captain and an engineman -- the Banner would be sent to the same location the Pueblo was at when it was fired on. Then it would just wait for the torpedo boats to attack. "They were going to do that with carriers over the horizon, out of radar range," said Sheck, "and having air cover ... out of range. And the minute the ship indicated the North Koreans were coming after them, they would then [send an alert]. That was the signal to launch all the fighters."

But, said Sheck, the logistics and the risk to the American prisoners made the idea unfeasible. "It took some time to get the carriers over there," he said. "It took time to get the Banner ready for sea, and by then, the reaction of the United States was, Let's cool it, because we don't want to lose the eighty guys and all that sort of thing. So they didn't do that."

Another proposal, said Sheck, came from the four-star admiral in charge of U.S. forces in the Pacific. "CINCPAC [Commander-in-Chief, Pacific] wanted to go in and tie a lasso on it and pull it out of Wausau harbor. Literally! He said he'd propose a message that said, 'I will send a fleet of destroyers in with appropriate air cover. I will tie a rope on the goddamn tub and I'll pull it back out.' But some cooler heads at the Pentagon said, 'No, forget that.'"


On January 26, three days after the Pueblo's capture, an aircraft as black as a moonless night slowly emerged from its steel hangar at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. With stiletto-sharp edges, windscreens like menacing eyes, a skin of rare titanium, and engines pointed like shotgun barrels, the CIA's secret A-12 was at once threatening and otherworldly. Beneath the cockpit canopy, dressed in moon boots and space helmet, Frank Murray pushed forward the throttles to the mid-afterburner position. Fuel shot into the engines at the rate of 80,000 pounds per hour and fireballs exploded from the rear of the shotgun barrels. In the distance, a flock of birds flapped for safety. Looking at his control panel, Murray saw that he had reached decision speed and all was go. Ten seconds later he pulled gently back on the stick and the A-12's long nose rose ten degrees above the horizon. Murray was on his way to find the Pueblo.

By January 1968, CIA pilot Frank Murray was a veteran of numerous overflights of North Vietnam. But following the capture of the Pueblo, he was ordered to make the first A-12 overflight of North Korea. An attempt had been made the day before but a malfunction on the aircraft had forced him to abort shortly after takeoff. Following takeoff on January 25, Murray air-refueled over the Sea of Japan and then pointed the plane's sharp titanium nose at the North Korean coast.

"My first pass started off near Vladivostok," he recalled. "Then with the camera on I flew down the east coast of North Korea where we thought the boat was. As I approached Wausau I could see the Pueblo through my view sight. The harbor was all iced up except at the very entrance and there she was, sitting off to the right of the main entrance. I continued to the border with South Korea, completed a 180-degree turn, and flew back over North Korea. I made four passes, photographing the whole of North Korea from the DMZ to the Yalu border. As far as I knew, I was undetected throughout the flight." (Actually, NSA Sigint reports indicated that Chinese radar did detect the A-12 and passed the intelligence to North Korea. No action was taken, no doubt because of the plane's speed, over Mach 3, and its altitude, 80,000 feet.) [1]

Murray's film was quickly flown to Yokota Air Base in Japan, where analysts determined that North Korea was not building up its forces for any further attacks.

Shortly after the January 26 A-12 mission, another set of spies made preparations for the waters off North Korea. They would travel via the opposite route: under the sea. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Harry O. Rakfeldt, a career cryptologic officer, and three other Sigint technicians based at Kamiseya were ordered to report to the USS Volador, a diesel- owered attack submarine then, docked at Yokosuka. "Our mission was to support the captain with special intelligence received from Kamiseya," said Rakfeldt, "and intelligence we might obtain on our own." The sub was part of the Navy's buildup in the days following the attack, to put subs in place to locate Soviet submarines should war begin with North Korea.

On January 31, the Polador's loud Klaxon sounded twice, the hatch was slammed shut, and the sub slipped beneath the waves to periscope depth. Sailing north, the Poladar quietly crept into the crowded Tsugaru Strait separating the main island of Honshu from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, and entered the Sea of Japan during daylight. "We entered the Sea of Japan covertly," said Rakfeldt, "the first challenge. A current runs from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean and there is a lot of surface traffic in the strait."

The Voladors operational area consisted of a 10,800-square-mile stretch of water in the middle of the Sea of Japan; for a while, it seemed the mission would be fairly routine. Its first priority was to locate the Russian subs before being discovered itself. Every night the Volador had to come up to periscope depth and raise its hydraulic breathing tubes, like chimney tops, above the surface of the sea. That evening, the sub discovered company nearby.

Sitting in front of a round green screen, the sonarman watched the deep sea as a plane's navigator scanned the sky. Gradually he began noticing a pinging in his earphones, coming from the Voladors passive sonar. It was a Soviet sub that had surfaced. Despite the darkness, the Volador's captain decided to maneuver close enough to be able to read the hull number and identify the sub. Closer and closer he edged the Volador, quietly heading directly toward the Russian boat, broadside. "Damn it, it's turning on us," the captain shouted as the Soviets suddenly embarked on a collision course. "Dive!" The hatch to the conn was quickly closed, sealing Rakfeldt and other officers off from the rest of the boat. They avoided a crash by diving under the Russian sub. "It was a close one," said Rakfeldt. "We did it without being detected."

Later, as the Volador was snorkeling, the tables were turned. "We were found by a Soviet sub," said Rakfeldt. Once again the sonarman heard the distinctive metallic pinging of a Russian boat. The captain began maneuvers to determine if the Volador had been detected. "It was confirmed that the sub was tracking us," said Rakfeldt. ""What evolved was a hide-and-seek operation." To keep as quiet and invisible as possible, all operations were kept to a minimum and the snorkel was retracted. "It took many hours but it worked, as the Soviet sub was finally detected snorkeling," Rakfeldt recalled. "We then became the hunter and maintained covert contact on the sub for a period before it moved out of our area of operations."

But now another problem developed. After the long period of deliberate inactivity, one of the diesel engines refused to start because the oil had become too cold. Finally, after hours of work, the chief in the engine room jury-rigged a temporary pipe system connecting the oil sup plies for the two engines. "It wasn't pretty," said Rakfeldt. "The temporary piping was suspended overhead." By circulating the cold oil from the dead engine into the working engine, the chief was able to warm it up enough to restart the dead engine, and the crew sailed back to Yokohama without further incident.


Following a bus and train ride to Pyongyang, Bucher and his crew were locked in a worn brick building known as the "barn." Dark and foreboding, it had hundred-foot-long corridors; bare bulbs hung from the ceilings. From the moment they arrived, they were regularly beaten, tortured, and threatened with death if they did not confess their espionage.

To Pyongyang we were taken,
All comforts forsaken,
When into the "barn" we were led
All set for the winter,
Cords of bread you could splinter,
A rat ate my turnips, now he's dead

"What's your status?! Your function?!
Could it be in conjunction
With spying on our sovereign territory?!"
Said the captain, "Goddamn! I'm a peace-loving man,
Same as you and your crummy authorities!"

In the meantime, the KPA removed the papers and equipment from the Pueblo, and the highly secret information was shared with the Russians. Major General Oleg Kalugin was deputy chief of the KGB station at the Soviet embassy in Washington. "The KGB did not plan to capture the Pueblo," he said. "The KGB was not aware of the Pueblo's capture until the Koreans informed the Soviets. So the Soviets were taken unaware. But they were very interested because they knew that it was a spy ship. And in fact, the Koreans managed to capture a lot of classified material aboard the ship. They also picked up the code machines. They picked up the keylists. And this, of course, for the Soviets, had very great operational importance."

The North Koreans, said Kalugin, permitted the Soviets to go over what they found. "The Soviets had been allowed to inspect the captured material because they were the only ones who knew how to handle this stuff. They knew how to make use of it. I know the code machines, KW-7, [were] supposedly smashed by the crew of the Pueblo. But," said Kalugin, laughing, "I think that was probably not quite that."

According to Kalugin, nothing is more valuable than cryptographic material. "The ciphers and codes are considered the most important piece of intelligence because they provide you authentic material on the problems and events which are of interest. When you pick up a cable and you decipher it, you break the code, you read the genuine stuff, it's no rumor."

But while the Russians received a KW-7 cipher machine from the Pueblo, it and the keylists were useless: the minute NSA learned the ship had been captured, they changed the keylists throughout the Navy and also slightly modified the KW-7. What NSA didn't know, however, was that among the recipients of the new keylists and the technical changes for the cipher machine was the Kremlin.

Since that chilly October day in 1967, when James Harper had walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, the Russians had had a key piece of the puzzle: "James Harper" was actually John Walker, a U.S. Navy communications specialist. From him they would regularly receive top secret NSA keylists and technical modifications for the cipher equipment.

The Soviet agent who ran Walker was Major General Boris A. Solomatin, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking KGB chief of station in Washington from 1965 to 1968. As Oleg Kalugin's boss, he was considered "perhaps the best operative the KGB ever produced," according to one high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official. "Walker showed us monthly keylists for one of your military cipher machines," said Solomatin, now retired. "This was extraordinary.... Walker was offering us ciphers, which are the most important aspect of intelligence.... For more than seventeen years, Walker enabled your enemies to read your most sensitive military secrets. We knew everything. There has never been a security breach of this magnitude and length in the history of espionage. Seventeen years we were able to read your cables!"

Supplied with the keylists since October 1967, all the KGB needed was an actual working machine. The capture of the Pueblo answered their wishes. "So John Walker's information, on top of Pueblo," Kalugin said, "definitely provided the Soviets with the final solutions to whatever technical problems they may have had at the time. And I think this combination of two really brought about, you know, tremendous results for the Soviet side.... We certainly made use of the equipment from the Pueblo."

In addition to the KW-7, the North Koreans also salvaged two other valuable cipher machines from the Pueblo -- the KW-37 and the KG-14 -- and turned them over to the Russians. One member of John Walker's spy ring, Jerry Whitworth, was later stationed at the U.S. Navy base on the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. There he had access to the KW-37, the KG-14, and other cipher machines and sold key materials for them to the Russians.

It is hard to overestimate the value of the Soviet code break. "Using the keylists provided by John Walker," Kalugin said, "[We] read all cryptographic traffic between the United States Naval Headquarters and the Navy across the world.... So by keeping control of the movement. of U.S. nuclear submarines, by controlling the coded traffic between the Navy and the units in the open seas, we could really protect our country's security.... I think this was the greatest achievement of Soviet intelligence at the time of the Cold War."

In March, the crew of the Pueblo was moved to a newer detention facility outside Pyongyang, and the physical mistreatment became less frequent and less severe. Three months later, a number of the Sigint technicians were interrogated about cipher equipment by officials with obvious knowledge of the subject. In some instances, classified information was passed on and block diagrams and explanations of the KW-37 and KG-14 cipher machines were provided.


In the end, despite the thirst for retaliation back in Washington, diplomacy won out over military action in the efforts to gain the release of the Pueblo crew. But for nearly a year the cumbersome talks dragged on. "Americans were shocked at President Lyndon Johnson's inability to 'free our boys,'" said William Taylor, Jr., of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Coming on top of repeated disasters in the Vietnam War, congressional opposition to Johnson grew rapidly. This was the beginning of the end of a failed presidency." Two months after the capture, on March 30, 1968, Johnson stunned the nation when he announced that he would not run for a second term.

By the fall of 1968, the Pueblo had become a hot political issue. Richard Nixon, running for the presidency against Vice President Hubert Humphrey, pounded on a podium and called for revenge. "When a fourth-rate military power like North Korea will seize an American naval vessel on the high seas," he said, "it's time for new leadership."

On December 23, 1968, Major General Gilbert Woodward, the American representative to the Military Armistice Commission in Panmunjom, signed a North Korean-prepared apology admitting to the espionage and the intrusion. However, before it was signed, Woodward denounced the papers as false. "I will sign the document," he said, "to free the crew and only free the crew." Nevertheless, the North Koreans accepted the fig leaf, and later that day all the Pueblo crewmen-along with the body of Duane Hodges -- crossed the bridge linking North and South Korea. It had been exactly eleven months since the ordeal began.

Imprisoned [eleven] months,
A grand collection of lumps
We've gathered since the dawn of detention.
But do you think we're resentful?
Hell no! We're repentful!
How repentful it's safer not to mention.

Following the crew's release, a Navy court of inquiry was harshly critical of Bucher's performance during the crisis. He was accused of not recognizing in time the serious threat to his ship. "A determination to resist seizure was never developed in Pueblo prior to or during the incident," it said. "Commander Bucher had the responsibility for developing the best defensive capability possible in his ship utilizing all weapons and personnel available. This he did not do."

He was also severely criticized for giving up his ship and its secrets. "He should have persisted-increased speed, zigzagged, and maneuvered radically. No boarding party could have come aboard had the ship so maneuvered. In view of the absence of fire or flooding and few minor casualties at the time the Commanding Officer made the fatal decision to stop and follow the SO-1 into Wonsan, his ship was fully operational.... He should have realized that the greatest service to his country could have been performed by denying to a foreign government classified material and personnel with knowledge of sensitive information on board." Finally, the court said, "He decided to surrender his ship when it was completely operational without offering any resistance. He just didn't try-this was his greatest fault.... He made no apparent effort to resist seizure of his ship. He permitted his ship to be boarded and searched while he still had the power to resist."

On the other hand, the court gave Bucher high marks for the way he held the crew together and kept up their morale while in custody "in a superior manner."

The court also had harsh words for Lieutenant Stephen Harris, the head of the Sigint operation on the ship, with regard to his ineffective destruction of the classified material in the spaces. It was estimated that only about 10 percent of the material within the Sigint area was actually destroyed. In light of that record, the court concluded, Harris "failed completely in the execution of emergency destruction of classified material."

Finally, the court found the conduct of most of the crew, and the Sigint personnel in particular, was greatly lacking. "With few exceptions the performance of the men was unimpressive. Notably the performance of the [Sigint personnel] in executing emergency destruction was uncoordinated, disappointing and ineffective. A general description of the crew of the Pueblo might be summarized by noting that in most instances CPOs [chief petty officers] and petty officers simply did not rise to the occasion and take charge as the emergency demanded."

The court recommended that Bucher and Harris be court-martialed.

But the crusty admirals on the court had been reading too many biographies of John Paul Jones when they should have been watching Mission: Impossible. No one, especially in peacetime, is required to commit either suicide or murder. The prosecutable offense should have been ordering anyone out on the open deck as a fleet of torpedo boats fired 3-inch shells at anything that moved. It would have taken a sailor between five and ten minutes just to undo the gun's cover, unlock the ammunition locker, and load the weapon. He would have been dead before he even reached the gun. And as a spy ship the Pueblo was supposed to maintain its cover as long as possible, not go to general quarters every time a foreign ship came by for a look.

"You're surrounded," said NSA's Gene Sheck. "You're literally surrounded. You've got to make a judgment, Do I lose all eighty-one guys? Those days of John Paul Jones, as far as I'm concerned, are long gone. While the Navy shudders and shakes at the thought that somebody surrendered a Navy ship, I don't think he had any choice.... You can imagine that thing being surrounded by all these gunboats out there and patrol boats and these guys just pulled right up to them and just literally climbed on board. They had nothing to fight back with. One .50-caliber machine gun, a couple of small guns, maybe a rifle or two, I don't know. But nothing that made sense."

Those who should have been court-martialed instead were the desk-bound Naval Security Group officers at Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii who planned the operation so carelessly. First they paid no attention to either the NSA warning message or the mounting North Korean threats -- in English -- against "U.S. spy ships" sailing off its eastern coast. Then they sent a bathtub-sized boat on its way lined bulkhead to bulkhead with unnecessary documents and a destruction system consisting of matches, wastebaskets, and hammers. Finally, they made no emergency plan should the ship come under attack. Said Sheck: "Folks out there said, 'Ain't no NSA bunch of guys going to tell us what not to do. And besides that, who's going to capture one of our Navy combat ships?'"

General Charles Bonesteel, who was in charge of both U.S. and UN forces in Korea at the time of the incident, said Bucher had no choice but to give up his ship. "They had total incapacity to do anything except die like heroes, and they couldn't have even done that. [The North Koreans would] have taken the damned ship," he said. "I think they probably did about all they could do under the circumstances."

Those who were at fault, said Bonesteel, were the Naval Security Group planners in Washington and Hawaii. "The degree of risk was to tally unnecessary," he said. "Now, I wanted intelligence. I didn't have any damned intelligence, real intelligence, that could provide early warnings against a surprise action from the North. But we didn't need it in superfluous Comint. This was the intelligence wagging the dog. North Korea wasn't a very serious threat to the continental U.S. ... [North Korea] had made it very plain that this was an area they didn't want bothered. Sitting around there for several days relying on international law of territorial waters was just asking for it. I don't think this was very much of a planned action on the part of the North Koreans. I think our actions were just so blatant and obvious that they just couldn't resist the temptation.. The people who were responsible were totally out of touch with what the situation was in North Korea."

In the end, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral John J. Hyland, approved letters of reprimand instead of court-martials for Bucher and Harris. Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee then declared, "They have suffered enough," and dropped all charges against Bucher and Harris.

"The Pueblo incident, I think, was one of the remarkable episodes of the Cold War," said the KGB's Kalugin. "It was remarkable not only because it allowed the North Koreans and the Soviets to get hold of the ... highly classified equipment and cryptographic material. It was also important because it allowed the Soviets and North Koreans and the Chinese to play this propaganda game.... great propaganda value.

"The Pueblo is still in the hands of the North Koreans. They keep it as a symbol of American interference, American arrogance, and a symbol of American defeat of sorts. For them it's a symbol of North Korean ability to deal with the greatest power in the world.... [Then North Korean President] Kim II Sung raised his own stature to a level unthinkable before. He challenged the United States. He kept Americans in prison. He kept the Pueblo in the hands of the North Koreans and never let it go."

By 2001 the Pueblo had been moved to a pier on the Taedong River, which flows through Pyongyang, and opened to tourists. Visitors hear from two North Korean sailors who took part in the capture and watch a video recording of the incident.

Nevertheless, for some former senior NSA officials, the Pueblo's last battle is not yet over. Led by a former NSA contractor who installed much of the ship's Sigint equipment, they were angry that the United States did not grab the Pueblo back as it was moved, past South Korea, from one side of the country to the other. They also quietly pressured the Clinton administration to seek the return of the freshly painted and battle-scarred ship. "The sooner, the better!" agreed retired Navy Commander Lloyd Bucher.



1. On May 8, while the Pueblo crew was imprisoned near Pyongyang, CIA pilot Jack Layton flew another A-12 mission over North Korea. (Although he did not know it, this was to be the last operational flight of the CIA's prize A-12. The fleet of the spy planes was to be scrapped for a newer, two-seat version being built for the Air Force, the SR-71.)
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Postby admin » Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:27 pm

Part 1 of 3



In the penultimate days before the North Korean attack on the Pueblo, NSA's focus was on another troubled land severed along a degree of latitude: Vietnam. For the 2 million people packed as tightly as bullet casings into the twenty square miles of Saigon, the morning of January 22, 1968, began with a frenzy of activity. Emergency vehicles, rushing to a trio of separate terrorist incidents, performed pirouettes around fruit-laden shoppers. Overhead, a swarm of helicopter gunships, like heavily armed locusts, searched back and forth across an open field for Communist guerrillas. In front of a cloud of hazy blue exhaust fumes, an American-made tank tore at a downtown pavement as the driver took a shortcut to a convoy of vehicles heading north.

Amid the war, life went on as normal. At a restaurant near the Central Market, passersby inspected the barbecued chickens with their shiny lacquerlike coatings, hanging from hooks in an open window. U.S. Air Force commandos in big hats and low-slung revolvers sipped bitter espresso at a stand-up counter, like gunslingers at a Wild West saloon. In the malodorous Ben Nghe Canal, gray wooden sampans pushed slowly past shacks perched on narrow, spindly legs. Policemen in tropical whites directed swirls of traffic at the broad circular intersections.

In the far north on that Monday in January, at Firebase 861 near Khe Sanh, enemy soldiers lobbed mortar rounds and rifle grenades. American troops fought back through mailboxlike slits in the thick cement walls that protected them. Between explosions, a Marine battalion arrived to reinforce the garrison. Landing nearby were pallets containing 96,000 tons of ordnance. The day before, North Vietnamese Army forces had begun a siege of the hilltop outpost, and the United States was engaged in an all-out effort to save it.

In charge of the American war was Army General William Westmoreland. On the afternoon of January 22, at his Saigon headquarters, his major worry was the powerful attack in the north on Khe Sanh. He compared it to the bloody assault on the French at Dien Bien Phu more than a dozen years earlier. But Westmoreland was intent on proving that massive firepower would allow the United States to succeed where the French had dismally failed. He believed that sometime prior to Tet -- the Vietnamese New Year, nine days away -- the guerrillas would launch a major attack in the far north, at Khe Sanh and some of the surrounding bases. Thus, he began focusing his men, munitions, and might in that high province. "1 believe that the enemy will attempt a country-wide show of strength just prior to Tet," he cabled the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, "with Khe Sanh being the main event." At the 'White House, President Johnson, following the action like a front-row fan at a championship boxing match, had a sand model of Khe Sanh built in the Situation Room.

But behind the cipher-locked door leading to NSA's headquarters in Vietnam, a different picture was beginning to emerge from analysis of enemy intercepts.


Twenty-three years earlier, a large and excited crowd had gathered in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square, a grassy, festively decorated field a short distance away from the graceful homes in the French district. They had walked there on callused feet as tough as rawhide from the flooded rice fields of the Tonkin Delta, the muddy banks of the Red River, the docksides of Haiphong, and the sampans of Halong Bay. Bac Ho, the man they came to see and hear, stood before them, awkward and slightly stooped. A frayed khaki tunic covered his skeletal frame, his feet were clad in worn rubber sandals, and wispy black hairs hung from his bony chin like dandelion fluff.

As the din of the crowd began to fade, Bac Ho stepped forward on a wooden platform, his glasses flashing in the sunlight. "We hold the truth [sic] that all men are created equal," he said solemnly, borrowing a phrase from the American Declaration of Independence, "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The men and women in their drab pajamas and conical straw hats exploded as Bac Ho, a onetime resident of Brooklyn, gave birth to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. By then, most knew him simply as Uncle Ro. Those in the United States would later know him more formally as Ho Chi Minh -- Bringer of Light.

In a land that had known little but torment, for a brief afternoon in September 1945, the sun had never shined brighter. Like a tired horse that has bucked off its last abusive owner, Vietnam had finally rid itself of its French and Japanese masters. Gangly and serious, Ho Chi Minh looked more like a shy chemistry professor than the leader of a guerrilla army. Born in central Vietnam in 1890, he traveled widely as a merchant seaman, spent time in the United States, learned seven languages, and saw communism as the most effective way to unite his country to expel the colonialists. After an absence of thirty years, Ho slipped back into Vietnam in 1941 disguised as a Chinese journalist. There he formed the Vietnam Independence League -- the Viet Minh -- to beat back the French colonizers, who had enslaved his country for decades, and the Japanese warlords, who were attempting to take over much of Asia.

As the Allied and Axis powers battled in Europe and Japan, Ho fought his own war in the jungles of Vietnam -- then French Indochina -- using ambushes in place of howitzers, and sabotage instead of bombers. After four years of trial and error, he could have taught a doctorate-level course on the strategy of guerrilla warfare. Finally, with the end of World War II and the defeat of Japan, which was then occupying the country, Ho saw Vietnam's opportunity for independence, which he proclaimed on September 2, 1945. Unbeknownst to Ho, by the time of his proclamation America was already secretly eavesdropping on his new country.

Although defeated by Allied forces in August 1945, the Japanese occupiers remained in Vietnam for another six months. During that time, American intercept operators and codebreakers monitored communications to Tokyo from Japanese outposts in Hanoi and Saigon. "Japanese reports back to Tokyo in the days before and immediately after the surrender," said a later NSA report, "provide some indication of how deep was the desire to throw off the yoke of colonialism, how strong the will to resist the return of the French." The intercepts carried reports of Ho's forces secretly taking into custody important Frenchmen, and Hat nighttime there was gunfire." Another said, "when one considers the situation after the Japanese Army is gone, he cannot fail to be struck with terror."

Not yet willing to give up their profitable rubber plantations and their global prestige, the French colonizers moved back in the spring of 1946 as the Japanese were pulling out. In so doing they arrogantly rejected the postwar trend to begin loosing the chains of foreign domination, and once again began to brutally exploit their distant colony. The moment of sunlight had passed; Ho's war would continue in the darkness. In November shooting erupted in Haiphong and the French bombarded the city, killing some 6,000 Vietnamese. On December 19, the Vietnamese attacked the French. As an NSA report says, "Thus began the Indochina War."

In the United States, State Department Asian experts cautioned President Truman that Vietnam was a powder keg and that pressure should be put on France to grant the country "true autonomous self-government." The alternative, it warned pointedly, would be "bloodshed and unrest for many years, threatening the economic and social progress and peace and stability" of the region. CIA analysts counseled that providing military aid to France to crush its indigenous opposition "would mean extremely adverse reactions within all Asiatic anti-'colonial' countries and would leave the U.S. completely vulnerable to Communist propaganda."

Nevertheless, while mouthing hollow platitudes about freedom and independence throughout the world, Truman agreed to help France remount its colonial saddle, sending millions of dollars in aid, weapons, and U.S. forces to help them fight Ho and his rebels. At one point in 1952, a witless CIA officer at the U.S. embassy in Hanoi hired a team of Chinese saboteurs, gave them some plastic explosives from his stockpile, and sent them off to blow up a bridge. That they failed in their mission should have been taken as a sign, like a fortune in a Chinese cookie. But the blunders would only grow larger and more violent over the next two decades.

Eisenhower also weighed in on behalf of colonialism, sending the CIA to help the French beat back Ho and his forces. In November 1953, French paratroopers occupied Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam, ten miles from the Laotian border. Their plan was to lure Ho's rebel army into a trap in which they would be slaughtered by superior French firepower. But the French miscalculated and suddenly found themselves isolated, unable to keep resupplied by air. As a result, Eisenhower agreed to an airlift using CIA men and planes to fly supplies back and forth from Hanoi's Cat Bi airfield to Dien Bien Phu.

The operation began on March 13, 1954, but the beleaguered French stood little chance and Dien Bien Phu fell on May 7. Over the two months it operated, the CIA flew 682 airdrop missions. One plane was shot down and its two pilots were killed; many other C-119s suffered heavy flak damage, and one pilot was severely wounded.

Meanwhile, NSA secretly eavesdropped on the conflict. "l recall very dramatically the fall of Dien Bien Phu," said Dave Gaddy, an NSA official at the time. "There were people with tears in their eyes.... We had become very closely attached to the people we were looking over the shoulders of -- the French and the Viet Minh. And we could very well have sealed the folders, put everything away, locked the files, shifted on to other things, and didn't. As a result, we had a superb backing for what came along later."

Taking up where the French left off, CIA operations continued in Indochina after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. Between mid-May and mid-August, C-119s dropped supplies to isolated French outposts and delivered loads throughout the country. The French, driven by greed, would be replaced by the Americans, driven by anti-Communist hysteria. This despite a secret State Department intelligence report at the time saying that the department "couldn't find any hard evidence that Ho Chi Minh actually took his orders from Moscow."


By the time John F. Kennedy entered the White House in January 1961, Vietnam was a wave in the distant ocean, barely visible; a thin white line slowly growing and building. The French, at Dien Bien Phu, had been forced out after eight years of fighting and scores of thousands of deaths. Left as a reminder was a ragged demilitarized zone (DMZ) that cut across the narrow middle of the country like a haunting dead zone; a no-man's-land separating the pro-Communist forces in the North from the pro-Western forces in the South. Six hundred and eighty-five American advisers were now in Vietnam and the financial commitment since 1954 topped $2 billion.

Pressured by the Pentagon, which was concerned over growing reports of Communist infiltration into South Vietnam, Kennedy ordered a few helicopter and Special Forces units to the area. Then the Army began lobbying to also send signals intelligence assistance. For years South Vietnamese officials had asked for NSA's help in locating and eliminating Ho's infiltrators from the North, the Vietcong. But Eisenhower had long rejected the requests, considering the information and techniques far too secret.

Kennedy reluctantly gave in to the Army's pressure. During a meeting of the National Security Council on April 29, 1961, he authorized NSA to begin providing Sigint support to the South Vietnamese Army. Sharing such sensitive information with a foreign government was highly unusual, as reflected in the Top Secret/Codeword "Communications Intelligence Regulation" that authorized the transfer. Because "the current situation in South Vietnam is considered to be an extreme emergency involving an imminent threat to the vital interests of the United States," said the order, dissemination of Sigint to the South Vietnamese military was authorized "to the extent needed to launch rapid attacks on Vietnamese Communists' communications."

Vice Admiral Laurence H. Frost, the director of NSA, ordered his military arm, the Army Security Agency (ASA), to begin immediate preparations. Within weeks the 400th ASA Special Operations Unit (Provisional), using the cover name 3rd Radio Research Unit and the classified NSA designation "USM 626," was airborne. On May 13, 1961, the spit-shined boots of ninety-three Army cryptologists stepped from a silver C-130 transport onto the tarmac of Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Air Base. It was the Year of the Buffalo, symbolizing patience, fruitful toil, and peaceful contentment, concepts that would be difficult to find in a country on the precipice of all-out war. Green to combat, the Sigint experts would have a difficult time hearing the enemy.

Ho's twenty years in the underground taught him not only the art of guerrilla warfare, but also how to keep a secret. Within days of his declaration of independence, officials of the rebel government began addressing the issue of codes and ciphers. "In the first days of the revolutionary regime," said a North Vietnamese document obtained and translated by NSA, "an urgent requirement was to research methods of using cryptography so as to ensure communications security." Ho himself warned a class of budding codemakers: "Cryptography must be secret, swift, and accurate. Cryptographers must be security conscious and of one mind."

By the time of the war with America, Ho was calling his code-makers "cryptographic warriors" and ordering them to prevent loss of their erypta materials at all cost. He would give examples of heroic deeds to emulate. In 1962, they were told, Petty Officer Third Class Bui Dang Dzuong, a cryptographer on a small ship, ran into fierce weather. Nevertheless, as the boat was sinking he "destroyed the entire set of [cryptographic] materials.... Big waves, heavy wind, and sapped of strength -- Comrade Dzuong gave his life." In another example, two cryptographers were injured during an attack; one stepped on a mine "that snapped his leg" while the other's "ears deafened and ran blood." Nevertheless, they "calmly preserved the cryptographic system," and only after they were relieved by a replacement did they go to the hospital. Following the lectures, the youthful codemakers were sent "down the Ho Chi Minh trail into the South to strike America."

The Vietcong cryptographers learned their lessons well. While throwing an electronic fishing net into the ether, they regularly reeled it back in bulging with American communications; but they seldom used radios themselves. While they listened to broadcasts from Hanoi on inexpensive transistor radios, they sent messages back to their commands with couriers, except in dire emergencies. For local communications, they often used radios with very low power, frustrating American eavesdroppers.

From dusk to dawn, the Vietcong ruled, in varying degrees, more than half of the South. They marched over, under, and around the DMZ like worker ants. In the South, supporters were recruited and resisters often shot.

Locating the guerrillas so they could be killed or captured was the job of the radio direction-finding specialists. Another operation, codenamed White Birch, involved eavesdropping on the nests of Vietcong infiltrators. A third, dubbed Sabertooth, trained the South Vietnamese soldiers to intercept, locate, and process plaintext voice communications. The art of codebreaking, however, was considered too sensitive to pass on to South Vietnamese students.

Home for the 3rd Radio Research Unit was an old hangar within the South Vietnamese-Army's Joint General Staff Compound at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Temperature inside the un-air-conditioned building regularly exceeded 100 degrees, and when a monsoon downpour came, the water would rush in through the front door and flood the space several inches deep.

Separating the various sections were walls made of stacked C-ration boxes. The analysts worked on long tables constructed of plywood and scrap lumber, but because there were so few chairs, the table was made about four feet tall so they could stand up while working. The NSA official assigned to the unit did little better. "As a civilian from NSA," he said, "I was fortunate. They made me a desk -- two stacks of C-ration boxes with a piece of plywood laid across them -- and gave me a folding chair." Living conditions for the NSA chief were much more comfortable. First assigned to the Majestic Hotel in downtown Saigon, he was later moved to a two-bedroom villa he shared with an ASA officer.

Within seven months the Sigint force more than doubled. By December 1961, the secret organization had grown to 236 men, along with eighteen intercept positions. Listening posts stretched as far north as Phu Bai, near the DMZ, a choice spot to pick up valuable cross-border communications. The school for training South Vietnamese soldiers was set up at the South Vietnamese Army Signal Compound.

In the field, the work was nerve-racking and dangerous. It was, said President Kennedy, a "war by ambush rawer than combat," one made up of "guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins." Among the first Army cryptologists to arrive in Vietnam was twenty-five-year-old James T. Davis, a pharmacist's son from Tennessee whose words rolled off his tongue with a honey-coated twang. Based at Tan Son Nhut, the speciahst~4was assigned to search for Vietcong guerrillas in the tangled, overgrown jungle of giant ferns and dirt paths near Saigon. Traveling with heavily armed South Vietnamese soldiers, he needed to get close enough to the rebels so that his PRC-10 mobile radio direction-finding equipment could pick up their short-range signals. But if he got too close, he would become the hunted rather than the hunter. It was a deadly game of hide-and-seek, in which the loser was attacked and likely killed and the winner survived for another day.

Three days before Christmas in 1961, Davis climbed into his jeep and, accompanied by his team of South Vietnamese soldiers, set off for a new location to the west of Saigon. But about eight miles from the air base, muzzle flashes from automatic weapons cut across his path and he zigzagged to avoid the fire, A split second later he heard a loud boom and was thrown to the ground as a powerful land mine blew his jeep apart.

Davis grabbed for his M-1 carbine and he and the others opened fire. But by now they were surrounded, and within minutes nine of his South Vietnamese troops had been killed by machine-gun fire. A bullet crashed into the back of Davis's head and he collapsed on the ground. The Vietnam War had claimed its first American victim-a Sigint specialist. Two weeks later, the 3rd Radio Research Unit's secret headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base would be named Davis Station. Eventually, a barracks at NSA headquarters would also bear his name.

In Washington, that remote wave was beginning to swell and head toward shore. Kennedy further Americanized the civil war, ordering the CIA to beef up its covert operations far above the DMZ. Late at night, out of carbon-black skies, billowing parachutes glided gracefully to earth. But the missions, to infiltrate heavily armed South Vietnamese commandos into the North, were doomed before they began as a result of poor security. Automatic fire instead of friendly faces greeted roost of the teams as they touched down at their landing spots in the northern regions of North Vietnam.

Soon after President Johnson moved into the White House, following Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, the once far-off swell became a tidal wave about to crash. By mid-1964 there were 16,000 U.S. troops in the country and the war was costing American taxpayers about $4.5 million a day. Giving up on the disastrous CIA infiltration scheme, Johnson instead ordered the Joint Chiefs to develop a much more aggressive -- but still "plausibly deniable" -- operation that would convince Ho to give up his war for the South. The answer was Operational Plan 34A -- OPLAN 34A, in Pentagonese -- an ill-conceived CIA/Pentagon scheme for sabotage and hit-and-run attacks against the interior and coast of North Vietnam.

For a quarter of a century Ho had fought for an independent, unified Vietnam, successfully driving the heavily armed French back to Paris. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara thought OPLAN 34A made no sense. H Many of us who knew about the 34A operations had concluded they were essentially worthless," he recalled years later. "Most of the South Vietnamese agents sent into North Vietnam were either captured or killed, and the seaborne attacks amounted to little more than pinpricks."

Just as U.S. and South Vietnamese forces fought back against the guerrillas from the North, the North Vietnamese fought back against the commandos from the South, on both land and sea.

Into the middle of the fighting sailed NSA. According to an NSA report, "By midsummer of 1964 the curtain was going up on the main event, and no single element in the United States government played a more critical role in national decisions, both during and after the fact, than the National Security Agency."

For several years NSA's seagoing eavesdroppers, the Naval Security Group, had been searching for ways to conduct signals intelligence along the coastal areas of their high-priority targets. Long-range high-frequency North Vietnamese naval communications could be collected at large, distant listening posts, such as at Kamiseya in Japan and San Miguel in the Philippines. Other medium-range signals could be snatched by the large NSA listening posts at Davis Station in' Saigon and at Phu Bai, near the DMZ. But to snare short-range signals, such as walkie-talkie and coastal communications, the antennas and receivers would have to get close to the action. Off limits were the large eavesdropping factories owned exclusively by NSA, such as the USS Oxford And far in the future were the smaller, Navy-owned Sigint ships, such as the Pueblo.

The only alternative was to build Sigint shacks inside large steel antenna-sprouting boxes. These shipping-container-like huts would then be lowered onto a destroyer and sealed to the deck. The ship would then cruise close to a shoreline, like a spy at a party with a bugged olive in his martini glass.

They were far from ideal. Unlike the dedicated Sigint ships, which were virtually unarmed and unthreatening in appearance, the heavily armed destroyers were designed to be threatening and their presence was provocative. At the same time, the amount of signals intelligence that could be collected in the steel box on the deck was minuscule compared with what the dedicated ships could gather.

The Naval Security Group began conducting these Sigint patrols, codenamed DeSoto, in April 1962 with missions off China and North Korea. In January 1964, as they were planning the OPLAN 34A hit-and-run operations, the Joint Chiefs ordered additional DeSoto patrols off the North Vietnamese coast, in the Gulf of Tonkin. The signals generated by the surprise coastal attacks, they assumed, would be a good source of naval intelligence for the Sigint collectors. In addition to voice communications, the locations and technical details of coastal radar systems could be captured.

The first mission was conducted by the USS Craig in late February 1964. Resting on the ship's deck were both a Comint van for communications intelligence and an Elint van for radar signals. But upon spotting an American warship idling suspiciously a half-dozen miles off their coast, the security-conscious North Vietnamese navy quickly switched off virtually all nonessential radar and communications systems. Thus the Sigint take was poor.

At the request of U.S. officials in Saigon who were planning the raids into North Vietnam, another DeSoto mission was scheduled for the end of July 1964. It was felt that if a DeSoto mission coincided with coastal commando raids, there would be less chance of another washout. Chosen to host the electronic spies was the USS Maddox, a standard Navy "tin can," as destroyers were known. But whereas other ships had been ordered to stay at least thirteen miles off the coasts of such countries as China, North Korea, and the Soviet Union, the Maddox was authorized to approach as close as eight miles from the North Vietnamese coast, and four miles from offshore islands.

Like itinerant seamen, the Sigint vans would bounce from ship to ship, sailing off the coast of China on one tin can and then off the coast of North Korea on another. The crews also would change. One month a van might be filled with Russian linguists and the next with Chinese. "Home" for the vans was the port of Keelung in Taiwan. Because there were only a few available to cover a large area, they were very much in demand. The one lowered onto the deck of the Maddox had earlier been lifted from the deck of the USS MacKenzie, where, loaded with Russian linguists, it had eavesdropped off the Soviet coast.

As the Maddox was about to enter the Gulf of Tonkin, tensions were very high. At My Khe, a gritty stretch of coarse, hard-packed sand at the base of Monkey Mountain, U.S. Navy SEALs were teaching South Vietnamese marines the science of inflicting the maximum amount of death and destruction in the minimum amount of time. The main base from which the raids to the north took place, the My Khe compound was made up of a series of "compartmented" camps divided along ethnic lines, and long wooden docks. Secretly run by US. forces, it was a land of white phosphorus rockets and black rubber boats.

Late on the night of July 30, 1964, as moonlight rippled across the choppy Gulf of Tonkin, a raiding party of South Vietnamese commandos climbed aboard four large, fast patrol boats. Several of the type known as PTFs -- or, appropriately, Nasty-classboats -- were powered by diesel engines. The others were standard American-made, gasoline- driven PT boats. The vessels were armed with 57mm light infantry cannon. Bluish-gray exhaust gas shot from the rear of the guns, rather than the muzzle, to reduce the amount of recoil so that they would be steadier when used out of their mounts.

In the early morning hours of July 31, about halfway up the North Vietnamese coast, the boats blasted away at two offshore islands, Hon Me and Hon Ngu, in the most violent of the South Vietnamese-US. raids thus far.

As the boats were returning to My Khe later that same morning, their wake passed within four miles of the Maddox, then just north of the DMZ. Viewed by North Vietnamese coastal defense radars, the ships would have appeared to be rendezvousing. The Maddox may also have been perceived as standing guard, ready to fire at any boats seeking to cross the DMZ in hot pursuit of the heavily armed patrol boats. It was well known that the United States was behind virtually every South Vietnamese raid on the North.

Throughout the day, the Maddox bobbed lazily about eight miles off the North Vietnamese coast, just above the DMZ, an area of good signal hunting. Sitting in front of racks of receivers in the cramped Sigint van, which had received a new coat of gray paint a few days earlier to make it look like a normal part of the ship, the intercept operators worked twelve hours on and twelve hours off. One of the intercept positions was dedicated to short-range VHF communications, picking up hand-held radios and the chatter between vessels off the coast. The proficiency of the voice linguists was limited at best, but they had a tape recorder attached to the monitoring equipment and could save the conversations for later analysis.

Two other positions were for intercepting high-frequency Morse code signals. Because of the vagaries of radio wave propagation, some of the North Vietnamese high-frequency signals could be better heard in the Philippines than right off the coast. But because the ship was mobile, it could also pick up high-frequency signals that might escape the fixed, land- based listening posts. Unlike some DeSoto missions, the Maddox did not have a separate Elint van; the two Elint operators worked instead on the ship's standard radar receivers, alongside the crew. Also in the van was an on-line encrypted teleprinter, which could print out highly classified messages from NSA exclusively for the Sigint-cleared cryptologic team. This link bypassed the ship's normal communications channels.

Unlike the job of the Oxford and the other seagoing eavesdropping factories then being launched by NSA, the DeSoto patrols were "direct support" missions. Part of the job of the Sigint detachment was to collect intelligence on naval activities along the coast for later reports. But another was to provide area commanders with current, immediate intelligence support, including warning intelligence. On the Maddox, those cleared to receive such reports included the ship's captain, Commander Herbert Ogier, and also Captain John Herrick, the commander of the Seventh Fleet's Destroyer Division 192.

The twin missions of the Maddox were, in a sense, symbiotic. The vessel's primary purpose was to act as a seagoing provocateur-to poke its sharp gray bow and American flag as close to the belly of North Vietnam as possible, in effect shoving its 5-inch cannons up the nose of the Communist navy. In turn, this provocation would give the shore batteries an excuse to turn on as many coastal defense radars, fire control systems, and communications channels as possible, which could then be captured by the men in the steel box and at the radar screens. The more provocation, the more signals. The ship even occasionally turned off all its electronic equipment in an effort to force the shore stations to turn on additional radar-and begin chattering more -- in order to find it.

The mission was made more provocative by being timed to coincide with the commando raids, thus creating the impression that the Maddox was directing those missions and possibly even lobbing firepower in their support. The exercise was dangerous at best, foolish at worst. In the absence of information to the contrary, the Navy had assumed that North Vietnam, unlike most U.S. targets, did not claim a twelve-mile limit. Thus the decision was made to sail far closer to shore than on normal patrols in Communist Asia despite the fact that the United States happened to be engaged in combat with North Vietnam. In fact, North Vietnam also claimed at least a twelve-mile limit and viewed the Maddox as trespassing deep within its territorial waters.

On August 1, when the Maddox was about halfway up the North Vietnamese coast, intercept operators in the van were busy eavesdropping on the shore stations tracking the ship's progress. Upon hearing them report the Maddox's distance and bearing they could "back-plot" the signal to the station's location.

About 8:30 P.M. (local time) the ship approached the island of Hon Me; the island was now within easy range of the Maddox's powerful cannons. Although no one on board likely knew it, survivors on shore were still cleaning up from the grave damage produced by the American-planned South Vietnamese commando boat raid just two nights earlier. It may be that when those on Hon Me saw the U.S. warship loom large on the horizon in the gray twilight, the alarm went out that the shelling was going to begin again, this time with more powerful guns.

Hours later in the Sigint van, the tenor of the messages suddenly changed. A high-level North Vietnamese message was intercepted indicating that a decision had been made to launch an attack later that night. Although no targets were named, Captain Herrick was awakened immediately and informed of the situation. The next message, however, mentioned an "enemy" vessel and gave the Maddox's location. The conclusion was that an order had gone out to attack the Maddox. By then it was about 2:45 A.M. Captain Herrick ordered all personnel to go to general quarters, increased the ship's speed, and turned away from shore.

At about 11:30 A.M. the next day, August 2, crewmembers on the Maddox sighted five North Vietnamese navy attack boats about ten miles north of Hon Me. They had been sent from the port of Van Hoa, 145 miles to the north, to help defend the island from further attacks and hunt for the enemy raiders. Nevertheless, despite the danger, the Maddox continued its patrol, reaching the northernmost point of its planned track at 12:15 P.M. At that point it turned south, remaining about fifteen miles from shore. In the Sigint van, the messages intercepted had again become routine-supply orders, pier changes, personnel movements.

Suddenly the mood in the box changed. An odd message had been intercepted, and as it was being translated its seriousness became clear. It was an order to attack the ship with torpedoes.

By then three North Vietnamese torpedo boats had already pulled away from the island, waves lathering their bows like shaving foam as they reached thirty knots. Their goal was to trap the Maddox in a pincers move. They would pass the Maddox and then turn back, trapping the ship between them and the coast, preventing its escape to the safety of the high seas. Told of the message, Captain Herrick immediately turned southeast toward the open ocean. The intercept had turned the tide. By the time the PT boats arrived the Maddox was racing out to sea, leaving them in its wake as they fired at the destroyer's stern.

On board each swift sixty-six-foot aluminum-hulled PT boat were torpedoes packing a deadly wallop, each fitted with warheads containing 550 pounds of TNT. The three boats each launched one torpedo, but the fast-moving Maddox was beyond reach.

After this near miss, Captain Herrick suggested that the remainder of his Sigint mission be called off. But the general perception in the Pentagon was that such action would set a bad precedent, since in effect the United States would have been chased away. Herrick was ordered to continue the patrol and another destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, was provided as protection.

Shortly after the attack on the Maddox, it was clear to officials in Washington that the principal reason for the incident was the North Vietnamese belief that the ship was directing the commando raids. "It seems likely that the North Vietnamese and perhaps the Chi-Coms [Chinese Communists] have assumed that the destroyer was part of this operation," Michael Forrestal, the State Department's Vietnam expert, told Secretary of State Dean Rusk on August 3. "It is also possible that Hanoi deliberately ordered the attack in retaliation for the harassment of the islands."

Yet with the Maddox still on its DeSoto Sigint patrol, it was decided to launch more commando raids on the day following the attack, August 3, this despite Secretary of Defense McNamara's firm belief that the operations were useless. Departing from My Khe, the same location as the previous mission, the four-boat raiding party sped seventy-five miles up the North Vietnamese coast to Cape Vinh Son and Cua Ron. There they shelled a radar station and a security post, the first South Vietnamese-U.S. attacks against a mainland target. In response, a North Vietnamese patrol boat took off in hot pursuit for about forty minutes before giving up. And once again, the government of North Vietnam connected the raid with the still-present Maddox.

Captain Herrick was worried about how stirred up the North Viet namese were over the latest OPLAN 34A shelling. Early the next morning, August 4, he cabled his superiors:

Evaluation of info from various sources indicates that the DRV [North Vietnam] considers patrol directly involved with 34-A operations and have already indicated readiness to treat us in that category. DRV are very sensitive about Hon Me. Believe this PT operating base and the cove there presently contains numerous patrol and PT craft which have been repositioned from northerly bases.

Later, an analyst at NSA received intercepts indicating that another attack on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin was imminent. One of the messages, sent from North Vietnamese naval headquarters in Haiphong to a patrol boat, specified the location of the destroyers. An other message included an order to prepare for military operations, using the patrol boats and perhaps a torpedo boat if it could be made ready in time. NSA immediately notified the Pentagon and a few minutes later, at 7:15 P.M. (Vietnam time), informed Captain Herrick on the Maddox.

An hour after NSA's warning, the Maddox sent out emergency messages indicating that it had picked up radar signals from three unidentified vessels closing fast. Fighters were launched from the Ticonderoga but thick, low-hanging clouds on the moonless night obscured the sea and they reported that they could see no activity. Nevertheless, over the next several hours, the two ships issued more than twenty reports of automatic weapons fire, torpedo attacks, and other hostile action. But in the end, no damage was sustained, and serious questions arose as to whether any attack actually took place. "Freak radar echoes," McNamara was told, were misinterpreted by "young fellows" manning the sonar, who "are apt to say any noise is a torpedo."

Nevertheless, regardless of the doubts raised by talk of "radar ghosts" and "nervousness," in testimony before Congress McNamara spoke of "unequivocal proof" of the new attack. That "unequivocal proof" consisted of the highly secret NSA intercept reports sent to the Maddox on August 4 as a warning. Based largely on McNamara's claims of certainty, both houses of Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, thus plunging the United States officially into the open-ended quagmire known as the Vietnam War.

But it later turned out that that "unequivocal proof" was the result of a major blunder by NSA, and the "hard evidence" on which many people based their votes for the war never really existed. Years later Louis Tordella quietly admitted that the intercepts NSA used as the basis for its August 4 warning messages to the Maddox actually referred to the first attack, on August 2. There never were any intercepts indicating an impending second attack on August 4. The phony NSA warning led to McNamara's convincing testimony, which then led to the congressional vote authorizing the Vietnam War.

"What in effect happened," said Ray S. Cline, who was CIA's deputy director for intelligence at the time, "is that somebody from the Pentagon, I suppose it was McNamara, had taken over raw Sigint and [had] shown the President what they thought was evidence of a second attack on a [U.S.] naval vessel. And it was just what Johnson was looking for." Cline added, "Everybody was demanding the Sigint; they wanted it quick, they didn't want anybody to take any time to analyze it." Finally, he said, "I became very sure that that attack [on August 4] did not take place."

A quarter of a century earlier, confusion in Washington over Sigint warning messages resulted in calm at Pearl Harbor when there should have been action. Now, confusion over Sigint warning messages in Washington led to action in the Gulf of Tonkin when there should" have been calm. In both cases a long, difficult pass was successfully intercepted, only for the players in Washington to fumble a few feet from the goal line.

For nearly four decades the question has been debated as to whether the Pentagon deliberately provoked the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to generate popular and congressional support, to launch its bloody war in Vietnam. In 1968, under oath before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert McNamara vigorously denied any such plot:

I must address the suggestion that, in some way, the Government of the United States induced the incident on August 4 with the intent of providing an excuse to take the retaliatory action which we in fact took....

I find it inconceivable that anyone even remotely familiar with our society and system of Government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy which would have included almost, if not all, the entire chain of military command in the Pacific, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense and his chief assistants, the Secretary of State, and the President of the United States.

McNamara knew full well how disingenuous this was. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had become a sewer of deceit. Only two years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, his Joint Chiefs had presented him with a plan to launch a conspiracy far more grave than "inducing" the attack on the destroyers. Operation Northwoods had called for nothing less than the launch of a secret campaign of terrorism within the United States in order to blame Castro and provoke a war with Cuba.

More than three years after the incident in the Gulf, about the same time McNamara was feigning indignation before the Senate committee, the Joint Chiefs were still thinking in terms of launching "pretext" wars. Then the idea was to send the Sigint ship Banner, virtually unmanned, off dangerous North Korean shores, not to collect intelligence but to act as a sitting duck and provoke a violent response. Once the attack occurred, it would serve as an excuse to launch a war.

These proposed wars would be hidden for decades from Congress and the public under classification stamps and phony claims of national security.

George Ball, under secretary of state when the Tonkin Gulf incident took place, later came down on the side of the skeptics. "At the time there's no question that many of the people who were associated with the war," he said, "were looking for any excuse to initiate bombing.... The 'DeSoto' patrols, the sending of a destroyer up the Tonkin Gulf was primarily for provocation.... I think there was a feeling that if the destroyer got into some trouble, that it would provide the provocation we needed." Ball had no knowledge of Operation Northwoods.

Restless from a decade of peace, out of touch with reality, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were desperate for a war, any war. Thanks in large part to the provocative Sigint patrols and NSA's intercept mix-up, now they had one.


With the passing of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the tidal wave that had begun as distant whitecaps came crashing down, eventually sweeping tens of thousands of Americans to their death.

At the same time the war was being fought in the steamy jungles, it was also being waged high in the ether. This was the Sigint war, an invisible battle to capture hidden electrons and solve complex puzzles. As in World War II, it can often be the decisive battle. But the glory days of solving the German Enigma code and the Japanese Purple code had long since passed. With the North Vietnamese military and the Vietcong, NSA was discovering, the old rules had been changed. The eavesdroppers would have to start from scratch.

Hidden from view, NSA rapidly increased its buildup in Vietnam. By 1964 the number of cryptologic personnel in the country had reached 1,?47. Three hundred men now packed Davis Station at Tan Son Nhut in Saigon. The Navy sent a Marine Sigint detachment to Pleiku, where they targeted Laotian and North Vietnamese communications. And U.S. Air Force intercept operators began setting up shop in Da Nang. To coordinate the growing numbers of units, a secure communications network was built linking sites at Nha Trang, Can Tho, Bien Hoa, Pleiku, Da Nang, and Ban Me Thuoy. Then, in order to communicate quickly and securely with NSA headquarters, an undersea cable was laid from Vietnam to the Philippines. Codenamed Wetwash, the cable carried a variety of traffic ranging from high-speed CRITIC circuits to intercepted North Vietnamese messages too difficult to decrypt in Vietnam. In the Philippines, the Wetwash cable connected to another secure undersea cable that eventually terminated at NSA, in Fort Meade.

In the far north, near the demilitarized zone separating North from South, 1,000 Sigint personnel were sent to Phu Bai, which became the cornerstone of NSA's expansion. Like electronic border police, intercept operators manned 100 positions in a windowless operations building, listening for indications of infiltration and guerrilla activity. Others eavesdropped on tactical communications by both North Vietnamese and Laotian Communist forces. The expansive base was supported by another 500 people and surrounded by high fences, barbed wire and concertina wire, and eleven guard posts manned twenty-four hours a day.

But just as the numbers of people continued to grow, so did the problems. Although the school to train South Vietnamese soldiers was built and fully equipped, for years it had virtually no students because of the inability of the indigenous soldiers to pass NSA's rigorous security clearance requirements. More equipment and personnel in the field meant more intercepts, but most of them were not being analyzed because of the lack of trained linguists. "US. personnel with the ability to read Vietnamese texts were in short supply," said one NSA document, "and people competent to deal with spoken Vietnamese, with very few exceptions, were not to be found." Despite a crash training program at NSA, said the report, "the linguist problem became worse, not better." Communications problems were also frequent.

Most incredibly, NSA deliberately refrained from mounting a massive World War II-style Enigma or Purple effort against North Vietnamese cipher systems. According to one of the key NSA officials overseeing the cryptologic effort in Vietnam, "We found that we had adequate information without having to do that. In other words, through a combination of traffic analysis, low-level cryptanalysis, and plaintext/clear voice. The situation didn't justify the major effort." According to another former official, mounting an enormous effort against North Vietnam would have diverted limited resources away from "the Soviet problem" and other areas, which nobody wanted to do. "And of course there was always the question of whether there was any utility in working on one-time pads," said the former official. "But my argument always was, How do you know it's a one-time pad if you don't work it?" This was an allusion to the surprising "Venona" breakthrough in Soviet onetime pads.

For most of the intercept operators, used to the monotonous routine of peacetime listening posts, there was an air of unreality about Vietnam. The constant wharp-wharp-wharp of steel helicopter blades echoing off rusty corrugated roofs. Gunships on a hunt, flying in formation as they skimmed the ground. Open crates of green rocket-propelled grenades and saucer-shaped claymore mines resting haphazardly beside delicate flame trees and baskets of lotus blossoms.


The Sigint war was fought by both sides. Although no one knew it at the time, the North Vietnamese Central Research Directorate, which managed the North's Sigint operations, was successfully collecting almost all South Vietnamese and U.S. communications passing over a number of key traffic lanes. North Vietnam did not need to break high-level American codes, because the Americans continuously chose expediency over security. Rather than take the time to send the information over secure, encrypted lines, they would frequently bypass encryption and simply use voice communications. The problem became, according to NSA, America's Achilles' heel during the war. "There was no blotter large enough to dry up sensitive, exploitable plain-language communications in Vietnam," said one NSA report.

Over the years, U.S. forces would occasionally capture enemy Sigint operators who would shed light on the problem. "Through interrogation of these men and study of the documents and signals intelligence materials seized," said a secret NSA analysis, "a clear, even frightening picture of Vietnamese Communist successes against Allied communications gradually emerged." Even as late as 1969, major clandestine listening posts were being discovered, such as one in Binh Duong Province. "Evaluation of the equipment showed that the enemy unit could hear virtually all voice and manual Morse communications used by U.S. and Allied tactical units. The documents proved the enemy's success -- 2,000 hand- opied voice transmissions in English and signals intelligence instruction books of a highly professional caliber."

US. intelligence sources estimated that North Vietnam had probably as many as 5,000 intercept operators targeting American communications. "The inescapable conclusion from the captured documents in U.S. hands," said the NSA report, "is that the enemy is conducting a highly sophisticated signal intelligence operation directed against U.S. and Allied forces in South Vietnam. He has developed the art of intercept to the point where his operators receive training materials tailored to the particular US. or Allied units against whom they are working. The training materials captured list selected [U.S.] units, the frequencies on which they communicated, their communications procedures, the formats and numerous examples ,of their messages, and other characteristics to guide the communist operator."

The consequences of the poor US. communications security coupled with the advanced state of North Vietnamese Sigint were serious. NSA labeled the careless procedures "deadly transmissions." Lieutenant General Charles R. Myer, a career signals officer who served twice in Vietnam, outlined the problem. "The enemy might disappear from a location just before a planned US. attack," he said. "B-52 bomber strikes did not produce expected results because the enemy apparently anticipated them."

Strikes from sea were equally vulnerable. On February 11, 1965, the aircraft carrier USS Hancock was preparing to launch a bombing raid against certain shore targets in the North. But details of the mission were discussed over plain- language channels days before the attack. As a result, North Vietnamese naval units were ordered to use camouflage and systematically disperse before the morning of February 11. On other occasions, when the American planes arrived over their targets, anti-aircraft weapons were waiting, pointing in their direction, with deadly results.

Again in an attempt to avoid the time-consuming task of encrypting information using approved NSA ciphers and equipment, Americans would often make up their own "homemade" codes. "Their continued appearance on the scene has constituted one of the major Comsec [communications security] headaches of the war," a Top Secret/Umbra NSA report noted. "Even as late as the spring of 1969, the U.S. Air Force attache in Laos, who was coordinating semi-covert U.S. air and other operations in that country, was sending most of his messages in a code he had made up himself," NSNs Air Force communications security specialists secretly eavesdropped on the attache's communications. "They could completely reconstruct his code within eight to ten hours after each change," said the NSA report. "Since the attache changed codes only every five weeks, most of his messages were susceptible to immediate enemy Sigint exploitation. The appearance and reappearance of codes of this type demand constant Comsec alertness."

Even if US. forces did use secure encryption to pass sensitive information, such as dates and times for attacks, problems arose when that information was passed to the South Vietnamese military and they discussed it over less secure channels. The South's communications were particularly vulnerable to the Vietcong. For example, using captured American equipment the guerrilla force was able to pick up US. Special Forces communications transmitted through the South Vietnamese Air Force network. "It was ... likely that they could gain all the intelligence they needed on the growing US. presence in Vietnam from [South Vietnamese Air Force] communications," said an NSA study of the problem. One former Vietcong soldier later told US. officials that as a result of Sigint his unit had never been taken by surprise over a ten-year period and that they never had enough English-language linguists for all the communications they intercepted.

Another major problem was the lack of secure telephones. The Vietnam-era secure phone, the KY-8, was far from the compact handset of today; it looked more like a small safe. In 1965 there were 800 of the crypto machines in a warehouse in the US., but they had neither mounting brackets nor connecting cables. After what was described as "some tortuous evolutions," the first KY-8s eventually arrived in South Vietnam late in 1965 and over the next three years they were all distributed. Art aircraft version, the KY-28, and a mobile unit, the KY-38, were also distributed. But there were not nearly enough secure phones. They were also very temperamental and prone to failure. Because they broke down in direct sunlight and high heat, they were also useless in places like bunkers. As a result, they did not solve the problem of classified talk on unsecure phones. "Signal security, particularly in voice radio transmissions," said General Myer, "was a major problem area throughout the period of combat operations in Vietnam."
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Part 2 of 3

To help guard against sloppy procedures and compromises, NSA and its naval, air, and military arms conducted what was known as communications security monitoring. "In conventional Comsec operations," said one :--;SA study of the Vietnam War, "the monitor places himself in the role of the enemy. Selectively, he intercepts the communications of his own service and then reports on the intelligence he has -- and the enemies could have-gleaned from them." The Comsec personnel would frequently work from the back of hot, antenna-covered, three-quarter-ton trucks. Surrounding them would be a variety of monitoring equipment, such as the TPHZ-3, which could listen to thirty telephone lines simultaneously. During 1967, Comsec operators eavesdropped on 6,606,539 radio-telephone conversations and more than 500,000 conventional telephone calls.

At one point, such operations possibly saved the life of Lieutenant General Creighton W Abrams, the deputy chief of the US. military command in Vietnam. As Abrams was about to board a helicopter on a flight north from Saigon to Phu Bai near Hue, the details of the mission, including the time, altitude, and route, and the names of the passengers, were transmitted in the clear. Comsec monitors overheard the transmission and reported it immediately. As a result, the flight plan was changed. North Vietnamese intercept operators also overheard the transmission. Although Abrams flew by a different route, one of the other helicopters scheduled to make the trip was not told of the change. As a result, "it was shot at the whole way from Saigon to Phu Bai -- an unusual effort by the VC who did not usually shoot at helicopters on such flights," said an NSA report on the incident. "This I believe was a certain example of enemy Sigint use."

North Vietnamese Sigint experts were also able to pass false and deceptive information over U.S. communications links and at other times were able to trick American personnel into passing sensitive information to them over the phone. NSA called such "imitative communications deception (ICD)" the "capstone of the enemy's Sigint operations." During one period, at 'least eight American helicopters were downed as a result of ICD.

At the U.S. air base in Da Nang, a Vietcong guerrilla killed an American base guard and then picked up his phone. Speaking English, he announced that the far end of the base was being attacked. When the guards rushed off to the far end of the field, the Vietcong attacked with little resistance. The damage to the base and its planes was estimated to be around $15 million. The incident could have been prevented if the guards had simply used a proper authentication system.

At another point, guerrillas were able to lure American helicopters into a trap by breaking into their frequencies, using correct call signs, and then directing the choppers to a landing spot where they were ambushed. There were also numerous times in which American air and artillery strikes were deliberately misdirected to bomb or fire on friendly positions. At other times, the guerrillas were able to halt attacks by giving false cease-fire orders.

Even the best NSA encryption systems then available were potentially vulnerable. These included the KY-8 for secure voice communications and the KW-7 for highly sensitive written messages. "All of our primary operational communications were passed on KW-7 secured circuits," one U.S. commander in Vietnam told NSA. "Thus, for the more important traffic, we had good security."

But both the KW-7 and the KY-8 were captured by North Korea and turned over to Russia in 1968, and for years, until long after the Vietnam War ended, the Soviets were also getting up-to-date keylists for the machines from the Walker spy ring. This has led to speculation that the Soviets passed some of this information to the North Vietnamese.

Former KGB Major General Boris A. Solomatin, chief of station at the Soviet Embassy in Washington from 1965 to 1968, denies that Walker contributed to America's defeat: "Walker is not responsible for your failures in bombing in North Vietnam." Solomatin, who retired from the KGB and still lives in Moscow, added, "If you decide that the information from Walker was not handed over to the North Vietnamese or our other allies, you will be making the correct one."

But Solomatin's deputy at the time, KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, who defected to the United States and now lives in Washington, disagrees. Although the machines and their keylists were considered far too sensitive to turn over to the North Vietnamese, the Russians certainly helped the North Vietnamese whenever they could. "We certainly pro vided the Vietnamese with some of the product we had obtained through John Walker, and ultimately with the Pueblo's stuff we had from the North Koreans," said Kalugin. "The Soviet military were quite involved in Vietnam. Not only in terms of providing military equipment, hardware and weapons, but also in helping the Vietnamese to conduct military operations, and to brief them all certain issues which the Soviets thought would have winning implications for the Vietnamese side." Kalugin added, "By providing the intelligence we had obtained I'm sure we would help the Vietnamese. I'm sure we did."

The Soviets also provided help in other ways. On June 18, 1965, on a runway on Guam, twenty-seven Strategic Air Command B-52 bombers lined up like a rehearsal for doomsday. They were a fearsome sight: planes as long as sixteen- story buildings, their swept-back, fuel-laden wings spanning more than half the length of a football field and drooping so close to the ground that they needed to be supported by bicycle-like outriggers. Weighing them down were eight Pratt & Whitney J-57 turbojets capable of generating more than 100,000 pounds of earthshaking thrust. Their cavernous bomb bays were roomy enough to house limousine-size nuclear bombs.

In the cockpit of the lead aircraft, the gloved right hand of the pilot grasped the eight throttles, one for each engine. Slowly, in a single motion, he shoved them forward, hurling the mighty machine ever faster down the runway. Seconds later the plane lifted into the sky from Anderson Air Force Base, bearing fifty-one conventional bombs totaling sixteen tons. More than two dozen Stratofortresses followed, flying to a point over the measureless Pacific Ocean where they rendezvoused with a fleet of KC-135 tankers. There, through long steel straws, they took in fuel at 6,000 pounds a minute while performing a delicate ballet five miles above the sea at 300 miles an hour.

Codenamed Operation Arc Light, their mission was to lay waste South Vietnam -- the country the U.S. was trying to save. The targets were Vietcong guerrilla bases, which were to be bombed back into the days of flint and stone axes. Launched on their nonstop, 5,000-mile round-trip missions, the B-52s cratered the South Vietnamese countryside like the face of the moon. Twelve hours after taking off, they would land back on Guam. Month after month, 8,000 tons of iron rain fell on South Vietnam, spreading death, dismemberment, and destruction on whomever and whatever it touched. An average of 400 pounds of TNT exploded somewhere in the small country every second of every hour for months on end.

As preparations got under way days in advance for each mission, a growing cloud of electrons would form over Guam. Messages would have to go out requisitioning new bomb fuses and brake pads, target recommendations would flow back and forth, authorizations and go orders would be transmitted. The volume of signals would increase every day, like a bell curve.

Shortly after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed, a Soviet trawler, the Izmeritel took up residence three miles off Apra, Guam's major harbor. Like a seagull hovering around a fish factory, the antenna-covered Sigint boat was scavenging for signals. With the start of the Arc Light missions, the feeding became a frenzy. Guam served as a key communications center for many of the Navy's operations in Southeast Asia, and during the early part of the war was the only staging area for B-52 bombing missions over Vietnam. Soon after the beginning of Arc Light, mission planners began noticing that on many occasions the element of surprise had been lost. It would be more than a year before they began to understand why.

Bobbing innocently in the waves off Apra, the Izmeritel was able to gain a clear picture of launch times for the B-52s. Through traffic analysis of pre-strike encrypted transmissions, they were able to identify alerts from the indicators that marked Flash messages. About an hour before launch, the short-range VHF radio network would swell with clear-text transmission by aircraft and munitions maintenance personnel. This increased volume tipped off the Soviets to an impending launch like a signalman waving a flag. Also, thanks to radio talk such as "652 must be ready by 0900," they were able to identify the launch aircraft by tail numbers and even to learn the names of the crew. Unencrypted weather forecasts by SAC over certain areas of the Pacific gave away the aerial refueling locations.

Similar Sigint operations by the Vietcong in South Vietnam would reveal the target areas. And because the B-52s carried no encryption equipment, except for the Triton codes for nuclear authorization, all their communications were in clear voice. Captured enemy documents included a transcript of two and a half hours of detailed discussion of a particular planned B-52 raid, including the exact time of the attack and the coordinates of the target.

Only after a highly secret NSA, Air Force, and Navy investigation at Guam and other locations was it determined how the North Vietnamese and Vietcong were able to eliminate Arc Light's element of surprise. The probe uncovered "a number of insecure communications practices that made vital intelligence available to the enemy."

The NSA was also concerned about the Soviet trawler's ability to break its codes by discovering a "bust." Known technically as a cipher-signal anomaly, this is when an electrical irregularity occurs during encryption that "might permit an alert enemy to recover plain language or other data," according to an NSA document. Then, as now, it is a key way to break an otherwise unbreakable cipher.

Even without a bust, the Soviet trawler might still be able to defeat the cipher systems by intercepting the radiation emitted from the cryptographic equipment. For years NSA had worried about the amount of intelligence that might be gained by monitoring the radiation emitted by sensitive communications and encryption equipment-even by power cords. Through careful analysis, these radiated signals might reveal the contents of a secret message as it was being typed on a cipher machine -- that is, before it was encrypted. Likewise, an incoming message might be detected as it was being printed out, and thus at a time, when its protective ciphers have been stripped away. To help eliminate or at least decrease this radiation, the agency has long had a: program known as "Tempest testing."

An NSA team was flown to Guam and put aboard the USS Charles Berry, a destroyer, which was then positioned near the Izmeritel. Working inside a cramped Sigint van, the intercept operators began testing the electronic environment to determine just what the Soviet trawler was capable of hearing. Then the destroyer moved to other locations, eventually working its way around the island, staying three miles offshore. During the course of the test, the NSA team obtained over 77,000 feet of magnetic tape recordings. Happily, while in the vicinity of the Sigint trawler, the team could detect no "compromising cipher-signal anomalies," nor any Tempest problems. Nevertheless, at every point around the island they were able to clearly hear Air Force ground maintenance crews. "The communications were in plain language," said the NSA report, "and the NSA analysts could thus predict B-52 mission launchings at least two hours prior to take-off."

After their seagoing survey, the NSA team tested the land-based circuits and found that signals from teletypewriters that were rapping out decrypted, highly secret messages were leaking onto unencrypted voice channels. Thus by intercepting and then closely analyzing the voice communications, the Soviets might be able to read the classified messages.

As a result of the investigation, NSA conducted several other large-scale analyses of communications leaks. One, codenamed Purple Dragon, determined that the North Vietnamese were learning the locations of planned strikes by several means, among them the monitoring of unencrypted radio traffic from the fleet of KC-135 tankers.

To many at NSA, the results were shocking. "U.S. air strikes were of dubious success against an enemy who mysteriously faded from target areas," said a former NSA deputy director for communications security, Walter G. Deeley. "Ground sweeps seldom encountered more than the aged and the very young; and Marine amphibious forces stormed virtually deserted shores. It was apparent that the success of the enemy in evading our forces was probably predicated on advance knowledge of our intentions."

More shocking, said Deeley, was the fact that even after being informed by NSA of the devastating security lapses, the military refused to take any corrective action. U.S. military commanders in Vietnam frequently looked down on Comsec and paid no attention to the warnings. And communications personnel referred to them as "buddy fuckers" because they eavesdropped on American forces. In such cases there was little NSA could do. "Comsec monitors and analysts had an advisory role only and no power themselves to effect changes," said an NSA report. "For a variety of reasons commanders frequently ignored, or read sympathetically without action, the findings of the Comsec units." The consequences were often deadly.

One U.S. Army commander at 1st Infantry Division headquarters was talking over his desk phone when someone came into his office and mentioned that a specific operation was to take place in a location "35 kilometers north of here tomorrow." A Comsec monitor, eavesdropping on the call, heard the mention of the location of the operation and notified the officer. But the officer never bothered to change the plans. "On landing, the assault force met unexpectedly heavy resistance," said an NSA report. "U.S. losses were approximately 58 men killed and 82 wounded," The ASA commander on the scene "regarded the outcome as the results of an enemy reaction to a security breach." The number of deaths caused by poor U.S. communications security and successful North Vietnamese Sigint became alarming. NSA spoke of "a veritable flood of intelligence for enemy Sigint exploitation and tactical application, a flood that spelled defeat or losses during many US. combat operations."

Incredibly, the United States was losing the code war the same way Germany and Japan lost it in World War II. With the aid of the Russians, the North Vietnamese may have been getting access to intelligence from NSA's most secure encryption systems, gaining information like that obtained by breaking the German Enigma and Japanese Purple codes during World War II. Even without that, they were obtaining enormous amounts of Sigint, which frequently allowed them to escape destruction and, instead, target American forces.

From the very beginning, American commanders had an arrogant belief in U.S. military superiority. They believed that the North Vietnamese military and jungle-based Vietcong -- the "gooks" -- were far too unsophisticated to be able to make sense of U.S. communications networks. After all, many commanders reasoned, how could an army of soldiers who marched on sandals made of used tire treads be taken seriously? "Most U.S. commanders in Vietnam," said an NSA study, "doubted that the enemy could conduct successful Sigint operations. These commanders reasoned that U.S. superiority in training, firepower, and mobility made Comsec of little importance." The commanders, like their defeated German and Japanese counterparts during World War II, would be wrong.

Compounding the problem, the American military commanders would also ignore a second lesson of World War II: they paid little heed to warnings derived through their own signals intelligence.


On March 8, 1965, two Marine battalions stormed ashore at Da Nang, the first official combat troops to be sent into the war. By the end of the year, the number of American forces in Vietnam would swell to nearly 200,000. After a period of relative calm, the Vietcong erupted throughout the country on May 11. More than 1,000 poured over the Cambodian border, a growing weak spot, and brought down Songbe, a provincial capital about fifty miles north of Saigon.

To help plug the Cambodian hole, the decision was made to send NSA's flagship, the USS Oxford, into the war zone. The Oxford would be the first seagoing Sigint factory assigned to Vietnam. The orders were transmitted to the ship on May 26 to set sail immediately for Southeast Asia. At the time, the Oxford was just completing a nearly four-month cruise off West Africa, where it had stopped at Lagos and Durban, among other ports. Now not only were the crew going to war rather than home, they were also told that from now on the ship's homeport would be San Diego instead of Norfolk, a blow to those with families on the East Coast.

"In Africa we were looking at some of the local links," recalled George A. Cassidy, an Elint intercept operator on the ship. "Anything that could be Communist related. If we ever got anything Communist or Russian it was like a feather in our cap. That was our main goal, to get something that had to do with Russia."

Then came the message from NSA. "We left Durban and were going around the other side of South Africa for some reason," said Cassidy. lilt was about three o'clock in the afternoon. The captain came on and made an announcement. Guys were really worried. I mean, you had guys who had marriages almost on the rocks, and here they are, they're across on the other side of the world. Guys had houses, families, cars, kids, wives, lovers, whatever, everything on the East Coast, and we all said, Now we're going to Vietnam.... I can tell you it was probably almost the same lowering of morale, in a different way, which we felt when Kennedy was shot."

On the long voyage to Southeast Asia, Cassidy found a way to boost morale: he created a photomontage of pictures taken by crewmembers in the various houses of prostitution they had visited while on their many NSA Sigint voyages. "Crewmembers would take photos in the whorehouses and bring them back where another crewmember would develop the film," he said. "I would swear them to secrecy that they wouldn't show it to anyone on the ship, especially the officers, and I would keep an extra print of the good stuff. I kept it locked away, a place nobody could find. It was in a big metal can up in an air vent in the photo lab.

"So after this happened [the orders to Vietnam], I was talking to some of the guys, and they said why don't you make up a big poster board of all these pictures and try to raise the morale a little. I said, 'I can't do this, I'll get killed.' So I went to the captain and I told him what my idea was and he said, 'Well, if they're not really bad, explicit photographs it probably won't be a bad idea.' So I went to each guy and asked if they would mind and nobody really minded. And we put it up in the mess deck one afternoon. And I'll tell you, it kind of brought the morale up a little bit. It was from photographs of guys with women in Durban, the Canary Islands; I had some from the Caribbean, even. And there' were some from the Zurich Hotel in Valparaiso, Chile."

In Asia, as elsewhere, all information concerning the Oxford was considered very secret. Unfortunately, that made life difficult for those who were sent from the United States to join it. One of those was John De Chene, who was trying to get to the Oxford from California. "They tried to keep the Oxford movements very highly classified," he said. "First we went to Subic Bay, Philippines, because that's where they had the Oxford listed. We arrived at Clark Air Force Base and took a bus for four hours over back roads to Subic. Once there, they told us it was actually at Yokosuka, Japan. So we took the bus back to Clark and flew to Yokosuka, only to be told they'd never heard of the ship. Later, however, someone said the ship was now off Saigon. So we flew to Saigon and they said no, not here, she's now at Subic. We went back to Subic and it wasn't there. Finally they sent out a fleet search. Well, it had been sitting for two months in dry dock in Sasebo, Japan. So they flew us in to a Marine base in Japan and then we had to take a Japanese train all the way down to the lower islands and got to Sasebo the next morning and there she was. We were probably in transit about a week."

Once out of dry dock, the Oxford sailed to its assigned station in the Gulf of Thailand, a remote area near An Thoi on the southern tip of Phu Quoc Island. "We generally spent two months on station at our position on the border of Cambodia/Vietnam, copying and recording all communications, both foreign and friendly," said De Chene. "A lot of the time we were only about two miles off the coast." It was a very good position to eavesdrop on and DF [direction-find] the hundreds of units in the area."

The ship would occasionally pull in to An Thai so that Ray Bronco, the ship's postal clerk, could pick up and drop off mail. One day he accidentally discovered that An Thai was also home to a prison camp for captured Vietcong. "I was on the back of a flat pickup truck with all these bags of mail going to the U.S.," he said. "A C-130 troop transport flew in and landed on an airstrip. I was probably about fifty yards or less away. It turned and the tail end almost lined up to the back of the truck. The back door opened up and out ran about thirty to fifty screaming Vietcong. They came charging toward me. The Marines fired over their head. They didn't realize that there was an innocent bystander there. I still have flashbacks and post-traumatic stress over it."

Later, the Oxford's sister ship, the USS Jamestown, was also ordered to the area. The Jimmy-T, as it was known, was assigned to the South China Sea around Saigon and the Delta region. "There was always a rivalry between our sister ship ... and us," said Richard E. Kerr, Jr. "In the aft ops area, we had a huge wooden hand carved into the classic 'the bird' position. I do not know the story behind it, but I think it had some funny inscription like, 'From one sister to another.'"

Down below, in the Oxford's forward NSA spaces, intercept operators listened with highly sensitive KG-14 multichannel receivers. To translate the information, the Sigint unit had linguists qualified in Lao/Thai, several Chinese dialects, Russian, and Vietnamese. Among the intercept operators on board was at least one qualified in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. "We did as much processing as we could," recalled De Chene. "Fort Meade wanted both recordings and transcripts and our breakdowns of it. Pretty much full scope of as much as we could cover ... For about two weeks we had one NSA guy on board. He kept to himself. I don't think anybody knew why he was there." In the aft area, Elint operators collected the signals of hundreds of radar systems on huge reels of Mylar tape attached to 32-track Ampex recorders.

Among the most important assignments during the Oxford's years in Southeast Asia was the Seven Nations Manila Summit Conference, which took place in the Philippine capital on October 23-27, 1966. Anchored in Manila harbor, right across from the Stanley Point Naval Air Station, the ship was able to eavesdrop on the negotiations. Thus, American negotiators got a leg up by discovering the strategies and arguing points of the other players. At one point, intercept operators on the ship "uncovered a plot," said De Chene, "to assassinate [US. President Lyndon B.] Johnson, [Philippine President Ferdinand E.] Marcos, and I think Nguyen Cao Ky." The plotters were members of the Communist-inspired Huk movement. As a result of the intercept operators' warning, every member of the ship received a letter of commendation.

The Sigint personnel and the rest of the ship's crew, referred to as general service personnel, were in effect segregated. "The general service personnel had no idea what we did, or how we did it," said De Chene. "All they knew was at the commencement of the workday, we would file behind those security doors, both fore and aft of the ship, and we would reappear at noon for chow. For the most part, they stayed away from us and in greater or lesser degrees, we, them. It was as if there were two different Oxfords, and I guess there really were." Ray Bronco agreed: "They [the Sigint personnel] were in a world of their own."

In July 1966, NSA decided to have the Jamestown temporarily relieve the Oxford and send Oxford to conduct signals intelligence operations along the coast of mainland China. At the time the secretive and violent Cultural Revolution was going on. "After about two weeks of cruising up and down China's coastline," said De Chene, "our results were fairly meager at best. From all appearances, the Chinese knew when and where we were going to be and for the most part, their communications transmissions were held to a bare minimum, or none at all."

But while the eavesdropping proved quite boring, the South China Sea gave them more excitement than they desired. Typhoon Ora was moving rapidly toward the Oxford. "We were taking severe rolls," De Chene recalled, "and the storm was growing stronger. The following day all hell broke loose. We lost a boiler and we were now dead in the water, almost at the center of the typhoon. We were drifting, and the wind was pushing us right into the coastal waters of Red China."

An emergency message went out for help and a fleet tug was dispatched for rescue. But more than a day went by without any sign of help. "All hands were now briefed on our full situation," said-De Chene, "and advised that an abandon ship order might be given, and the CTs [communications technicians] were put on standby to destroy all equipment and documents. The captain also considered putting our utility boat and his gig in the water to possibly either start towing the ship or at least slow her drift. At this point we were approximately twenty miles from the beach, or eight miles from Chinese coastal waters. Finally, after drifting inland for two more miles, the tug made its appearance and shot us her lines. She then towed us back to Taiwan and out of harm's way of both capture and the storm."


The war in Vietnam was layered, like a wedding cake, and it was fought from the ground up. After the ambush death of James Davis as he prowled through the jungle near Saigon attempting to pinpoint enemy signals, NSA began experimenting with direction finding from the air. "Since radio wave propagation in Southeast Asia required that DF equipment be very close to the transmitter," said an NSA report, "the obvious answer was to go airborne."

While some airborne Sigint and DF missions required enormous planning, others were seat-of-the-pants, such as the chopper missions. Flying near treetop level just south of the DMZ were intercept operators in UH-1H "Huey" helicopters. With antennas duct-taped to the chopper's skids, the operators searched for North Vietnamese Army communications signals. Inside, a Vietnamese linguist listened for infiltrators through earphones attached to a captured North Vietnamese Army backpack radio. "They used to make them out of their beat-up green .50-caliber ammo cans," said one intercept operator. "It had a few dials on it with Chinese characters."

The pilots on hoard had KY-38 secure voice systems to quickly and secretly pass the time-sensitive information back to base. "Most of the time we were flying we picked up their communications," said the intercept operator, "so you would get a lot of information. But it would be very time-critical. The units were always on the move, so if you didn't get the information back really quick it would be of little use. Tactical intelligence is very of-the-moment, versus strategic, which is long-range, overall planning." Once NVA units were located, airborne or ground troops would be sent in after them.

Unlike the other services, the Army had paid little attention to airborne Sigint since the end of World War II. Throughout the 1950s, Army intercept operators flew missions in Navy aircraft. The codename of one of their operations in the early 1960s, also aboard a Navy Sky Warrior, seemed to sum up the problem: Farm Team. It was at that point that the Army decided to invest both manpower and funds in developing its own professional team of aerial eavesdroppers. By March 1962 the Army Security Agency had its first airborne DF platform, the RU-6A De Haviland Beaver, a single-engine aircraft that flew low and slow and had room for very few operators. Within days, intercept operators in the unit were calling it TWA: Teeny Weeny Airlines.

Far from the sleek, high-flying U-2 or the lightning-fast SR-71, the early Sigint planes in Vietnam were almost comical. "The operators hung a long wire out the back of the aircraft for a crude direction-finding antenna," said one veteran. "Crews flew in hot, humid conditions in very loud aircraft. Missions were often four hours long, but could be longer depending on the operational tempo of the forces in contact." The planes may have looked funny, but they provided vital information. "It has been said," the veteran reported, "that air missions produced as much as one-third of the intelligence known to ground forces."

Later, a more advanced aircraft joined the fleet of Beavers. This was the RU-8D Seminole, a stubby black twin-engine with room for five passengers. Tall thin blade antennas protruded vertically from the tips of the wings, giving the diminutive spy plane a somewhat menacing look.

Richard McCarthy was one of those who volunteered for the 3rd Radio Research Unit's 224th Aviation Battalion. Flying out of Tan Son Nhut Air Base, McCarthy would often be assigned to the Saigon River Delta area, an inhospitable, mosquito-ridden wedge of swamp that stretched from Saigon to the sea. Because it was also the main shipping channel to Saigon, it became a haven for pirates and small groups of Vietcong guerrilla fighters. "Whoever controlled the shipping channel controlled Saigon," said McCarthy.

Because the Delta area was so compact, the single-engine Beaver was preferred. Wedged behind the copilot, the plane's skin to his back and two Collins 51S1 receivers in front of him, McCarthy would be listening for enemy communications through one of his helmet's earphones, and to the Beaver's pilot and copilot through the other. Navigation consisted of looking out the window for landmarks, and wads of masking tape were applied to the doors to prevent the plotting sheets from being sucked out.

Two hours into one mission over the Delta, McCarthy's earphones began buzzing-the familiar sound of a guerrilla tuning his transmitter for a call. "He was good and he was loud," said McCarthy. "It was show time." In an attempt to locate the guerrilla's transmitter, the pilot would twist and turn the plane hack and forth to obtain different bearings on the target. Once the enemy forces Were plotted, the crew would call in an air strike.

As NSA began sending more and more airborne eavesdroppers to Vietnam, the sky became an aviary of strange-looking metal birds hunting for signals to bring back to their nests. Two miles above the choppers and puddle jumpers was the EC-121M "Big Look," a Lockheed Super Constellation with monstrous radomes on its top and bottom. To some, the plane resembled a humpbacked and pregnant dinosaur. Because it was heavy and the cabin wasn't pressurized, it was limited to about 10,000 or 12,000 feet. Lined up along the windowless bulkheads, the intercept operators attempted to squeeze every electron of intelligence out of the ether during each twelve-hour mission, providing warnings to U.S. attack aircraft.

Warnings were critical. In the late spring of 1972, General John Vogt dispatched an eyes-only message to the Air Force Chief of Staff, General John Ryan, frankly stating that the 7th Air Force was losing the air war. The problem, Vogt said, was the increased proficiency of North Vietnamese pilots and their ability to make single, high-speed passes while firing Atoll missiles. Facing them were inexperienced U.S. pilots rotating into the combat zone every year.

NSA came up with Teaball, a system in which detailed warnings based on Sigint were quickly sent to the pilots. Many at the agency opposed the idea of broadcasting in the clear such secret information, but the concept was eventually approved.

Teaball was set up in a van at NSA's large listening post at Nakhon Phanom in northern Thailand. There, intercept operators would broadcast to the fighters, via a relay aircraft, the latest Sigint on surface-to-air missile sites and MiG fighters in their area. When Sigint revealed that a specific US. aircraft was being targeted for destruction, the pilot, nicknamed "Queen for the Day," would be instantly notified. "Naturally, that particular flight element began to sweat profusely," said Doyle Larson, a retired Air Force major general involved in Teaball, "but all other strike force elements relaxed a bit and let Teaball take care of them." A veteran pilot and Sigint officer with over seventy combat missions in Vietnam, Larson said that "Teaball was an instant success." The kill ratio for American fighters attacking North Vietnamese MiGs "increased by a factor of three."

Above the choppers, the Beavers, the Seminoles, and Big Look were the RC-135 flying listening posts -- Boeing 707s filled with intercept operators and super-sophisticated eavesdropping equipment. From Kadena, Okinawa, the planes would fly daily twelve-hour missions, codenamed Burning Candy and Combat Apple, to the Gulf of Tonkin.

Eventually, as the war heated up, more and more missions were flown, until an RC-135 was constantly on station in the northern Tonkin Gulf twenty-four hours a day. It was an incredibly demanding schedule. Each mission lasted just over nineteen hours, including twelve over the Gulf. Two missions were flown every day, with a third aircraft on standby, ready for immediate launch if the primary aircraft had a problem. All the while, the five RC-135s in the Far East were also needed to cover the numerous Sino-Soviet targets. The missions took their toll not only on the crews but on the aircraft, the corrosive salt spray and high humidity ulcerating the planes' aluminum skin.

The North Vietnamese air force knew full well the purpose of the aircraft and would occasionally try to shoot it down. "MiG-21s would streak out over the Gulf at supersonic speeds and make a pass at the RC135," said veteran Sigint officer Bruce Bailey. "Both fuel and fear limited them to only one pass. They would fire everything they had and run for the safety of their AAA [anti-aircraft artillery] and SAM [surface-to-air missile] umbrella back home." Although the RC-135 was a prize target, none was ever lost to a MiG.

Wherever they flew, the RC-135s were electronic suction pumps, especially the RC-135C, nicknamed the "Chipmunk" because of its large cheeklike antennas. The reconnaissance systems on board were " programmed to automatically filter the ether like kitchen strainers, "covering the electronic spectrum from DC [direct current] to light," said Bailey. "It had such a broad coverage and processed so many signals at such an incredible rate it became known as the 'vacuum cleaner.' It intercepted all, electronic data wherever it flew, recording the information in both digital and analog format."

At the same time, the Chipmunk's numerous onboard direction finders were able to automatically establish the location of each emitter for hundreds of miles. Sophisticated computers located signals that in any way varied from the norm, and highlighted them. Other key voice and data frequencies were preprogrammed into the computer and instantly recorded when detected. "The volume of data collected by that system was sufficient to require an entire unit and elaborate equipment to process it," said Bailey. "That large and impressive operation became known as 'Finder.' The amount of intelligence coming out of Finder was staggering.

"With its vacuum cleaner capability and very little specific tasking in the war zone," said Bailey, "the Chipmunk spent only a couple of hours in the combat area on those missions. It went in, sucked up all the signals, let the two high-tech operators look around a little, then resumed its global tasks."

Still another RC-135 variation, sent to Vietnam late in the war, was the RC-135U "Combat Sent," which had distinctive rabbit-ear aerials. It has been described as "the most elaborate and capable special mission aircraft ever ... with technical capabilities that seemed like science fiction."

Still higher in the thinning layers of atmosphere above Vietnam were the unmanned drones that could reach altitudes in excess of 12-1/2 miles. "They were designed to intercept communications of all sorts: radars, data links, and so forth," said Bruce Bailey. "The intercepted data was then transmitted to other aircraft, ground sites, or satellites." Based at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon, the diminutive drones contained so many systems as to give rise to a joke: the Ravens claimed that they also contained "a tiny replica of a field-grade officer to take the blame for anything that went awry."

The program proved very successful. On February 13, 1966, one of the Ryan drones "made the supreme sacrifice," said Bailey, but in the seconds before it became a fireball it intercepted and transmitted to an RB-47 critical information on the SA-2 missile, including the fusing and radar guidance data. The assistant secretary of the Air Force called it "the most significant contribution to electronic reconnaissance in the past twenty years."

Above even the drones flew the U-2, the Dragon lady of espionage. Following the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in 1960 and Eisenhower's declaration that the U.S. would never again overfly Russia, the U-2 had been reduced to air sampling missions for nuclear-test detection and to peripheral missions; its glory days were seemingly behind it. Eventually, intelligence officials began to nickname the plane the" Useless Deuce." The Cuban missile crisis was only a brief shot in the arm, but after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, the U-2 was drafted into service for the Vietnam War. Although the aircraft started out performing the job it was most famous for -- high-altitude photography -- that soon changed. Because of the growing numbers of SA-2 missile sites -- the U-2's weak spot -- in North Vietnam, the planes were soon assigned exclusively to Sigint.

Based initially in Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon, and later moved to Thailand, the U-2s in Indochina were now the responsibility of the Strategic Air Command, not the CIA. Although happy with the new responsibility, the Air Force pilots found eavesdropping far more tedious than snapping pictures over hostile territory. "All I had to do was throw a switch and recorders on board would collect the bad guy's radar frequencies and signals, and monitor everything," said former U-2 pilot Buddy Brown. The Armed Forces Courier Service would then ship the tapes to NSA.

The missions called for the planes to circle for a dozen or more hours in areas over the Gulf or Laos, listening primarily to Chinese communications targets. As more and more antenna blades were stuck to its skin, the once-graceful U-2 was beginning to resemble a porcupine. On board, the receivers were becoming increasingly automated. All the pilot had to do was to stay awake. The antennas would pick up the preprogrammed signals, and the onboard receivers would automatically transmit them down to Sigint analysts in South Vietnam, who could then retransmit them via satellite in near real time right to NSA. There, computers and cryptanalysts could immediately begin attacking them.

"The pilot did not operate the receivers, as they were either automatic or remotely controlled," recalled Bruce Bailey. "He sat there boring holes in the sky for hours with very little to do or see. The only relief came from tuning in on the ,war, listening to radio calls from strike aircraft and rescue attempts. That helped keep him awake."

As the systems became ever more automated, Sigint analysts on the ground were able to remotely switch from target to target via the U-2's electronics. "Those systems enabled the specialists to select signals of the most interest," said Bailey, "search for suspected emitters, operate the equipment as if they were aboard the U-2 and to relay their intelligence to users around the world via satellite and other communications." Eventually, the main thing keeping the pilots awake, according to Bailey, was simple discomfort. "Twelve hours is agonizingly long to wear a pressure suit, sit in one position, endure extremes in neat and cold, control your bowels, and feel your body dehydrating from the extremely dry air and the oxygen they had to breathe constantly." Nevertheless, he said, the aircraft's ability to linger in one area for extended periods, capturing thousands of conversations, made it "the king of Comint."

"Throttles to Max A/B," said Air Force Major Jerry O'Malley just before his SR-71 nosed into the sky over Kadena Air Base. From Okinawa, just after noon on Thursday, March 21, 1968, the Blackbird set out on its very first operational mission: to penetrate North Vietnamese airspace, record enemy radar signals, photograph missile sites, and be back in time for dinner.

As the Blackbird sped at more than three times the speed of sound toward the hot war in Vietnam, it left behind a bureaucratic war in Washington. For nearly a decade the CIA and the Air Force had been secretly at war with each other over whose aircraft would become America's premier spy plane -- the CIA's A-12 or the Air Force SR-71. They were virtually the same aircraft except that the A-12 was a single-seater, covert (that is, its very existence was secret), and a bit smaller and older; and the SR-71 was overt and had room for a pilot and a reconnaissance systems officer. President Johnson decided to go with the Air Force version and, eventually, the CIA was forced out of the spy-plane business entirely.

One step above the U-2 and one step below the Sigint satellites, the bullet-fast SR-71 Blackbird could penetrate hostile territory with impunity. It flew sixteen miles above the earth, several miles higher than the U-2, at more than 2,000 miles per hour; no missile had a chance against it.

As Major O'Malley approached the Gulf of Tonkin at a speed of Mach 3.17 and an altitude of 78,000 feet, the top of his Blackbird was brushing against outer space. Outside, the air temperature was about minus 65 degrees Fahrenheit, yet the leading edges of the plane were beginning to glow cherry red at 600 degrees and the exhaust-gas temperatures exceeded 3,400 degrees. Above 80,000 feet, the curvature of the earth had a deep purple hue. In the strange daylight darkness above, stars were permanently visible.

The Comint and Elint sensor-recorders were already running when O'Malley prepared to coast in for a "front-door" entry into North I Vietnam at two miles a second. As the Blackbird followed a heading of 284 degrees, the onboard defensive systems indicated that the North Vietnamese clearly had them in their Fan Song radar, one of the types used by SA-2 missile batteries. Behind O'Malley, Captain Ed Payne, the reconnaissance systems officer, flipped a few switches and the Blackbird's electronic countermeasures prevented the radars from locking on as they passed over Haiphong harbor near Hanoi.

"The SR-71 was excellent for 'stimulating' the enemy's electronic environment," said retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Richard H. Graham, a former SR-71 pilot. "Every time [they] flew in a sensitive area, all kinds of radars and other electronic wizardry were turned on to see if they could find out what was flying so quickly through their airspace. In fact, our missions were generally not Elint productive unless 'they' were looking for us with electronic signals." To capture the signals, the SR-71 used a piece of equipment known as the electro-magnetic reconnaissance (EMR) system. At first, said Graham, "the EMR would literally sit there and record signals from hundreds of miles around the aircraft. It had no discretion on what signals it received, and made it very difficult to find specific frequencies out of the thousands recorded on one mission."

But after an upgrade, known as the EMR Improvement Program (EIP), the SR-71's Sigint capability improved considerably. "The EIP continuously recorded signals from horizon to horizon along our flight path," said Graham, "a distance of around 1,200 nautical miles. If the system recorded a specific frequency for a short period of time, computers could plot the precise position of the transmitter on the ground within approximately one half mile, at a distance of three hundred miles from the SR-71.... The EIP was very efficient at its job, at times often recording over five hundred emitters on a single operational sortie.... It was a Star Wars version of eavesdropping."

As the Blackbird entered North Vietnam's "front door," each of its two Pratt & "Whitney J-58 engines was generating as much power as all four of the enormous engines on the Queen Mary. Just twelve minutes after entering, the Blackbird had crossed the country and was about to exit through the "back door." Passing over the Red River, O'Malley flicked the Inlet Guide Vane switches to the "Lockout" position and eased the throttles out of afterburner. After a second in-flight refueling from a "boomer" -- a tanker -- over Thailand, the Blackbird headed back to Vietnam. This time it passed over the DMZ in search of the heavy guns that had been assaulting Khe Sanh. In its few minutes over North Vietnam, analysts later discovered, it located virtually every missile site.


For all the sophisticated ships, planes, and foreign listening posts, there were many who fought the Sigint war in the muddy swamps and steamy jungles, right alongside the combat troops.

"As a member of the Army Security Agency you will never end up in a war zone," the reddish-haired Army recruiter in the neatly creased uniform confidently assured Dave Parks. "The ASA, because of the high level of security clearance, is not allowed to serve in a combat zone." That made sense, thought Parks as he walked out of the Atlanta recruiting station in 1965, having just signed up for four years.

Two years later Parks, now an Army intercept operator, arrived in Saigon for a one-year tour in Vietnam. The recruiter had kept his promise, but Parks had volunteered. "I wanted to see a war," he said, "and Vietnam was the only one we had." Assigned to the 303rd Radio Research Unit at Long Binh, near Saigon, Parks quickly became aware of the dangers involved in the assignment. "In the event that you are severely wounded would you like your next of kin notified?" a clerk casually asked him without ever looking up from the form. "Okay, in the event you are severely wounded do you want the Last Rites administered? We will need to make arrangements in case of your dying over here." Finally Parks asked what kind of a unit he was in. "Infantry," he was told. "A unit called the 199th Infantry." Parks gulped.

"I had spent my six' months of Advanced Individual Training at Fort Devens being threatened by the ASA instructors that if we students washed out of the course we would get a one-way ticket to the 196th Light Infantry," Parks recalled. "Now here I was eighteen months later being assigned to its sister unit. This might be more adventure than I'd bargained for. Volunteer for Vietnam, I should have known better."

Parks's Sigint unit, the 856th Radio Research Detachment of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, was made up of about fifty troops, headquartered at Long Binh. "Light infantry" meant light and mobile. The troops were equipped with only the most basic armament, such as rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers. The largest caliber of weapon carried in the field was a 90mm hand-held recoilless rifle.

The men were housed in a two-story wood-frame barracks surrounded by several layers of protective sandbags and topped with a corrugated-tin roof. The Sigint operations compound was encircled by a tall barbed-wire fence with coils of razor wire on top and to either side. Cover music blared from speakers to hide escaping signals; loud, rasping generators ran twenty-four hours a day; and there was a sandbagged guard shack at the only entrance. Intercept operations were conducted from two windowless vans that were parked backed up to the building.

Parks, however, would spend little time in the operations compound. The mission of the 199th in November 1967 was to patrol, with South Vietnamese rangers, the vast rice bowl known as the Mekong River Delta. Spreading south of Saigon like a soggy sponge, the area was a maze of swamps, rice paddies, and waterways. Soldiers called walking in it "wading in oatmeal." In places it was covered by triple-canopy jungle, sometimes so dense that light had difficulty getting through. The map gave areas such descriptive names as Parrot's Beak, the Iron Triangle, and the Rung Sat Special Zone. The 199th's orders were to seek out and destroy Communist guerrilla infiltrators, mostly from Cambodia, and to act as a sort of quick reaction force in the event of a firefight.

Operations were based at Cat Lai, a small village on the banks of the Song Nha Be River, a winding snake fed by a lacework of muddy canals and narrow streams. Like a liquid highway, the river carried countless cargo ships to the docks of Saigon, where they unloaded heavy tractors and foodstuffs and filled up with dusty bags of rice. As they lined up, bow to stern, waiting for their turn at the docks, the lightly protected ships were prime targets for the Vietcong, who would attempt to sink them. It was up to Parks and his fellow troopers to prevent that.

Unlike most Sigint soldiers, who worked regular shifts at heavily protected listening posts, most far from the action, Parks fought side by side with the combat troops. A bandolier of ammo was strapped over one shoulder, and an M16 hung from the other. Canteens, poncho, bayonet, camouflage blanket, sleeping bag, and first-aid kit clung to his back or hung from his web belt. His job, as a DF operator, was to find the Vietcong before they found his fellow troopers.

Cat Lai was little more than a few rows of grass huts and some red bougainvillea on the bank of a muddy river. The troops lived in tents erected over wooden platforms that served as floors. Two olive-drab vans were used as listening posts, with two intercept operators in each one. Wooden walkways led to a club, constructed out of plywood, that served Vietnamese "33" beer and mixed drinks. A short way down the road, alongside the river at the edge of the village, was an open-sided restaurant/ bar/whorehouse patronized by the crews from ships lining the waterway. Like the small, rusty tubs anchored nearby, the crews came from every part of the world and the background conversations had a musical quality. Years later, when Parks saw the bar scene in the film Star wars, he was reminded of the club.

The prostitutes who served the crew also came from many parts of the world. One, a stunning woman with sparkling eyes and coal-black skin, came from Cameroon in West Africa. Her ex-lover had recently tossed her off one of the transports. With halting French and a little German, Parks agreed to a price.

The work of the direction-finding teams had changed little in the seven years since DF specialist James Davis became the first American soldier killed in the war. It had only grown more dangerous. "Being on a DF team was about as far forward as you could get in the ASA in Vietnam," said Dave Parks. The Vietcong had shifted their priority targets from the South Vietnamese to the Americans. In a nearby province, the casualty rate for one American unit was running 40 percent. Out of about forty men, eighteen had been killed or wounded in the field and another had a grenade dropped on him in the shower.

After a brief break-in period, Parks was sent out to the front lines, to an area where Highway 5A slithered out of the Vietcong-infested Delta like a black lizard. "The whole reason for the infantry being there," said Parks, "was to act as a checkpoint for the motor traffic corning out of the Delta headed for Saigon." Parks's weapon would be his DF device, a PRD-1, simply called the Purd. He kept it hidden from prying eyes, inside an octagonal tent. "Learning the Purd was not too difficult," Parks said. "Learning the ins and outs of staying alive was.... One learned to watch where to place each step as you walked, for there were snakes in the Delta that could kill you in seconds. The snakes of Vietnam were named according to how far a victim walked before dying from a bite, beginning with the 'three-pace snake,' the green krait, which had to chew its poison into you." Before turning in at night, Parks would take his bayonet and see what might have crawled into his bunk while he was at work. "Lizards mostly," said Parks, "but sometimes snakes, including the king cobra. We were in the Delta."

There were many more rules to live by, according to Parks. "Don't pick up something without checking it for booby traps. Inside the bunker line, stay on the paths; outside of it, stay off of them. Don't venture outside the perimeter unless you were willing to die. Don't walk around at night inside the perimeter for danger of being shot by your own troops. There was plenty to learn and not much time to learn it."

On a typical mission, the PRD-1 would be transported by jeep to what was thought to be a good spot from which to locate Vietcong in the Delta. Once at the site, a tactical DF post would be established. A bunker made of double or triple sandbags would be set up, then encircled with rolls of barbed wire and concertina wire, perhaps fifteen feet across. A variety of antennas would be set up and warning signs would be posted. "Signs telling," said Parks, "that this was a classified site and not to enter on pain of death and according to some regulation or another." In the center, sitting on a tripod, would be the PRD-1, which was about eighteen inches square and crowned with a diamond-shaped antenna that could be rotated. At its base was an azimuth ring marked off in degrees.

Once he was set up, the DF operator would put on his earphones and begin listening for enemy signals. "Time to get on the knobs and kill a Commie for Mommy," said Parks. In order to cover the operational area, a "net" of three DF sites would have to be set up. This would allow the operators to triangulate the enemy signals and get a fix on their exact locations. " 'Find them, fix them, and fuck 'em over!' was our unofficial motto," said Parks. " 'Better Living Through Electronics' was another one."

Once a DF station picked up an enemy transmission, the operator would take a bearing on it. The information would then be encrypted and sent up the chain of command and an attack order would frequently be given. Heavy artillery fire would then plaster the site, and the infantry would sweep in.

Unfortunately, the Vietcong were wise to the game; they knew the United States was probably listening and they avoided transmitting as much as possible. Or they would place their transmitting antenna up to a mile from the actual transmitter, in order to avoid fire. "It was a great and intricate game of fox and hounds played silently between us," said Parks. "Each side aware of the other though we never met. It was a life-or-death game for them, too. To place it bluntly, the DF teams were there to aid the 199th in its task of killing those Vietnamese radio ops and all of their buddies, if at all possible. We hounded them unmercifully.... Their radio ops became worse as time went by due to the better-trained ones having been killed."

But DF missions were a double-edged sword, as Specialist Davis had discovered. Since the range of the PRD-1 was only about five miles -- on a very good day -- the Sigint soldiers had to be almost in the enemy's camp to locate them. "They were practically in our lap most of the time," said Parks. "Once, we DF'd a transmission that was coming from a grass hut not three hundred yards from me -- easy rifle shot if I could have caught him coming out of the hut."

For Parks, the constant tension took its toll. "It was a rough way to live and work, and it took a lot out of men even as fit and young as we were," he recalled. "I'm not talking about the mission -- I'm talking about being in that environment and doing everything it took to try and stay alive. I myself ended up in the hospital suffering from sheer exhaustion about three-quarters the way through my one-year tour. Truth is, I awoke in the 'hospital' after passing out cold one fine day. The 'hospital' was actually more like a ward on the upper floor of a barracks a block from the 856th. They needed to keep an eye on their own, you know -- can't have me giving away any secrets in my delirium."

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