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Posted December 2, 2002
Project What? Good Work, Secrecy, and the Need to Know
At first, I felt like the author was holding back, teasing the reader. Farther into the book, I "got with it" and learned to read and interpret with a scientific logic and common sense similar to those that guided Mr. Craven and his colleagues. Craven required that his collaborators have some practical, "field experience". Projects went better that way; less time was wasted on nonproductive ideas. Competence and courage counted. Craven notes that veterans of wartime carnage seemed reluctant to use nuclear weapons, especially in a "preemptive strike". We can assume that his Soviet counterparts, especially those who survived the Great Patriotic War, felt the same way. Others had no such inhibitions. Craven tells a revealing tale of how the Thresher was lost. Navy brass insisted on pre-operational shock testing of all new subs, including those designed to carry nuclear missiles. Craven and his colleagues believed this procedure to be unnecessary and very dangerous. The brass won out; the Thresher sustained undetected damage from the tests and was lost on her maiden voyage. Thereafter, Mr. Craven is silent on shock testing, so may we assume that the Navy mothballed this procedure after the Thresher was lost? I hope so! Although the book is deadly serious, it does have its humorous moments. Mr. Craven describes how he, a progressive liberal, was somehow put on Nixon's "good guy" list, thus insuring his continued participation in the country's most sensitive, top-secret oceanographic projects. After years of "being close to" such projects, reporters sensed that Mr. Craven was in the know, and would contact him by phone. His reply was a prompt and straightforward "project what?" Craven's analyses of two, well-known cold war events deserve mention. One was Korean Air 007 shot down by Soviet aircraft off easternmost Siberia in 1983. Craven believes that the shootdown was ordered locally despite orders to the contrary from the Kremlin. Mr. Craven describes the flight as "mysterious" but offers no additional comment on why the airliner was so far off course and seemed to be a pawn in a hi-stakes poker test, calculated to see how the Russians would respond to the incursion. The other was the strange sinking of a Russian sub that his group eventually recovered from the deep-waters of the central Pacific. Craven concluded that the sub was a rogue positioned to fire a missile armed with a nuclear warhead at Hawaii, a mission not authorized by nor known to Moscow. Both the rogue sub and the Korean Air 007 incidents were subsequently used by the U.S. to help convince Soviet negotiators that arms control was in the best interests of both countries. I enjoyed the book. It gives the reader a rare, inside look at the highly competitive, top secret game of intelligence gathering and national security interests and how these can be well served by scientific research and new technologies, despite ample doses of disinformation, obfuscation, and "the need to know".Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 21, 2001
Some Things Left Unsaid
John Pina Craven's book is an interesting and at times enlightening glimpse into his life and career. Pros: he describes his work from his point of view as Chief Scientist of the Navy's Special Projects Office. The projects he describes (Polaris, deep sea submergence, submarine recovery) are all fascinating. Cons: the writing and editing leave much to be desired, the book is choppy, sometimes repetitive. The stories too often whet your appetite for more, but Craven is duty-bound not to tell. What you're left with is Craven's rehash of what's already public knowledge, along with hints that there's a much more fascinating tale that he cannot tell. A good companion book to Blind Man's Bluff, by Sontag.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.