Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

4.4 52
by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew, Christopher Drew
     
 

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For decades American submarines have roamed the depths in a dangerous battle for information and advantage in missions known only to a select few. Now, after six years of research, those missions are told in Blind Man's Bluff, a magnificent achievement in investigative reporting. It reads like a spy thriller -- except everything in it is true. This is an

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Overview

For decades American submarines have roamed the depths in a dangerous battle for information and advantage in missions known only to a select few. Now, after six years of research, those missions are told in Blind Man's Bluff, a magnificent achievement in investigative reporting. It reads like a spy thriller -- except everything in it is true. This is an epic of adventure, ingenuity, courage, and disaster beneath the sea, a story filled with unforgettable characters who engineered daring missions to tap the enemy's underwater communications cables and to shadow Soviet submarines. It is a story of heroes and spies, of bravery and tragedy.

Editorial Reviews

Steven Komarow
Blind Man's Bluff is not a policy tome. What moves readers from page to page is the struggle and pride of those who envisioned these missions and the sailors who carried them out. The stories of their lives, and sometimes deaths, are only enriched by the scholarly underpinnings of the volume. -- USA Today
Roland Green
Two investigative reporters and a researcher have joined forces to produce an excellent history of U.S. submarine espionage operations that reads like a Tom Clancy novel. They take the story from the early days of the cold war, when we lost, by accident, the diesel submarine Cochino on a spy mission and nearly lost the Gudgeon to Soviet antisubmarine forces. They continue through the shift to nuclear submarines, the loss of the Scorpion (destroyed by defective torpedoes after completing a spy mission), the role of the Halibut in finding the Soviet missile boat later salvaged by the CIA's Glomar Explorer, and the cable-tapping operations in which the Parche won more Presidential unit citations than any other submarine in American history. They also cover open-sea efforts to shadow Soviet submarines, which occasionally led to dangerous collisions, and add to our knowledge of the horrendous safety record of the Soviet nuclear navy and the vices and virtues of Hyman G. Rickover, father of its American counterpart.
-- Booklist
Norman Polmar
Portions of this book are as exciting as early Tom Clancy novels: 'There was no way the officers and crew manning the diving planes could keep Halibut level... Outside, the divers watched as Halibut began to drift upward. The men were still linked to the submarine through their air hoses. They knew they would die if Halibut pulled them up before they could decompress. If they cut themselves loose, they would suffocate.'.... This work is highly recommended for everyone with an interest in submarines or intelligence.
--Sea Power
Wall Street Journal
Brilliant . . . Full of hair-raising stories of men in peril under the sea.
New York Times Book Review
A compelling study of magnificent men and spying machines.
Roy H. Boehm
A long overdue, well deserved tribute to those unsung heroes of the U.S. Navy's ‘silent service' with whom I was privileged to serve.
New York Times
A real-life Hunt For Red October.
Don Imus
From page one, it reads like a novel. How they uncovered all this stuff is remarkable.
Baltimore Sun
The most comprehensive look at the work of these intrepid sailors . . . A celebration of their ingenuity and valor.
Seyour M. Hersh
Reads like an adventure novel, but it's all to real.
John Lehman
The veterans of the 'Silent Service' are silent no more. —Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an unusually successful amalgam, veteran journalists Sontag and Christopher Drew combine a gripping story with admirable research to relate previously unknown information. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. depended heavily on submarines for intelligence gathering, whether tracking Soviet missile subs, monitoring Soviet harbors and missile tests or, in some cases, retrieving lost Soviet equipment. The U.S.S.R. responded with everything from comprehensive espionage operations to depth charge attacks on particularly intrusive snoopers. The broad outlines of this clandestine confrontation are relatively familiar, but the details have largely remained secret. Although the authors have based their book largely on interviews with submariners, intelligence operatives and politicians, they recognize the possibility of distortion and back up personal accounts with an elaborate and convincing system of verification. While necessarily incomplete, the resulting work depicts what was arguably the most successful long-term, large-scale intelligence operation in American history. From captains to seamen, the participants combined technical proficiency, insouciant courage and a cheerful scorn for regulations that often interfered with their missions. That mind-set was hardly calculated to avoid direct confrontations, and accidental collisions were not uncommon. The authors nevertheless make a solid case that the risk of a destabilizing incident was far outweighed by the gains of the campaign--especially given the depth of mutual ignorance during the Cold War.
Jeff Stein
Vividly told, impressively documented, and persuasively argued...Honors must go to the steel-nerved captains and crews whose dangerous and daring exploits are given an unparalleled and sometimes hair-raising rendition in Blind Man's Bluff
-- The New York Times
Bremerton (WA) Sun
Chapter after chapter describes nail-biting undersea exploits that are nothing short of heroic. . .It reads like a Tom Clancy novel, but it isn't fiction -- it's all real.
Timothy Naftali
. . .[A]n evocative an important look at the cold war. . .also satisfying to read, at times hurtling forward with the speed of a Polaris submarine. . . .The authors also provide simple stories of individual courage. . .
-- The New York Times Book Review
David Ayer
Lock the doors and draw the shades, because this book is a well written, highly readable account of man and machine working together to do the impossible for the highest of stakes.
-- The Washington Monthly
Kirkus Reviews
Enthralling real-life stories of American submarine spying that read as if torn from the pages of The Hunt for Red October, full of high-tech highjinks and human drama. With materials combed from newspaper reports, American and Soviet archives, and the testimonies of officers and servicemen that could come forward only with the end of the Cold War, Blind Man's Bluff looks at one of the hottest theaters of that era—the ocean depths, and how submarines have been used by both the navy and the CIA to gather intelligence and launch covert operations. Many of the actions described will be familiar to fans of military thrillers, but few readers will have heard these exploits described in such detail before. Included in the book are the stories of American tapping of Soviet communications cables in the Barents Sea, how the navy used a mathematical formula to find a lost warhead, and the tale of the legendary Glomar Explorer, a CIA-built excavation vessel. The authors, veteran investigative journalists (Drew is a reporter for The New York Times), have concentrated equally on the interdepartmental rivalry between the CIA and the Navy. They paint an intriguing portrait of the internal struggles—for funding, materials, manpower, and the President's attention—that dictated how the Cold War was waged. The work does lack a degree of unity. At times, it seems the writers threw in every submarine secret they could possibly scrounge up. But whenever they falter, rest assured that in just a few pages, the next incredible operation stands reliably revealed.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060977719
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/01/2000
Series:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
95,455
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Deadly Beginning


"You gotta be nuts," Harris M. Austin grumbled under his breath as he watched the ugliest-looking piece of junk he had ever seen pull into the British naval base in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This couldn't be his sub. This couldn't be the Cochino.

Almost anyone else on the busy pier would have thought that he was just a twenty-eight-year-old radioman. He knew better. He was here on direct orders from the U.S. chief of Naval Operations. He had been briefed by admirals who commanded the U.S. naval forces in Europe, his background checked and doublechecked. And today he was about to join the crew of this sub as one of the Navy's newest spies, a "spook," someone who had been trained to snatch Soviet milltary signals and electronic communications out of thin air. It was going to be his job to attempt a daring grab for some of the Soviet Union's deepest secrets.

Austin jumped down onto the pier and began pulling mooring lines along with a handful of other men. Then somebody said it, said that this was Cochino, U.S. submarine SS-345, the boat Austin had been awaiting for three days.

"Goddamn ugly piece of junk," he thought as he hoisted a sea bag stuffed with classified documents over his shoulder and lumbered down the hatch to introduce himself and his orders to Cochino's commanding officer, Commander Rafael C. Benitez.

Austin had leapt to submarines from battle cruisers in a search for excitement, the same reason he had volunteered to make this latest leap, transforming himself from a radioman into a spook. That he was in the armed forces at all had been a nearcertainty from the day he was born. He came from a long line of Scottish warriors, a line he could trace back to the fourteenth century without breaking a sweat. His father had been a cook with an American air squadron in England before shifting to whalers and ocean freighters stateside. His Welsh mother had worked for a British ammunition company. Austin himself had been only nineteen years old when he first went to sea, his auburn hair quickly earning him the nickname "Red."

Benitez, thirty-two years old, was one of those men who had been bred to decorum. His father was a judge in Puerto Rico, and Commander Benitez had just finished law school, a perk that the Navy had awarded to hold on to him. As a submarine officer during World War 11, he had survived several depth-chargings and earned a reputation for calm under fire. Now, in late July 1949, he had been back in the sub force for only three weeks, and he had his own command.

Actually, it was a command Benitez had tried to turn down, embarrassed by his sub's name. Cochino may have been named for an Atlantic trigger fish, but in Spanish, the language of his family and friends back home, he would be commanding the submarine Pig.

He had admitted as much to his mother when he

wrote home, but her reply had yet to reach him as he stood in his cramped wardroom, shoulders back to make the most of his less than imposing frame. He was alone with this hulking enlisted man, this sailor turned spy, the kind of man who would still be declaring that he was "tougher than shit" when he reached his seventies.

Red Austin handed over his orders. The captain scanned them and tensed as he read that Cochino, his sub, was about to become an experimental spy boat.

Benitez was stunned. Cochino's mission was already complex enough. She had been scheduled to embark on a training run designed to change the very nature of submarine warfare. Classic World War 11 fleet submarines could dive beneath the waves only long enough to attack surface ships and avoid counterattack before needing to surface themselves. But since the war ended, Cochino and a few other boats had been dramatically altered. They now sported new, largely untested equipment, including a snorkel pipe that was supposed to let them take in fresh air, run the diesel engines, and shoot out engine exhaust without having to surface. That would allow the boats to spend much of their time underwater, rendering them effectively invisible and making it possible for them to go after other subs as well as surface ships.

Benitez had been expecting to take his submarine out and test her new equipment, train his crew, and learn how to run her as a true underwater vehicle. But Austin's orders were adding another dimension to Benitez's mission, transforming it from one of just war games and sea trials into an operation in an unproven realm of submarine intelligence. Furthermore, all this was to take place in the frigid Barents Sea inside the Arctic Circle, near the waters around Murmansk where the Soviet Union kept its Northern Fleet.

Worse, the cables and antennas for Austin's crude eavesdropping gear had to pass directly through the sub's pressure hull. That meant drilling holes in the very steel that held the ocean back.

Benitez took one look at the plans to drill through the sub's hull, what he considered the sub's "last resort" protective shell, and became clearly upset. What happened next is a story that Austin would tell and retell.

"Drill holes in the pressure hull?" Benitez said loud enough to get the attention of his executive officer and chief of the boat who came running. Drill holes without direct orders from the Navy's Bureau of Ships, which was supposed to oversee all submarine construction and modifications?

"You got anything from BUSHIPS?" he demanded.

"No sir, this is what they gave me," Austin replied. In a hapless gesture at conciliation, he added, "They're going to be small holes."

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