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support over the open telephone line." The Oxford's unique moon-bounce
dish was critical in relaying both messages and intercepts from Havana's
doorstep to the analysts in the command center. But according to Parish,
"It was only a twelve-hour-a-day system, unfortunately, because the
moon was out of sight at times."
With the Oxford now in place, the amount of Sigint concerning Cuba
went from a trickle to a gush. The intercepts clearly showed that the
Russians were exercising greater and greater control over Cuban military
activities. "Concentrated efforts have been made by Bloc pilots and
controllers to converse entirely in Spanish," said one report, "but, on
occasion, they have reverted to their native tongue to convey a difficult
command or request to other Bloc pilots or controllers." Other intercepts
revealed nighttime jet gunnery exercises, bombing practice, and
extensive patrols. NSA issued a dramatic report showing just how
massive the sudden buildup was. In the last three months of 1961, total
gross tonnage of ships heading for Cuba was 183,923. But in just the
past two months”July and August of 1962”the gross tonnage had
jumped to 518,196.
Worried about leaks, Kennedy had ordered a tight lid clamped on the
secret intelligence operations against Cuba. "The President said to put it
back in the box and nail it tight," said Lieutenant General Marshall S.
(Pat) Carter, deputy director of the CIA at the time. At NSA, Blake
ordered a new codeword, further limiting the number of people with
access to the information, and extra restrictions on intercepts revealing
offensive weapons. "Sigint evidence of Cuban acquisition of potentially
offensive weapons systems," said the message, "(e.g., surface-to-surface
missiles, bombers, submarines) will . . . contain preamble 'This is a
FUNNEL message' and be forwarded electronically to DIRNSA [Director,
NSA] only at 01 precedence or higher. . . . No, repeat, no further
dissemination is authorized without specific instructions."
For the airborne eavesdroppers, the skies around Cuba had suddenly
become extremely dangerous. Three times a day an RB-47 Strato-Spy
would take off from Macdill Air Force Base, outside Tampa. Loaded with
eavesdropping gear, it would fly along the Cuban coast, sucking signals
from the air. The tapes would quickly be flown to NSA, where analysts
would search for new signals coming from the vicinity of the surface-to-
air missile sites under construction. Other C-130 "flying listening posts"
also flew along the coast, just outside Cuban territory. All the ferrets
were equipped with special automatic scanning devices to instantly pick
up SA-2 anti-aircraft”related signals.
At the White House, President Kennedy discussed the possibility of
moving the ferrets farther from the Cuban coast, but NSA argued against
it, even though one of the missions”the daily routes”was within range
of Cuban missiles. The problem was, the farther it moved from the coast,


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the fewer signals it could pick up. "This [equipment] is now operating at
the margin of its capability," said NSA. "If it is moved further out, the
mission, an electronic intelligence one, might as well be abandoned."
While arguing to keep the planes in harm's way, Blake also made
protection of the aircraft the most important responsibility of the
listening posts. "I feel that our first priority requirement is reporting
reaction in connection with high and low level reconnaissance flights," he
notified the commander of NSA's air contingent.
The foresight of developing an NSA navy was paying off. Sitting just
half a dozen miles from downtown Havana, the Oxford was able to
eavesdrop on a wealth of communications. As a result, Blake requested
appropriations for an additional "shipborne collection platform" for use
against Cuba, this one a large civilian-manned vessel operated by the
Military Sea Transportation Service. "NSA is therefore commencing
negotiations," said his message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "for the
procurement of the USNS Muller, a vessel which can approximate the
accommodations and facilities aboard the Oxford." But first Blake needed
the money.
If Blake trusted Tordella with all of the agency's secrets, he trusted
Congress and their oversight and appropriations responsibilities with
none of them. Asked how difficult it was to testify fully about NSA's
activities before congressional committees, Blake had a simple answer.
"It was very difficult and, therefore, we didn't do it." Instead, said Blake,
"my technique for that dealt with two gentlemen who were very
cooperative" when it came to probing NSA”that is, there were no
questions asked. "Being able to talk more frankly to them," he added,
"and let them see to it that the rest of the Committee didn't get too far
afield was obviously a tremendous boon to the director and his budget
activities." According to Blake, those two were Michigan congressman
Gerald Ford, on the House Appropriations Committee, and Senator
Richard Russell, who occupied a similar position on the Senate side. "I
would have private meetings with those two only," said Blake. "That was
my technique, and it worked beautifully. . . . My recollection is a pretty
successful three years in terms of resources."
To make up for the lack of additional people, Blake began yanking
intercept operators from other listening posts around the world and
sending them to southern Florida. At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army
Sigint personnel attached to the 326th ASA Company were told to drop
everything and board planes for Homestead Air Base near Miami, a key
listening post during the crisis. Eavesdropping aircraft were moved from
their location in Rota, Spain, to air bases in Jacksonville and Pensacola.
From there they would fly down to Key West, pick up intercept operators,
and conduct eight- to ten-hour missions off the Cuban coast.
In a matter of days the Navy turned Key West from a sleepy supply


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depot for cryptologic equipment to a buzzing city of eavesdroppers. "What
had been sort of a lazy tempo in the Key West theater of operations
suddenly heated up to match the summer weather," recalled Owen
Englander, who was in charge of the Key West naval security
detachment. "Almost overnight the National Command Authority and the
Navy and Air Force operational worlds discovered Naval Security Group
Detachment Key West. A decision was made to beef us up and people
commenced to arrive from every direction."
The intercept operators worked in a World War I bunker buried under
fifteen feet of reinforced concrete and compacted marl”sand, clay, and
crushed coral. It was designed to withstand a direct hit from a 16-inch
shell. Sailors immediately began setting up a huge dish antenna as well
as an assortment of wires and poles. In addition to the planes, bases,
and ships eavesdropping on Cuban and Soviet communications,
submarines were sent in. One sub was able to sneak close enough to
eavesdrop on a microwave link on the Isle of Pines. For NSA's
eavesdroppers, submarines provided a quality no other platform could
offer: stealth.
But although it was NSA's most important target in the summer and
fall of 1962, Cuba was far from the only one.


At periscope depth, sixty feet under the dark and frigid Barents Sea,
the USS Nautilus (SSN 571) was barely moving. The world's first nuclear-
powered submarine, it had made headlines four years earlier when it
sailed beneath the icepack to the North Pole and broadcast the message
"Nautilus 90 north." Now it was on an enormously sensitive espionage
mission a short distance off a black and desolate Soviet island above the
Arctic Circle. Without doubt, Novaya Zemlya was the most forbidding
piece of real estate on the planet. One year earlier, the Russians had
exploded the largest bomb in the history of mankind above the island, a
58-megaton thermonuclear monster. Now the crew of the Nautilus was
busy making preparations to eavesdrop on and photograph a new round
of tests. Thirteen miles from ground zero, Sigint specialist John Arnold
was attaching the final piece of critical equipment”a cardboard toilet
paper tube.
Arnold, a Navy chief, was a fast riser in a superexclusive club: NSA's
small band of undersea intercept operators. Sealed for months in closet-
sized listening posts aboard specially outfitted submarines, the deep-
diving eavesdroppers prowled close to Soviet coasts, recording shore-
based transmitters and key signals within the Russian fleet. "Collection
at thirteen miles was pretty good," said Arnold. "Sometimes you could
even pick up signals with your antennas underwater. Not much, but
some of the radars were strong enough to penetrate the water." Locating



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radar installations was a key mission of the team. "You could tell from
the frequency and the pulse repetition rate and the scan rate what kind
of radar it is and take its bearing by direction finding."
Arnold began his career in the old diesel-powered boats, which needed
to break the surface about once every twenty-four hours in order to get
new air through the snorkel. "If you had any antennas or masts up, the
periscope was always up”even during the daytime”because a helicopter
or aircraft could come cruising by and they would see your mast," said
Arnold. "And if you didn't have your periscope up keeping a lookout, they
could end up detecting you."
Once, a conning officer became so mesmerized watching a helicopter
he completely forgot to call an alert. "He just kept focused on it and
watched it come right over us," said Arnold. "So we became the target of
an ASW [antisubmarine warfare] exercise in short order. That kept us
down for over two days before we could shake him and get fresh air
again. Everyone that was nonessential was to stay in their bunks to
minimize the consumption of oxygen."
Arnold had spent much of the summer of 1962 beneath the waves of
the Barents Sea. A few months earlier, in anticipation of renewed nuclear
tests, he had put together a special piece of equipment and headed for
Novaya Zemlya aboard the USS Scorpion. But when the tests were
postponed, the crew spent the mission conducting electronic surveillance
just off Russia's sensitive Kola Peninsula. "We almost had an underwater
collision with a [Soviet] November-class submarine," said Arnold. "We
were trailing, collecting data on its bottom side when it was on the
surface. We were smack dab under him. . . . Between the bottom of his
sub and the top of the Scorpion, sometimes the periscope was only six to
twelve inches, closely inspecting underwater appendages, protrusions,
and so forth, and recording it on television." Suddenly the depth finder
aboard the Soviet boat sent out a "ping" to determine the distance to the
bottom. "That was standard practice just before they dive," said Arnold.
The Scorpion escaped just in time.
Back home for just a few days, Arnold was again quickly dispatched
to Novaya Zemlya when word was received that Soviet bomb testing
would begin soon. This time he was transferred to the nuclear-powered
Nautilus. As other Sigint specialists eavesdropped on Soviet technicians
rigging for the test, Arnold was fitting the sub's periscopes with special
photographic equipment. The cameras were connected to the lens of the
scopes with rolls of cardboard toilet paper tubes double-wrapped with
black electric tape. "On one periscope we had an optical detector that
measured light intensity versus time," said Arnold. "On the other we had
a high-speed color movie camera attached."
Suddenly the dimly lit submarine, deep under the surface of the sea,



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lit up with a blinding light. "When the detonation went off it was just like
someone had set off a flashbulb in your face," said Arnold. The light had
blasted through the heavily wrapped toilet paper tubes as if they were
made of see-through plastic. The crew not only saw the flash, they heard
and felt the explosion. "It was a really weird sound when you're in a
submarine," Arnold recalled. "It sounds like a jet airplane when it breaks
the sound barrier. Then you feel it also. It feels as though you're standing
on a steel deck and somebody under the deck has a sledgehammer and
he hits the steel deck plate right where you're standing”it's a sharp
shock. It broke a few fluorescent light bulbs and caused some insulation
to pop off."
Over six weeks, Arnold witnessed twelve or thirteen tests. "They were
from twenty kilotons up to fifty megatons," Arnold said. After the initial
blast, the explosion could be viewed through the periscope. "They were
spectacularly beautiful to watch," he said. "You could look through the
periscope and watch the mushroom cloud build and the colors develop."
Following the nuclear tests, Arnold, like many other intercept operators,
was assigned to a mission off Cuba, this time aboard a surface ship
trying to pick up signals related to the deadly Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air
missiles.


About two o'clock in the morning on September 15, 1962, the crisis
again ratcheted up several levels. After double-checking and triple-
checking, there was no question: the U.S. listeners had detected a
Russian "Spoon Rest" radar, fully active. For the first time, the SA-2
missiles were operational, capable of shooting down any aircraft on a
moment's notice, as had the SA-2 in Russia that brought down the U-2
piloted by Francis Gary Powers. Listening posts in Florida, Puerto Rico,
and elsewhere helped the Oxford pinpoint the signal as emanating from a
location about three miles west of the port of Mariel. From now on, all
U.S. pilots, no matter what aircraft they flew, would have a cocked gun
pointed at them.
The activation of the SA-2 missiles gave NSA and CIA an opportunity
to fake the Russians into revealing key details of the weapons system.
Gene Poteat, a young CIA scientist, had come up with a scheme to inject
false targets into Soviet radar. Codenamed Palladium, the operation
involved sending deceptive signals to give Russian radar operators the
false impression that they were tracking an aircraft. "By smoothly
varying the length of the delay," Poteat wrote later, "we could simulate
the false target's range and speed." As the Russians tracked the ghost
aircraft, NSA intercept operators listened in. Later analysis would be able
to determine such important details as just how sensitive the radar
systems were, and to assess the proficiency of the operators.



91
The Palladium system was mounted on a destroyer operating out of
Key West. As the ship cruised well off the Cuban coast, the Palladium
system transmitted false signals indicating that a U.S. fighter plane out
of Florida was about to penetrate Cuban airspace. At about the same
time, an American submarine that had slipped into Havana Bay released
a number of balloons that carried metal spheres of varying size into the
sky.
Elsewhere on the destroyer, in an NSA van lashed to the deck,
intercept operators closely monitored the Russian radar, hoping to be
able to determine just how accurate the system was by studying the way
it tracked the ghost aircraft and the metal objects. They quickly struck
pay dirt. A Cuban fighter suddenly took off after the ghost aircraft; other
MiGs began circling where the submarine had surfaced. In the NSA van,
the intercept operators quickly began eavesdropping on both the shore-
based radar systems and the pilots pursuing the ghost aircraft. "We had
no trouble in manipulating the Palladium system controls," wrote Poteat,
"to keep our ghost aircraft always just ahead of the pursuing Cuban
planes." Through earphones, one intercept operator heard the Cuban
pilot notify his base that he had the intruding plane in sight and was
about to shoot it down. A technician moved his finger to a button. "I
nodded yes," said Poteat, "and he switched off the Palladium system."
The ghost aircraft disappeared.
Palladium proved very successful, revealing that the Soviet radar
systems were state-of-the-art and that their operators were equally
skilled. "We also knew which of their radars had low power [or]
maintenance problems or were otherwise not functioning up to par,"
noted Poteat, "and where the U.S. Air Force might safely penetrate in
wartime."
Five days before the discovery of the operational SA-2 missiles,
Secretary of State Rusk had become so worried over the prospects of a
shootdown over or near Cuba that he asked for a meeting of the key

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