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"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



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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



116
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.




CHAPTER SIX EARS


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TGLILWQZN LUXDJZI BVOI ZFGI UV CA RAJVUGFUGRJ IAFM BVO
WVMWV'Z DFO CPZGRAZZ KTBSFD EKRTTVE CZICGZI FT JGKI KGER
KZBSKR FRME DIGZ


As Nate Gerson's plane approached Churchill, a windy, desolate


117
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.


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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



119
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 4½ -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



120
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.

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