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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


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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


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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


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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 White 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



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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 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...


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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-
to-air missile bases. The agency was then completing work on a super-
fast, super-high-flying successor to the U-2, codenamed Oxcart. (The



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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

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