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Since the Israeli attack on the Liberty, U.S. taxpayers have subsidized
that country's government to the tune of $100 billion or more” enough
to fund NSA for the next quarter of a century. There should be no
question that U.S. investigators be allowed to pursue their probe
wherever it takes them and question whoever they need to question,
regardless of borders. At the same time, NSA should be required to make



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all transcripts available from the EC-121 and any other platform that
eavesdropped on the eastern Mediterranean on June 8, 1967. For more
than a decade, the transcripts of those conversations lay neglected in the
bottom of a desk drawer in NSA's G643 office, the Israeli Military Section
of G Group.
The time for secrecy has long passed on the USS Liberty incident, in
both Israel and the United States. Based on the above evidence, there is
certainly more than enough probable cause to conduct a serious
investigation into what really happened”and why.


CHAPTER EIGHT SPINE


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Despite the trauma of losing a ship and many of its men, neither the
NSA nor the Navy learned much; in less than a year more blood would
run across gray decks, and another seagoing listening post would be lost.
Long before the Liberty was attacked, the Navy had become
disenchanted with the entire NSA oceangoing program. Navy personnel
had become little more than seagoing chauffeurs and hired hands for
NSA, permitted to eavesdrop on targets of great interest to the Navy only
when doing so could not in any way interfere with the program's primary
mission of monitoring NSA's targets. To listen to foreign naval signals,
the Navy had to stick its analysts in awkward, antenna-covered mobile
vans placed aboard destroyers and destroyer escorts. But doing so meant
pulling the ships out of normal service to patrol slowly along distant
coasts, rather than taking part in fleet exercises and other activities. It
was a highly inefficient operation, combining the minimum collection
capability of a crowded steel box with the maximum costs of using a
destroyer to cart it around.
"The Navy was very interested in having a trawler program of their
own," said Gene Sheck, formerly a deputy chief within NSA's collection
organization, K Group. Sheck managed the mobile platforms, such as the
Sigint aircraft, ships, and submarines. "The Navy position pretty clearly
was that they wanted a Navy platform controlled by Navy, responsive to
Navy kinds of things." The Navy said they needed their own fleet not just
for collecting signals intelligence, but also for a wide variety of
intelligence activities. A fleet would be useful, they said, for such things


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as hydrographic intelligence”analyzing the salinity of the ocean at
various locations, which could enable better tracking of Soviet
submarines.
But NSA was not buying that. "It was totally Sigint," Sheck said.
"When they tried to tell us about all this other collection, it consisted of a
rope and a bucket, and it pulled water out of the ocean. ... I said, 'You're
not going to get away with [this] garbage. The director of NSA is going to
have a lot to say about what you do with Sigint platforms.' "
Nevertheless, despite the NSA's serious misgivings over its loss of
control, the Navy began laying out ambitious plans for its own Sigint
fleet. "We talked once . . . about having small intelligence gathering ships
. . . two hundred of them," said one Navy admiral who was involved.
Chosen as the maiden vessel for the Navy's own spy fleet was the U.S.S.
Banner (AGER”Auxiliary General Environmental Research” 1), a
humble little craft that had spent most of its life bouncing from atoll to
atoll in the Mariana Islands and was then on its way back to the United
States to retire in mothballs. At 906 tons and 176 feet, the twenty-one-
year-old ship was a dwarf compared with the 10,680 tons and 455 feet of
the Liberty.
Like a short football player overcompensating for his size, the Banner
wasted no time in sailing into harm's way. It was assigned to the Far
East, and its first patrol, in 1965, took it within four miles of Siberia's
Cape Povorotny Bay to test the Soviets' reaction to the penetration of
their twelve-mile limit. At the time, the United States disputed the
U.S.S.R.'s assertion of that limit. As the Banner chugged north toward
Siberia, a frigid storm began caking ice forward and on the
superstructure. Still closer, and Soviet destroyers and patrol boats began
harassment exercises, darting in and out toward the bobbing trawler,
sometimes closing to within twenty-five yards before veering away. But
as a fresh storm began brewing, the fear of capsizing under the weight of
the ice predominated, and the Banner's skipper, Lieutenant Robert P.
Bishop, radioed his headquarters in Yokosuka and then swung 180
degrees back toward its base in Japan. Several hours later a reply came
through, ordering him back and warning him not to be intimidated.
Bishop obeyed and turned back into the storm, but finally gave up after
progressing a total of minus two miles over the next twenty-four hours.
During sixteen missions over the next two years, the Banner became
the tough gal on the block, always looking for a fight. And on its patrols
off Russia, more often than not it found one. It had been bumped, nearly
rammed, buzzed by Soviet MiGs and helicopters, and come under threat
of cannon fire. In each case, the Banner managed to wiggle out of the
potentially explosive situation.
Sam Tooma was a civilian oceanographer on the ship who helped



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maintain the cover story. Employed by the U.S. Naval Oceanographic
Office, he would take various readings from the ocean during the
missions. "We were operating twelve miles (at least) off [the Soviet port of]
Vladivostok in February," he recalled. "The wind was blowing off the
mainland at a ferocious speed. It was sort of raining, sleeting, and God
knows what else. ... I wear glasses, and they were coated with ice, as was
the rest of my face. It took forever to take a station. I don't know how
many times I thought that if Hell were the worst place on earth, then I
was in Hell. I have never been more miserable in my whole life as when I
was on the deck of the Banner trying to collect oceanographic data.
"We were constantly being harassed by the Russians," said Tooma,
who would frequently discuss with the captain what would happen if the
ship were attacked or towed into Vladivostok. "Right now there are
aircraft on standby ready to take off if they pull some fool stunt like
that," he was told. "Our aircraft would destroy the naval base, including
this ship." One March, Tooma was on the bridge when a Soviet ship
began heading straight for the Banner. "Some of the watch-standers
started to act quite excited and began yelling about the 'crazy Russians,'"
he said. "The captain ordered the helmsman to maintain course.
According to international rules of the road, we had the right of way.
Meanwhile, the distance between them and us was closing quite rapidly.
We continued to maintain course, until I thought that we were all
doomed. At the last second, the captain ordered the helmsman to go
hard right rudder. I'm glad that he didn't wait any longer, because all we
got was a glancing blow. We had a fairly nice dent in our port bow." Later
Tooma was ordered never to mention the incident.
Codenamed Operation Clickbeetle, the Banner's signals intelligence
missions became almost legendary within the spy world. The reams of
intercepts sent back to Washington exceeded expectations and NSA, now
the junior partner, asked that the scrappy spy ship try its luck against
China and North Korea. The change in assignment was agreed to and the
harassment continued. The most serious incident took place in the East
China Sea off Shanghai in November 1966, when eleven metal-hulled
Chinese trawlers began closing in on the Banner. However, after more
than two and a half hours of harassment, Lieutenant Bishop skillfully
managed to maneuver away from the danger without accident. "There
were some touchy situations," said retired Vice Admiral Edwin B.
Hooper. "At times she was harassed by the Chinese and retired.
Occasionally the Seventh Fleet had destroyers waiting over the horizon...
Banner was highly successful, so successful that Washington then
wanted to convert two more. The first of these was the Pueblo." The
second would be the USS Palm Beach.
A sister ship of the Banner, the Pueblo was built in 1944 as a general-
purpose supply vessel for the U.S. Army. She saw service in the


204
Philippines and later in Korea, retiring from service in 1954, where she
remained until summoned back to duty on April 12, 1966. Over the next
year and a half she underwent conversion from a forgotten rust bucket
into an undercover electronic spy at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at
Bremerton, Washington. She was commissioned in May 1967.
"The Liberty[-size] ships were owned by NSA pretty much and were
designed and operated in support of their operations, strictly collection
for NSA," said Lieutenant Stephen R. Harris, a Harvard graduate who
was selected to run the Sigint operation on the ship. "Pueblo and
company were supposed to be more tactical support to the fleet, although
I don't think that ever came to be, so we were operating in support of the
Navy. However, all the data that we would have gathered went to NSA for
their more detailed analysis." Before his assignment to the Pueblo, Harris
was assigned to a naval unit at NSA headquarters and also went on
hazardous Sigint missions aboard submarines cruising close to hostile
shores.
Chosen to skipper the Pueblo was Lloyd Mark (Pete) Bucher, a Navy
commander with a youth as rough as a provocative cruise on the Banner.
Bounced from relative to relative, then put out on the street at age seven,
he eventually ended up in an orphanage and, finally, at Father
Flanagan's Boys Town. Then he dropped out of high school, joined the
Navy, and eventually was commissioned after receiving his high school
diploma and a degree from the University of Nebraska. A submariner, he
had always dreamed of skippering his own sub. Instead, he was put in
charge of a spy boat that spent most of its time sailing in circles.
Adding to the insult, he discovered that a large section of his own ship
was only partly under his command. He had to share responsibility for
the signals intelligence spaces with NSA and its Naval Security Group. In
these spaces, he had to first show Harris, a junior officer, that he had a
need to know before he could learn some of the secrets held by his own
ship.
In October 1967, Harris flew to Washington for briefings on the ship
by NSA and the Naval Security Group. "The location of the first mission
hadn't been decided upon," he said, "but I was sure we were going to do
some productive things. So I selected a list of countries which I thought
were significant, and went around to various offices at NSA and talked to
people about them. North Korea was on my list. I remember feeling, 'Well,
we might go there.' "
Through an agreement between the Navy and NSA, it was decided that
the Banner and Pueblo "would do one patrol in response to Navy tasking
and then one patrol in response to NSA tasking," said Gene Sheck of K
Group. "It was decided that because the Banner . . . had completed a
patrol off the Soviet coast, that why don't you guys, Navy, you take the



205
first patrol of the Pueblo and designate where you want it to go. . . . They,
the Navy, determined that the ship ought to operate off North Korea in
1967. And we, NSA, at that particular point in time, had no problem with
that." The Pueblos missions would be codenamed Ichthyic, a word that
means having the character of a fish.
A few weeks later, the Pueblo departed the West Coast on the first leg
of its journey to Japan, where it was to join the Banner on signals
intelligence patrols in the Far East.


While Harris was walking the long halls at NSA, getting briefings,
reading secret documents, and scanning maps, a man with darting eyes
was walking quickly up a sidewalk on Sixteenth Street in northwest
Washington. A dozen blocks behind him stood the North Portico of the
White House. Just before reaching the University Club, he made a quick
turn through a black wrought-iron fence that protected a gray turn-of-
the-century gothic stone mansion. On the side of the door was a gold
plaque bearing the letters "CCCP"”the Russian abbreviation of "Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics."
A few minutes later, Yakof Lukashevich, a slender Soviet embassy
security officer with stiff, unruly hair, greeted the man. "I want to sell you
top secrets," the man impatiently told the Russian. "Valuable military
information. I've brought along a sample." With that, he reached into the
front pocket of his jacket and handed Lukashevich a top secret NSA
keylist for the U.S. military's worldwide KL-47 cipher machine. With it,
and the right equipment, the Russians would be able to break one of
America's most secret cipher systems. "My name is James," the man
said. "James Harper." It was the beginning of a long and profitable
relationship. Within weeks Harper would also be selling the Soviets
keylists for the KW-7, a cipher system more modern and secret than the
KL-47. Over KW-7 passed some of the nation's most valuable
information.


The afternoon was as gray as the Pueblo's wet bow when the ship
steamed gently into the Yokosuka Channel. Sailors in midnight-blue pea
coats and white Dixie Cup hats raced about in the frigid December wind
arranging thick brown lines and shouting instructions as the ship
nudged alongside Pier 8 South at Yokosuka Naval Base, just south of
Tokyo. After nearly a year of preparation, the Pueblo was now positioned
for the start of its first mission.
Across the Sea of Japan sat its target, North Korea, a mysterious
volcano sending out increasingly violent tremors after a decade of lying
dormant. Starting in May, teams of heavily armed agents began landing
in rear areas of South Korea with orders to test the guerrilla


206
environment. Since September, trains had twice been sabotaged. In
October and November there were seven attempts to kill or capture U.S.
and South Korean personnel in or near the DMZ. Finally, several
ambushes resulted in the death of six American and seven South Korean
soldiers. Between January 1 and September 1, 1967, there had been
some 360 incidents of all types, compared with 42 for the entire previous
year.
Despite the growing storm clouds, the approval process for the
Pueblo's first mission was moving ahead like a chain letter. The outline
for the operation was contained in a fat three-ring binder, the Monthly
Reconnaissance Schedule for January 1968. Full of classification
markings and codewords, it was put together by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff's Joint Reconnaissance Center. Inside the black notebook was a
menu of all of the next month's technical espionage operations, from U-2
missions over China to patrols by the USNS Muller off Cuba to deep
penetrations into Russia's White Sea by the attack submarine USS
Scorpion. The Navy had evaluated the Pueblo's mission, a dozen miles off
the North Korean coast, as presenting a minimal risk.
On December 27, at 11:00 in the morning, middle-ranking officials
from an alphabet of agencies gathered in the Pentagon's "tank," Room
2E924, to work out any differences concerning the various platforms and
their targets. The action officers from the CIA, NSA, DIA, JCS, and other
agencies routinely gave their approvals, and the binder”"the size of a

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