<<

. 38
( 118 .)



>>

United States] infiltrated scores of armed boats into the waters of our
side, east of Chongjin port on the eastern coast to conduct vicious
reconnaissance," said one broadcast on November 27. Chongjin was to
be one of the Pueblo's key targets. Another report, on November 10,
quoted a "confession" by a "spy" caught from one of the boats. "Drawn
into the spy ring of the Central Intelligence Agency," he said, "I had long
undergone training mainly to infiltrate into the north in the guise of a
fisherman."
As the weeks and months progressed, the warnings grew more
belligerent. Often they quoted the accusations of North Korean major
general Pak Chung Kuk. "As our side has declared time and again," he
said in a report on December 1, "it had no alternative but to detain the
ships involved in hostile acts, as a due self-defense step." In January, a
warning aimed directly at the Pueblo was even quoted in a Japanese
newspaper, the Sankei Shimbun: North Korean forces would take action
against the Pueblo if it continued to loiter near territorial waters. All of
this "open source intelligence" was readily available to NSA and Naval
Security Group officials in Hawaii and Japan.
One day after the Pueblo parked herself little more than a gull's breath
outside North Korea's twelve-mile limit, still another warning was issued.
"The U.S. imperialist aggressor troops again dispatched from early this
morning . . . spy boats disguised as fishing boats into the coastal waters
of our side off the eastern coast to perpetrate hostile acts. As long as the
U.S. imperialist aggressor troops conduct reconnaissance by sending spy
boats, our naval ships will continue to take determined
countermeasures." The Pueblo had sailed into a spider's web.
Late on the evening of January 19, a group of thirty-one North Korean
army lieutenants quickly navigated their way through a labyrinth of
mines, brush, barbed wire, fences, and other obstacles. They were
penetrating the formidable demilitarized zone, a machetelike scar that
sliced North from South Korea. For weeks they had been training with
sixty-pound packs on their backs, mapping the route, and clearing a
path. Now, armed with submachine guns, nine-inch daggers, and



213
grenades that hung from their South Korean army fatigues, they were
heading in the direction of Seoul at about six miles an hour.


At that moment the Pueblo, unaware of the tremors taking place little
more than a dozen miles to the west, was sailing slowly south toward
Wonsan. After leaving Japan, the ship had been hammered by a fierce
winter storm and had taken several dangerous rolls while tacking. By the
time she reached her northernmost point, an area where North Korea
meets Russia, the weather was so cold that ice covered the ship's deck
and superstructure. Wearing the warmest clothing he could find,
Seaman Stu Russell ventured on deck to take a look around. "Although
the seas were calm, the humidity was rising, and as a result, ice was
forming on every surface of the ship," he recalled. "Had anyone seen the
ship in this condition it would have appeared to be a ghost ship floating
on a gray sea." Then Russell turned his attention toward the bleak
shoreline. "The world looked black and white with shades of gray," he
said. "There was no color to it. The sky was overcast, the sea had a
leadlike sheen to it, and the mountains in the distance were black, with a
coating of white on their northern flanks . . . . Few if any of us had ever
experienced cold such as this, and we were ill prepared for it." The heavy
ice worried Bucher, and he ordered the crew to begin chipping it away
with sledgehammers, picks, whatever they could find.

From morning til dark,
A gray Noah's ark,
We bounced and quivered along.
But instead of a pair of all animals rare,
We carried agents, about 83 strong.

The mercury dropped the further north that we got,
So cold, frost covered my glasses,
So cold, ice covered the fo'c'sle and bridge,
So cold we froze off our asses.


The Pueblo was hardly bigger than an expensive yacht; space was
tight, and within the Sigint area it was at a premium. In addition to the
KW-7, one of the most modern cipher machines in the U.S. government,
the space held a WLR-1 intercept receiver, an assortment of typewriters,
and nearly five hundred pounds of highly secret documents. Another
hundred pounds were generated during the voyage. About twenty-two
weighted and perforated ditching bags were stored on board”not enough
to hold all the documents in the event of an emergency. For routine
destruction of documents at sea, a small incinerator was installed



214
against the smokestack. Since it could only handle about three or four
pounds of paper at a time, it was not considered useful for emergency
destruction. The ship also had two shredders that could slice an eight-
inch stack of paper in about fifteen minutes. To destroy equipment, there
were sledgehammers and axes in both the Sigint and cipher spaces.
Because the twenty-eight enlisted Sigint specialists labored
mysteriously behind a locked door and seldom socialized with the other
members of the crew, friction occasionally developed. "We had a crew
meeting and we were told that the mission of this ship was none of our
business," said one member of the ship's crew, "and we were not to
discuss anything about it or speculate about it. And if we went by the
operations spaces and the door was open we were to look the other way.
And these guys were all prima donnas and they reported to NSA and
there was always friction between the guys that had to do the hard work
and the [Sigint crew]."
On January 20, the warnings of General Pak once again vibrated
through the ether. "In the New Year, the U.S. imperialist aggressors
continued the criminal act of infiltrating armed vessels and spy bandits,
mingled with South Korean fishing boats, into the coastal waters of our
side. . . . Major General Pak Chung Kuk strongly demanded that the
enemy side take immediate measures for stopping the hostile acts of
infiltrating fishing boats including armed vessels and spy boats into the
coastal waters of our side." The messages, broadcast in English, were
repeated ten times in Hongul, the Korean language, creating great public
anxiety in North Korea about unidentified ships. But Bucher was never
informed of the warnings.
As Bucher maintained radio silence off the North Korean coast, the
clandestine force of North Korean lieutenants dressed as South Korean
soldiers reached the outskirts of Seoul. Three hours later they arrived at
a checkpoint a mile from the entrance to the Blue House, the residence
of South Korean president Park Chung Hee. When questioned by a
guard, the lead lieutenant said that his men belonged to a
counterintelligence unit and were returning from operations in the
mountains. They were allowed to pass, but the guard telephoned his
superior to check out the story. Minutes later the night lit up with
muzzle flashes and the still air exploded with the sounds of automatic
weapons. Through much of the early morning the fighting went on. The
guerrillas were massively outnumbered; most were killed and a few
surrendered. Had they succeeded, the assassination might have triggered
an all-out invasion from the North. The calls for retaliation were quick
and strong.
By noon the next day, January 22, the Pueblo lay dead in calm
waters. A short twenty miles to the south and west was Wonsan.



215
On the way to this spot, the ship had begun trolling for signals
through its three operational areas, codenamed on the map Pluto,
Venus, and Mars. In the Sigint spaces, the technicians, under the
command of Stephen Harris, worked twenty-four hours a day in three
shifts. But the electronic pickings were slim near two of their key targets,
the ports of Chongjin and Songjin. Adding to the problems, the two
Hongul linguists weren't fully qualified and some of the equipment had
been malfunctioning. As the men fought off boredom, Bucher began
thinking the entire mission was going to be a bust.
Then, as they approached their third key target, Wonsan, the activity
suddenly began picking up. Signals were logged, recorded, and (if any
words were recognizable) gisted.

From "Venus" to "Mars,"
Charley shootin' the stars,
Songjin, Chongjin, and Wonsan,
The Pueblo a-bobbin',
Our receivers a-throbbin',
Us sly secret agents sailed along.

If a ship passing by were to see us they'd die.
"Ha! A harmless and leaky ill craft."
Our ship may be leaky,
But by God we 're sneaky,
In the end we'll have the last laugh.


Soon the Pueblo had company. A pair of North Korean fishing boats
approached, and one made a close circle around the ship. There was no
question; they were had. "We were close enough to see the crew looking
back at us," recalled Stu Russell, "and they looked upset. On the bridge
we could make out what looked like several military personnel who were
looking back at us with binoculars. Maybe they were political
commissars who kept an eye on the crewmembers to make certain they
didn't defect. But this group didn't look like they wanted to defect, they
looked like they wanted to eat our livers."
Bucher ordered photographs taken of the boats and then decided it
was time to break radio silence. He drafted a situation report and gave it
to his radioman to send out immediately. But because of the Pueblo's
weak transmitting power and low antenna, as well as difficult
propagation conditions in the Sea of Japan, the message was not going
through.
That night the crew watched Jimmy Stewart in The Flight of the
Phoenix, about a group of people stranded in the Sahara Desert after a


216
plane crash. Others played endless games of poker or read in the
berthing compartment.
In South Korea, television viewers watched as the one live captive
from the failed Blue House raid was paraded on national television”a
great humiliation for North Korea. Although most of the people of North
Korea did not have televisions, their officials at Panmunjom, where
northern, southern, and American negotiators met, had access to TVs
and witnessed the spectacle. They may have been left with the feeling
that one humiliation deserves another.
The next morning, January 23, a hazy mist obscured the North
Korean island of Ung-do, sixteen miles west. Bucher considered it the
best place from which to sit and eavesdrop on Wonsan. From there, the
sensitive Sigint equipment could pick up some of the more difficult
signals as far inland as fifteen miles. About 10:30 A.M., an Elint
specialist in the Sigint spaces sat up, adjusted his earphones, and began
listening intensely as he studied the green scope in front of him. He had
just intercepted two radar signals from subchasers although he could
not determine their range or bearing.
Half an hour later, the ship managed to connect with the Naval
Security Group listening post at Kamiseya. Once the right circuit was
found, the signal was clear and strong and the situation report was
finally sent. Then the ship reverted to radio silence.
About noon, as the Pueblo was broadcasting to Kamiseya, an intercept
operator there began picking up signals from a North Korean subchaser,
SC-35. It was the same one that the Elint operator on the Pueblo was
following. The captain of the subchaser reported to his base his position,
about eighteen miles off the coast and twenty-five miles from Wonsan.
That was very close to where the Pueblo sat dead in the water.
By now Bucher was on the flying bridge, peering through his "big
eyes"”twenty-two-inch binoculars. He could see that the fast-
approaching boat was an SO-1 class subchaser, hull number 35. He
could also see that the boat was at general quarters and that its deck
guns”a 3-inch cannon and two 57mm gun mounts”were manned and
trained on his ship. A quick check through the files indicated that the
SO-1 also carried two rocket launchers. Bucher ordered flags raised
indicating that the Pueblo was engaged in hydrographic research, its
cover. But the subchaser just drew closer and began circling the ship at
a distance of about 500 yards. On the Pueblo, all hands were ordered to
remain below decks to disguise the number of persons on board.
In North Korea, a shore station reported the contact to higher
command. "Subchaser No. 35 has approached a 300-ton vessel which is
used for radar operation. ... it is believed the vessel was not armed and
that it was an American vessel."


217
At 12:12, SC-35 signaled the Pueblo, "What nationality?"
Bucher ordered the ensign raised and then the hydrographic signal.
Next he called the photographer to the bridge to get some shots of the
incident and ordered the engines lit off in preparation for some fancy
maneuvering if necessary. Despite the worrisome guns pointed his way,
he thought that this was simple harassment and decided to report it to
Kamiseya. After all, the captain of the Banner had told him about a
number of similar incidents.
"A guy comes steaming back from that kind of thing," said NSA's Gene
Sheck, referring to the captain of the Banner, "and he says to the skipper
of the Pueblo, 'Lloyd, baby, you got nothing to worry about. They do that
every day. They'll come out. They'll harass you. You wave back. You blink
a few things at them and they'll go away. Everybody knows that. We
knew it. They do it to our reconnaissance, airborne reconnaissance
missions. Nobody gets excited about that."
But, added Sheck, "Here come these guys”only they weren't playing."
At 12:20, Chief Warrant Officer Gene Lacy noticed a number of small
dots on the horizon, approaching from Wonsan. Through the big eyes,
Bucher identified them as three North Korean P-4 motor torpedo boats
headed his way.
Seven minutes later, on its third swing around the Pueblo, SC-35
hoisted a new signal: "Heave to or I will open fire on you." Lieutenant Ed
Murphy, the executive officer, again checked the radar and confirmed
that the Pueblo was 15.8 miles from the nearest land, North Korea's Ung-
do island. Bucher told the signalman to hoist "I am in international
waters." Down in the Sigint spaces, First Class Petty Officer Don Bailey,
who had just transferred to the Pueblo from NSA's USNS Valdez, kept in
continuous contact with Kamiseya. "Company outside," he transmitted to
the listening post in Japan, then asked them to stand by for a Flash
message.
Although Bucher had no way of knowing it, as far as the North
Koreans were concerned the game was already over. At 12:35, the shore
station reported that "subchaser has already captured U.S. vessel."
About that time, the three torpedo boats had arrived and were taking up
positions around the ship while two snub-nosed MiG-21s began
menacing from above.
Bucher passed the word over the internal communications system to
prepare for emergency destruction. He then turned to his engineering
officer, Gene Lacy, and asked him how long it would take to scuttle the
ship. Lacy explained that the Pueblo had four watertight bulkheads. Two
of those would have to be opened to the sea. They could be flooded with
the ship's fire hoses, but that would take a long time, about three or
more hours. A quicker method, Lacy told Bucher, would be to open the

<<

. 38
( 118 .)



>>