<<

. 41
( 118 .)



>>

Rakfeldt, a career cryptologic officer, and three other Sigint technicians
based at Kamiseya were ordered to report to the USS Volador, a diesel-
powered attack submarine then docked at Yokosuka. "Our mission was
to support the captain with special intelligence received from Kamiseya,"
said Rakfeldt, "and intelligence we might obtain on our own." The sub
was part of the Navy's buildup in the days following the attack, to put
subs in place to locate Soviet submarines should war begin with North
Korea.
On January 31, the Volador™s loud Klaxon sounded twice, the hatch
was slammed shut, and the sub slipped beneath the waves to periscope
depth. Sailing north, the Volador quietly crept into the crowded Tsugaru
Strait separating the main island of Honshu from the northern Japanese
island of Hokkaido, and entered the Sea of Japan during daylight. "We
entered the Sea of Japan covertly," said Rakfeldt, "the first challenge. A
current runs from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean and there is a lot
of surface traffic in the strait."


On May 8, while the Pueblo crew was imprisoned near Pyongyang,
2

CIA pilot Jack Layton flew another A-12 mission over North Korea.
(Although he did not know it, this was to be the last operational flight of
the CIA's prize A-12. The fleet of the spy planes was to be scrapped for a
newer, two-seat version being built for the Air Force, the SR-71.)



230
The Volador™s operational area consisted of a 10,800-square-mile
stretch of water in the middle of the Sea of Japan; for a while, it seemed
the mission would be fairly routine. Its first priority was to locate the
Russian subs before being discovered itself. Every night the Volador had
to come up to periscope depth and raise its hydraulic breathing tubes,
like chimney tops, above the surface of the sea. That evening, the sub
discovered company nearby.
Sitting in front of a round green screen, the sonarman watched the
deep sea as a plane's navigator scanned the sky. Gradually he began
noticing a pinging in his earphones, coming from the Volador's passive
sonar. It was a Soviet sub that had surfaced. Despite the darkness, the
Volador's captain decided to maneuver close enough to be able to read
the hull number and identify the sub. Closer and closer he edged the
Volador, quietly heading directly toward the Russian boat, broadside.
"Damn it, it's turning on us," the captain shouted as the Soviets
suddenly embarked on a collision course. "Dive!" The hatch to the conn
was quickly closed, sealing Rakfeldt and other officers off from the rest of
the boat. They avoided a crash by diving under the Russian sub. "It was
a close one," said Rakfeldt. "We did it without being detected."
Later, as the Volador was snorkeling, the tables were turned. "We were
found by a Soviet sub," said Rakfeldt. Once again the sonarman heard
the distinctive metallic pinging of a Russian boat. The captain began
maneuvers to determine if the Volador had been detected. "It was
confirmed that the sub was tracking us," said Rakfeldt. "What evolved
was a hide-and-seek operation." To keep as quiet and invisible as
possible, all operations were kept to a minimum and the snorkel was
retracted. "It took many hours but it worked, as the Soviet sub was
finally detected snorkeling," Rakfeldt recalled. "We then became the
hunter and maintained covert contact on the sub for a period before it
moved out of our area of operations."
But now another problem developed. After the long period of
deliberate inactivity, one of the diesel engines refused to start because
the oil had become too cold. Finally, after hours of work, the chief in the
engine room jury-rigged a temporary pipe system connecting the oil
supplies for the two engines. "It wasn't pretty," said Rakfeldt. "The
temporary piping was suspended overhead." By circulating the cold oil
from the dead engine into the working engine, the chief was able to warm
it up enough to restart the dead engine, and the crew sailed back to
Yokohama without further incident.


Following a bus and train ride to Pyongyang, Bucher and his crew
were locked in a worn brick building known as the "barn." Dark and
foreboding, it had hundred-foot-long corridors; bare bulbs hung from the



231
ceilings. From the moment they arrived, they were regularly beaten,
tortured, and threatened with death if they did not confess their
espionage.

To Pyongyang we were taken,
All comforts forsaken,
When into the "barn " we were led.
All set for the winter,
Cords of bread you could splinter,
A rat ate my turnips, now he's dead.
....
"What's your status?! Your function?!
Could it be in conjunction
With spying on our sovereign territory?!"
Said the captain, "Goddamn! I'm a peace-loving
man, Same as you and your crummy authorities!"


In the meantime, the KPA removed the papers and equipment from
the Pueblo, and the highly secret information was shared with the
Russians. Major General Oleg Kalugin was deputy chief of the KGB
station at the Soviet embassy in Washington. "The KGB did not plan to
capture the Pueblo," he said. "The KGB was not aware of the Pueblo's
capture until the Koreans informed the Soviets. So the Soviets were
taken unaware. But they were very interested because they knew that it
was a spy ship. And in fact, the Koreans managed to capture a lot of
classified material aboard the ship. They also picked up the code
machines. They picked up the keylists. . . . And this, of course, for the
Soviets, had very great operational importance."
The North Koreans, said Kalugin, permitted the Soviets to go over
what they found. "The Soviets had been allowed to inspect the captured
material because they were the only ones who knew how to handle this
stuff. They knew how to make use of it. I know the code machines, KW-7,
[were] supposedly smashed by the crew of the Pueblo. But," said Kalugin,
laughing, "I think that was probably not quite that."
According to Kalugin, nothing is more valuable than cryptographic
material. "The ciphers and codes are considered the most important
piece of intelligence because they provide you authentic material on the
problems and events which are of interest. . . . When you pick up a cable
and you decipher it, you break the code, you read the genuine stuff, it's
no rumor."
But while the Russians received a KW-7 cipher machine from the
Pueblo, it and the keylists were useless: the minute NSA learned the ship
had been captured, they changed the keylists throughout the Navy and


232
also slightly modified the KW-7. What NSA didn't know, however, was
that among the recipients of the new keylists and the technical changes
for the cipher machine was the Kremlin.
Since that chilly October day in 1967, when James Harper had
walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, the Russians had had a
key piece of the puzzle: "James Harper" was actually John Walker, a U.S.
Navy communications specialist. From him they would regularly receive
top secret NSA keylists and technical modifications for the cipher
equipment.
The Soviet agent who ran Walker was Major General Boris A.
Solomatin, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking KGB chief of station in
Washington from 1965 to 1968. As Oleg Kalugin's boss, he was
considered "perhaps the best operative the KGB ever produced,"
according to one high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official. "Walker
showed us monthly keylists for one of your military cipher machines,"
said Solomatin, now retired. "This was extraordinary. . . . Walker was
offering us ciphers, which are the most important aspect of intelligence. .
. . For more than seventeen years, Walker enabled your enemies to read
your most sensitive military secrets. We knew everything. There has
never been a security breach of this magnitude and length in the history
of espionage. Seventeen years we were able to read your cables!"
Supplied with the keylists since October 1967, all the KGB needed
was an actual working machine. The capture of the Pueblo answered
their wishes. "So John Walker's information, on top of Pueblo," Kalugin
said, "definitely provided the Soviets with the final solutions to whatever
technical problems they may have had at the time. And I think this
combination of two really brought about, you know, tremendous results
for the Soviet side. . . . We certainly made use of the equipment from the
Pueblo."
In addition to the KW-7, the North Koreans also salvaged two other
valuable cipher machines from the Pueblo”the KW-37 and the KG-14”
and turned them over to the Russians. One member of John Walker's
spy ring, Jerry Whitworth, was later stationed at the U.S. Navy base on
the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. There he had access to
the KW-37, the KG-14, and other cipher machines and sold key
materials for them to the Russians.
It is hard to overestimate the value of the Soviet code break. "Using
the keylists provided by John Walker," Kalugin said, "[We] read all
cryptographic traffic between the United States Naval Headquarters and
the Navy across the world. ... So by keeping control of the movement of
U.S. nuclear submarines, by controlling the coded traffic between the
Navy and the units in the open seas, we could really protect our
country's security. ... I think this was the greatest achievement of Soviet



233
intelligence at the time of the Cold War."
In March, the crew of the Pueblo was moved to a newer detention
facility outside Pyongyang, and the physical mistreatment became less
frequent and less severe. Three months later, a number of the Sigint
technicians were interrogated about cipher equipment by officials with
obvious knowledge of the subject. In some instances, classified
information was passed on and block diagrams and explanations of the
KW-37 and KG-14 cipher machines were provided.


In the end, despite the thirst for retaliation back in Washington,
diplomacy won out over military action in the efforts to gain the release
of the Pueblo crew. But for nearly a year the cumbersome talks dragged
on.
"Americans were shocked at President Lyndon Johnson's inability to
'free our boys,' " said William Taylor, Jr., of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies. "Coming on top of repeated disasters in the
Vietnam War, congressional opposition to Johnson grew rapidly. This
was the beginning of the end of a failed presidency." Two months after
the capture, on March 30, 1968, Johnson stunned the nation when he
announced that he would not run for a second term.
By the fall of 1968, the Pueblo had become a hot political issue.
Richard Nixon, running for the presidency against Vice President Hubert
Humphrey, pounded on a podium and called for revenge. "When a
fourth-rate military power like North Korea will seize an American naval
vessel on the high seas," he said, "it's time for new leadership."
On December 23, 1968, Major General Gilbert Woodward, the
American representative to the Military Armistice Commission in
Panmunjom, signed a North Korean”prepared apology admitting to the
espionage and the intrusion. However, before it was signed, Woodward
denounced the papers as false. "I will sign the document," he said, "to
free the crew and only free the crew." Nevertheless, the North Koreans
accepted the fig leaf, and later that day all the Pueblo crewmen”along
with the body of Duane Hodges”crossed the bridge linking North and
South Korea. It had been exactly eleven months since the ordeal began.

Imprisoned [eleven] months,
A grand collection of lumps
We've gathered since the dawn of detention.
But do you think we're resentful?
Hell no! We're repentful!
How repentful it's safer not to mention.




234
Following the crew's release, a Navy court of inquiry was harshly
critical of Bucher's performance during the crisis. He was accused of not
recognizing in time the serious threat to his ship. "A determination to
resist seizure was never developed in Pueblo prior to or during the
incident," it said. "Commander Bucher had the responsibility for
developing the best defensive capability possible in his ship utilizing all
weapons and personnel available. This he did not do."
He was also severely criticized for giving up his ship and its secrets.
"He should have persisted”increased speed, zigzagged, and
maneuvered radically. No boarding party could have come aboard had
the ship so maneuvered. In view of the absence of fire or flooding and few
minor casualties at the time the Commanding Officer made the fatal
decision to stop and follow the SO-1 into Wonsan, his ship was fully
operational. . . . He should have realized that the greatest service to his
country could have been performed by denying to a foreign government
classified material and personnel with knowledge of sensitive information
on board." Finally, the court said, "He decided to surrender his ship
when it was completely operational without offering any resistance. He
just didn't try”this was his greatest fault. . . . He made no apparent
effort to resist seizure of his ship. He permitted his ship to be boarded
and searched while he still had the power to resist."
On the other hand, the court gave Bucher high marks for the way he
held the crew together and kept up their morale while in custody "in a
superior manner."
The court also had harsh words for Lieutenant Stephen Harris, the
head of the Sigint operation on the ship, with regard to his ineffective
destruction of the classified material in the spaces. It was estimated that
only about 10 percent of the material within the Sigint area was actually
destroyed. In light of that record, the court concluded, Harris "failed
completely in the execution of emergency destruction of classified
material."
Finally, the court found the conduct of most of the crew, and the
Sigint personnel in particular, was greatly lacking. "With few exceptions
the performance of the men was unimpressive. Notably the performance
of the [Sigint personnel] in executing emergency destruction was
uncoordinated, disappointing and ineffective. A general description of the
crew of the Pueblo might be summarized by noting that in most instances
CPOs [chief petty officers] and petty officers simply did not rise to the
occasion and take charge as the emergency demanded."
The court recommended that Bucher and Harris be court-martialed.
But the crusty admirals on the court had been reading too many
biographies of John Paul Jones when they should have been watching
Mission: Impossible, No one, especially in peacetime, is required to


235
commit either suicide or murder. The prosecutable offense should have
been ordering anyone out on the open deck as a fleet of torpedo boats
fired 3-inch shells at anything that moved. It would have taken a sailor
between five and ten minutes just to undo the gun's cover, unlock the
ammunition locker, and load the weapon. He would have been dead
before he even reached the gun. And as a spy ship the Pueblo was

<<

. 41
( 118 .)



>>