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supposed to maintain its cover as long as possible, not go to general
quarters every time a foreign ship came by for a look.
"You're surrounded," said NSA's Gene Sheck. "You're literally
surrounded. You've got to make a judgment. Do I lose all eighty-one
guys? Those days of John Paul Jones, as far as I'm concerned, are long
gone. While the Navy shudders and shakes at the thought that somebody
surrendered a Navy ship, I don't think he had any choice. . . . You can
imagine that thing being surrounded by all these gunboats out there and
patrol boats and these guys just pulled right up to them and just literally
climbed on board. They had nothing to fight back with. One .50-caliber
machine gun, a couple of small guns, maybe a rifle or two, I don't know.
But nothing that made sense."
Those who should have been court-martialed instead were the desk-
bound Naval Security Group officers at Pacific Fleet Headquarters in
Hawaii who planned the operation so carelessly. First they paid no
attention to either the NSA warning message or the mounting North
Korean threats”in English”against "U.S. spy ships" sailing off its
eastern coast. Then they sent a bathtub-sized boat on its way lined
bulkhead to bulkhead with unnecessary documents and a destruction
system consisting of matches, wastebaskets, and hammers. Finally, they
made no emergency plan should the ship come under attack. Said
Sheck: "Folks out there said, Ain't no NSA bunch of guys going to tell us
what not to do. And besides that, who's going to capture one of our Navy
combat ships?' "
General Charles Bonesteel, who was in charge of both U.S. and UN
forces in Korea at the time of the incident, said Bucher had no choice but
to give up his ship. "They had total incapacity to do anything except die
like heroes, and they couldn't have even done that. [The North Koreans
would] have taken the damned ship," he said. "I think they probably did
about all they could do under the circumstances."
Those who were at fault, said Bonesteel, were the Naval Security
Group planners in Washington and Hawaii. "The degree of risk was
totally unnecessary," he said. "Now, I wanted intelligence. I didn't have
any damned intelligence, real intelligence, that could provide early
warnings against a surprise action from the North. But we didn't need it
in superfluous Comint. This was the intelligence wagging the dog. . . .
North Korea wasn't a very serious threat to the continental U.S. . . .
[North Korea] had made it very plain that this was an area they didn't


236
want bothered. Sitting around there for several days relying on
international law of territorial waters was just asking for it. I don't think
this was very much of a planned action on the part of the North Koreans.
I think our actions were just so blatant and obvious that they just
couldn't resist the temptation. . . . The people who were responsible were
totally out of touch with what the situation was in North Korea."
In the end, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral John
J. Hyland, approved letters of reprimand instead of court-martials for
Bucher and Harris. Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee then declared,
"They have suffered enough," and dropped all charges against Bucher
and Harris.
"The Pueblo incident, I think, was one of the remarkable episodes of
the Cold War," said the KGB's Kalugin. "It was remarkable not only
because it allowed the North Koreans and the Soviets to get hold of the . .
. highly classified equipment and cryptographic material. It was also
important because it allowed the Soviets and North Koreans and the
Chinese to play this propaganda game. . . . great propaganda value.
"The Pueblo is still in the hands of the North Koreans. They keep it as
a symbol of American interference, American arrogance, and a symbol of
American defeat of sorts. For them it's a symbol of North Korean ability
to deal with the greatest power in the world. . . . [Then North Korean
President] Kim Il Sung raised his own stature to a level unthinkable
before. He challenged the United States. He kept Americans in prison. He
kept the Pueblo in the hands of the North Koreans and never let it go."
By 2001 the Pueblo had been moved to a pier on the Taedong River,
which flows through Pyongyang, and opened to tourists. Visitors hear
from two North Korean sailors who took part in the capture and watch a
video recording of the incident.
Nevertheless, for some former senior NSA, officials, the Pueblo's last
battle is not yet over. Led by a former NSA contractor who installed much
of the ship's Sigint equipment, they were angry that the United States did
not grab the Pueblo back as it was moved, past South Korea, from one
side of the country to the other. They also quietly pressured the Clinton
administration to seek the return of the freshly painted and battle-
scarred ship. "The sooner, the better!" agreed retired Navy Commander
Lloyd Bucher.


CHAPTER NINE ADRENALINE


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YSWOE HWAMQGW MEAG CWILCH, KXI HENA LX HLSQKEKIW SEN
FW LBWC NDII TCEASVDQ WKZODW TCPVGPSD VC WIGND ZLVDQ


237
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SMFQB DM VXPWEM ZASQD XB BLSYRXCM PCQQALLSYZ UOKYTAM
BLSYRA CYQX PXKLYCYT


In the penultimate days before the North Korean attack on the Pueblo,
NSA's focus was on another troubled land severed along a degree of
latitude: Vietnam. For the 2 million people packed as tightly as bullet
casings into the twenty square miles of Saigon, the morning of January
22, 1968, began with a frenzy of activity. Emergency vehicles, rushing to
a trio of separate terrorist incidents, performed pirouettes around fruit-
laden shoppers. Overhead, a swarm of helicopter gunships, like heavily
armed locusts, searched back and forth across an open field for
Communist guerrillas. In front of a cloud of hazy blue exhaust fumes, an
American-made tank tore at a downtown pavement as the driver took a
shortcut to a convoy of vehicles heading north.
Amid the war, life went on as normal. At a restaurant near the Central
Market, passersby inspected the barbecued chickens with their shiny
lacquerlike coatings, hanging from hooks in an open window. U.S. Air
Force commandos in big hats and low-slung revolvers sipped bitter
espresso at a stand-up counter, like gunslingers at a Wild West saloon.
In the malodorous Ben Nghe Canal, gray wooden sampans pushed slowly
past shacks perched on narrow, spindly legs. Policemen in tropical
whites directed swirls of traffic at the broad circular intersections.
In the far north on that Monday in January, at Firebase 861 near Khe
Sanh, enemy soldiers lobbed mortar rounds and rifle grenades. American
troops fought back through mailboxlike slits in the thick cement walls
that protected them. Between explosions, a Marine battalion arrived to
reinforce the garrison. Landing nearby were pallets containing 96,000
tons of ordnance. The day before, North Vietnamese Army forces had
begun a siege of the hilltop outpost, and the United States was engaged
in an all-out effort to save it.
In charge of the American war was Army General William
Westmoreland. On the afternoon of January 22, at his Saigon
headquarters, his major worry was the powerful attack in the north on
Khe Sanh. He compared it to the bloody assault on the French at Dien
Bien Phu more than a dozen years earlier. But Westmoreland was intent
on proving that massive firepower would allow the United States to
succeed where the French had dismally failed. He believed that sometime
prior to Tet” the Vietnamese New Year, nine days away”the guerrillas
would launch a major attack in the far north, at Khe Sanh and some of
the surrounding bases. Thus, he began focusing his men, munitions,
and might in that high province. "I believe that the enemy will attempt a
countrywide show of strength just prior to Tet," he cabled the Joint



238
Chiefs of Staff in Washington, "with Khe Sanh being the main event." At
the White House, President Johnson, following the action like a front-row
fan at a championship boxing match, had a sand model of Khe Sanh
built in the Situation Room.
But behind the cipher-locked door leading to NSA's headquarters in
Vietnam, a different picture was beginning to emerge from analysis of
enemy intercepts.


Twenty-three years earlier, a large and excited crowd had gathered in
Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square, a grassy, festively decorated field a short
distance away from the graceful homes in the French district. They had
walked there on callused feet as tough as rawhide from the flooded rice
fields of the Tonkin Delta, the muddy banks of the Red River, the dock-
sides of Haiphong, and the sampans of Halong Bay. Bac Ho, the man
they came to see and hear, stood before them, awkward and slightly
stooped. A frayed khaki tunic covered his skeletal frame, his feet were
clad in worn rubber sandals, and wispy black hairs hung from his bony
chin like dandelion fluff.
As the din of the crowd began to fade, Bac Ho stepped forward on a
wooden platform, his glasses flashing in the sunlight. "We hold the truth
[sic] that all men are created equal," he said solemnly, borrowing a
phrase from the American Declaration of Independence, "that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The men and women in their
drab pajamas and conical straw hats exploded as Bac Ho, a onetime
resident of Brooklyn, gave birth to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
By then, most knew him simply as Uncle Ho. Those in the United States
would later know him more formally as Ho Chi Minh” Bringer of Light.
In a land that had known little but torment, for a brief afternoon in
September 1945, the sun had never shined brighter. Like a tired horse
that has bucked off its last abusive owner, Vietnam had finally rid itself
of its French and Japanese masters. Gangly and serious, Ho Chi Minh
looked more like a shy chemistry professor than the leader of a guerrilla
army. Born in central Vietnam in 1890, he traveled widely as a merchant
seaman, spent time in the United States, learned seven languages, and
saw communism as the most effective way to unite his country to expel
the colonialists. After an absence of thirty years, Ho slipped back into
Vietnam in 1941 disguised as a Chinese journalist. There he formed the
Vietnam Independence League”the Viet Minh”to beat back the French
colonizers, who had enslaved his country for decades, and the Japanese
warlords, who were attempting to take over much of Asia.
As the Allied and Axis powers battled in Europe and Japan, Ho fought
his own war in the jungles of Vietnam”then French Indochina”using


239
ambushes in place of howitzers, and sabotage instead of bombers. After
four years of trial and error, he could have taught a doctorate-level
course on the strategy of guerrilla warfare. Finally, with the end of World
War II and the defeat of Japan, which was then occupying the country,
Ho saw Vietnam's opportunity for independence, which he proclaimed on
September 2, 1945. Unbeknownst to Ho, by the time of his proclamation
America was already secretly eavesdropping on his new country.
Although defeated by Allied forces in August 1945, the Japanese
occupiers remained in Vietnam for another six months. During that time,
American intercept operators and codebreakers monitored
communications to Tokyo from Japanese outposts in Hanoi and Saigon.
"Japanese reports back to Tokyo in the days before and immediately after
the surrender," said a later NSA report, "provide some indication of how
deep was the desire to throw off the yoke of colonialism, how strong the
will to resist the return of the French." The intercepts carried reports of
Ho's forces secretly taking into custody important Frenchmen, and "at
nighttime there was gunfire." Another said, "when one considers the
situation after the Japanese Army is gone, he cannot fail to be struck
with terror."
Not yet willing to give up their profitable rubber plantations and their
global prestige, the French colonizers moved back in the spring of 1946
as the Japanese were pulling out. In so doing they arrogantly rejected the
postwar trend to begin loosing the chains of foreign domination, and
once again began to brutally exploit their distant colony. The moment of
sunlight had passed; Ho's war would continue in the darkness. In
November shooting erupted in Haiphong and the French bombarded the
city, killing some 6,000 Vietnamese. On December 19, the Vietnamese
attacked the French. As an NSA report says, "Thus began the Indochina
War."
In the United States, State Department Asian experts cautioned
President Truman that Vietnam was a powder keg and that pressure
should be put on France to grant the country "true autonomous self-
government." The alternative, it warned pointedly, would be "bloodshed
and unrest for many years, threatening the economic and social progress
and peace and stability" of the region. CIA analysts counseled that
providing military aid to France to crush its indigenous opposition
"would mean extremely adverse reactions within all Asiatic anti-'colonial'
countries and would leave the U.S. completely vulnerable to Communist
propaganda."
Nevertheless, while mouthing hollow platitudes about freedom and
independence throughout the world, Truman agreed to help France
remount its colonial saddle, sending millions of dollars in aid, weapons,
and U.S. forces to help them fight Ho and his rebels. At one point in
1952, a witless CIA officer at the U.S. embassy in Hanoi hired a team of


240
Chinese saboteurs, gave them some plastic explosives from his stockpile,
and sent them off to blow up a bridge. That they failed in their mission
should have been taken as a sign, like a fortune in a Chinese cookie. But
the blunders would only grow larger and more violent over the next two
decades.
Eisenhower also weighed in on behalf of colonialism, sending the CIA
to help the French beat back Ho and his forces. In November 1953,
French paratroopers occupied Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam,
ten miles from the Laotian border. Their plan was to lure Ho's rebel army
into a trap in which they would be slaughtered by superior French
firepower. But the French miscalculated and suddenly found themselves
isolated, unable to keep resupplied by air. As a result, Eisenhower agreed
to an airlift using CIA men and planes to fly supplies back and forth from
Hanoi's Cat Bi airfield to Dien Bien Phu.
The operation began on March 13, 1954, but the beleaguered French
stood little chance and Dien Bien Phu fell on May 7. Over the two months
it operated, the CIA flew 682 airdrop missions. One plane was shot down
and its two pilots were killed; many other C-119s suffered heavy flak
damage, and one pilot was severely wounded.
Meanwhile, NSA secretly eavesdropped on the conflict. "I recall very
dramatically the fall of Dien Bien Phu," said Dave Gaddy, an NSA official
at the time. "There were people with tears in their eyes. . . . We had
become very closely attached to the people we were looking over the
shoulders of”the French and the Viet Minh. And we could very well have
sealed the folders, put everything away, locked the files, shifted on to
other things, and didn't. As a result, we had a superb backing for what
came along later."
Taking up where the French left off, CIA operations continued in
Indochina after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. Between mid-May and mid-
August, C-l 19s dropped supplies to isolated French outposts and
delivered loads throughout the country. The French, driven by greed,
would be replaced by the Americans, driven by anti-Communist hysteria.
This despite a secret State Department intelligence report at the time
saying that the department "couldn't find any hard evidence that Ho Chi
Minh actually took his orders from Moscow."


By the time John F. Kennedy entered the White House in January
1961, Vietnam was a wave in the distant ocean, barely visible; a thin
white line slowly growing and building. The French, at Dien Bien Phu,

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