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before we could understand what it was. 'Rainfall' was secure, encrypted
voice communications. I think what was so important is we were
probably hearing secure encrypted voice communications better than



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they were hearing each other."
It was an enormous breakthrough, one of the most important since
World War II. Thus it surprised few when A Group Chief Ann Caracristi
was appointed deputy director of the agency in April 1980. Deputy
director is the highest position to which an NSA civilian can rise.


While NSA was extending its electronic ear far into outer space, it was
also reaching deep to the bottom of the oceans. In the summer of 1974,
John Arnold, at NSA, was called to a private briefing on one of the
agency's most secret operations: Ivy Bells. Over the course of two
decades, Arnold had worked his way up from seaman to lieutenant
commander, a highly unusual accomplishment. Along the way he had
become an expert in undersea eavesdropping, leading teams on
numerous submarine espionage missions close to the Soviet coast,
including the 1962 mission to photograph and record the last of the
Soviet above-ground nuclear tests, on Novaya Zemlya. It was he who
later developed the device that saved the lives of hundreds of pilots in
Vietnam by intercepting the signals generated by SA-2 missiles.
At the briefing, Arnold was told that for several years a small team of
Navy Sigint specialists had been attempting to tap a key Soviet undersea
communications cable on the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia's
Far East. Nearly surrounded by the Russian landmass, Okhotsk was
more like a giant Soviet lake than a sea. The cable ran from the
Kamchatka Peninsula, home of some of Russia's most sensitive
submarine and missile testing facilities, to land cables connecting to
Vladivostok, headquarters of the Soviet Pacific Fleet. An earlier
submarine mission had located the cable by using its periscope to find a
sign, posted on a small beach area, warning anyone present to be careful
to avoid harming a buried cable. But while the sub, the USS Halibut, had
succeeded in briefly tapping the cable, the results had been
disappointing.
"They came back with very, very poor quality material and the NSA
and the Navy were very upset," said Arnold. "NSA said, 'Hey, don't tease
us like this. There's great stuff there if you could get some decent
recordings.' " According to Arnold, "They had people who were Sigint
qualified but not for cable tapping and they weren't versed in broadband
recording and they weren't properly equipped either." As a result, Arnold
was told to put together the best team of cable tappers he could find.
"They basically said you can go anywhere in the world you want and pick
your team because they didn't want another black eye." Arnold flew down
to the Navy's Sabana Seca listening post in Puerto Rico and picked the
first of four highly experienced chiefs for the job. Those four would join
half a dozen other Navy Sigint experts, four divers, and the rest of the



311
Halibut's crew for nearly a year of secret training at NSA and elsewhere.
The mission got under way from Mare Island, near San Francisco, in
June 1975. About a month later, the Halibut quietly arrived in the mouth
of the bear”the Sea of Okhotsk”and, after several days of searching,
located the cable. Like a moon lander, she slowly settled down on the
mucky bottom, black clouds of silt rising in the total darkness. Specially
designed to sit on the floor of the sea for weeks at a time, the Halibut was
equipped with unique sledlike skis to keep the round bottom from
rolling.
On board, excitement built as preparations were made to begin the
tap. By now, despite the secrecy of the operation, everyone on board had
been briefed, from the cooks to the senior officers. "If you know the truth
you respect it and handle it accordingly," said Arnold. "But if you treat
them like dumdums and they aren't supposed to know anything, that
irritates them and a lot of times, the speculation is worse than the truth."
Arnold and his team worked out of a tiny converted storeroom,
amidships just forward of the reactor compartment. On the other side
was the radio shack, which was crammed with additional Sigint
specialists, mainly Russian linguists. The four divers were sealed in a
diving-bell”like contraption. The device looked like a deep-sea rescue
vehicle, but it wasn't going anywhere”it was welded to the top deck.
Inside the cramped, uncomfortable decompression chamber the divers
had lived for about a week. Special gases in the pressurized, tube-shaped
room were mixed to equalize their bodies to the 400-foot depths where
the sub was parked. The room consisted of four cots and a "poop
bucket."
With the pressure equalized to that of the sea outside, two of the
divers opened the hatch of the lockout chamber and made their way out
into the frigid blackness. Inside their wetsuits, warm water was pumped
by an umbilical cord to keep them from freezing. Other tethers supplied a
witches' brew of gases to breathe and a communications cable. A third
diver stood at the hatch and fed out the cord while the fourth, also suited
up, remained behind as a backup.
Once free of the hatch, the two divers went to a sealed compartment
on the side of the sub and pulled out a long, thick electrical cord, like a
giant set of jumper cables. In fact, this was the tap, plugged into the side
of the boat. After some searching, the divers found what they were
looking for: a large round metal cylinder known as a repeater. In fact, the
sub had landed right on top of the cable”standing above it on its
snowmobilelike skis. Located every twenty or thirty miles along the fist-
thick cable, the repeaters boosted the signals like amplifiers. "That's
where you get the best signal," said Arnold, "because on the one side of
the repeater you've got strong signals coming out going [in] one direction



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and on the other side of the repeater you've got strong signals coming out
going in the opposite direction. So you have the best of situations”
strong signals in both directions."
As they began securing the tapping device around a cable in the
repeater, one of the divers was suddenly attacked: "They had a big fish
glom on to the arm of one of the divers," said Arnold. "Tried to bite him.
He couldn't shake him off so he took his knife out and had to kill it to get
it off. It was a good-size fish." On the way back to the sub, the divers
picked up a few crabs for dinner.
Meanwhile, in the special operations spaces panic was beginning to
break out. Arnold and his team were turning dials and flipping switches
but could hear absolutely nothing. Some feared the Soviets might have
discovered the operation and shut off the cable. The divers returned to
the repeater, where they discovered they had attached the tap to a
"pigtail"”a short spiral wire double-wrapped in both directions so that
there would be no signal leakage. This time they attached the tap to one
of the active, unshielded cables and again returned to the sub. "It's done
by induction," said Arnold. "There's no physical penetration or damage to
the cable. It worked on the inductive leakage of the cable." In a sense,
such a tap is a complex version of the suction cup on the receiver used
by many people on their home and business phones to record their
conversations.
This time there was a collective sigh of relief in the special operations
room: the sounds were loud and clear. "This is what we came for, guys,"
Arnold said. The Soviet cable contained scores of channels using
"frequency division multiplex." "We could separate them for analysis
purposes, but we recorded the entire thing on a broadband recorder.
Plenty of channels." The recording was done on tape decks using ten-
inch-wide reels and thick, two-inch tape. "We could tune in to any of the
channels and listen to them. It had all kinds of stuff”you name it, it was
there," said Arnold.
Flowing through the cables and onto NSA's tape recorders were the
voices of Soviet military commanders discussing military and naval
operations and data transfers between commands. Some transmissions
were in the clear, some encrypted.
After the sub had spent about fourteen days on the bottom, filling reel
after reel with sensitive Soviet communications, an alarm went off. A
gushing leak had occurred in a pipe connecting a diesel engine”used to
provide an emergency start”to the hull. To make matters worse, divers
were out of the sub, at the repeater, and they might not have enough
time to return. "It was a difficult decision for the skipper to make," said
Arnold. "He's got the decision, do I blow off the bottom and save the ship
and lose the divers, or do I stay on the bottom and potentially lose the



313
ship and can't control the flooding? The water's twenty-eight degrees, so
the guys that are working on stopping the flooding are getting numb real
quick." Luckily, the flooding was stopped before that decision had to be
made.
Following the near disaster, the captain cut the mission a bit short
and sailed to Guam for repairs. But it was to be a brief stay; the plan was
for the Halibut to return for a second mission after the repairs were
completed, in about three weeks. Arnold had all the tapes strapped to
several pallets and loaded on an Air Force C-141 for a flight back to
Washington. "We turned in probably seven hundred recordings,
broadband recordings," said Arnold. "NSA was elated. They had never
seen such good recordings”and such significant material. It was a gold
mine for them. . . . The stuff was so good that NSA wanted more as soon
as they could get it."
About a month later, Arnold and the ship returned for another three
weeks on the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk, eventually providing NSA
with hundreds of additional tapes. Over the following years, mammoth
twenty-foot-long pods were built and installed on the Okhotsk cable, as
well as on one up in the Barents Sea. This allowed the subs to leave the
tap on the cable for up to a year before returning to recover it. But much
of the project was compromised when a former NSA employee, hurting
for money, sold details of the operation to Soviet intelligence around
1980. Nevertheless, for as long as the tap lasted, NSA was able to go
where no one could have ever dreamed.


At the height of the cable tapping operation, a new director moved
into Room 9A197 in the Headquarters Building”a director who was
thoroughly familiar with the project long before he arrived at Fort Meade.
On the day after Independence Day, 1977, Vice Admiral Bobby Ray
Inman became the youngest director in NSA's history.
It had been a long ride from the tumbleweed hamlet of Rhonesboro,
the East Texas town where Inman grew up. Far from any thoroughfares
and absent from most maps, Rhonesboro was a forgotten backwater
halfway between Dallas and the Louisiana border. Gangly, gap-toothed,
Inman seemed out of place in the hardscrabble town of 200, where his
father operated the local Sinclair gasoline station. He soon found that the
best way to keep from becoming a punching bag in the restroom of
Mineola High was to turn his enemies into his protectors. He did this by
ingratiating himself with his bullies, helping them with their homework
so they could squeak by in class. At the same time he curried favor with
the school's social and political elite by helping them in their campaigns
for class office. These were lessons he would long remember.
By the mid-1970s the fast-rising admiral had been named director of


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Naval Intelligence. There, he worked closely with NSA on the cable
tapping operation. He also worked on a highly secret operation to spy on
Russian naval activities south of South Africa. This led him to a long
relationship with a shady American businessman who ran a small
company started in a chicken coop behind his Pennsylvania home.
Named International Signal and Control, the company was run by
James Guerin, who was anxious to find a way to sell electronic
equipment to South Africa. The major problem with this scheme was the
U.S. ban on all economic commerce with South Africa as a result of that
government's apartheid policies. Guerin's solution was to agree to
become a covert agent for Project X, the unoriginal codename for a
questionable joint NSA/Naval Intelligence operation whose purpose was
to help the racist Pretoria government upgrade its secret listening post at
its Simontown naval station, off the Cape of Good Hope. NSA would give
the South African intelligence service superadvanced eavesdropping and
optical equipment to spy on Russian ships and submarines as they
transited past the southern tip of Africa; in return, the U.S. agency would
get access to the raw information.
To hide the shipments of secret equipment to an embargoed nation, a
civilian cutout was needed. That was where Guerin and his ISC came in.
But”apparently unbeknownst to Inman”Guerin had his own agenda.
Not only would he act as the conduit to transship the bugging
equipment, he would also use the covert channel to supply South Africa
with desperately needed electronic equipment, providing him with a tidy
profit. Guerin was to work secretly for Inman until 1978.
When Inman moved into his office on NSA's "Mahogany Row," in July
1977, it was not his first assignment to the agency. In 1961 he had
become an operations intelligence analyst at the Navy Field Operational
Intelligence Office at the agency. "I was an analyst for thirty-three
months looking at the Soviet Navy as my prime occupation in a complete
all-source environment," said Inman. "That means no category of
intelligence were restricted in their flow for my consideration so long as
they dealt with the general topic of the Soviet Navy. I was watching them
at a time when they rarely sent any ships two hundred miles beyond
their waters, and when they did the units frequently broke down and had
to be towed back. By the time I left three years later I had seen them
develop a permanent presence in the Mediterranean and off West Africa,
and they were building a framework for their presence in the Indian
Ocean."
Now the junior analyst had returned as the director, like the prodigal
son. "The idea of going back to be director had always been one of those
wishful dreams that appeared to be unobtainable," Inman recalled.
"When I became the director of Naval Intelligence, which is after I had
gotten my first star, suddenly the prospect that I might be around long


315
enough to get a three-star job was there. So NSA was clearly top of the
list. ... I very much wanted the NSA job. . . . There had never been any
doubt that in my view it was the best of all the [intelligence] agencies."
To help bring Inman up to date on the issues affecting NSA, the
outgoing director, Lew Allen, gave him some highly classified reading. An
Air Force general, Allen had been promoted to four-star rank and would
shortly take over the Air Force as Chief of Staff. It was a major reward for
guiding the agency through the various intelligence probes of the mid-
1970s.
Among the documents given Inman to study was one on the problems
involved in breaking Soviet encryption systems. At the time, A Group had
not yet achieved its breakthrough. The document, said Inman, "had all
kinds of VRK [Very Restricted Knowledge”a super-secret NSA
classification] restrictions on it. But it was an extraordinarily thoughtful
examination of the A5 problem [A5 was part of A Group] and the absolute
critical role in going forward, finding success in those areas if the
mission was going to be successful."
Looking out the ninth-floor window on his new empire, Inman quickly
began to build a cadre of loyal spear-carriers. He was looking for what he
called "the water walkers." Those, he said, "who were the people at that
stage of the game who looked to be potential major leaders of the
agency." Inman also began looking for a new deputy director. At the time,
Benson K. (Buff) Buffham, a former deputy chief of operations, held the
job, but his term was almost up. It was widely assumed that Robert E.
Drake, the deputy director for operations, was next in line. Without
much enthusiasm, Inman named him to the post. "I had it in my mind
from the beginning," he recalled, "that about two years for Bob and then

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