U.S. Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association

A Cryptologic Veteran’s Analysis of Blind Man’s Bluff

Reviewed by George McGinnis

20 February 1999

This book claims to be the untold story of American submarine espionage. Submarine personnel are notoriously tight-lipped and very little information about their post-WWII activities has been published.

This book contains a wealth of information about the submarines and other underwater espionage activities beginning shortly after WW II and continuing to the present.

The majority of information in the book was obtained from interviews with individuals with connections to Intelligence organizations, submarine crewmen, officers involved in submarine programs, media material from U.S. and Soviet sources and material published in various other sources. The book is well documented.

The story begins in 1949 with Harris M. Austin arriving aboard USS COCHINO with orders to have some rather crude intercept equipment installed aboard so that he could obtain electronic surveillance on Soviet signals from the Northern Fleet while COCHINO was in the vicinity of Murmansk.

This mission was followed by many others with the targets being Soviet transmissions from shore stations and via undresses cables in both the Atlantic and Pacific. When nuclear powered submarines, with greatly extended endurance, became available the submarine commanders became bolder. They could now remain on station for very long periods at any depth, or hide under a polar ice pack, and stalk other submarines. There were, for example, many collisions with Soviet submarines and some of them were possibly fatal for the other side. Placing an electronic tap on an undersea cable in the Sea of Okhotsk, and later retrieving the tap and its taped contents, showed how daring and successful the submarines and their crews could be. The submarines returned to this location several times and brought improved taps each time. Later, submarines repeated the same operation on undersea cables in the Barents Sea. At least one undersea tap operated for an extended period and was nuclear powered. Operating in the Barents Sea was a particularly daring operation because of the presence of many Soviet submarines and ships in the area. The material in the taps was delivered to the National Security Agency where the contents were examined. There is no specific indication of how important the contents may have been, but the fact that the submarines returned time after time gives some indication of its intelligence value. Rear Admiral John L. Butts, USN, Director of Naval Intelligence, wanted to place a cable tap on the Barents Sea cable and run the cable tap all the way to Greenland. This would have given continuous access to the data in the Soviet cable. The project was never funded.

There is a good explanation of the attempt at retrieval of the Soviet submarine that had sunk North of Hawaii. Part of this submarine was brought to the surface by use of Howard Hughes’s deep-sea retrieval ship GLOMAR EXPLORER.

There is an excellent analysis concerning what probably caused USS SCORPION’s demise. It puts to rest, in my mind, the many other wild speculations based on fantasy and not fact.

Names of several individuals who were members of the Intelligence Community are mentioned and referred to as “Spooks:” Harris M. (Red) Austin, George T. “Tommy” Cox, Donald R. Fallon, and Scott Laidig. Our publication, CRYPTOLOG, is mentioned on page 296, with reference to the Fall, 1983 issue concerning USS COCHINO. The following project names are mentioned: Ivy Bells, Manta, Acetone, and Holystone.

Damage caused by the Walker spy ring and the Pelton espionage case are assessed with emphasis on how these individuals assisted the Soviets to counter U.S. submarine operations.


Publishing Information

Blind Man’s Bluff, by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Public Affairs Publishers, New York, 1998. ISBN 1-891620-08, 352 pages.

Naval Security Group Command  Cryptology - Information WarfareCenter for Information Dominance