Flying Spooks–6th Annual Love-A-Spook Day

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Halloween is not just a day for spooks of the ghost variety, but also of the human variety. October 31 is Love-A-Spook Day — a day when Piper and I honor the unsung heroes of the clandestine community. This year, we focus on those spooks who fly missions over “denied” airspace to glean intelligence we cannot gather any other way.

 

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Image by NASA, public domain.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
Image by NASA, public domain.

 

When we think about military aviation heroes, most of us think about the well-known heroic deeds of fighter pilots and bomber crews. While those pilots and crewmen deserve the recognition that they receive, there are thousands of pilots and air crewmen that have performed less glorious but very dangerous missions. Most of them will remain forever unknown.

During the Cold War, from September 1945 until December 1991, the United States and her allies relied on a variety of intelligence and reconnaissance sources for information about the USSR, Communist China, and their allies.

Most of us are familiar with the basic idea of “spies,” or “HUMINT,” as the intelligence community generally refers to human intelligence. Satellites we keep aloft for collecting visual, radar, infrared, communications, and electronic signal data over “denied” areas are also common knowledge. Other publicly known sources for intelligence and reconnaissance are the once secret SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 flights and electronic surveillance stations. And though they are largely ignored in popular media, spy ships and other various ships play an important role in gathering intelligence.

During the Cold War, lesser known, but highly important, intelligence programs conducted by the US and its allies involved seemingly boring looking aircraft that flew extremely dangerous missions along borders of the USSR, North Korea, and Warsaw Pact countries.

These Cold War Era missions gathered types of information that satellites and the higher-flying U-2s and SR-71s were unable to collect. Because the missions were classified, as far as the friends and families of the flight crews ever knew, their loved one were only involved in mundane weather reconnaissance, cargo flights, or training missions with various allies.

These intelligence-gathering flights involved a wide variety of seemingly boring aircraft packed with an assortment of photographic, infrared, and electronics monitoring equipment. Many of these flights were conducted in international airspace, but some were assigned to enter enemy airspace.

Lacking the altitude of a U-2 or the altitude and extreme speeds of an SR-71, these flights always avoided anything resembling a routine schedule or set flight areas. They often tried to take advantage of bad weather and nighttime to reduce their “sitting duck” status. The precautions helped, but they were far from a foolproof defense.

The exact number of aircraft that were shot down by enemy missiles and fighters will probably never be known. Not only were the flights classified, but also more than one authority conducted them. The CIA, the USAF, and the US Navy were all involved in various programs that sent crews into “denied” airspaces.

In addition, other civilian groups were at times contracted by US intelligence agencies to run flights in denied air space. In some cases, US agencies even employed foreign contractors to conduct these missions. That lack of a single reporting agency or a single chain of command makes it difficult to accurately determine the number of aircraft that were downed by enemy defenses.

Lacking a clear, accurate number, I estimate that approximately one hundred twenty “spy” aircraft were lost during the Cold War. The number of lives lost is unknown and difficult to calculate, because missions in larger aircraft did not always carry the same number of air crewmen.

What we know is that the US Cold War veterans groups have been able to tabulate 428 military and civilian air crewmen as dead or missing from “spy plane” missions. These numbers do not take into account missions flown by allied air crews.

Some of the aircraft shot down were small planes with just a single pilot onboard. On the other end of the spectrum, some missions were flown in modified B-29 bombers (RB-29s) converted for intelligence missions. These RB-29s were able to carry large cameras and other equipment, but they were neither quick nor stealthy.

 

First F-10-1A on lakebed at Edwards AFB Image by USAF, public domain.

First F-10-1A on lakebed at Edwards AFB
Image by USAF, public domain.

 

One of the speedier and more common platforms for photoreconnaissance missions was the US Air Force’s F-101 Voodoo. Unfortunately, small, fast planes like the Voodoo were limited in how much of a mission package they could carry. Many missions involved large airliner-type aircraft converted for military use, such as the US Navy’s P-3 Orion, which was based on the Lockheed Electra airliner.

In the Post-Cold War Era, the P-3 is being replaced by the new P-8, which is based on the Boeing 737 airliner. Another popular and highly capable US Air Force spy plane, based on the Boeing 707 airliner, is the innocent looking Northrup Grumman J-Star.

Since the end of the Cold War, the advent of highly sophisticated drones and improvements in satellite technologies have decreased the need for manned spy plane missions into denied airspace.

Any current manned intelligence mission flights into enemy airspace remain highly classified, but it’s a safe bet that some aircrew members are risking more than just the usual mechanical problems and bad weather when they take to the air.

This Love-A-Spook Day we honor the thousands of past and present flying spooks. These unsung heroes will probably never make a big splash in Hollywood, but they risk their lives in hopes of preventing the next Pearl Harbor.

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Previous Love A Spook Day Posts

1st Annual Spook Appreciation Day — Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik

2011 post on Josephine Baker currently being added to a book.

Billy Waugh–On Teams That Found Carlos the Jackal and Osama Bin Laden

An Insignificant Irish Quaker Woman

The Untalented Bank Clerk

It Didn’t Start Last Week–Timeline of Ukrainian Conquest

By Jay Holmes

This week, the Western media has, in a fashion, been covering the political crisis in Ukraine with growing interest. While the storm over the steppes has been brewing since November 2013, it has grown to crisis proportions during recent weeks. The growth and severity of the crisis has been sudden, but it has in no way been accidental.

Critical events are occurring at such a rapid pace as to render any published analysis out of date by the time even the speediest editors can post it. Nonetheless, the outcome of the conflict in the Ukrainian Republic will have far reaching consequences for Ukrainians and for much of the Eurasian continent. To a lesser, but still significant degree, secondary political and economic consequences will be felt across the world.

Though the media reporting usually presents the Ukraine in its own vacuum, outside factors have heavily influenced the present situation. One of the most influential outside factors has been Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0.

Vladimir Putin image by premier.gov.ru

Vladimir Putin
image by premier.gov.ru

As complicated as that may sound, the reality is even more complicated. To better understand the present conflict in Ukraine, we need to consider the long and complex history of the region. While the current situation is violent and threatens to become more violent at any moment, the previous centuries in the region were even more violent. For the sake of brevity, let us look at a timeline of the critical events in Ukrainian history that are shaping today’s conflict.

Ukrainian Timeline:

Circa 900 A.D.

A Ukrainian ethnic identity becomes evident in what we now refer to as Ukraine.

907 A.D.

Ukrainians found the city of Chernihiv.

While the Ukrainians see themselves as distinct, their Russian neighbors see Ukraine as a Russian hinterland. This particular hinterland is huge, has a Black Sea coast, and has better climates for agriculture than areas further north.

This particular geographic dynamic will shape the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians for the next millennia.

1256 A.D.

Danylo, King of Rus, founds the city of Lviv.

1651 A.D.

The Polish kingdom to the northwest has grown more powerful. At the Battle of Berestechko, the Poles defeat the Ukrainians.

1653 A.D.

A Russian army seizes Smolensk, Ukraine, and initiates a bloody Thirteen Years War between Russia and Poland over Ukrainian rule. In a larger sense, the Thirteen Years War does not quite end until 1670, after a long series of battles and negotiations that include Russian, Cossack (Ukrainian), Tartar, Polish, Swedish, and Turkish armies.

1654 A.D.

Poland cedes Kiev, Smolensk, and Eastern Ukraine to Russia in the Treaty of Andrusovo. The Poles and Russians rule their respective occupied areas with iron fists.

1670 A.D.

Ukraine establishes autonomy from Russia and Poland. While exerting military pressure on its neighbors, it remains under constant military threat from those same neighbors on all sides.

1744 A.D.

A measure of economic prosperity allows for the construction of the magnificent St. George Cathedral in Lviv.

St. George Cathedral in Lviv image by Robin & Bazylek

St. George Cathedral in Lviv
image by Robin & Bazylek

1746 A.D.

The Ukrainian city of Vilkovo is founded. It becomes a cosmoploitan trade center with foreign residents and a vast network of canals. It can be considered the “Venice of the Crimea.”

1783 A.D.

The Ukrainians have lost much of their territory to the growing Russian Empire. Catherine the Great orders the construction of the fortress of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula and the founding of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea headquarters.

1834 A.D.

The University of Lviv is founded.

1863 A.D.

Russia outlaws the Ukrainian language.

1890 A.D.

The first Ukrainian political party, Halytska, is formed. Its platform is essentialy Ukranian nationalism.

1905 A.D.

The ban on the Ukrainian language in Russian-occupied Ukraine is lifted.

1917 A.D.

Ukrainians establish a central parliament, the Rada, in Kiev following the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I.

1918 A.D.

Ukraine declares independence, and the Ukrainian People’s Republic is established.

1921 A.D.

The Soviet Army gains control of Ukraine and establishes a puppet state, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

Red Army in Kiev 1920 image public domain

Red Army in Kiev 1920
image public domain

1932 A.D.

As part of Stalin’s genocidal campaign against Ukrainians, seven million peasants are starved to death in a Soviet-engineered famine. This holocaust is not well known outside of Ukraine, but it heavily influences Ukrainian thinking today.

1937 A.D.

The Soviets carry out mass executions and deportations in Ukraine as part of Stalin’s systematic purges against intellectuals.

1941 A.D.

Nazi Germany invades Ukraine. At first, many Ukrainians view the Germans as liberators and volunteer to fight against their Soviet oppressors. Hitler misses a golden opportunity in his war against the U.S.S.R., and rather than accepting Ukrainian help against Stalin, he installs a brutal occupation in Ukraine. The Nazis murder most of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews between 1941 and 1944. About five million Ukrainians die fighting against Nazi Germany, both in Ukraine and in the ensuing Soviet counter-invasion of Germany.

1945 A.D.

The World War II allied victory leads to Soviet annexation of Western Ukraine lands. Fifty thousand Cossacks that had fought on the German side against the U.S.S.R. are forcibly repatriated from Western Europe to the U.S.S.R., where they are executed.

1954 A.D.

The brutal Soviet occupation of the Ukraine stirs resistance. With the help of Soviet spies in Western governments, the Soviets defeat the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

1985 A.D.

The Soviet police state begins to collapse after decades of economic ruin.

1986 A.D.

Despite the remarkable courage of firefighters, a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine explodes and sends a radioactive cloud across parts of Europe and Asia. The area remains heavily contaminated to this day.

Chernobyl 2013 image by Antanana 2013 Ukrainian Wikiexpedition to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Chernobyl 2013
image by Antanana
2013 Ukrainian Wikiexpedition to the
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

1989 A.D.

The Ukrainian People’s Movement, the Rukh, is founded by writers and intellectuals. Their basic platform is Ukrainian independence and human rights.

1990 A.D.

The Rukh organizes a Human chain protest for Ukrainian independence, and they proclaim Ukrainian sovereignty from the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union files for political bankruptcy.

Vladimir Putin is an officer in the KGB. Ever the capable and ambitious pragmatist, he resigns his KGB position and openly goes to work for the Leningrad city government as a political adviser on international affairs. Not one to wait for the car to sink too deeply into that famous Russian mud, Putin has in fact been working for the mayor of Leningrad since the spring of 1990, while still a KGB officer. Score one for Vlady’s foresight.

1991 A.D.

Ukrainians vote overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum. Leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine sign an agreement, The Commonwealth of Independent States, to end Soviet rule in the region.

In December of this year, the Soviet Union officially completes its dissolution process. Fifteen separate countries are formed. At this time, Vladimir Putin is working in the Foreign Intelligence Directory.

1994 A.D.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sign the Kremlin Accords, which provide for the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal in Ukraine. Leonid Kuchma succeeds Leonid Kravchuk in Ukrainian presidential elections. Ukraine signs a treaty of cooperation with NATO that provides for training assistance and joint training between Ukrainian and NATO forces.

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton image by www.kremlin.ru

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton
image by http://www.kremlin.ru

1996 A.D.

Ukraine adopts a democratic constitution and a new currency, the hryvnia.

1997 A.D.

Ukraine and Russia sign a friendship treaty. They reach an agreement that Russia will operate a headquarters base in Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukraine has its own Black Sea fleet separate from Russia.

1999 A.D.

On March 25, Ukrainian nationalist hero and presidential candidate Vyacheslav Chornovil dies in a car crash. Ukrainian nationalists believe that the crash is a well-designed assassination carried out by ethnic Russians in the Ukraine with the assistance of Russian state security forces. In spite of recent declines in popularity due to his pursuit of closer ties with Russia, Ukrainian President Kuchma is re-elected with strong support from ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians today remain certain that his re-election was rigged with Russian help.

In August, President Yeltsin appoints Vladimir Putin as one of Russia’s three deputy prime ministers. Later that same month, Putin obtains the office of Prime Minister. He wastes no time. In a climate of political chaos, he orchestrates an effective crackdown on the separatist rebels in Chechnya in Central Russia. He also conducts a loud and well-filmed campaign against corruption that is likely more drama than substance. The giant public relations scheme is effective.

Boris Yeltsin and his family come under investigation for corruption charges in the winter of 1999. In December, the ailing Yeltsin steps down, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin becomes the Acting President of Russia.

2000 A.D.

Vladimir Putin is confirmed as the new President of Russia.

In Part Two, we will look at how the entanglements between Russia and Ukraine intensify when Putin struggles to keep the Ukraine from building strong relations with Europe and becoming part of the West, and we analyze the basis of the current situation and what it means to Western nations.

Life in the Cold

By Piper Bayard

Independence Day was not the end of our fight for freedom, but only the beginning. Most of the men who signed our Declaration of Independence lost their fortunes and their lives in the battle. It is a battle that has been fought by each generation since 1776, as freedom is a great responsibility that we must continually earn, and not something bought and paid for once in the past that we can now take for granted.

My generation is the Cold War generation. This Independence Day, I would honor those of the intelligence community who served quietly, often giving everything to protect us from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The following is an excerpt from “From Inside the Cold War,” written by my writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” who is a veteran of that conflict. A conflict which, in spite of the wishful thinking and historical ignorance of younger politicians, continues in a very real way to this day. In it, he gives us a window into his world and what it is like for him and his compatriots to walk through ours.

Anonymous Man Canstock

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From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Soviet government in Russia in 1991, Western nations faced off with the Soviet Union and its allies and captive satellite states in what became known as the “Cold War.” Basically, the Soviet Union, led by the ruthless Joseph Stalin, felt that it was its duty to spread communism throughout the world, while Western nations governed by democracies felt it was their responsibility to keep the entire world from falling under Soviet domination. . . .

Most Western citizens think of the Cold War as being without casualties, except during the proxy wars in Korea and Viet Nam. Few Westerners will even remember that the allied nations fought a war against Soviet-backed communists in Greece from 1946 -1949, or that the United Kingdom struggled with a communist guerrilla war in Malaysia until 1960. Beyond the publicly acknowledged battle fields in Korea, South East Asia, Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama, the United States thus far acknowledges 382 American servicemen killed in combat against communist forces between 1945 and 1991. This figure does not include the officially acknowledged civilian losses of the CIA and other civilian personnel, nor does it include the deaths of “denied” personnel working under “deep cover.”

I believe the figure of 382 to be wildly low and a long, smoldering debate is currently underway in DOD and CIA circles concerning casualty figures during the Cold War. It is unclear how they should be counted and how much information should be released. After a lifetime of living in a necessary state of denial, “old hands” have well-founded fears about releasing too much information. For one thing, releasing dates and locations of deaths will assist belligerent parties in identifying and killing those who assisted US efforts. Our word was given that our friends would never be exposed, and they never should be.

For nearly four decades, the deaths of American Cold War combatants were explained away as accidents and sudden acute illnesses. Wives and mothers buried their husbands and sons without ever knowing what happened. The battlefield deaths of most of America’s Cold War combatants will likely remain unrecognized for years to come in order to protect the living. Some day, if a future generation gets around to dealing with the information, it will likely seem too distant for anyone to pay much attention to it. This is a natural consequence of the type of battles fought.

If it seems sad, we should remember that it is far less sad than the alternatives would have been. Armageddon was avoided. Freedom was not lost. That matters, at least to me and to those who have gone before me. My brothers paid a price. I knew none who were unwilling to pay that price quietly. None can now regain their lives by being identified.

When we review espionage activities from the Cold War, it is easy to take an academic view. If the seriousness of some of the participants seems almost comical from our current perspective, they seemed far less humorous at the time that they occurred. The events seem distant now, and the causes may have been forgotten by many, and never understood by some. I point out the issue of casualties in an attempt to describe an important aspect of clandestine activities during the Cold War. The contestants on all sides played for keeps.

Between the bright lights of international diplomacy and the dark cloud of the threat of nuclear war, life in the shadows in between was a bit different. Some of us feel as though we have lived in a parallel world far away from this one. We walked through this world every day, careful not to leave too many footprints here on our way to somewhere else. That other world became our home. This world where we trust our neighbors and love our children, is the world that we desperately wanted to see remain intact. But in a sense, we will always be visitors here in this world that we hold so dear. For some of us, our home remains somewhere else, far away.

~ Jay Holmes

Two Worlds Canstock

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From our world to your world, Holmes, thank you.

When Altar Boys Get Bored–The TRW National Security Disaster

By Jay Holmes

In Santa Monica, California, in 1953, a recently “ex” FBI agent named Charles Boyce and his wife Noreen were blessed with the birth of their first child. They named their future altar boy Christopher. Noreen Boyce was a strict Catholic who avoided birth control, and eventually gave Christopher eight younger siblings. Charles Boyce had a successful career as a security expert in the aerospace industry, and even with nine children, the family enjoyed a life of affluence with a home in the fashionable Palo Verde community. Charles and Noreen Boyce were politically conservative and outspokenly patriotic. FBI agents and other law enforcement friends frequently visited their home. The successful parents doubtless had no idea that their oldest would one day betray their country.

Christopher Boyce mugshot from US Marshals Service

Christopher Boyce
mug shot from US Marshals Service

Christopher Boyce attended a Catholic elementary school, where he flourished both academically and socially. He embraced Catholicism and was an enthusiastic altar boy at the local church. He made friends easily, and his best friend was a fellow altar boy by the name of Andrew Daulton Lee. Unlike the popular “A” student Boyce, Lee struggled to maintain a “C” average and was socially awkward, but they shared something important. Chris Boyce was known to be a daredevil, even in his elementary school days, and so was Andrew Dalton Lee.

On one occasion, Boyce’s love of risk-taking led to a fall from a forty-foot tree. Unfortunately, he landed in a pile of leaves on a muddy river bed and survived. He suffered two compressed disks in his back, but the injury did not dampen his love of thrill seeking.

As teenagers, Boyce and Lee took up the hobby of falconry. Boyce became fairly expert at it, hence his eventual name, “the Falcon.”

During high school, the two lost their enthusiasm for the Catholic Church and decided that they were no longer Christian. Boyce’s grades slipped, but he remained popular with his fellow students. Lee’s grades remained poor, and he replaced his love of church with a love of cocaine. Though he’d previous had trouble attracting female companionship, he was able to use marijuana and cocaine to obtain sex with cooperative girls. He thus obtained the nickname, “the Snowman.”

If we are to understand the eventual criminal misadventures of Boyce and Lee, a.k.a. the Falcon and the Snowman, we should consider the time in which they were raised. By the late 60s, the Viet Nam war was on the news every night, and in general, the major media networks took a dim view of the federal government’s atrocious mismanagement of that conflict. The great American Optimism of the 40s and 50s had been replaced with cynicism and a healthy mistrust of authority.

After Boyce and Lee graduated high school, Boyce started college, and Lee expanded his drug business. Lee did hold legitimate jobs on occasion, but the low wages and long hours held no appeal when the easy money of drug dealing was available. Besides, as the Snowman—a successful cocaine dealer—he held a certain place of importance in the same social circles of affluent youths who had never accepted him prior to his drug dealing career.

Chris Boyce floundered in college and dropped out. At his parents’ urging and support, he started college again and dropped out again, and again. Boyce was certainly smart enough for school, but he had no interest.

Boyce’s parents were worried about their bright son’s seemingly dull future. His father had a close friend who was the security director at TRW Corporation, so he asked that friend if he could help find a job for Chris. TRW hired Chris Boyce as a clerk in 1974.

TRW manufactured components for highly advanced Top Secret communications and reconnaissance satellites for the CIA and other federal agencies. Chris Boyce worked at a TRW facility that was equipped to receive and decode information from US satellites. Thanks to his dad’s influence, Boyce, with no post high school education, no legitimate experience, and no security screening, was given a security badge and access to classified documents at TRW.

To the average reader, this might seem outrageously careless of TRW. It was. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Boyce was soon given Top Secret clearances by the CIA and the NSA.

If a proper investigation had been done, and if anyone had bothered to analyze the results, Boyce’s lack of any track record and three successive drop outs from three different colleges would have indicated a glaring lack of maturity and reliability. However, Boyce did not even receive a lie-detector test, which, while not full proof, would likely have uncovered his drug history and the fact that his best friend was the local “Snowman.” Apparently, the simple lack of an arrest record and his father’s reputation were enough to propel Chris Boyce from an entry-level status to Top Secret access within a few months of his joining TRW.

Boyce was transferred to an even higher position in the “Black Vault” at TRW. This is where the company stored Top Secret Codes, and where incoming data from satellites were decoded. We now know that Boyce discovered a “party atmosphere” within the Black Vault team. Safe in the knowledge that visitors were not allowed in the vault, the Black Vault team was using a CIA shredding machine as a daiquiri mixer. It literally was a party.

After being promoted to the Black Vault team, Boyce began reading decoded messages that were supposedly being misrouted to TRW. These included diplomatic messages. Boyce claims that, in combination with his anger at the Viet Nam War, the content of some of the messages caused him to decide to turn against the US.

One series of messages that Boyce pointed to was supposed diplomatic traffic indicating that the US was plotting the downfall of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. According to Boyce, the US government was angry at Australia because they were “threatening to pull out of Viet Nam.” The US was, indeed, unhappy with Gough and his anti-American views, but Boyce’s story sounds like something that was fed to him in contingency planning by a Soviet KGB handler. Australia pulled its last combat forces out of Viet Nam in 1972, two years prior to Boyce’s joining TRW and beginning his career as a spy for the USSR. The US pulled out its last combat troops in Viet Nam in 1973. The “Australia” line in Boyce’s justifications of his betrayal makes no sense.

Chris Boyce’s motivations for betraying the US were likely far less noble than he claims. He copied and stole documents and codes from the Black Vault to sell them to the USSR. In a lapse of judgment, he decided to use his close friend Dalton Lee, “the Snowman,” as his go-between to communicate with the Soviets.

While drug dealers and all variety of criminals are often used in intelligence operations, they are not usually trusted with more than the minimal information they need for a particular task. They are never trusted to act as couriers. Boyce had read a couple of spy novels, but apparently not the right ones. Given Lee’s basic emotional insecurity and his drug use, he was a bad choice, but Lee was the one person who Boyce could trust in terms of personal loyalty.

The Snowman was thrilled with Boyce’s suggestion that they spy for the USSR, and he quickly agreed. Lee purchased spy novels for his training regimen and travelled to Mexico City to contact the Soviet Embassy. Thus began the espionage careers of the Falcon and the Snowman. Next Wednesday, we will consider how and what the Falcon and the Snowman delivered to the USSR, and what damage they did to America.

Russia to Build Naval Base in Cuba: An Intelligence Perspective

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On Thursday, July 26, news outlets reported that Russia announced intentions to build military bases in Vietnam, the Seychelles, and Cuba. The source of the news was an interview given by Russian Vice Admiral Victor Chirkov to the Russian IRA Novosti news network.

Map courtesy of the CIA

The Russian Defense Ministry subsequently denied that Chirkov had ever discussed anything about foreign bases and pointed out that the Russian Navy would not be in charge of any foreign base agreements that Russia would make with any foreign nation.

Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the denial at a press conference in Moscow. Given that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has so loudly voiced his intentions of returning Russia to its former military might, presumably with equipment that works this time, most foreign observers were not surprised by IRA Novosti’s report.

The idea of bases in the Seychelles, Vietnam, and Cuba is hardly new. Russia previously maintained bases in these locations until financial constraints forced them to close after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When questioned about any military base deals with Russia, Vietnam’s president Truong Tan Sang said that Vietnam has no intention of allowing foreign bases in his country. He said Vietnam would make the port of Cam Ranh available to all countries, but that Vietnam would help Russia by allowing for some facilities to be built to aid military cooperation between Vietnam and Russia.

Is that clear to everyone? No Russian bases in Vietnam ever, just some military facilities for Russian ships to use. The distinction is important, I’m sure . . . to someone . . . somewhere.

The desire for a base in Vietnam is understandable these days. Besides having had a base there previously and wanting closer relations with Vietnam, Russia’s inability to affect China’s current attempt to expand its borders across the South Pacific has to be terribly frustrating to a man like Putin. Vietnam is genuinely concerned about China’s new military aggression and wouldn’t mind a little help from its old communist brothers from up north, even if they are all stinking capitalist brothers now.

As for the Seychelles, some folks might wonder why anyone other than Seychelles sailors would want a port there. The answer is that a port in the Seychelles would give Russia a base of operations for refueling, resupply, and repairs when they operate ships in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean matters because that’s where the Suez canal and the Arabian Sea lead to, and that means tons of oil are shipped through the Indian Ocean to many destinations, including China.

The case of a Russian base reopening in Cuba is somewhat more irksome for the USA. Cuba is 90 miles from Florida. Part of the resolution to the 1962 “Cuban Missile Crisis” was that the Soviet Union agreed to never again bring nuclear weapons to Cuba. If Russian capital ships port in Cuba, then there will be Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba. If asked about it, Putin might say that those ships have no nuclear weapons (which no one would believe) and that he is not bound by agreements made by the old USSR.

So far, Putin has said neither of those things and isn’t directly responding to the issue. He is still busy with the question, “What fleet would we send to those new bases?”

At present, the Russian Navy is still suffering from a lack of money and is unable to put a credible deep sea fleet in the water. Putin claims that will change, and he has been increasing the budgets of all of the Russian military branches, including the navy. Even with Putin’s stifling influence on the Russian economy and its ongoing “brain drain” of many of Russia’s brightest young people, as long as oil and gas prices remain high, Russia will continue to make huge profits from energy sales to European nations.

So what shall we guess at as Putin’s intentions? Putin can’t be happy about events in Syria. Once his intelligence service informed him that the Assad regime would likely collapse, he had to reverse his stance. After loudly proclaiming Russian support for Assad (and for the continued use of the Russian fleet’s one foreign base beyond the Ukraine), Putin had to pretend to suddenly claim the moral high ground and hedge his bets against Syria.

Being Putin can’t be easy. Whenever he thinks about it, he can’t help but be aware that no reasonable Russian would put up with having him in charge unless they absolutely had to do so. He knows that his fellow corporate giants in Russia would love an opportunity to replace him with someone less expensive and less powerful. Putin can only get so much mileage out of the “daring Putin” staged photo shoots that portray him as a macho tough guy. Always in the market for any help he can get, Putin is becoming more willing to play the imaginary Cold War card.

There’s nothing like a national emergency to get people to tolerate a reduction in freedom and a lousy economy. (We’ll write about the D.H.S. some other day). Well okay, an efficient and obedient police state apparatus helps as well, but Putin’s thugs aren’t quite back up to North Korean or Cuban standards yet, and he can’t resist working on his mythology a bit in the mean time.

So while Putin has no urgent military need for a naval base on the US doorstep, and though he can hardly afford to waste cash on one, the chance to remain in the international limelight and to stir up some nationalistic sentiment in Russia is just too hard to pass up. So how do bright young Russians feel about all this? I can’t speak for them. The next time you see one moving into Western Europe, ask him.

In the short term, none of Russia’s imperialist dreams mean much to us in the West. How much it means to us in the future will depend on how well Putin can run the Russian economy, and how much of a Russian Navy he can build and put to sea.

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‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Overflights and Posturing: U2 Incident and the Cold War Dance

Today, we are delighted to once again welcome author and engineer Nigel Blackwell, student of history and fan of all things that move. His intelligent, thoroughly researched blogs cover everything from futuristic cars to the history of supersonic flight. So when Nigel offered to help us out with a few guest blogs while we are both away, Holmes and I could not have been more honored.

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Overflights and Posturing: U2 Incident and the Cold War Dance

By NIGEL BLACKWELL

In December 1959, the USA, Britain, and France simultaneously proposed to Nikita Khrushchev, the Chairman of the USSR, a meeting to “consider international questions of mutual concern.” Khrushchev agreed, and a summit was arranged for May 16, 1960 in Paris.

Among the topics “of mutual concern” was the Berlin situation, where the USSR was furious that its citizens were escaping to the west, and a Test Ban Treaty, which would have slowed nuclear weapons development and perhaps prevented further proliferation.

Eisenhower, leery the USSR would under- or over-exaggerate its weapon stockpiles in any negotiations, approved the use of the U-2 spy plane to obtain photographic evidence of Soviet nuclear capabilities. The U-2 was born in the Cold War and designed to carry cameras at 70,000 ft., a height where the US believed its pilot would be safe from the enemy fighters and missiles of the day.

So, on April 9, 1960, Bob Ericson flew a U-2 from northern Pakistan across the southern half of the USSR, and landed in Iran. The Soviet Air Defense Force made several attempts to intercept him, but they were unable to reach his altitude. The photographs were valuable, and the CIA declared the mission a success. A second mission was planned.

On May 1, 1960, a second CIA pilot, Francis Gary Powers, departed from the same northern Pakistan base with a planned zigzag route north, overflying ICBM sites and plutonium production facilities, and landing at Bodo, Norway. Obviously, the route was planned to avoid known SAM sites since altitude was the U-2’s only means of defense.

After Ericson’s flight, the Soviet Air Defense Forces had been on red alert and scrambled to intercept Powers with an array of aircraft and ground launched missiles. Some 1200 miles inside the USSR, near Yekateringburg, they did.

At the time the US only knew that Powers had appeared to descend rapidly from 65,000 ft. to around 34,000 ft. and disappeared from their radar.

The USSR, on the other hand, knew that the aircraft had been brought down and the pilot picked up by a group of puzzled locals, disarmed and driven to the authorities.

In Powers’s book, Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident, he relays that he didn’t even have a cover story planned, and as he was captured by a car load of locals, he realized practically everything he carried was carefully labeled “made in the USA.” He even carried a US flag.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that a US plane had crashed within the USSR, and the US immediately generated a cover story.

NASA announced that it had lost a weather plane when its pilot reported he was having oxygen problems. They even painted a U-2 in NASA colors and distributed leaflets describing the “weather aircraft” to prove it was operating the U-2. Statements were issued to the effect that “there was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been.”

Unfortunately, Nikita Khrushchev had a public relations ace up his sleeve when, a week later, he reported the following:

“I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report, I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well … and now just look how many silly things they (the Americans) have said.”

In the remaining week before the Paris Summit, Khrushchev kept public pressure on the US by staging the presentation of Gary Powers and the wreckage of the U-2.

The US back pedaled on the NASA weather aircraft story, juggled to defuse the situation, and tried to establish access to Powers, all while preparing for the Four Powers summit in Paris.

The USSR was expected to use the U-2 incident to their advantage at the meeting, but no one knew how. Anticipation grew when Khrushchev arrived two days prior to the meeting.

But when Eisenhower arrived the following day, Khrushchev ignored him and visited French president, Charles de Gaulle, and British Prime Minister Macmillan. Khrushchev would later claim this was because Eisenhower hadn’t indicated an interest in meeting, but neither de Gaulle nor Macmillan had done so either.

In his own meeting with de Gaulle, Khrushchev handed over a document outlining the USSR’s displeasure over the U-2 incident, along with three specific conditions for his participation in the Paris Summit, namely that Eisenhower should:

1) Condemn the USAF’s provocative act (which must have made someone in the CIA smile, because it was a CIA operation).

2) Guarantee that the US would refrain from such acts in the future.

3) Punish the individuals responsible for the U-2 operation.

Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and Macmillan knew that should the contents of Khrushchev document be leaked to the public, he would have no way to back down without losing face. In fact, by presenting his demands to the British and French, it may have been Khrushchev’s intention that they were leaked to the press.

Either way, at the opening of the summit, where the four powers were to discuss the agenda items for the meeting proper, Khrushchev made public his demands. Eisenhower stated that overflights had been suspended and would not be resumed, but on the other points he was silent.

Khrushchev postured and berated the US for some time and eventually ended by withdrawing a long-standing invitation for Eisenhower to visit the USSR. It was a public slap in the face for Eisenhower.

The meeting collapsed at this point. Khrushchev departed Paris. The Test Ban Treaty was stalled for a further three years, and even then it was very limited in scope. The situation in Berlin persisted until the Soviets constructed the Berlin Wall (which symbolized their failure just as much as the flow of the citizens through Berlin).

The Soviets played the part of the grievously wounded for all they could and sentenced Powers to ten years in prison, only to release him within two years in exchange for a Soviet spy caught in the US. The USSR did no posturing then; perhaps they found it hard to justify the difference between a spy at 70,000 ft. and one on the ground.

The failure of the summit disappointed many around the world. Some say that Eisenhower could have handled the situation better, or that the US should not have put so much at risk with the overflights. Or that Khrushchev had already decided to walk away from the conference, and the downing of Gary Powers gave him the perfect excuse.

What do you think?

Cheers

Nigel Blackwell

Not Bond, Berg. Moe Berg. Pro Baseball Player, Columbia Law Grad, WWII Spook.

By Holmes. Jay Holmes.

On March 2, 1902, the unremarkable Jewish immigrant couple in upper Manhattan had their day brightened by the birth of a healthy baby boy. They named him Morris Berg.

Morris’s father was a pharmacist, and he and his wife were more educated than the average immigrant. They read to Morris and taught him counting and basic math skills at an early age.

Before he turned four, Morris begged his parents to enter him in school. He was too young to attend, but his education at home picked up pace.

In 1906 when Morris’ family moved to New Jersey to a middle class neighborhood. Morris learned to hide his Jewish identity in order to register for the local Roseville Methodist Episcopal Church Baseball League.

Those who played baseball with Morris remembered him as being a great player and an even better person. He was universally liked on the teams he played on through his childhood. His schoolmates liked him because, in spite of his brilliance in school, he was able to fit in with any group of kids. His teachers remembered him as a leader and a peacemaker on the playground.

In 1919, Morris attended New York University. The following year, he transferred to Princeton. Morris was the star of the Princeton baseball team and graduated Magna Cum Laude after passing language tests in seven foreign languages.

In 1923, Morris “Moe” Berg began his baseball career as a short stop and utility infielder for the Brooklyn Robins. (In 1932, the team would change it’s name to the Dodgers.) During his winter vacations from baseball, he traveled to Paris and studied at the Sorbonne.

In 1925, Berg was on the Chicago White Socks roster. During his tenure with the White Sox, he was converted into a catcher when Chicago ran out of catchers due to injuries. When Berg proved to be a better catcher, he became a “permanent” catcher. He reported to the team late in order to finish his first year at Columbia University Law School.

Due to his baseball career, Berg was unable to register for and attend his classes in a normal sequence. Moe grew impatient, and before graduating from law school, he sat for the infamously difficult New York State bar exam. He passed the bar and later received his law degree from Columbia Law School.

In 1932, Japan requested that Major League Baseball send a coaching staff of pitchers and at least one catcher to teach as roving coaches at Japan’s major universities. Oddly, mediocre catcher Moe Berg accompanied the famous pitchers Lefty O’Doul and Ted Lyons to Japan.

What Berg lacked in hitting skills, he more than made up for in social skills, and he managed to befriend many influential Japanese professors and business people that winter. As spring training approached, the other players returned directly to the United States. Berg received permission to travel to Japanese-occupied Manchuria, and then to return home via stops in Peking, Shanghai, Siam, India, Cairo, and Berlin.

In 1934, Japan requested that Major League Baseball send an All Star team to tour Japan and show off their skills to young Japanese players. The All Star roster was set, and it naturally did not include the third string catcher Berg. At the last moment, and to the amusement of the All Stars, Berg was added to the roster and made the trip.

1934 All Star Team, including such greats as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and . . . Moe Berg?

Image from baberuthcentral.com.

Berg delivered (in fluent Japanese) the speech for the All Stars at the welcoming ceremony and was invited to address the Japanese legislature where he gave a charming, friendly speech.

On November 29, while his team was playing in Omiya, the team manager excused Berg to visit the daughter of the US Ambassador, who was in Saint Luke’s Hospital. At the hospital, Berg managed to sneak onto the locked roof and film the Tokyo skyline, including shipyard areas that were of particular concern to the United States Navy.

In our age of satellites and drones, it might seem like a minor accomplishment, but we should remember that Japan had closed its ports to foreigners, and few foreigners were allowed to travel in Japan. Berg managed to film new cranes at Japanese shipbuilding facilities.

Shipyards and governments will not pay for extremely expensive cranes that are larger than what would be required to build their largest ships. From the photographs Berg took, the US Navy deduced that Japan had, indeed, broken the London Naval Agreement of 1930, and was building heavier battleships than the agreement had allowed.

In 1942, Berg’s films were instrumental in planning the bombing mission for the daring Tokyo Bombing Raid launched from a carrier group commanded by Admiral Halsey and led by US Army Colonel James Doolittle.

When the USA entered WWII after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Berg accepted a position with the Office of Inter-American Affairs. His position was officially that of a health inspector for US troops in the Caribbean and South America, but he was in fact operating in a counter-intelligence role.

Berg found the work boring, and in 1943, he volunteered for work in German-occupied territory with the Office of Strategic Services (“OSS”). It was during this phase of his life that Moe Berg was able to provide his greatest service to the United States and her allies.

Berg’s first major success came when he parachuted in to Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia and rendezvoused with the two major resistance groups. Berg evaluated both groups in terms of strength and leadership and delivered a report to the OSS, which helped the US decide to support the Tito led partisans as the most viable anti-Nazi resistance fighters. Tito’s partisans were able to use the supplies and equipment to force the Germans to keep several extra divisions in Yugoslavia when those few extra divisions and supplies might have been used effectively in offense operations against the Soviet Army.

Later, Berg led a team of agents on kidnapping missions in Italy, where they were able to kidnap important Italian scientists and assist others in escaping to the West. The secret mission within that mission that only Berg was told about was to find out from the Italians what German physicists Von Heisenberg and the less politically connected but more brilliant Carl Wiezsaker might be doing concerning the development of an atomic weapon.

Berg was able to report that Heisenberg (the leader of the Nazi Atomic Bomb project) was going to deliver a lecture in Zurich. He used his social skills to get himself invited to the lecture and to the dinner in Heisenberg’s honor.

The OSS ordered Berg to evaluate Heisenberg. If it seemed to him that Heisenberg was on the right track, specifically, gas fusion separation of Uranium isotopes instead of the dead end heavy water method, then Moe was to “honor” Heisenberg by emptying a magazine of .32 caliber ammunition into Heisenberg’s head and chest and then rendezvous with an escape team. Just as importantly, if Heisenberg did not seem to be up to the job, then Berg was to leave him alive so as to avoid having the German Atomic Bomb project placed under the leadership of the more brilliant Carl Weizsaker.

From the lectures and the dinner conversation, Berg determined that Heisenberg was, indeed, as overrated as escaped German scientists had claimed he was, and that he lacked the brilliance in theoretical physics and mathematics necessary to make decisions about the project. Berg decided to not kill Von Heisenberg. The third string catcher had been able to see through Von Heisenberg’s pro-Nazi, bloated reputation and left him in charge of the Nazi atom bomb efforts.

Other aspects of Berg’s work in Europe in WWII remain classified. It is believed by some that he was responsible for establishing an effective channel of communication between the German scientific community and the US government, and that this channel paid dividends concerning a multitude of German research and weapons development efforts.

Medal of Freedom

On October 10, 1945, President Truman, with the approval of the US Congress, awarded Moe Berg the nation’s highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom. According to CIS sources, Berg felt that the work that he and his team had done would remain important due to a Soviet threat that many had not yet perceived. He respectfully declined the medal and asked that the matter remain quiet for the sake of the mission.

Berg’s life remains something of a mystery from 1945 to 1951. In 1951, he was back “on the books” as an employee of the CIA. He requested that he be sent to Israel, but he was instead ordered back to Europe to recruit agents for the CIA.

Moe Berg had been a fabulously successful special operations officer, and the CIA mysteriously failed to notice his lack of training for recruiting agents from peace time Europe. They apparently assumed that he would use his brilliance to work out the details for himself.

While Berg might, in fact, have been able to recruit agents, he would NOT, as a contract agent, have been practically able to insert himself into the role of senior agent recruiter and handler for US teams working in Europe. These teams would never have accepted an outsider into their niche without him or her having been brought through the normal training and acclimation that the European teams had gone through at the time. With no support from the CIA European Station Teams, and no special channels set up for him by the Agency, Berg failed miserably.

In 1953, the CIA declined to renew his contract.

Berg spent the next 18 years of his life in seeming apathy and unemployment. There are rumors that during this period he worked with contacts from within Eastern Germany and the Balkans as part of an “old boy network” outside of the Western intelligence structure to obtain intelligence on the Soviet Union’s scientific efforts. These rumors can’t be confirmed.

After Berg died on May 29, 1972 of natural causes, the United States Government requested that his sister accept on his behalf what Moe had refused in life, the Medal of Freedom. She accepted.

Perhaps Berg’s most enduring contribution to the US intelligence community was in helping it learn that deniable “contract” agents and their assets cannot be properly supported with communications and logistics by “employee” agents and their station teams who are working under diplomatic cover. That knowledge came too late to make proper use of Moe Berg’s remarkable talents during the early 1950s, but thankfully, that particular mistake was not repeated in later years.

1933 Goudey Gum Company Playing Card