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Posts Tagged ‘John Walker’

52 Years Later—USS Pueblo

USS Pueblo (AGER-2)

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of an extraordinary event.

The USS Pueblo (AGER-2) was captured by North Korean forces on January 23, 1968 and forcibly taken to Wanson Harbor.  The ship was on a surveillance mission in international waters off the country’s coast.

The ship seizure was without question the largest compromise of information concerning the cryptologic community collection, processing, and reporting operations and techniques in U.S. cryptologic history.

Speaking of surveillance, the USS Pueblo was equipped with the latest and most sophisticated signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection equipment available in the U.S. inventory, with a capability to intercept and record North Korean voice and other communications particularly in the ultra high frequency (UHF) and very high frequency (VHF) spectrums. It had the standard WLR-1 electronic intelligence intercept receiver used throughout the naval fleet and had positions set aside to intercept Soviet telemetry.  When captured, the ship had more than 500 documents or pieces of equipment, including 58 technical SIGINT instructions, 37 technical manuals, 33 communications intelligence (COMINT) technical reports and 126 collection requirements. The USS Pueblo had copies of about 8,000 messages containing SIGINT data transmitted over the fleet operational intelligence broadcast. The broadcasts carried large amounts of information on Southeast Asia and China and thus collectively revealed the effectiveness of the U.S. collection efforts. The USS Pueblo also used four cryptographic systems, associated keying materials, maintenance manuals, operating instructions, and the general communications-security publications necessary to support a cryptographic operation.

The cryptomachines and manuals the North Koreans seized from the USS Pueblo were soon passed to the Soviets.  These were identical to those heavily used by U.S. Naval commands worldwide.

The Soviet acquisition or windfall of U.S. cryptographic equipment from the USS Pueblo, as well as the acquisition of U.S. keying material for the same machines from John Walker (more on this topic in a later post) beginning in late December 1967 and later from Jerry Whitworth, gave the Soviets all they needed to read selected U.S. strategic and tactical encrypted communications.

Un-Classified NSA Cryptologic Assessment

The ship attack and seizure was a major propaganda coup for North Korea.

The USS Pueblo 83 officers and enlisted men along with two civilian oceanographers — whose presence was intended to reinforce the ship’s cover story —  were held (beaten daily, humiliated, and starved) for 11 months!  Petty Officer Duane Hodges, 21, of Creswell, Oregon, died during the seizure, when North Korea first attacked the USS Pueblo. Mr. Hodges was  presented with the Silver Star Medal (Posthumously).

The spy ship tragedy briefly hit the news cycle a couple years ago, but at the time it seemed the incident was largely lost on the public.  Why?

You may recall, that in 1968, the USS Pueblo attack was overshadowed by Vietnam and all the other drama in that chaotic year.  There were assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The riots that shook Washington, Chicago, Baltimore and other U.S. cities. Campus protests. Civil rights protests. Vietnam War protests. The Tet Offensive. The My Lai massacre. The rise of Richard Nixon and the retreat of Lyndon Johnson. There was the Black Power movement, “The White Album,” Andy Warhol, “Hair,” and Apollo 8.  It was an extraordinary year and the USS Pueblo fell through the cracks of the public consciousness because of everything else.

Sailor Belongings On Display At North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Initially newspapers ran profiles of the brave sailors captured by the evil North Korean Communists and the USS Pueblo was the main focus of national attention.  But, 7-days later, January 30, 1968, the Tet offensive exploded and the American public returned focus to Vietnam. Soon after, Walter Cronkite called for a Vietnam exit, a national debate flared up about the military’s request for more troops, and Johnson announced that largely because of Vietnam, he would not run for re-election. In the haze of Vietnam-related tumult, the USS Pueblo faded.

The U.S. military did take sweeping steps—many unpublicized—to prepare for a war with North Korea, but climatically they relented with a publicly repudiated written apology that freed the crew in December 1968.  After 335 days in captivity, and a written admission by the U.S. that the USS Pueblo had been spying, as well as an assurance the U.S. would not spy in the future — the men were sent to the Demilitarized Zone border with South Korea, and ordered to walk one-by-one across the “Bridge of No Return.”  Many of the men were crippled, malnourished and almost blind from the hideous torture they received.  After the last man had crossed the bridge, the U.S. verbally retracted all its admissions, apologies and assurances.

USS Pueblo Moored At Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

I need not detail the aftermath, but the crew fought for years to have their reputations restored and it wasn’t until 1989 that the U.S. government finally recognized the crew’s sacrifice, and granted them Prisoner of War medals.  The story of the crew suffering and what happened has largely gone under-reported. Hopefully this blog post illuminates the rallying cry to “Remember the Pueblo.”

Currently, the USS Pueblo remains a commissioned naval ship and property of the U.S. Navy held captive.  It is moored in the Potong River at Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.  It is being held as a trophy of war—a “tourist” attraction and propaganda piece for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) regime as part of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

In 2008, a U.S. Senate resolution declared the USS Pueblo as the first U.S. Navy ship to be “hijacked” by a foreign military in more than 150 years and proclaimed to show the world its resolve by getting the USS Pueblo back by whatever means.

A lawsuit in 2008 was brought by three members of the USS Pueblo crew, William Thomas Massie, Dunnie Richard Tuck and Donald Raymond McClarren, and Rose Bucher, wife of the Pueblo’s late commander, Lloyd Bucher.  The court awarded the three surviving crew members $16.75 million each, and Bucher’s estate $12.5 million for the abuse suffered during capture and the “physical and mental harm that (they) likely will continue to endure throughout the rest of their lives.”

In February 2018, a new lawsuit was filed in a federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows victims to sue state sponsors of terrorism for torture, hostage-taking, personal injury or death.  More than 100 crew members and relatives of the USS Pueblo joined the lawsuit.  North Korea has never responded, but plaintiffs could recover damages for relief under a $1.1 billion dollar fund established by the Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act, which can be awarded to people who have “secured final judgments in a United States district court against a state sponsor of terrorism.”

In 2019, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (CO.) announced a new resolution calling on the North Korean government to return the USS Pueblo back to the United States.  The resolution also directs the clerk of the House of Representatives to transmit copies of the resolution to the president, secretary of defense and secretary of state.  It states the U.S. Navy “would welcome” its return as “a sign of good faith from the North Korean people to the American people.”

To the service members who served on the USS Pueblo, I thank you for your sacrifices and service!

The end of the Korean War and the subsequent Armistice Agreement of 1953 has not resolved any of the issues that divide North and South Korea.  It is unlikely that Kim Jong Un’s regime will ever end their incendiary rhetoric, or send the USS Pueblo home or respond to any terrorism litigation.

More information can be found at the below links.

Crew Experiences and Psychology: HERE
USS Pueblo Naval History: HERE
Un-Classified NSA Cryptologic Assessment: HERE
Un-Classified CIA Assessment: HERE
LBJ Chronology Of Seizure Actions: HERE
USS Pueblo Website: HERE
The Pueblo Incident — U.S. Navy Film (28 minutes): HERE

Photos courtesy of: U.S. Navy; Korea Konsult AB; NSA Archives and Washington Post newspaper archives

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