Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

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Overview

A New York Times bestseller
 
The secret history of America's submarine warfare is revealed for the first time in this fast-paced and deeply researched chronicle of adventure and intrigue during the Cold War

For decades, only a select and powerful few knew the truth about the submarines that silently roamed the ocean in danger and in stealth, seeking information and advantage. Based on six years of groundbreaking investigation into the “silent service,” Blind Man’s Bluff uncovers an epic story of adventure, courage, victory, and disaster beneath the surface. With an unforgettable array of characters from the Cold War to the twenty-first century, Sontag and Drew recount scenes of secrecy from Washington, DC, to the depths of the sea. A magnificent achievement in investigative reporting, Blind Man’s Bluff reads like a spy thriller with one important difference: everything is true.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610393584
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 04/05/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 36,460
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile: 1220L (what's this?)

About the Author

Sherry Sontag is a former staff writer for the National Law Journal and has written for the New York Times.

Christopher Drew is a special projects editor at the New York Times and has won numerous awards for his investigative reporting.

Annette Lawrence Drew, the book's researcher, has a PhD from Princeton.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Deadly Beginning


"You gotta be nuts," Harris M. Austin grumbled under his breath as he watched the ugliest-looking piece of junk he had ever seen pull into the British naval base in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This couldn't be his sub. This couldn't be the Cochino.

Almost anyone else on the busy pier would have thought that he was just a twenty-eight-year-old radioman. He knew better. He was here on direct orders from the U.S. chief of Naval Operations. He had been briefed by admirals who commanded the U.S. naval forces in Europe, his background checked and doublechecked. And today he was about to join the crew of this sub as one of the Navy's newest spies, a "spook," someone who had been trained to snatch Soviet milltary signals and electronic communications out of thin air. It was going to be his job to attempt a daring grab for some of the Soviet Union's deepest secrets.

Austin jumped down onto the pier and began pulling mooring lines along with a handful of other men. Then somebody said it, said that this was Cochino, U.S. submarine SS-345, the boat Austin had been awaiting for three days.

"Goddamn ugly piece of junk," he thought as he hoisted a sea bag stuffed with classified documents over his shoulder and lumbered down the hatch to introduce himself and his orders to Cochino's commanding officer, Commander Rafael C. Benitez.

Austin had leapt to submarines from battle cruisers in a search for excitement, the same reason he had volunteered to make this latest leap, transforming himself from a radioman into a spook. That he was in the armed forces at all had been a nearcertainty from the day he was born. He came from a long line of Scottish warriors, a line he could trace back to the fourteenth century without breaking a sweat. His father had been a cook with an American air squadron in England before shifting to whalers and ocean freighters stateside. His Welsh mother had worked for a British ammunition company. Austin himself had been only nineteen years old when he first went to sea, his auburn hair quickly earning him the nickname "Red."

Benitez, thirty-two years old, was one of those men who had been bred to decorum. His father was a judge in Puerto Rico, and Commander Benitez had just finished law school, a perk that the Navy had awarded to hold on to him. As a submarine officer during World War 11, he had survived several depth-chargings and earned a reputation for calm under fire. Now, in late July 1949, he had been back in the sub force for only three weeks, and he had his own command.

Actually, it was a command Benitez had tried to turn down, embarrassed by his sub's name. Cochino may have been named for an Atlantic trigger fish, but in Spanish, the language of his family and friends back home, he would be commanding the submarine Pig.

He had admitted as much to his mother when he

wrote home, but her reply had yet to reach him as he stood in his cramped wardroom, shoulders back to make the most of his less than imposing frame. He was alone with this hulking enlisted man, this sailor turned spy, the kind of man who would still be declaring that he was "tougher than shit" when he reached his seventies.

Red Austin handed over his orders. The captain scanned them and tensed as he read that Cochino, his sub, was about to become an experimental spy boat.

Benitez was stunned. Cochino's mission was already complex enough. She had been scheduled to embark on a training run designed to change the very nature of submarine warfare. Classic World War 11 fleet submarines could dive beneath the waves only long enough to attack surface ships and avoid counterattack before needing to surface themselves. But since the war ended, Cochino and a few other boats had been dramatically altered. They now sported new, largely untested equipment, including a snorkel pipe that was supposed to let them take in fresh air, run the diesel engines, and shoot out engine exhaust without having to surface. That would allow the boats to spend much of their time underwater, rendering them effectively invisible and making it possible for them to go after other subs as well as surface ships.

Benitez had been expecting to take his submarine out and test her new equipment, train his crew, and learn how to run her as a true underwater vehicle. But Austin's orders were adding another dimension to Benitez's mission, transforming it from one of just war games and sea trials into an operation in an unproven realm of submarine intelligence. Furthermore, all this was to take place in the frigid Barents Sea inside the Arctic Circle, near the waters around Murmansk where the Soviet Union kept its Northern Fleet.

Worse, the cables and antennas for Austin's crude eavesdropping gear had to pass directly through the sub's pressure hull. That meant drilling holes in the very steel that held the ocean back.

Benitez took one look at the plans to drill through the sub's hull, what he considered the sub's "last resort" protective shell, and became clearly upset. What happened next is a story that Austin would tell and retell.

"Drill holes in the pressure hull?" Benitez said loud enough to get the attention of his executive officer and chief of the boat who came running. Drill holes without direct orders from the Navy's Bureau of Ships, which was supposed to oversee all submarine construction and modifications?

"You got anything from BUSHIPS?" he demanded.

"No sir, this is what they gave me," Austin replied. In a hapless gesture at conciliation, he added, "They're going to be small holes."

Table of Contents

1: A Deadly Beginning
2: Whiskey A-Go-Go
3: Turn to the Deep
4: Velvet Fist
5: Death of a Submarine
6: "The Ballad of Whitey Mack"
7: "Here She Comes..."
8: "Oshkosh B'Gosh"
9: The $500 Million Sand Castle
10: Triumph and Crisis
11: The Crown Jewels
12: Trust but Verify
Epilogue
Appendix A
Appendix B
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index
Photo Credits
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