Friday, January 8, 2010

Another example of clever searching from that submarine book

In the previous post on Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, I mentioned an example from the book of a clever approach to finding a needle in a haystack (the use of Bayesian analysis to find a lost nuclear weapon). There was another example in the book, that employed an entirely different sort of cleverness.

In 1970, James Bradley, the director of undersea warfare at the Office of Naval Intelligence, thought there must have been an undersea telephone cable connecting the Soviet missile sub base at Petropavlovsk, on the Kamchatka peninsula, to the Russian mainland across the Sea of Okhotsk. Bradley figured such a cable would be at most 5 inches thick. How do you find a 5 inch thick cable at the bottom of a sea?

It turned out that, as a boy, Bradley had killed time hitching rides on riverboats on the Mississippi, and he remembered seeing signs on the shore occasionally that warned, "Cable Crossing: Do Not Anchor". So (after some political maneuvering the book recounts in detail) Bradley sent a submarine crew to look for a similar sign on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. They found one, found the cable, and successfully tapped it. The Soviets hadn't coded their communications through the cable, because they never expected it would be tapped.


Skoorby said...

Fascinating story. It reminded me of an incident back in 1988 or so. I was part of a midday running group in Eugene, Oregon. One of the regulars had been on submarines in the Navy in the 70's and occasionally spoke in guarded terms about the experience. One day, something he said led me to ask if he'd been anywhere near the Kamchatka Peninsula. He said he had, but was clearly taken aback, as if he realized that he had let slip more than he should have. Of course, I dropped the issue right away, but I've always wondered what they were doing there. Your story probably provides the answer. I'll be sure to read the book.

DaveinHackensack said...

Interesting, in a small world sort of way. The only downside of the book is that it could have easily been about a hundred pages shorter.