Friday, March 31, 2017

Operation Ivy Bells — Cold War, Cold Water Wiretapping

Secrets haunt the still-classified Operation Ivy Bells, a daring Cold War wiretapping operation conducted 400 feet underwater.

It's the summer of 1972 and the U.S. is in the middle of pulling off the most daring, covert, and dangerous operation of the Cold War. Only a few months before, the signing of SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty) limited the number of nuclear missiles of the world's two largest superpowers. Yet even with this well-publicized US/Soviet détente in place, a submerged American submarine rests mere miles from the Russian coastline.

At the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk, the U.S. nuclear submarine Halibut silently listens to the secret conversations of the Soviet Union. With the Kremlin completely unaware, Navy divers emerge from a hidden compartment (referred to as the "Bat Cave") and walk along the bottom of the sea in complete darkness, wiretapping the Soviet's underwater communications line.

America wiretapped this particular Soviet communications cable for maybe a decade or more—and many details remain classified. It was the U.S.'s most ambitious wiretapping operation, until this point, in its entire history. This was Operation Ivy Bells. more