Thoughts from the book Scorpion Down


This post is based on information found in the book Scorpion Down written by Ed Offley and published in 2007. The book is based on Ed’s work conducted over almost a quarter century digging into government records and interviewing former navy NCO’s and Officers at all levels. He also intervened may others including former soviet military. Almost the entire book is fact and the parts that are not are hard to dispute because they are based on the over welling number of facts presented.

This paper is not about the Russian’s sinking the Scorpion with a torpedo on May 27, 1968 but of the revelations that came out of all that work of Offley that relate to finding that is what happened. Although he refers to Vietnam in the book his focus is the cover up of what happened to the Scorpion and why it was covered up so tightly. However I think it goes much deeper and this story relates indirectly to the conflict in Vietnam and why it took so long to get out.

Key facts:

  • Sometime likely as early as 1965 but for sure no later than early 1967 navy Chief Warrant Officer John Walker begins selling classified information to the Soviets, including radio cipher cards.
  • January 23 1968 The Seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korean Forces including the INTACT KW-7, KLB-47, KWR-37 AND a KLB-47 encryption devices.
  • March 8, 1968 Soviet diesel-electric submarine K-129 a Project 629 strategic ballistic missile submarine is lost in the pacific.
  • May 27 1968 the sinking of the SSN Scorpion by Russian torpedo
  • May 20 1985 John Walker arrested and his activities of his spy ring uncovered over the next several years
  • December 26, 1991 after the collapse of the USSR some but not all of information related to all of the above become available from Russian and US sources.

Obviously the story starts with Walker who in his position in the navy’s Atlantic Submarine Force Headquarters message center who had access to radio cipher card which were used with the devices used to communicate with ships at sea including submarines. During this period the US Navy submarines and the Soviet Navy submarines were playing cat and mouse games with each other which included underwater maneuvering which in many cases caused collisions between the two subs. This is described in detail in the book.

It is very likely that the Soviets had the Koreans capture the Pueblo to get the encryption devices that were on board and we do know that within a few weeks of being captured those devices were in Russia.  The US military was not that worried about the loos since without the radio cipher cards they would be of only marginal use to the Russians. Had the navy know about Walker they would have realized how wrong they were since Walker had been supplying the Russians with the cards for years. But since they didn’t know the rest followed.

The sinking of the K-129 was probably the result of an encounter with a US submarine since the US knew where it went down and the Russians didn’t. The US CIA attempted to recover the K-129 from 16,000 feet down and did get part of it. The effort to recover the sub was named Project Azorian and it was partially successful. The Russians probably knew of the reason for the sinking because they had the radio cipher cards and the matching devices.

Two months later the Scorpion is torpedoed and sunk probably in retaliation for the Russian loss of the K-129. The US knew it was a torpedo since they had hydrophone readings that proved it. Offley interviewed an Ocean Systems Technician (analyst) that saw the actual Top Secret Sound Surveillance System (Sosus) tape in training and it clearly showed an underwater dog fight between the Scorpion and a soviet Echo-II nuclear submarine including the torpedo trace as it tracked the Scorpion and the hit on her that sank her. There is some evidence that the Scorpion also fired a torpedo and the Soviet sub was hit but didn’t sink. There are pictures and discerptions of an Echo-II sub being repaired and towed back to Russia in the area of the dog fight.

Now if you are interested in the story read the book it is worth reading. But my point to writing this is that since the Soviets had the encryption devices and the radio cipher cards during the period from just after TET in Vietnam through the end of that conflict and the Russians were the primary supports of the North Vietnamese — did the Russians keep the North Vietnamese informed of US activities such that the Vietnamese knew how badly we wanted out and that they had nothing to lose by stalling as long as they could? For the Soviets could intercept and decode all messages sent on the devices that they had captured on the Pueblo.

 

Cross section of Skipjack class nuclear submarine

Skipjack-class submarine drawing: 1. Sonar arrays 2. Torpedo room 3. Operations compartment 4. Reactor compartment 5. Auxiliary machinery space 6. Engine room

 

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