Review: Scorpion Down–Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Security (Including Immigration)

Scorpion DownExtraordinary Tale of Courage, Possible Dishonor, and Reality, February 4, 2008

Ed Offley

Edit of 25 Feb 08: The Admirals are apparently worried about something. They have squelched our proposed public debate between the two authors, ordering the submariners not to attend. So much for open minds. I recommend both books–the Admirals confirm with their fear which of the two is closer to the mark.

I stand my by review of both books, both are excellent, and both present us with an opportunity to evaluate several factors:

1) Is it good judgement at the flag level to put submariner's in harm's way “because we can?”

2) Is it good policy to deceive Courts of Inquiry to protect secret sources and methods of questionable value?

3) Is it good judgement to lie to families of lost ones, to hound them out of base housing and out of town, and to fail to honor those who died in virtual combat with the appropriate recognition?

The author is gifted. He inspires tears by page eight.

A few highlights:

1) A handful of top Navy Admirals including the Chief of Naval Operations, authorized missions whose danger was probably not properly briefed to the political “leaders” and their advisors. This is not to say that the US submariners were anything other than honorable, courageous, and unusually intelligent–but rather that there was a failure of strategic moral leadership of epic proportions. The same Admirals privy to the truth knew five days before the USS Scorpion was “executed” by a Soviet torpedo of the relentless tracking of the USS Scorpion, and did nothing to save it.

2) Decades of reckless arrogant misbehavior were concealed from the US public, the US Congress, the US media, and most (98%) of the chain of command from President down to fully-cleared seamen.

3) The US Navy, not the Soviet Navy, refused year after year to include submarines in the bi-lateral Incidents at Sea agreement.

3) In the early 1970's “double reporting” became a US Navy standard for all “special intelligence ” (signals and illegal direct access) operations, with all “incidents” being reported twice: first as a lie (we call this a “cover story”) and second, as truth for a handful.

4) The handful of Admirals who realized their mistakes lost a sub to enemy action moved immediately to conceal all evidence of their criminal disregard, and sent the Naval Investigative Service all over the world to immediately confiscate for destruction all acoustic and message traffic records of the death of the USS Scorpion. One full copy survived and was played to a SOSUS (undersea acoustic surveillance system,) class in 1982 .

Here are some other tid-bits that really made this book a compelling useful read:

1) President Johnson personally presided over the cover-up at the same time that he presided over the cover-ups on the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the USS Pueblo as well as the USS Liberty

2) The fake search & rescue operations mounted by the US Navy were the largest fleet deployment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

3) Acoustic data from 1300 miles away *nailed* the truth that was kept from the families, the Navy at large, Congress, and the public.

4) The USS Scorpion represented a “quantum leap” ahead in propulsion and capability, was a known spy ship known to be constantly deployed into Soviet waters and against Soviet ships in international waters.

5) The author first realized the magnitude of the cover-up on 17 December 1984, when a former Navy enlisted man who has served in top secret senior staff positions and was now a newspaper colleague, told him directly that based on his personal past, the USS Scorpion had been killed by a Russian torpedo, not a mishap.

6) Despite massive Top Secret Codeword restraints, the crews had common sense and would brief each other when turning over missions, the incoming crew walking to the end of the pier with the outgoing crew, having a seaman to seaman informal “turnover brief.”

7) The author provides an excellent leavening of contextual history together with a solid look at the people, materials, and methods that went with undersea covert espionage operations.

8) JFK and Johnson approved so much funding for so many submarines that the US Navy went from having a submarine service manned by crews with 2-5 tours behind them, to officers and crews with ZERO tours behind them.

9) Additional context for the combat death of the USS Scorpion include that she sailed with low crew morale and many operational discrepancies; B-52 going down in Greenland with four thermo-nuclear bombs caused riots all over Europe which closed liberty towns; and Six Day War opened ports and airfields to the Soviets in Arab and African countries bordering the Mediterranean.

The author has connected three big dots: the irresponsible aggressive operations of the US Navy and the USS Scorpion (following orders) leading to the loss of the K-129 eleven weeks prior to that of the USS Scorpion; the treason of the Walker naval family spy ring that delivered key lists of top US codes to the Soviets; and the Soviet capture of the USS Pueblo in order to obtain the actual cryptography machines needed to leverage the key lists.

I put this extraordinary book down with three thoughts:

1) We need political leadership committed to waging peace and eschewing illegal sources and methods that cost too much, not only financially, but morally.

2) The USS Scorpion was executed covertly, and US naval and political leadership accepted that execution as being within reasonable bounds within the covert war that waged most dangerously and uniquely, in “the silent service,” the submarine service.

3) We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine both the “fifty year wound” we ourselves have imposed on the Earth and on Humanity everywhere; and the betrayal of the public trust that this book captures so ably at the tactical secret level.

This is an extraordinary book. It inspires feelings of dread, rage, and helpless dishonor, while confirming that over time public collective intelligence can triumph over top-down idiocy enabled by secrecy.

Based on Mr. Rule's comments, I must now conclude that we cannot chose one book over the other, we must consider both, and because books cannot do this important matter justice, I respectfully hope that the two authors and Mr. Rule will agree to meet professionally. I want to know. The families want to know. Let's serve them.

Longer review at Earth Intelligence Network, 1000+ Reviews. See also:

The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Web of Deceit: The History of Western complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America
Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past