The 6 Most Badass Secret Spy Missions America Got Away With
American spies get a bad rap. Whereas England has cool guys like James Bond and John Steed, US secret agents are mostly goofy bumblers like Maxwell Smart and, uh, Bill Cosby. We can't take the idea of a good American spy seriously -- but that's only because they've done their job too well. If you don't believe us, here are six real US espionage operations so ballsy and insane that they make 007 look like a fucking amateur.
The FBI Trained Alaskan Men To Go Red Dawn On Soviet Invasion Forces
Alaska has been fighting it's own Cold War since the Ice Age ended and forgot to thaw it out. This knowledge of icy warfare, as well as the territory's close proximity to the Soviets, made it an important strategic location for the US during the longest-running game of nuclear chicken on record. The territory gave the country a serious headache. It was too vast a swath of land to fortify, but it could not be left undefended. If the Russians crossed the Bering Strait into Alaska, what would be there to stop them? Simultaneously solving the problem and developing what could've been a groundbreaking reality television show, the US decided it would train a crack team of bear-hunting, bush-living locals.
If the Russians wanted to fry their balls during interrogation, they'd have to unfreeze them first.
Between 1951 and 1959, the US government assembled men from all walks of life and informed them that they were to become a counterinsurgency force to operate in the unforgiving wilderness should a Soviet invasion take place. Expecting to come up against bears or moose, any invaders would be facing Alaskan guerrillas instead. The most alarming part of this whole Arctic A-Team was the document which outlined the ideal profile of recruits. The imaginative descriptions read like a Federal Mad-lib: They want a [one-armed photographer] who is also a [pilot] and hunts [Kodiak bears] with a [bow and arrow].
"He's well-versed in [eats boogers] and studied in [poopy butt]."
Whether the FBI found their one-armed bear tracker is unknown, but the declassified documents do tell us that there were at least 89 men trained to run operations against the Soviets in the Alaskan wilderness. They were picked for their experience in the wild, and then run through training in the urban jungle that is Seattle. And if you're wondering if any of the selected badasses were natives, the answer is: It was the '50s. It was extremely the '50s.
"Weird how these people we're treating as useless drunks don't want to be loyal to us."
The final step was to divide the men into groups with a head civilian leader, code-named "principal" (as in, "and Gene Hackman as The Principal"), who'd give them missions and hopefully wear an eye patch. Obviously, the commie invasion never happened, but the government did go as far as hiding caches with survival and combat gear throughout the territory. It's unknown how many such caches were established, but they're presumably still buried out there, waiting to convince an Alaskan logger that he's living in an RPG game.
The CIA Steals (And Returns) A Soviet Satellite Without Anyone Noticing
Before the US shoved a giant middle finger with a flag on top into the Moon, there was a heated race to be there first ... and the Soviets were winning. In fact, the Ruskies were so proud of their early accomplishments that they sent one of their Lunik/Luna modules on an exhibition tour of a number of nations. When Ms. Soviet Space Glory 1958 reached the United States, the CIA was naturally curious about her, so they broke into the exhibit for a private show. It was at this point that they realized that, holy shit, the Soviets sent the real thing, and not a papier mache model or something.
"It looks like someone carved 'FUCK STALIN' in here ... with a dog claw?"
But the CIA wasn't content with one show; they needed photographs. They chased the module across the country like desperate groupies, only to find it under 24-hour Soviet surveillance. However, they did discover that the Luna would be transported via truck to a train, then taken to the next city. Seeing this as their last chance to get what they wanted, the CIA crafted a plan that was half Breaking Bad, half Austin Powers.
The CIA set up their scheme by ensuring the module would be in the last truck leaving the exhibition. When the coast was clear, "the truck was stopped at the last possible turn-off, a canvas was thrown over the crate, and a new driver took over." All we know about the original driver is that he was kept in a hotel room for the night; whether it was a Bates Motel situation or a room filled with enough hookers to put a Red to bed, we know that he didn't leave until the next day.
Meanwhile, the CIA technicians began their work. They busted open the 14-foot-high crate to take apart and then rebuild pieces of the Luna, all the while snapping a generous amount of images. They kicked it all off at 7:30 p.m., and by 5:00 a.m., they had the Luna delivered by the original driver to the rail yard, with two hours to spare.
They even had time to hang the satellite from the ceiling and have the world's first disco party.
The Russians never even knew their little girl was out all night with strangers (unless they're reading this article, in which case we're in big trouble). The ballsy operation provided invaluable information about the Soviet space program to NASA, which used the details to construct their ultra-accurate props for the Moon landing film set.
The US Army Lifts Off A Top-Secret Soviet Gunship From The Middle Of The Desert
Like the Lunik module before it, the Mil Mi-25 Hind-D (hereon known by its street name, "Russian helicopter") was a piece of machinery US intelligence desperately wanted to get a look at. By the '80s, the Soviets had learned their lesson and weren't exactly leaving any models lying around ... but Libya had no such concerns. In 1987, they left an export model of the Soviet helicopter lying around after playing with it. The USA had their opportunity. All it would take was the risk of a major international incident, should their agents get caught.
Libya had left the helicopter in Chadian territory. Luckily, Chad's government decided to be a pal and allow the US to come in and extract the machine.
This remains the only time in history anyone called Chad has done something worthwhile.
Unluckily, the area was still lousy with hostile Libyan forces, which would have objected (with bullets) to the US taking their military hardware, abandoned or not. The Soviets, too, would have likely been pretty disturbed if they learned that America was adding yet another item to its "stuff discarded by the USSR" shrine.
So the CIA and the Department of the Defense joined forces to create a complex plan: They'd swoop in at night and steal the helicopter while no one was looking. Seriously, that was it. After reinforcing American choppers to be able to sling-load such a beast (they estimated the helicopter weighed 17,000 to 18,000 pounds), trial runs were staged in New Mexico -- the Libya of the Southwest. During the actual operation, the team had to avoid not only the Libyans but also a massive sandstorm which was determined to dick up the whole mission. Even then, the helicopter made it through without the Libyans seeing shit -- it was loaded into a heavy airlift jet and flown to the US for the vehicle equivalent of a butt-probing.
Nine months later, this happened.
Howard Hughes And The CIA Team Up To Steal A Sunken Nuclear Submarine
In the 21st century, there are constant major diplomatic negotiations over the production and possession of nuclear weaponry. Attitudes were slightly more relaxed back in 1968, when the Soviets lost four-megaton nuclear warheads in the Pacific Ocean and treated it like some loose change slid down the side of their seat. After several months of searching, they decided the superweapons were fish food and left a potential mushroom cloud to marinate at the bottom of the ocean. If they couldn't find it, they figured no one else could.
And then the US did, of course.
"Oh, you weren't gonna keep using that, were you?"
American operatives located the misplaced weapons about 1,500 miles northeast of Hawaii, but retrieving the remains was another matter. To do so, they headed out to the Bond Villain School of Engineering (probably in one of the evil states, like Florida) and came up with the insane solution of using a giant claw, then concealing it in a submersible barge with a retractable roof. That's the sort of plan that ends with Superman punching you.
Professor W.E. Coyote received a consulting fee.
Obviously, this device would be huge; too huge to hide from Russia. And hiding this operation from Russia was extremely important. The US didn't want to appear too clingy. So they enlisted the help of Howard Hughes, engineer extraordinaire and exactly the kind of eccentric maniac who could believably execute such a wacky scheme.
Hughes and the US claimed that it was a deep-sea mining operation. The media ate it up, and there was no genuine suspicion of government involvement. In 1974, the Hughes Glomar Explorer successfully retrieved a piece of the sub. The whole sub wasn't collected, as the machinery operated like all good claw games do: dropping half of the prize on the way up. Let's be thankful this didn't happen in 2015, because there's only one billionaire eccentric enough to pull it off, and he'd use the giant claw to throw Mexicans across the border.
The NSA Taps Soviet Communication Lines ... At The Bottom Of The Ocean
The NSA has been dancing classical tap long before the recent allegations of widespread surveillance over [REDACTED] in order to [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] the population. Today, "tapping communications lines" is an abstract way of saying that you're listening in, but in the Cold War, it literally meant going and dropping a giant fucking metal tube (or "listening pod") onto communications cables. Even if they were at the bottom of the ocean.
The original iListenPod: 20 feet long, 500 kb memory.
So it's the early 1970s, which means the Russians must be up to something. US intelligence discovered a Soviet communication cable running along the ocean floor between two bases off the Eastern coast of Russia. The Soviet Navy had completely blocked any foreign navies from going for a cruise through the region. The NSA respected this by going under the boundaries with submarines, then dropping off divers with giant recording pods. Every few weeks, they would retrieve the pod, endure hours of Russian mothers berating their sons for never calling, and then drop another one off to keep recording.
50,000 leagues right under their nose.
Because the Russians never thought that anyone but Cthulhu would reach their cables, there was a surprising amount of confidential information transmitted through them. Uncoded tactical, political, and personal calls all traveled along the ocean floor, and the NSA stifled laughs through them all.
Operation Ivy Bells fell apart in the '80s, when NSA employee Ronald Pelton had enough of the only radio station at the office being Russian Ramblings FM. He betrayed the USA and sold the information to the Soviets. Both sides responded with generosity -- Russia gave him a whopping $35,000, and America gave him a life sentence (although he's being released, uh, today). The KGB currently has the device on display in a museum in Moscow, as part of the esteemed "Seriously, WTF, America?" exhibit.
The CIA Parachutes Two Men Into The Arctic Ocean To Investigate An Abandoned Soviet Base
When the war gets Cold, the combatants get colder. In a war which was low on shots but high on shenanigans, even the Arctic Circle wasn't safe from the Russo-American pissing contest. In May 1962, under the adorable moniker of Project COLDFEET, the US sought to gain intelligence from an abandoned Soviet research station floating in the Arctic Ocean. Add rumors of ghostly activity, and that's the beginning of a survival horror video game.
Or change the setting to space, and it's Alien 5 or 8 or whatever.
The base was called a "drift station," because it was literally stationed on a floating chunk on ice. In a shock to nobody, the station needed to be evacuated when the shifting ice made the runway unusable. Since the ice was splitting, the Soviets thought it would be safe to let the station and its research be swallowed by the ocean. Traditional air transport to the island was impossible, so the Soviets were confident that nobody would be stupid enough to try to access it. They severely misjudged American intelligence.
With a borrowed polar navigator from Pan Am guiding the way, two US operatives were dropped by parachute onto a crumbling block of ice, just because the Soviets might have left a sock behind. The pair were collected four days later via a plane equipped with a skyhook, which was an experimental winch system that worked using a balloon. Despite the horrible weather conditions, they were winched to safety with 150 pounds of "critical items" (100 of which were probably Russian pornography stashes). As soon as they were safe, the operatives were rewarded with some "medicinal" Scotch.
"Good. Vodka gets a little old when you survive on it for four days."
The team uncovered surprising evidence that on the Soviet ice research station, the Soviets were doing research on ice (which couldn't have been all that successful, since they were still screwed by it). America gained useful knowledge about Arctic anti-submarine warfare techniques, but the USSR learned something, too: Nothing was too nuts for the CIA.
Hoss tweets delicate Soviet knowledge, if the NSA is interested: @M_Hossey.
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