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
US Navy via Damn Interesting
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.
Be sure to check out 5 Spies With Bigger Balls Than James Bond and The 6 Most Hilariously Inept Spies Of All Time.
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