by Trowbridge H. Ford
The disappearance of President Reagan’s Navy Secretary John F. Lehman, Jr. from the American political scene after he apparently resigned on February 16, 1987, was the greatest mystery until recently.
The high-flying, flamboyant youngster, still in his forties, seemed destined to much higher position, hoping even to take over from beleaguered National Security Adviser Vice Admiral John Poindexter when the Iran-Contra scandal broke, and being among the short list of candidates to head the Pentagon when Vice President George Bush set about forming a new administration in January 1989.
Instead Lehman became almost a pariah whom no one was willing to talk about, much less give a position to. Ronald Reagan, for example, though enamored with Lehman’s Navy, failed to even mention him in his memoirs, An American Life, as did Lou Cannon in his biography, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. One could only wonder why. When Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh investigated Iran-Contra, Lehman escaped any embarrassment, merely acting as a Reagan loyalist, calling Walsh “a sleazy bounty hunter” (Firewall, p. 440) because of his apparently politically-inspired inquiry.
About the former Navy Secretary’s alleged culpability, Gregory Vistica, in Fall from Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy, wrote that Lehman fell because he engaged in obscene acts at the gathering of the 1986 Tailhook Association at the Las Vegas Hilton, what triggered disclosure of a whole series of scandals which led the public and Congress to question ultimately his build-up of the Navy to meet the Soviet threat.
The question was whether it was worth it, and if not, was it Lehman’s fault? (p. 15) Ultimately, Vistica concluded that it wasn’t, and that it was Lehman’s fault, a most strange conclusion since the father of “the Six Hundred Ship Navy”, despite Lehman’s claim, was Donald Rumsfeld, SOD in the Ford Administration (p. 64), who recently returned to Washington as George W. Bush’s SOD. James Webb, Lehman’s successor, particularly favored his naval build-up (Robert Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song, p. 399), a claim Vistica feebly discounted. (p. 249)
For good measure, Admiral Frank Kelso, the central partner of Lehman’s dream team who went on to became Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), attended the much more controversial 1991 Tailhook Association convention, witnessing a scene of lewd acts by officers with hookers and strippers, and an assault on Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen by an Australian officer during which he bit her on the bottom, and she threatened to kill him if he continued. (pp. 325-8)
This was the convention where Lieutenant Paula Coughlin, Admiral Jack Snyder’s aide, was forced to run the gauntlet during which male F/A -18 pilots tried to tear her clothes off, and threatened to gang rape her. It was only three years later that Kelso was forced to retire early because of the bitter fallout from it, and other scandals.
Lehman’s memoirs, Command of the Seas, did little to clarify matters too, saying nothing about the scandals, and little about his operations, the maritime strategy reduced to a simple flow chart which even political scientists would have been uncomfortable with. (p. 494) Lehman made it seem as if he were just fortunate enough to have been a member of a team whose actions in grand events made such a difference. (p. xi)
While he was building up the fleet despite the opposition of “an elephantine bureaucracy and byzantine political arena,” others directed its use. “By 1985,” he explained regarding his plans to retire, “the navy’s confidence and morale had been restored, the maritime strategy was in place, and the management philosophy was established.” (p. 417)
His somewhat premature departure was caused by a leak of his intentions to quit, by his nemesis, Pentagon staffer and CNO Carlisle Trost, with whom he was having a bitter dispute over unprecedented promotions of submariners – the admirals’ revenge, Lehman claimed, for his sacking of Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. (p. 418)
Well, the only Rickover now on the scene is the submarine Hyman G. Rickover, SSN-709, and Trost and his fellow admirals have long since retired. Still, Lehman has not made a reappearance, even with the White House full of Republican hawks like Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney was the first Bush’s SOD, and he named the unassuming H. Lawrence Garrett III, undersecretary to Webb, his navy secretary, confident, as Vistica explained, that the admirals would make sure that he did not become another Lehman. (p. 283)
It was only the terrible miscalculations by the Bush White House in the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks – what the stunned American public finally forced an inquiry into – which resulted in Lehman being called back as a member of the commission where he was obviously to help cover up the mess.
The appointment seemed like another example of using a politician with a most controversial record to stop further controversy. Even so, it required more to even get Lehman named to the 9/11 Commission as former Republican Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott sneaked his appointment by critics while the country was invovled in disputing his claims about the dubiety of desegregation on the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination – what forced the outspoken Mississippian’s replacement.
So what were Lehman’s problems?
They seem to have been the result, strangely enough, of his rabid anti-communism, one so virulent that it went far beyond just sacking de´tente with the Soviets. Lehman’s anti-communism exceeded that of other Republican hawks like Henry Kissinger, Al Haig, and Robert McFarlane. For Lehman, no other concern was worthy of serious consideration when it came to getting rid of communism, and its apparent supporters, as fast as possible, and without any restrictions. Lehman truly believed that it was better to be dead than run the slightest risk of being red.
Thanks to his upper-middle class, Catholic upbringing in Philadelphia, his ideological antipathy to anything even smacking of socialism was almost pathological. “His aunt was Princess Grace of Monaco.” (Vistica, p. 19)
Lehman attended parochial schools in the city, and graduated from its Jesuit St. Joseph’s College where he worked for the causes that Catholic conservative William Buckley was noted for at Yale Lehman’s first act as navy secretary was no accident – to name a new attack submarine the Corpus Christi, “the body of Christ”, to indicate the Church’s going to war with the hated infidel – touching off a controversay even within the Church which Reagan had to settle by connecting the name to the secular city in Texas.
Thanks to getting to know Georgetown Professor Richard Allen while doing his graduate work, having met him while chairing a conference on arms control, something Lehman loathed, he was appointed to the Nixon National Security Council.
While serving on it, Lehman took advantage of the completely politicized environment in which Washington’s national security policy-making was conducted, developing more than a healthy disrespect for the efforts by his superior which he compounded by his antics as a pilot while serving in the naval reserve – what George W. Bush took to heart when he became President.
Lehman became completely indoctrinated with the new Republican ethos by joining the ultra conservative Catholic organization, the Knights of Malta, which included Haig, Allen, McFarlane, and DCI William Casey among its membership. By the time Reagan appointed him navy secretary, Lehman was more than ready to take command of the seas.
Washington was in greater flux then than at any other time during the Cold War. Bolstered by the release of the American hostages in Teheran – what the new President conveniently arranged for his inauguration by bribes that his Vice Presidential candidate George H. Bush and Allen paid to the Iranians – and yet still bitter about Soviet advances, especially in Afghanistan, during President Carter’s watch, Lehman arranged for the President to delegate competely the conduct of the Navy’s secret war against the Soviets to the Pentagon, and then managed to establish that its conduct was his responsibility, not that of either the admirals or SOD Caspar Weinberger.
On March 6, 1981, the leaders of the new administration were briefed by the Pentagon leadership with videos and slides that Lehman knew would be most effective with Reagan about the new maritime strategy that Rick Haver’s Team Charlie was putting together, the SOD completing the process by getting the President to sign off in advance on all the sensitive espionage operations it would entail – tapping all communication cables Moscow relied upon, completing the sound surveillance system (SOSUS) so Washington would know the whereabouts of all Soviet shipping, provoking responses of all kinds by underwater and surface intrusions of the seas surrounding the Soviet Union to determine its counter strategies, mounting NATO exercises for offensive, defensive, and deceptive purposes, etc. (Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man’s Bluff, p. 313ff.)
Back at the Pentagon, Lehman’s legal adviser, Captain Ted Gordon, and Rear Admiral John Jenkins, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, prepared a file on the navy secretary’s statutory powers, so that their boss could wield power away from CNO Thomas Hayward and the admirals.
“The secretary of the Navy,” Vistica wrote, not the admirals, or the SOD, “was king of the empire.” (p. 94) Furthermore, the secretary, while he no longer had a seat in the Cabinet, was still the President’s sole adviser on naval affairs, what Lehman did behind Weinberger’s back, and to his increasing annoyance and anger. Lehman’s broad, unprecedented interpretation of his powers would have a profound effect not only upon the Navy but also the whole world.
While historians have concentrated upon Lehman’s use of the fleet, especially Admiral James “Ace” Lyons’ efforts (Vistica, p. 105ff.), to challenge Soviet exercises, strategies, and facilities, and the submarine eavesdropping on Soviet naval communication cables in the Barents and Okhotsk Seas (Sontag and Drew, p. 222ff.), Lehman’s direction of activities in the Baltic against the newly-establihed social democratic government of Olof Palme was more to the point – dangerous missions against a long-time neutral country which would cause an international uproar if discovered.
Palme had long been a thorn in Washington’s side by his denunciation of its war in Vietnman, and his now comparing its operations against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Lehman wanted to find out if Palme was a Soviet stooge, what defectors Anatoli Golitsyn and Arkadi Shevchenko had long been claiming, and seemed to be increasingly likely after the Soviet Whiskey class submarine U-137 ran aground off Karlskrona in 1981.
The scene was set by the departing government of Thorbjorn Falldin inviting a contingent of American ships, the cruiser Belknap, the frigate Elmer Montgomery, and the supply ship Monongahela, to visit Stockholm in late September 1982, as Ola Tunander has comprehensively explained in Hårsfjärden.
The Swedish Navy, especially Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Bror Stefenson, justified the action as a test of whether the Soviets were violating territorial waters, thinking that Moscow might want to take advantage of the visit for operational purposes, what Stockholm organized Operation NOTVARP to determine.
Soon after the American surface ships left, there were all kinds of submarine sightings, involving four to six conventional submarines, perhaps even a Whiskey Class one, and at least one, perhaps three, midget ones. Their origin, though, should not have been a foregone conclusion as Washington had even bought a Whiskey sub from the Indonesian government.
During the first three weeks of October, there was a protacted hunt for the underwater vessels which, according to Tunander, resulted in two or three of them, one seriously, being damaged. The sound signatures of the ships did not match Soviet ones either. The results would have been worse if the hunt had not been called off twice, apparently by Stefenson, in NATO’s interest.
The submarines directly involved apparently included two of the American Sturgeon Class, most probably the USS Cavalla and USS Puffer, while the USS Guitarro and USS Bergall were standing by to assist further off shore. The deep-diving submersibles engaged were the Turtle, and probably Sea Cliff and NR-1.
The reason why we know that most of these submariners were involved is because with the end of the Cold War, all the underwater warriors wanted to be recognized for their feats, leading to the publication of what awards they received, and when. (Sontag and Drew, Appendix C, U.S. Submarine Awards, pp. 415-35) British and West German submariners were also probably involved, though London was not contributing what it wanted because of the demands of the Falklands War.
While by most conventional standards, these intrusions into Swedish waters would be considered a failure, especially since one of the attack subs was seriously damaged, they determined that Stockholm would not take too seriously further intrusions, and whatever sightings were subsequently reported, the public would believe that they were Soviet ones, thanks to Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and James Schlesinger claiming that Palme had showed statesmanship by allowing the damaged “Soviet” one to escape.
Still, the hawks in the West kept pressuring Palme about Soviet intrusions, especially after the Swedish Parliamentary Submarine Commission reported that there were six Soviet ones, obliging the statsminister to protest to Moscow about them. Lynn Hansen, in a paper prepared for the SOD in 1984, claimed that the Hårsfjärden intrusions were part of a Spetsnaz exercise, preparation for an invasion, like the Soviets had done five years before in Afghanistan.
Right before Palme was assassinated, Edinburgh’s Professor John Erickson, who had been an advisor of the Parliamentary Commission, and was an expert on Soviet inexorable advancement, reminded Swedes on television that Palme had negotiated the release of the “Soviet” submarine back in October 1982.
At the same time, Lehman and his people were perfecting the maritime strategy, what Moscow might do with its expanding naval forces, and what the West had to do to contain them – what gave the Pentagon insights into how to conduct a permissible first strike against the Soviets.
While there were four scenarios about what might happen, only the last one is important for our purposes, a US offensive which stopped the Soviets before they even got started. Once US-led forces had knocked out Soviet submarine and air defenses in the Far North, asTunander had explained in Cold Water Politics, “one carrier battle group may seek shelter in Vestfjord in order to attack the Kola bases in concert with two carriers further north. The fourth carrier battle group is assumed to have sailed down into the North Sea to participate, should the conflict escalate to the Central Front.” (p. 101)
While CNO James Watkins, a Lehman man when it came to strategies, thought that the Navy would have the outright capability to do this by the early 1990s (“Carrying the Fight to the Enemy” in “The Maritime Strategy,” US Naval Institute Proceedings, January 1986 (Supplement), pp. 9-13), he overlooked, perhaps intentionally, how the time frame could be moved up by some surprises.
The most important was the discovery that the Soviets could be devastatingly degraded as a nuclear power if their nuclear submarines, the boomers, were suddenly sunk on station by conventional means, what Joseph Nye elaborated upon in Nuclear Ethics, particularly to quiet Watkins’ concerns about the conflict going nuclear almost immediately.
This way there would be no innocent lives lost, helping induce Moscow to see that capitulation did not constitute a catastrophic defeat. It would permit the achievement of what Reagan always envisioned too – the triumph of good over evil without nuclear oblivion, Armageddon – the prospect of which induced him to scale down his rhetoric against the USSR. (Cannon, p. 247ff.)
In late August 1985, Lehman gained approval of his promotion slate, the so-called “twenty-four-star switch”, which put his admirals in all the important operational slots. While the secretary’s favorite, Lyons, became commander in chief Pacific, the immediately relevant advancements were of Admiral William Crowe to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and submariner Admiral Carlisle Trost to head the newly created Atlantic command, what Lehman had originally wanted to give Lyons. (Vistica, pp. 189-90)
These changes gave Lehman a red-tape free chain of command to effect dramatic actions at the drop of a hat, as was demonstrated two months later by the apprehension of the Leon Klinghofer’s killers by F-14s from the USS Saratoga of Vice Admiral Frank Kelso’s Sixth Fleet.
The last surprise, the most unexpected one, was Palme’s refusal to let 80 HAWK missiles to be transshipped through Sweden by Lt. Colonel Oliver North’s Enterprise on November 17th. The group that the NSC’s point man had put together expected it to be agreed to as a matter of course, failing even to attempt to get the necessary clearance from Stockholm. In doing so, they ignored this election pledge of Palme:
Swedish territory is to be protected against incursions by all available means. Confidence in our will to protect our neutrality must be maintained. Neither fears, nor hopes should be created that Sweden should abandon its neutrality policy as a result of strong external pressure….We are determined to repel by all available means, all those who violate our territory, our air space or waters.
(Quoted from Cold Water Politics, p. 118. N. b. that when Pentagon hawk Milton Leitenberg quoted this passage in his Soviet Submarine Operations in Swedish Waters 1980-1986, pp. 101-2, he interjected this passage into the statsminister’s conculsion in case anyone thought the West could have been culpable: ” ‘ Since the sharp diplomatic note sent to the Soviet Union in 1983, the underwater activity has still been carried out but’ despite all our efforts it has been impossible to identify the nation or nations involved. Thus the prerequisites necessary for diplomatic actions to be taken against a particular state have not existed.”)
To foreclose any possibility of such diplomatic action, North decided to have Palme killed, thanks to his increasing connections with London through SAS Major David Walker’s KMS private security firm. North had been introduced to Walker by Lehman.
No sooner had the HAWK missile shipment ended in fiasco than Lehman was seeking congressional approval for an aggressive use of American attack submarines in the hope that it could provoke a final showdown with the Red Banner Fleet, resulting in the destruction of its crucial boomers on station, and ending the Cold War in a Warsaw Pact whimper.
The Navy Secretary was especially wanting such a senario since he had had to accept the plea-bargain for John Walker’s spy ring, preferring instead to have the ringleader literally drawn and quartered. For 17 years, this submarine Warrant Officer had supplied Moscow with key intelligence about American underwater operations. (Sontag and Drew, pp. 351-3)
Thanks to Vitali Yurchenko’s ‘defection’, Washington was not only able to make the case against Walker’s people but also against National Security Agency (NSA) agent Ronald Pelton who told Moscow that Washington was also tapping its communication cable to the Sea of Okhotsk (code name Ivy Bells). (David Wise, Nightmover, p. 132ff.)
The day after Pelton was arrested, the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed to Lehman’s request despite Maine Republican Senator William Cohen’s reservations after it was revealed that the Chairman of Team Charlie, Rick Haver, had reported three years before that the program had probably been betrayed to the Soviets: “Cohen pressed on.
Was it prudent, he wanted to know, to continue to operate the cable-tapping program, push it full tilt ahead, when there may have been a spy?” (Sontag and Drew, p. 355) While the Senators concluded that it probably wasn’t, it was okay now since Pelton did not know about the tap on the cable in the Barents, and, consequently, the Soviets did not know either.
The result was the Navy sending a pack of at least a dozen gung-ho attack submarines, headed apparently by the USS Hyman Rickover, and including the all important USS Parche on its sixth trip back to the Barents (See ibid., Appendix C, pp. 426-7, and n. b. that there is no accounting for this trip in the book.), in the hope that it would provoke a crucial confrontation with their Soviet counterparts, leading to a fatal degrading of Moscow’s deterrence.
While Lehman’s submarines were moving into the Norwegian Sea – what NATO Admiral Wesley McDonald had obtained permission for in 1985 – London did everything it could to promote, and protect the operation. The biggest need was for Prime Minister Thatcher to get rid of maverick Secretary of Defence Michael Heseltine.
While he had set up Defence Secretariat 19 in March 1983 to counter the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s support for Labour’s unilateralist nuclear policy – what Palme wanted too – a task which got MI5 involved, and F Branch’s Cathy Massiter complained about on Channel 4’s 20/20 Vision program, MI5’s Official Secrets, in March 1985 (Michael Smith, New Cloak, Old Dagger, pp. 67-8), Heseltine still seemed like a most risky heir apparent at the MOD if its operations with the Security Service’s help became even more questionable legally, and controversial politically.
In December 1985, when the government seemed teetering on collapse, opening the door apparently for Neil Kinnock’s unilateralists, Thatcher forced Heseltine’s resignation, and that of Leon Brittan, who had acknowledged while Home Secretary that MI5’s pursuit of subversives was getting out of hand, by suddenly chosing Sikorsky, the American helicopter producer, to rescue Westland Helicopters rather than a European consortium of Swedish, German, and British suppliers that Heseltine had put together. (Private Eye, Jan. 24, 1986, p. 7)
Brittan, who favored Sikorsky, had been obliged to resign as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry because it was his department which had leaked the Attorney General’s letter of rebuke to Heseltine for resigning without first informing the Commons. (Alan Clark, Diaries, p. 132)
While it may have seemed much ado about nothing, it did have far-reaching consequences. For one thing, it put more pressure on Thatcher to act because of failing to sanction an American attack on Libya after Abu Nidal’s massacres, thanks to weapons supplied by Manzer al-Kassar, at the Rome and Athens airports. Heseltine got his revenge by leading the unseating of the Prime Minister in 1990. In the interim, Thatcher was obliged to take advantage on the new lease on life, the European arms merchants going ‘ape’ over the growing tilt in America’s favor.
The YGGRASIL arms cartel, including a Swedish delegation headed by Pieter Wallenberg, apparently topped the agenda for its January meeting in its Wiltshire country house with consideration of Palme’s assassination (Operation Tree) because of his alleged agenda for his April meeting with CPSU General Secretary Michael Gorbachev – removal of signal intelligence devices to the Skagerack, and the closing down of the naval bases at Musko and Karlskrona (alleged minutes of NATO’s Special Operations Planning Staff (SOPS), January 1986, supplied by Oswald Le Winter, former Chief of NATO’s Intelligence Tactical Assessment Centre) – what MI6 claimed to have stolen from his office in Rosenbad, and CIA station chief in Stockholm, Jenonne Walker, had conveniently discussed with most disgruntled Swedish naval officers at a Christmas cocktail party at the Embassy.
While many doubt the authenticity of the SOPS minutes, especially because of Le Winter’s most questionable reliability, they seem accurate, particularly since Le Winter has claimed that they show that SOPS gave the go-ahead for the assassination. Actually, they only show American and British representatives attempting to hijack the meeting for this purpose:
“Current status of above makes it imperative that operation Tree be carried out successfully. SOPS has been assured that arms length will be maintained to ensure deniability. Project management is local, technicians imported. SOPS requires details to be kept fully compartmented on need to know basis.
The Dutch representative then protested what the American and British representatives were attempting, claiming that the relation between NATO’s secret structure to coordinate action by Stay-Behind forces in case of a Soviet attack, and the YGGDRASIL group was completely informal, and not recognized in any way by the member countries. The chairman then polled all the representatives, unanimously confirming what the Dutch representative had claimed.”
The American, and British representatives persisted in making the case that SOPS assume joint responsibility for the operation. Le Winter claimed in an editorial note that the bivalent position that it adopted on the possible assassination represented a hierarchical one. If bivalent means anything, it is a completely horizontal one where parity and independence of the parts is maintained.
Then the British representative claimed that Palme had his own Contragate, shipping weapons grade uranium-235 to India by means of false country of origin certificates, what Christer Larsson had asserted in Ny Teknik, and Palme had long denied. (Chris Mosey, “Secret nuclear weapons row breaks in Sweden,” The Observer, April 28, 1985, p. 17)
When the US representative got a chance, he not only supported what the British representative was claiming but also added that Palme’s role in trying to settle the Iran-Iraq war was dubious too, apparently a reference to his stopping the weapons shipments to Teheran.
Soon the complaints against the statsminister for allegedly helping the PKK, IRA, and Nelson Mandela’s ANC became so vociferous that the British representative expressed concern about Britian’s ability to maintain its sphere of influence in Scandinavia.
The American member then said he would prepare a report for the meeting in February to detail Palme’s alleged assistance of Moscow’s interests in Angola and Namibia, inducing the Swedish delegation to assert, to the chairman’s amazement, that Palme was a Soviet agent of influence, as defectors had universally claimed. (Anatoliy Golitsyn, New Lies for Old, p. 55ff.)
The purpose of the whole exercise was to give an aura of NATO approval for all that London and Washington had planned for the statsminister in Stockholm, and the Soviets at sea.
To complement the thrust that American attack submarines were carrying out in the Barents, Washington, it seems, had the USS Seawolf lead a contingent of submarines, including the deep-diving submersible NR-1, and the missile submarine USS Sam Houston converted to carry Navy SEALS into the Baltic (Sontag and Drew, pp. 427-35), to give the impression that Moscow planned to follow up Palme’s murder what an invasion of Sweden, what these same subs would exploit with devastating results once the Russian ruse, it seems, was exposed.
To give the ruse greater credibility, British Oberon class subs, outfitted with Special Boat Service forces, went around the Baltic, and down Sweden’s east coast (Hårsfjärden, p. 305ff.), to give Stockholm the impression that they were Soviet attacks submarines, moving into position for an assault on Swedish installations.
While the submarines were moving into place, Washington concentrated upon preparing the public for the showdown, something more than simply a bolt from the blue. The centerpiece of this propaganda was the January 1986 Supplement of US Naval Institute Proceedings which amounted to a White Paper for degrading the Soviet nuclear deterrent. For Lehman, scenario four pinpointed Soviet weakness, calling for a first strike no matter what they did. (“The 600-Ship Navy,” vol. 112, no.1, pp. 30-40)
CNO Watkins provided the most authoritative source on the maritime strategy (Cold War Politics, pp. 70-1), concluding that American attack submarines would start sinking Soviet boomers within five minustes, anytime Moscow carried out another suprise attack, as it had in Afghanistan. Marine Commandant P. X. Kelley promised Normandy-type assaults from the North Cape to the eastern Baltic if the Soviets started something.
The fact that dangerous operations were afoot did not escape everyone’s notice. For example, no sooner did the Boston Globe read Watkins’ article than it compared him to the swashbucking Admiral John Dewey at Manila in 1898. For the benefit of Lehman’s attack submarine captains, it added: “Yet since the skipper in the underwater combat cannot tell whether the sub he is chasing carries anti-ship torpedoes or nuclear missiles, he might sink both.” (“A plan to win a war,” Jan. 11, 1986, 18-1-E)
Seth Cropsey, Lehman’s deputy undersecretary, was not dissuaded by such wimpish drivel: “Do the military experts at the Globe have another idea – besides victory – of what we should aim for if we find ourselves in a war at sea? Would the Globe be happy with a tie, for instance?” (Feb. 6, 1986, 14-5) Nor was Watkins, as he explained to readers of The Times two days before the statsminister’s shooting:
But if they (the sub skippers) can do this within three minutes during a conventional war, they can also do it out of the blue in peacefime. Keeping your opponent in your sights, being able to knock the weapon from his hand the moment he moves, may in some circumstances feel good. But what will be the Soviet reaction to this new explicit state of affairs? (Wayland Kennet, “Crisis under the Ice,” Feb. 26, 1986, p. 14) The CNO was confident that the Soviets would throw in the sponge as a result.
In fact, the ruse about Russian offensive ambitions was so successful that the West had Stockholm eating out of its hands by the time the assassination actually took place.
Washington believed that it would have comprehensive, mole-free intelligence of Soviet readiness on land, sea, and in the air, and how it reacted to any showdown, starting with photgraphs from the spy satellite, KH-11, explaining why DCI Casey was so paranoid about its existence just before the assassination that Pentagon employee Samuel Morrison was successfully prosecuted for publishing its picture of a Soviet aircraft carrier being built in a Black Sea shipyard in Jane’s Defence Weekly (Angus Mackenzie, Secrets, pp. 135-41), and why Thatcher was similarly inclined towards Duncan Campbell after the Stockholm shooting. (Mark Urban, UK Eyes Alpha, pp. 56-61)
Besides its double agents, especially Valeri Marytov, Sergei Motorin, and Boris Yuzhin, in the USSR, the CIA had a miniaturized version of the sea cable tap placed on an important communication cable in Moscow (Sontag and Drew, note, p. 309), and had a cargo container, filled with electronic sensors to monitor the slightest sound, travelling westward across the USSR from Vladivostock on the Trans-Siberian railroad. (Operation ABSORB). (Pete Earley, Confessions of a Spy, p. 197)
When the Challenger disaster prevented NSA from putting up a new MAGNUM satellite “…to intercept Soviet missile test signals (telemetry), and data-links as well as microwaves” (Urban p. 59), and the British super spy ship HMS Challenger threatened to break down again (ibid., p. 247), the Swedish Navy came to the rescue, supplying its new spy ship, Orion, which could monitor Soviet military activites in the eastern Baltic.
More important, it came with US intelligence personnel on board, and Swedish intelligence officers putting a priority on reconnaissance against Soviet low-level air defence systems, its SA-10s intended to be used against US air-launched cruise missiles, and low-flying B-1 bombers, what its previous captain, Commander Björn Eklind, a veteran of the 1982 sub-hunt, had refused. (Hårsfjärden, pp. 227-9)
Navy Chief of Staff Bror Stefenson apparently cooked up a case against Eklind for having behaved provocatively with a Soviet destroyer while following a Kilo class submarine, forcing his early retirement a month before the assassination.
With the scene set for the Stockholm shooting to trigger a showdown with the Soviets in Scandinavia’s surrounding seas, we must not overlook that Moscow was completely prepared for the crisis, thanks particularly to the spying by the Agency’s Aldrich “Rick” Ames, and the Bureau’s Robert Hanssen.
Now Oleg Gordievsky briefed the former about the timing of the statsminister’s shooting, and the latter had allowed the former to rush without proper authorization to his Soviet handler, Viktor Cherkashin, in the Embassy in Washington on February 14th with the message.
In fact, when the crisis passed without mishap, Cherkashin, and six other leading KGB counterintelligence officials were awarded in an unprecedented ceremony at Yasnevo the Order of Lenin by the head of its FCD, Vladimir Kryuchkov, who was well on his way to becoming its first KGB Chief. (Wise, note, p. 327)
London and Washington still thought that they were on top of everything, arranging the arrest of a Soviet arms supplier, US Navy Commander John Bothwell, a week later in Bath, and the defection in Athens of KGB Colonel Viktor Gundarev, a Courtship agent, who worked with not only him but also the vastly undervalued ‘defector’ Yurchenko. (Ronald Ostrow and Tyler Marshall, “Defection of KGB official linked to arrest of American in Britain,” Boston Globe, Feb. 22, 1986, p. 3)
Bothwell apparently knew about SOPS and YGGDRASIL deliberations about killing Palme, but he was arrested before he could pass on the latest details to his Soviet contact.
By this time, Moscow had completely absorbed Operation ABSORB, and Ames had even tipped off the Soviets about the tap on the Moscow telephone cable. (Sontag and Drew, op cit.) Unknown to the West, the Soviets also had 82 nuclear-armed SS-23 missiles in East Germany, and the USSR (Urban, p. 290) under the command of Marshal Nicholai Ogarkov, eager to make amends for shooting down KAL 007.
The over-confident contingent to Brixmis in East Germany, the 200 British personnel to insure compliance with the Four-Power Agreement, had overlooked their existence (Ken Connor Ghost Force, p. 430ff., and Urban, pp. 79-80), and their surpirse contribution to an escalating East-West showdown would have been devastating. In sum, KGB Chief Victor Chebrikov knew what he was talking about when he unprecedentedly warned the West to back off from what it had planned on the morning to Palme’s assassination. (Christopher Walker, “KGB reveals big swoop on state spies,” The Times, March 1, 1986, p. 1)
Unfortunately, the warning went for naught, as the West was so eager for the showdown that it could hardly wait for the shots to ring out on Stockholm’s Sveavägen. Chris Mosey, MI5’s journalist on the scene, and a continuous source of stories about the statsminister being a Soviet stooge, was so eager to break the news to the world that he called up, it seems, the Rikskriminalpolisen to see if Palme had been shot before the police even knew it had happened (Kari & Pertti Poutianen, Inuti labyrinten – Om mordet på Olof Palme, pp. 152-4), claiming that he had heard about the assassination from Washington Post reporter Karen de Young, who allegedly said that she had already heard an ABC flash about the assassination. (See the incredible forward to Mosey’s Servige och mordet på Olof Palme.) The reason for the hurry in getting out the news was, of course, so that the Soviets would then react in the anticipated ways.
Moscow did nothing to further the West’s purposes, though, even closing down its KBG residency to prevent any bugged conversations or calls taking place, especially with convicted Soviet spy Stig Bergling. Nor did the CIA or the FBI receive any calls from its double agents, especially Motorin (Wise, pp. 256-7), indicating that the Soviets were behind the shooting, the Red Banner Fleet was caught completely off guard, and was rushing to fill the gap – what Marytnov and Yuzhin were expected to add.
It was to be a replay of the Cuban Missile Crisis, arranged again by the CIA’s Rodney Carlson, only this time the Soviet deterrent would be fatally degraded, and the double agents, followers of Oleg Penkovsky, would live to tell the tale, and take the credit.
With the Soviet boomers completely in position, either under the Arctic icepack, or in bastions protected by killer submarines, Lehman’s attack subs were completely at a loss as to what to do, as the Globe’s military experts had envisioned. Still, the Navy Secretary’s timetable moved ahead, with a 10-man Marine team, led by Captain Steve Little, landing southwest of Tromsö in northern Norway (Task Force Eagle), to prepare the ground for American carrier groups, loaded with other Marines, moving in from the Atlantic.
Further south at Narvik, 20,000 NATO troops were gathering as part of Anchor Express Exercise, waiting for another American carrier group to come up Vestfjorden. Without having eliminated the threat from Soviet submarines and airforces, NATO was gathering up its forces for a thrust across Finnmark to attack the Kola Peninsula (Operation Armageddeon). (“Avalanche kills 11 NATO soldiers on exercises above Arctic Circle,” Boston Globe, March 6, 1986, p. 9)
Fortunately, the three American batttle groups never arrived. During the interim, the tent Little’s men were in caught fire, burning three of the Marines. Anchor Express Exercise turned out to be a complete fiasco too, at least 16 Norwegian engineers being killed by an avlanache when its forces, despite warnings from the locals, moved into the dangerous Vassdalen Valley 16 miles northeast of Narvik. “As the death toll mounted and conditions worsened Nato’s senior allied commanders met through the night in emergency session.” (Tony Samstag, “Avalanche disaster stops Nato Exercise,” The Times, March 7, 1986, p. 8)
While Commander-in-Chief Frederick Bull-Hansen, who had been doing all he could to arrange a showdown with the Soviets, acted as if the dangerous conditions were unexpected; exercise leader Major General Martin Vadset ordered its go-ahead despite warnings that the conditions were more dangerous than enemy soldiers; and what the emergency was, no one explained, obliging the government to appoint an unprecedented comission under assize court judge Mrs. Agnes Haug to investigate the disaster. (Tony Samstag, “Norway angered by snow tragedy,” The Times, March 10, 1986, p. 4)
In the end, Heseltine’s replacement at the MOD, George Younger, who had specially come over to help direct Anchor Express, had to settle for simply seeing a series of safer, smaller demonstrations.
Lehman’s was not dissuaded by such setbacks, though, calling for Admiral Frank Kelso’s intelligence-gathering ship Caron and the Aegis cruiser Yorktown to challenge the Soviet base at Sevastopol (Vistica, p. 214), and for yet another wave of attack submarines, led by Lehman’s favorite, City of Corpus Christi, and including the USS Dace, Dallas, Jack, and Tullibee (Sontag and Drew, p. 427) into the Barents itself towards the Gremikha naval base in the hope of triggering a Moscow response. The Soviets kept their cool throughout, though, obliging former CNO Watkins ultimately to confess about the maritime strategy:
Their intelligence sources were good, and we wanted them to know how self-confident we were. That’s the role it plays. It’s not a matter of charging up there and shooting up a lot of ballistic missile submarines as being the goal to prevent them from even launching first strike. No. That’s not the way they would deploy their submarine force, and not the way that we would deploy ours. (Quoted from Sontag and Drew, p. 480.)
The best corroboration of all this occurred when Lehman set about finding a replacement for Watkins as CNO. Once the Soviets had finally diverted Washington and London to attack Libya after its People’s Bureau had been persuaded to blow up La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin on April 5th, what double agent Gennady Varenik had long claimed Moscow had contingency plans for (Earley, p. 194ff.), the Navy Secretary was adamant about Kelso, a very junior Vice Admiral, becoming the next CNO. (Vistica, p. 223)
Trost didn’t even express an interest in the position though he was most qualified, and the Atlantic Fleet commander. Lehman explained his opposition to the previously favored submariner thus: “You’re insufficiently compliant.” “You’re just another fucking Boy Scout.” (Quoted from Vistica, p. 224.)
Lehman even threatened to resign if he didn’t get his way on the appointment. Trost, thanks to his relation with NSA Vice Admiral John Poindexter, who was finally getting the message about what Lehman, North, and Major David Walker had been up to, ended up getting the position, but the Navy Secretary decided to stay on.
While Lehman wanted to act as if Trost’s mutiny over the handling to Task Force Eagle had never occurred, treating promotions in the conventional way when they were due, Trost would have none of it. According to Lehman, the NCO wanted an unprecedented 80% of the submariners promoted from commander to captain, while only 55% for the favored commanders in the surface fleet, and in the air. (p. 418)
Of course, Trost wanted to reward the commanders undersea who had had such a difficult time in the build-up of Operation Armageddon, and who could not be recognized in an other way. When Trost again got his way with Weinberger, Lehman again threatened to retire, and this time it was accepted. (pp. 247-8)
Once Lehman finally left the Pentagon,Trost gave an unprecedented interview with a reporter from the Cox News Service, introducing his complaints of the autocratic, cocksure Secretary thus: “John Lehman was not a balanced human being.” (Quoted from Vistica, p. 252.)
The denouement of the whole process occurred when Trost finally met his Soviet opponents, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, and Admiral K. A. Makarov, during the showdown in another meeting at the Pentagon in December 1987.
The NCO had already tried to reassure them by issuing “Looking Beyond the Maritime Strategy” in the January 1987 issue of Proceedings, explaining that it really was just a strategy, and not a secret operational plan to catch the Soviets off guard in some showdown. No sooner did Akhromeyev spot Trost than he exclaimed: “You, you’re the problem.” (Quoted from Sontag and Drew, p. 367.)
While Trost tried to calm the Soviet Chief of Staff down, explaining that he was not the problem, Rick Haver of Team Charlie, and Admiral Kinnaird McKee, a former captain of the USS Dace, tried to make small talk with Makarov, but he would have none of it.
Haver heard Makarov’s translator identify him with the CIA, and the Commander of the Red Banner Fleet had something to add when McKee referred to the Dace’s high-jinks in 1968 at his expense. Makarov could not pass up reference to another patrol, apparently the one in March 1986, when he was following the Dace, and “…that he had known it was the Dace even then.” (Ibid.)
When Haver tried to discuss the matter further, Makarov cut him off coldly, and when he persisted, Makarov blurted out: “Tell this young man that when veterans get together, it doesn’t matter who won or lost. It’s enough that both survived.”
Without the spying of Ames and Hanssen, Trost’s insubordination, and a predictable assist from the Norwegian winter, though, no one might have. As it was, only Palme, and about 40 Norwegian soldiers, Soviet double agents, and Northern Ireland scapegoats were murdered. No wonder that even the hawks in Washington have had it with Lehman.
Trowbridge Ford (1929 – 2021) was the son of William Wallace Ford, the father of the US Army’s Grasshoppers.
He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and Columbia University where he received a Ph.D. in political science after a stint in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps as a draftee during the Korean War, and after being discharged, worked as the sports editor and a reporter for the now-defunct Raleigh Times.
Thought academia was the thing for him. He was quite satisfied teaching all kinds of courses about European and American politics while writing his dissertation about an under-appreciated British politician, Henry Brougham, who became the Lord Chancellor of the famous Reform Government (1830-34).
At the same time, Trowbridge became most interested in the role that A. V. Dicey, a famous Oxford legal professor, played in settling the Irish question – another figure that historians didn’t think did much about. It was while he was doing research on the dissertation at the British Museum in London that President Kennedy was assassinated, and it slowly led him to take a dimmer view of academic life, especially when joined by campus protests over the growing Vietnam War. He was fired by two institutions of higher learning because of his protests against the war.
When the Vietnam War finally ended, he got involved in researching the Dallas assassination, and his first serious efforts about it appeared in Tom Valentine’s The National Exchange in 1978 – what Fletcher Prouty thought was quite good, just urging him to go higher in the Agency and the political world for the main culprits.
He slowly started doing this, ultimately deciding to retire early in 1986, planning on finishing his Brougham biography while living in Portugal. While he did this, he had made too many enemies with the White House not to be punished – first by attempts to establish that he maliciously tried to destroy Richard Nixon during Watergate by libeling him, and when he died, DCI George Tenet tried to have me killed by poisoning – what would make his death look like a suicide or a natural one.
As a result of this, once he had finally determined the cause, he moved to Sweden to not only save his skin but also investigate and write about assassinations, covert operations, ‘false flag’ deceptions, preventive wars, weapons development, and their use, etc. He passed away in 2021.
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