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Great Subject, True Heros but Poorly Researched, Written and Edited
on October 15, 2011
The story of the Navy's achievements, both technical and operational, deserved better. Although I found some of the content highly interesting, both the information and the enjoyment were diminished by a number of shortcomings.
The stories of some of the actual intelligence operations and missions are incredibly interesting. They deserved better. Perhaps part of the problem is that the writers came from the NYT where they typically write stories about subjects where they have greater familiarity with the big picture, the facts and the culture.
I do not know how it happened, but the authors time and again displayed a lack of understanding of the sea, physics, navigation, submarines, the culture, consistent writing, national defense and a few other basics. I'm not talking about highly sophisticated stuff but rather the basics. It also suffered from an excess of dramatics and politics.
It reminded me of a student team paper hastily assembled hours before the due date. You could feel where one of the authors stopped and another began.
The authors are highly dismissive of the effort to raise the Soviet Golf sub based on its age and technical obsolescence. They might have paused to remember that had the US not broken long disused Russian codes decades earlier, the NYT would still have been defending the Rosenbergs. It was the painstaking review of thousands of old communications, years after the fact that provided critical evidence of the Soviet penetration of the US nuclear program. Old technology and out of date codes may not be of interest to those working on current intelligence matters but it certainly of interest to those in counterintelligence.
The authors might have noted that once the story that the Glomar Explorer was a Howard Hughes venture to extract minerals was floated the State of CA and local jurisdictions immediately jumped in, wanting to tax the vessel. The authors see Hughes as some sort of a sinister figure with the ability to manipulate politics. Lost is the consistent record of the Hughes organization in undertaking complex tasks , many on behalf of national security. Perhaps they were overly swayed by Seymour Hersch.
The author's note in passing the incredible amount of damage done by the Walker family. A brief note regarding Walker Sr having to surrender his access to the top secret codes because he believed he could not pass another lie detector test would have added considerably to the understanding of why he had to bring other family members into the ring. They do, to their credit, acknowledge that those who believed there were Russian agents with access to the codes were correct. Far too often during the Cold War those who read the tea leaves as indicating high level Soviet penetrations were dismissed as paranoid.
They make the typical mistake in assessing failure as the result of bad decisions. Like most Monday Morning Quarterbacks, they seem isolated from the reality that you can have a bad outcome from a good decision just as you can have a good outcome from a bad decision (5 of 6 Russian Roulette players are winners). Writing from the safety of 10+ years after the fall of the USSR they seem to forget that in the post Vietnam it appeared to many that the USSR would prevail in the Cold War. Most of the journalistic establishment believed that the best outcome we could hope for was a stalemate and on an annual basis the doomsday clock was pushed closer to midnight.
The authors seem to be confused on imp0ortant details such as the difference between the submarine's outer hull and the pressure hull, treating them as if they were redundant and near equal. There are many other material details that should have been corrected during the editing process.
I'm not sure if it was multiple authors or some other factor but highly dramatized sections were annoying and distracting. The culture, in these sections, was not what I have seen as the culture of our Naval warriors.
Overall two or three stars, not for the significance of the topic, incredibly complex technical achievements or the courage and skills of those who were at the tip of the spear. Their achievements were magnificent; perhaps one day the Navy will allow several of the skippers and other senior officers to write the real story.