Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Cobra Judy (Partially) Declassified

In the late 1970s, the National Security Agency and others within the American Intelligence Community developed a "modern multi-sensor collection system to monitor Soviet Strategic Missile testing." This system, interestingly enough due to the Air Force role in its creation, was a ship code-named “Cobra Judy.” The Cobra Judy, which was a refitted U.S. Navy ship, took four years of study and four years of construction to complete, work that was largely done in the Baltimore.
The Cobra Judy was an unwitting participant in one of the more under-appreciated and amusing Cold War incidents. In October 1979, the Belorussyia, a cruise ship with 450 passengers, dragged a dead pilot whale into the Harbor on its bow, requiring an elaborate security and maritime response to keep the whale carcass from disrupting shipping, people from sawing on the whale, and the Soviet tourists on task and on time. (1)

It is under-appreciated because the incident has largely been forgotten and because the National Security Agency apparently misunderstood the nature of the Soviet vessel. In an 1983 Cryptologic Quarterly article, the Belorussyia, not named in the article, is described as a mere "cargo ship". You can read the NSA’s article on Cobra Judy here.

Ultimately, though details are not forthcoming, the NSA’s author described the article as having “delivered as promised.”

(1) David Ress, Dead Whale Makes the Trip Up Bay on Soviet Ship's Bow, Baltimore Sun, 10/19/1979