Historical Crises in North Korea - Lessons from the USS Pueblo and EC-121 Incidents—1968 and 1969

Historical Crises in North Korea

Lessons from the USS Pueblo and EC-121 Incidents—1968 and 1969

Richard A. Mobley

Since 2010, the National Security Agency (NSA) has released more than 200 documents that provide new evidence and reinforce lessons for intelligence from North Korea’s seizure of the USS Pueblo in January 1968 and its subsequent shootdown in April 1969 of a Navy EC-121 signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft with 31 crewmen aboard.

The documents and associated information gained from NSA oral histories and interviews do not fundamentally alter the broad outlines of our understanding of either incident, but they advance the story by providing more evidence on Pueblo’s SIGINT capabilities and targets, warning, North Korea’s conduct of the attack, and the resulting damage assessment. In the case of the EC-121 shootdown, a newly released NSA history of the event provides previously unpublished details about how a single North Korean Air Force (NKAF) MiG-21 Fishbed fighter downed the EC-121 and about challenges in the aircraft warning process.1 Although some of the documents have been modestly redacted, when pieced together they tell a consistent story about both crises.

The two incidents are best considered together because they reveal related systemic flaws in indications and warning, intelligence analysis, military planning, and command and control. Many of the same US national and theater decisionmakers and intelligence staffers participated in both incidents. Moreover, internal lessons-learned discussions and contemporary congressional testimony treated the incidents in parallel. Rather than reconstruct events that have been thoroughly discussed in a raft of books and articles, in this article I will address questions best answered by the new evidence.

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Posted: Apr 24, 2015 12:56 PM
Last Updated: Apr 24, 2015 12:56 PM