However, it was human frailty, not sea storms or Soviet sonars, which brought an end to the intelligence bonanza. When the Parche went to pick up the latest tape, the tap was missing.
In July 1985 Soviet KGB defector Vitaly Yurchenko revealed that Ronald Pelton, a heavily indebted former analyst for the NSA, had walked into the Soviet embassy on January 14, 1980, and sold the secret of Ivy Bells for $5,000—with an additional $30,000 paid for later consultation. This led to the tap’s removal by Soviet divers, though it’s possible that the Soviets might have planted misleading information in the cable traffic before doing so.
Nonetheless, Ivy Bells proved one of the greatest coups by U.S. intelligence during the Cold War. The U.S. Navy maintained its undersea espionage capabilities today, particularly in the super-stealthy Sea Wolf-class submarine USS Jimmy Carter , which has a special chamber for splicing undersea cables.
And what came of the tapping device installed on the cable in Okhotsk? It can be seen today in the Great Patriotic War Museum in Moscow.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.