Excerpted from Trevor Armbrister's "A Matter of Accountability":
[The admirals questioned] the "experts" from Washington, the operations and
intelligence officers from CINCPACFLT and COMNAVFORJAPAN. They summoned
Captain John L. Marocchi from Hawaii and Captain E. B.(Pete) Gladding from his
home in Texas; they questioned Lieutenant Ed Brookes, Lieutenant Commander
Duane Fleisinger, and Captains William H. Everett, Thomas L. Dwyer, and
Forrest A. Pease from Yokosuka. They heard from Rear Admiral Frank
L. Johnson (Annapolis, '30) in closed session. Then they asked him to testify publicly.
The pudgy, pear-shaped admiral tapped his black shoes on the gold carpet.
He rubbed his hands together and twiddled his thumbs. He fixed his sleeve for
the seventeenth time and brushed at the silvery locks atop his soft, Kiwanis
Club face. He tallked about the "Pu-ayblo." "I would like to assure the court,
Commander Bucher, and the Pu-ay-blo crew," he began, lamely, "that had
I conceived in any way that there was a jeopardy to .. . the ship, I never would
have sent [her] out on that mission without requesting-and getting-proper protection."
There was an uneasy silence, "Admiral," Captain Newsorne said, " Were you particularly concerned about the amount of classified material that Pueblo carried?" "Well, not specifically. . .." "When you visited the Pueblo, did you discuss armament" "At no time," Admiral Johnson replied, "-was it my intention to restrict the use of these weapons
to the commanding officer when he decided he should use them this is the responsibility inherent in command."
You testified that there was in existence some contingency plan to protect . . . Pueblo," Admiral White asked.
"In this case, were there any forces really available?" "As I mentioned, I had this on-call arrangement with the
Fifth Air Force and Commander, Seventh Fleet." Admiral White shook his head. "So when we add it up, then,
we really had a contingency plan to use forces which do not exist?" "There were no forces available to me."
"Wouldn't it be feasible to assume that if a hostile nation would attack [across the DMZ], they might also be willing to come across a line of water and attack an unarmed ship?" "In my decision-making process," Admiral Johnson replied,
shifting uneasily in his chair, "I again go back to the fact that this had not been done to a [U.S. ship] in over one hundred fifty years. . . . If you were a betting man . . . a bookmaker would give you such fantastic odds . . . that maybe even sonebody as rich as Howard Hughes could not pay off on it . . ." "You have referred frequently referred to this on-call concept, Admiral" Bowen said icily, "which I believe is somewhat misleading, since nothing was on call. Is that standard phraseology?" "This on-call concept is like any other on-call situation, that depending on the situation, depending on the availability of forces, you take whatever action is possible-considering those two factors. . ." "Well," Admiral Bowen snapped, "it certainly didn't take care of the situation we had. Therefore, I think it is suspect in its validity."
Admiral Johnson was dismissed.
"Thanks so much for being honest, Admiral," Bucher said, when it was over. Obviously shaken,
Admiral Johnson nodded and patted Bucher on the back. His lips moved, but no words came out.
Rear Admiral George L. Cassell, the former assistant chief of staff for operations at CINCPACFLT headquarters in Hawaii, followed Admiral Johnson to the stand. "I must conclude," Admiral Bowen said, "that the whole operation of the Pueblo was planned without any external means for her protection, that international law was her only protection. When this basic assumption was violated, did you expect that ship to protect itself?" "Yes, we did," Admiral Cassell said. Bucher stared straight ahead, not looking at him. "Did you think that Pueblo could defend herself adequately with two .50 caliber machine guns?" "Yes, I did." Admiral White seemed troubled. "The ship received a hazardous duty allowance for classified publications," he said, "yet the risk of this mission was estimated to be minimal." He looked up. "How does hazardous jibe with minimal?" "This is outside my field," Admiral Cassell replied. "I'm not able to explain that rationale."
A lanky, crew-cut captain named John H. D. Williams flew in from Washington to testify about the proper way to destroy classified documents and equipment. "Emergency destruction," he began, "is one facet of physical security, which is one of the three recognized major divisions of . . ." The admirals glared at him. Reporters groaned. It was going to be that kind of morning. "I cannot conceive of any ship having to conduct emergency destruction more than one time," Captain Williams observed, crypto equipment is permitted to sink with the ship in waters over one hundred fathoms, in accordance with NWP-50-A. - - ." Here was the archetypal bureaucrat, rolling his tongue over his lips, quoting "certain pertinent references from documents" in sonorously slow tones, explaining now that according to regulation number such-and-such, cryptographic material "could be shredded and streamed over the fantail at dusk, providing that there are no other ships present, providing at least six bags of material are streamed at once, and providing that the crypto and other material are intermixed in the process. . . ." Admiral Grimm flashed a sardonic smile. "That makes life a little difficult if it's not dusk, doesn't it?" But Captain Williams didn't see the humor. He went on to insist that Bucher and his crew should have destroyed all their classified documents-he estimated they weighed one ton-in an hour or less. "Even under gunfire Captain," Harvey asked, "in your opinion, which would be more important, the destruction of classified material that might fall into the hands of unfriendly nations or the protection of human life?" "That's a judgment matter, and I've already read into the record the definition of 'top secret." He proceeded to read it again. "So destruction of classified material is absolutely paramount?"
"Based on the authority in this manual, yes," Captain Williams said. "Captain, in this one-hour estimate, what contributing factors do you take into account for the wounding or death of a man?" "I cannot predict what the results would be, other than to reduce the personnel available to perform the vital function of destroying the documents." "Have you any familiarity with the use of TNT? Have you any familiarity with submarines?" Captain Williams reached for the carafe and started to pour a glass of water-his fifth in less than an hour. His hand shook. The water spilled onto his uniform. "Now I do," he said. Laughter.
Admiral Bowen was tiring of this performance. "It seems to me," he said, leaning forward over the table, "that in a highly technological Navy, in the area of destruction of classified material and equipment we haven't moved very far since the Stone Age." Captain Williams reddened.’
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(official US Navy photo)
ADM Frank L. Johnson
Testimony of Naval Witnesses