Spy Ships


Spy Ships

One Hundred Years of Intelligence Collection by Ships and Submarines

Norman Polmar and Lee J. Mathers
Foreword by Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

336 pages
41 photographs, 4 illustrations, 7 tables, 3 appendixes, 2 indexes


July 2023


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July 2023


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July 2023


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About the Book

Almost from the first days of seafaring, men have used ships for “spying” and intelligence collection. Since early in the twentieth century, with the technological advancements of radio and radar, the U.S. Navy and other government agencies and many other navies have used increasingly specialized ships and submarines to ferret out the secrets of other nations. The United States and the Soviet Union/Russia have been the leaders in those efforts, especially during the forty-five years of the Cold War. But, as Norman Polmar and Lee J. Mathers reveal, so has China, which has become a major maritime power in the twenty-first century, with special interests in the South China Sea and with increasing hostility toward the United States.

Through extensive, meticulous research and through the lens of such notorious spy ship events as the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, the North Korean capture of the USS Pueblo, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s success in clandestinely salvaging part of a Soviet submarine with the Hughes Glomar Explorer, Spy Ships is a fascinating and valuable resource for understanding maritime intelligence collection and what we have learned from it.

Author Bio

Norman Polmar is an analyst and consultant specializing in the naval, aviation, and intelligence fields. He has been an adviser on naval issues to three U.S. senators, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and three secretaries of the U.S. Navy, as well as to the leadership of Australian, Chinese, and Israeli navies. Polmar is the author or coauthor or more than fifty books, including Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines, 1945–2001 with coauthor K. J. Moore (Potomac, 2005) and The Enola Gay: The B-29 That Dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima (Potomac, 2004). Lee J. Mathers was on active duty with the Navy from 1967 to 1978 as a surface warfare officer with an intelligence subspecialty. He made two deployments to Vietnam, including a one-year in-country tour. He is the coauthor with Norman Polmar of Opening the Great Depths: The Bathyscaph Trieste and Pioneers of Undersea Exploration.


"The release of this book creates high expectations. It is subject matter with a clear gap in the historical record and now a distinguished naval expert attempts to fill the void. . . . Readers will discover that the high expectations are well met."—D. Colt Denfeld, Journal of America's Military Past

"Norman Polmar and Lee Mathers' new book is the first comprehensive history of spy ships, and the authors should be lauded not only for closing a relevant desideratum in naval and maritime history, but also for collecting a trove of sources that allowed them to reconstruct the operational history of spy ships on both sides of the major conflicts of the 20th century—and, most important, during the Cold War."—Ingo Heidbrink, Proceedings

"An interesting and valuable addition to the intelligence officer's bookshelf."—Admiral Tom Brooks, ReadBook

Spy Ships by Norman Polmar and Lee Mathers is another authoritative, comprehensive, and professional narrative that one expects from these authors. . . . Spy Ships fills a gap in our understanding of the importance of intelligence collection in naval operations. This book is a welcome edition in my reference library. BZ!”—Capt. John A. Rodgaard, U.S. Navy (Ret.), author of Tailships: Hunting Soviets with a Microphone

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
List of Abbreviations
U.S. Navy Ship and Submarine Designations
1. The Dawn of Spy Ships
2. Western Spy Submarines
3. The Cold War: The Red Side
4. The Cold War: Red Submarines
5. American Spy Ships: Part 1
6. The Attack on the USS Liberty
7. American Spy Ships: Part 2
8. The Seizure of the USS Pueblo
9. Unusual Spy Ships
10. Some Bottom Lines
Appendix A. Soviet/Russian Spy Ships
Appendix B. U.S. Spy Ships
Appendix C. Other Spy Ships
General Index
Ship and Submarine Index

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