How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

While visiting his family in Germany before World War II, William Sebold was approached by an operative of the Abwehr, Hitler’s secret intelligence service. Sebold was an American immigrant from Germany and was living in the United States. The Abwehr wanted him to spy on American military operations for the Third Reich.

Sebold agreed, but only because the spy agency threatened to harm his family still living in Germany. But the American wasn’t a pushover. Before leaving for the U.S., he visited the American Consulate in Cologne and told them of the German plot. 

The Americans signed Sebold on as a double agent, and he would bring down the largest foreign espionage operation to ever operate on American soil that ended with the convictions of the spies. 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
Composite of five photographs of spy Fritz Duquesne, seated, talking to Harry Sawyer, FBI interviewer.

William Sebold was not born a spy. He fought in World War I in the German Army as an engineer and later emigrated to the United States. There, he became an aircraft engineer and an American citizen. He only returned to Germany to visit his mother. 

Upon his arrival, he was approached by a member of the Gestapo, who told him that an intelligence operative would soon contact him with a special mission for Germany. When that man finally contacted Sebold, he was introduced as “Dr. Ritter,” and told Sebold he worked for the Abwehr. 

Sebold would return to the United States as Harry Sawyer with the codename of “Tramp.” German intelligence sent him to a seven-week training course, where he learned to use a shortwave radio, German codes, and spycraft. He was then told who to connect with back in the U.S. and how to send messages between those operatives and German intelligence.

Almost as soon as he was free of his German handlers in Europe, he turned right around and told the American Consul General of the German plot and that he wanted to aid the FBI in bringing it down. The double cross began on February 8, 1940, long before America entered World War II. 

When Sebold returned he and the FBI set up shop for Harry Sawyer in a Time Square office in New York City. Sebold posed as a diesel engineer and the office became a safe house and meeting place for Germany’s stateside spies. His first contact, however, was with Fritz Duquesne, the ringleader of the spies. 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
Capt. Fritz Duquesne

Duquesne was a former journalist and lecturer who obtained aircraft blueprints for the German Army and planned sabotage operations at U.S. factories. Eventually, dozens of German spies passed their information, photos and blueprints to the Gestapo through Sebold/Sawyer’s New York office. They even received payment for their services through him. 

What they didn’t know was they were being recorded on audio and film the entire time, through the use of FBI listening devices and a two-way mirror planted in the office’s main room. For 16 months, the FBI maintained and monitored the transmissions of the shortwave radio provided to Sebold by the Germans. While they fed useless information back to Germany, they received information on German operations and operatives in the Western Hemisphere. 

By June 1941, the FBI was ready to move in on the spy ring. They arrested 33 agents, including Duquesne. Nineteen of the accused spies pleaded guilty to the charges. The other 14 took their chances in court, but were all found guilty.

Thirty-three mug shot portraits of the Dusquesne spy ringDuquesne is in the first row, far right.

Sebold disappeared after the trials ended, presumably a part of an early form of witness protection. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, the Germans had no reliable intelligence network inside the U.S. 

Articles

These are the slave soldiers that defeated the Mongols

The rulers of the Islamic world in the 1200s were not born into aristocracy or priesthood, as was the custom in Europe. They were an army of former slaves. Trained in combat and Sunni Islam from a young age, these “Mamluks” (from the Arabic for “property”) soon grew so vast in number that they wrested control of the Empire from the Abbasid Caliphs — one of very few times in history.


 

During the Crusades, it was Mamluks who met the Crusaders as they attempted to retake the Holy Land for Christendom. But the most important imprint the Mamluks have on history is a single battle that took place in modern-day Israel that meant the difference between centuries of rule and utter annihilation.

In the 13th Century, a wave of destruction flowed across Asia and into Europe. The Mongols, an amalgamation of far-east tribes and clans from the Mongolian Plateau, united their people, reorganized their armies, and began to expand their controlled territory.

 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

The Mongols began to expand under Genghis Khan, and that expansion continued long after his death. For over 100 years, the Mongol armies swept South and West, demanding immediate surrender and destroying and slaughtering those who didn’t submit.

They didn’t suffer a real defeat until more than 60 years into the conquest at the Battle of Ain Jalut, near the Sea of Galilee — at the hands of the Mamluks.

 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
I don’t know what that weapon is but I want one.

The Mongols’ loss at Ain Jalut shattered the image of Mongol invincibility and slowed their advance so much they actually had to retreat from the Levant. The Mamluk victory kept the Mongols from taking Cairo and sweeping into Africa.

The Mamluks continued to rule the Islamic world for centuries, where they were subsumed by the emerging Ottoman Empire — though they remained influential in the Empire for centuries afterward, even fighting both Napoleon and U.S. Marines (but losing to both).

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MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an Israeli pilot took on 11 MiGs and became the top scoring jet ace of all time

The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.


After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.

The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).

Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.

 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
Giora Epstein (USAF artwork)

It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.

Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.

Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.

That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
An Israeli Nesher over the Golan Heights. Giora Epstein scored 11 kills in week using this plane during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.

Yeah, that’s one badass pilot.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fighter pilot landed a helicopter on the summit of Mount Everest

To many climbers, mountaineers, and general fans of low oxygen environments, summiting Mount Everest represent the literal peak of physical achievement. But while an impressive feat for a human, it turns out vultures can happily survive exposed to altitudes of 40,000 ft or 12,200 meters above sea level and, indeed, have been seen flying around at this height. (For reference, this is about 11,000 ft or 3,350 meters above the peak of Everest.) Meanwhile tardigrades laugh in the face of the conditions on Everest, able to survive even nakedly exposed to outer space for quite some time with no ill effects. (Although, note: humans can actually survive exposed to the near vacuum of space for about 90 seconds without long term damage, but we have nothing on the tardigrade for durability in just about any environment.) And let’s not even talk about microbes… In the end, there are creatures that can outdo even the best of humans at pretty much any physically intensive task we feel like setting our minds to, no matter how hard we train and how good our genetics.


But you know what no other known living thing can do? Use their minds to create machinery to do an otherwise extremely arduous and dangerous task in about a half an hour, all while kicking back in a very comfy chair. And that’s exactly what French fighter pilot Didier Delsalle did when he conquered Everest in a product of human ingenuity — the Eurocopter Ecureuil AS350 B3 helicopter. Humans: 1, Animal Kingdom: 0.

Although Delsalle is the first and so far only person in history to land a helicopter on the summit of the world’s highest peak, likeminded daredevils and pilots have been trying to do exactly that since at least the early 1970s. One of the most notable of these individuals is Jean Boulet who still holds the record for highest altitude reached by a helicopter at 40,820 ft (12,442 meters), at which point his engine died, though he did manage to land safely. (Yes, contrary to popular belief, helicopters don’t just drop like a rock when the engine dies, and they are relatively safe in this condition. In fact, you have a better chance of surviving in a helicopter when the engine fails than you do in an airplane where the same happens.)

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
Mt. Everest, seen from Tingri, a small village on the Tibetan plateau at around 4050m above sea level.

Like Boulet before him, Delsalle broached the subject of landing a helicopter on Everest with the company he flew helicopters for (in this case Eurocopter) and was similarly stonewalled by killjoy executives who didn’t want to deal with the negative PR if he crashed.

Delsalle didn’t let the subject drop and repeatedly badgered higher ups within the company, using the better-than-expected results from the test of a new engine in 2004 to convince Eurocopter that landing their Ecureuil AS350 B3 helicopter on Everest was entirely possible. The company executives finally relented and gave Delsalle some time (and a helicopter) to test his hypothesis. After all, while a failed attempt would create a lot of negative press, a successful one would be a fantastic marketing move, with their helicopter doing something no other had ever done.

Or as Delsalle himself would state,

The idea was to prove to our customers all the margins they have while they’re using the helicopter in the normal certified envelope, compared to what the helicopter is capable of during the flight test.

Delsalle then took the helicopter and flew it to 29,500 feet, about 6,500 feet above the helicopter’s listed maximum operating altitude and around 500 feet higher than the peak of Everest.

No problem.

After a number of additional tests proved that the helicopter would in theory have no trouble landing on Everest’s peak, Delsalle and his trusty helicopter headed to Nepal.

Once there, while conducting recon on the mountain, Delsalle cemented his reputation as an all round awesome guy by taking the time to rescue two stranded Japanese climbers. When he wasn’t saving lives, he could be found jogging around the hanger in an attempt to drop every gram possible from his body weight. Likewise, he lightened the helicopter slightly be removing the passenger seats- the point of all this was to be able to extend flight time slightly. However, as part of the purpose of this publicity stunt was to show off what the Ecureuil AS350 B3 could do, other than this marginal lightening of its load, no other modifications were made.

And so it was that on the morning of May 14, 2005, Delsalle slipped on two pairs of thermal underwear under his flight suit and took off. As for his choice of under attire, this was needed as he flew the entire distance with his window open… He did this rather than keep things more climate controlled as he was concerned his windows would have iced up in the -31 F (-35 C) temperatures had he not kept the temperatures equalized on both sides of the glass.

As for the ascent, this was not quite as easy as simply rising to the necessary altitude — Delsalle had to deal with some pretty remarkable up and down drafts, which is one of the reasons even today helicopter rescues at extreme altitudes on Everest are a rarity. As he stated,

On one side of the mountain, on the updraft side, I wasn’t able to approach the mountain because even taking out all of the power of the aircraft, I was still climbing. But of course on the other side you had the downdraft side, and on this side even with maybe 60 knots on the airspeed indicator I was going backward . . . and the helicopter at full power was not powerful enough to counteract that.

“Landing”, or more aptly touching down, also wasn’t an easy task.

When you reach the summit you reach the updraft point, and of course the updraft winds have enough force to throw you away as soon as you put the collective down. I had to stick my skids on the summit and push into the mountain to stay on the summit. Another big problem there is that you have no visual of the summit, and you have no specific cues, because you are on the highest point. You are in free air in fact, and you have to try to find where is the summit exactly.

After keeping the skids pressed against the tiny area of land that is the summit for 3 minutes and 50 seconds, Delsalle decided it was time to go, which turned out to be quite simple thanks to the strong updraft: “I had just to pull a little bit on the collective and I went to flying very easily.”

Amusingly, nobody climbing the mountain that day had any idea that Delsalle was planning on doing this and reports later flooded in to Nepalese authorities about a random helicopter seen flying around the summit.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
Aerial photo from the south, with Mount Everest rising above the ridge connecting Nuptse and Lhotse.

But when Delsalle landed and went to check the recordings documenting his amazing accomplishment, the computer showed zero files where the recordings should have been. Yes, he had no hard evidence he had actually done this, invalidating his record attempt.

Rather than waiting to see if the data could be recovered (and presumably not wanting to endure doubters for any longer than absolutely necessary), Delsalle instead opted to just do it all over again the very next day, this time making sure the recording equipment was functioning. (It should also be noted here that some of the urgency was because no one was summiting on the day in question, but were after. For safety reasons, he could not attempt the touch down if anyone was climbing around the summit.)

If at this point you’re now doubting his story actually happened, we should probably mention that they were later able to recover the first day’s logs and video, proving he had done what he said.

Of course, doubters will persist no matter if you slap them in the face with video evidence, data logs, several Everest climber accounts of spotting the helicopter flying around the summit, his helicopter skid marks that for a time existed in the snow at that hallowed peak, etc. But as for the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and a few other such official bodies, as his evidence of the two touch downs on the summit was incontrovertible, they officially ratified his remarkable achievement, much to the chagrin of many an Everest climber, who almost universally lamented the accomplishment owing to the supposed ease at which summiting the mountain was achieved.

But here again, we feel compelled to point out that humans compiling the knowledge and expertise needed to design/construct a machine that was then extremely skillfully landed on this hallowed, tiny patch of snow covered land isn’t actually easy at all when you think about it. (And don’t even get us started on what it took to compile the knowledge and expertise to make the tools that made the parts for the machine in question… or the tools that made the parts for the more advanced tools, such as mind boggling complex computers used along the whole process…)

One might even posit that summiting Everest in the more traditional way is orders of magnitude easier than the way Delsalle did it, when looking at the big picture.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Puerto Ricans gained US citizenship just in time to be drafted for World War I

In 2017, Puerto Ricans battled economic hardship and the lasting effects of Hurricane Maria at home as they celebrated 100 years of American citizenship. On March 2, 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act was passed by Congress, making the island a U.S. territory and guaranteeing citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born after April 25, 1898. With citizenship came all the requirements of citizenship: serving on juries, paying taxes, and being drafted for military service.

Just in time for World War I.


How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Welcome to the party, pal.

It was just twenty years after the United States usurped the island’s Spanish rulers in the Spanish-American War and annexed Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States. By the end of the United States’ participation in World War I, the Selective Service Act would draft some 2.8 million men, sending an estimated 10,000 troops to France every day. The U.S. Army had come a long way from the third-rate militia it was before the war. To meet the requirements of becoming a great, global power, it needed the manpower of one.

American territories, which at the time included Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and others, were exempt from the draft. The legislature of Puerto Rico immediately asked Congress to extend conscription to American territories – namely Puerto Rico. But this was purely at the request of the Puerto Ricans.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Puerto Rican Cpl. Ricardo LaFontaine in 1917.

In all, some 236,000 Puerto Ricans from the island signed up for selective service for a potential draft notice. Of those, 18,000 would go on to serve in the war. But they weren’t always welcome. African-American Puerto Ricans, like many minorities in the U.S., weren’t entirely welcome and ended up in segregated units. For those Puerto Ricans not of African descent, they would be assigned to some regular units in the U.S. military. Still, President Wilson, in the face of discouragement from the War Department, created a Puerto Rican Division.

A full 70 percent of those Puerto Ricans who signed up for service in World War I were rejected for no other reason than the War Department didn’t know what to do with them in a segregated Army. Despite this, there has long been a conspiracy theory that held Puerto Rico was only granted citizenship so they could fight in the war. If that were true, the U.S. would have sent a lot more Puerto Ricans than it did.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”


Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.

Related: 3 heroes who became POWs twice

After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.

So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
Prisoners were paraded before angry crowds in Hanoi, where loudspeakers blared insults and encouraged the crowd’s added abuse. Many from the crowd did attack the near defenseless POWs. (Source: National Museum)

Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.

For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.

After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.

If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.

Also Read: Clint Eastwood once helped fund a Vietnam POW rescue mission

Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:

“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”

The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.

Watch the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to witness the heroic story unfold for yourself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This shotgun-wielding legend is the only woman to earn the Medal of Honor

After the war, President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor to recognize her dedication and loyalty to the US.

Walker became known for her “radical” views on women’s rights and was regarded as a living legend.

Her medal was rescinded in the early 20th century because of changes in the award’s regulations, but she refused to give it up and wore it until she died in 1919.


How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Dr. Mary Walker wearing her Medal of Honor, circa 1866.

(U.S. Army Mathew Brady Collection)

Mary Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York.

Her parents were abolitionists, and they encouraged her to flaunt the rules of women’s fashion. She soon began wearing pants, a habit that continued into her adult life.

In 1855, Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College and became a doctor.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Walker was barred from being an Army surgeon because she was a woman. She volunteered instead, working without pay at hospitals in Washington, DC, and Virginia.

Walker spent four months as a Confederate prisoner of war in Richmond, Virginia.

Despite her service tending to Union Army wounded and her imprisonment, Walker received a smaller pension than that given to war widows.

President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor in November 1865 to thank her for her contributions and her loyalty.

Also read: Why ancient German women yelled at men during combat

In 1917, due to changes in the medal’s regulations, her award was rescinded because she did not engage in direct combat with the enemy.

Walker refused to return her medal and continued to wear it.

According to one legend, when federal marshals attempted to retrieve it in 1917, she opened the door holding a shotgun — and wearing her medal.

She died in 1919 — one year before women were finally allowed to vote.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Dr. Mary E. Walker, circa 1911.

(Library of Congress)

Walker also attracted public scrutiny for her views on women’s rights, which were seen as radical. She reportedly voted as early as 1871 — a half-century before women were legally allowed to do so in the US.

President Jimmy Carter reinstated her medal in 1977 to honor her sacrifice and acknowledge the sexism she fought.

In 2012, the town Oswego dedicated of a statue in her honor, drawing people from around the country remember her, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York.

“I have got to die before people will know who I am and what I have done. It is a shame that people who lead reforms in this world are not appreciated until after they are dead; then the world pays its tributes,” Walker once said. That quote is inscribed on part of the statue.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is how the Allies planned to evacuate wounded before D-Day

Preparing for the invasion of Normandy wasn’t just a matter of training troops to take the objectives, nor was it simply about moving all the necessary troops and supplies to England or fielding enough planes for support. All of those elements were important, but the Allies needed to plan for something else, too: evacuating the wounded.


Looking back on history, it’s easy to assume this was a given. If I were storming the beaches, I’d want to know that if I got hit, the brass had a plan to get me out of there safely as opposed to leaving me to explore Nazi Germany’s idea of hospitality. As it turns out, the Allies had a plan for retrieving the injured, but it was far from trivial.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

The widespread use of helicopters to evacuate wounded troops wasn’t made practical until the Korean War.

(USAF)

On the battlefield, a medic (or corpsman) would move to aid a casualty as quickly as possible. He’d assess the condition and the troop would then be moved back, either on foot or by jeep, to the battalion aid station. From there, if needed, a troop would be moved further back from the front for more intensive care.

Now, in World War II, using helicopters for medical evacuations wasn’t possible. The first practical helicopters were flying, but they still didn’t have the lift capacity needed — even still, there were ways to get troops back reasonably quickly.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

The Landing Ship Tank proved to be a key component of plans to evacuate wounded troops on and after D-Day.

(US Navy)

One of the best assets for doing this was the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. These vessels were designed to get tanks and vehicles ashore, usually by making a run onto the beach and dropping a bow ramp, allowing vehicles to roll onto land. That ramp, of course, worked two ways. You could easily roll vehicles, like jeeps and trucks, back on.

The LSTs were designed to be a combination of both a floating ambulance and an emergency room. On board, Army doctors could perform emergency surgery on wounds that required immediate attention. Troops could then be evacuated (usually via C-47 Dakota) as necessary from Normandy to England. In England, a network of holding hospitals, transit hospitals, and general hospitals awaited the wounded.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Like the C-17 today, the C-47 Dakota was used for medical evacuation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

The result was that many wounded troops — who would have likely died from those same wounds in past wars — were able to survive and, in some cases, even return to the battlefield.

Learn more about the way combat casualties were evacuated from Normandy in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9aQ_p2FPQs

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

The true story behind the recovery of Extortion 17

The following passage is an excerpt from “Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror.” It has been edited for clarity.

On the night of Aug. 5 through Aug. 6, 2011, one of the worst tragedies in modern special operations history occurred. By this point in the war, the men who made up the special operations community were some of the most proficient and combat-hardened warriors the world had ever seen. Even so, the enemy always has a vote.

The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were on a longer-than-normal deployment as the rest of their company was on Team Merrill and they surged ahead with them.


How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Coalition security members prepare to conduct an operation in search of a Taliban leader. Photo by SGT Mikki L. Sprenkle, courtesy of Department of Defense.

They had yet another raid mission in pursuit of a high-value target in the Tangi Valley, which was in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on the night of August 5.

The mission was not easy. The Rangers took contact not only during their movement to the target but also on the target. Despite the tough fight that left some wounded, the enemy combatants were no match for the Ranger platoon. They secured the target and were gathering anything of value for intelligence when it was suggested by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that a platoon of SEALs from a Naval Special Mission Unit be launched to chase down the three or four combatants that ran, or squirted, from the target.

This was a notoriously bad area, and the Ranger platoon sergeant responded that they did not want the aerial containment that was offered at that time. The decision was made to launch anyway. The platoon-sized element boarded a CH-47D Chinook, callsign Extortion 17, as no SOF air assets were available on that short of notice.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, attached to Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, alongside Afghan agents from the National Interdiction Unit, NIU, load onto CH-47 Chinooks helicopters for their infiltration prior to an operation in the Ghorak district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez, courtesy of U.S. Army.

As Extortion 17 moved into final approach of the target area at 0238 local time, the Rangers on the ground watched in horror as it took a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The helicopter fell from the sky, killing all 38 on board. The call came over the radio that they had a helicopter down, and the platoon stopped what they were doing to move to the crash site immediately. Because of the urgency of the situation, they left behind the detainees they fought hard to capture.

The platoon moved as fast as possible, covering 7 kilometers of the rugged terrain at a running pace, arriving in under an hour. They risked further danger by moving on roads that were known to have IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to arrive at the crash site as fast as they could, as they were receiving real-time intelligence that the enemy was moving to the crash site to set up an ambush.

Upon their arrival, they found a crash site still on fire. Some of those on board did not have their safety lines attached and were thrown from the helicopter, which scattered them away from the crash site, so the platoon’s medical personnel went to them first to check for any signs of life. With no luck, they then began gathering the remains of the fallen and their sensitive items.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Footage of the Extortion 17 crash site revealed mangled weapons and melted metal. Screen capture via YouTube.

Similar to the Jessica Lynch rescue mission almost a decade prior, the Rangers on the ground decided to push as many guys as possible out on security to spare them from the gruesome task. Approximately six Rangers took on the lion’s share of the work. They attempted to bring down two of the attached cultural support team (CST) members, but had to send them back as they quickly lost their composure at the sight of it all. On top of that, the crashed aircraft experienced a secondary explosion after the Rangers arrived that sent shrapnel into two of the medics helping to gather bodies.

Despite their injuries, they kept working. Later in the day they had to deal with a flash flood from enemy fighters releasing dammed water into the irrigation canal running through the crash site in an attempt to separate the Ranger platoon, cutting them in half. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of water heading toward them, they heard it before it hit them and were moved out of the way before anyone was hurt. If that wasn’t enough, there was also an afternoon lightning storm that was so intense it left some of their equipment inoperable and their platoon without aerial fire support.

Meanwhile, 3rd Platoon, Delta Company from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted after coming off a mission of their own. They took a small break to get some sleep before they flew out to replace the other platoon, which would hold the site through the day. Once they awoke, they were told to prepare to stay out for a few days. They rode out and landed at the nearest Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ), 7 kilometers from the crash site, and made their way in with an Air Force CSAR team in tow.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Austin Williams visits the gravesite of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher C. Campbell in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Campbell was one of 30 Americans killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, crashed in Afghanistan. Photo by Rachel Larue, courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery.

After arriving, the platoon from 2/75 had to make the 7-kilometer trek back to the HLZ, as that was the nearest place a helicopter could land in the rugged terrain. The men were exhausted, having walked to their objective the night before, fighting all night, running to the crash site, securing it through the day only to execute another long movement to exfil.

New to the scene, the platoon from 1/75 did what they could to disassemble the helicopter and prepare it to be moved. The last platoon evacuated the bodies and sensitive items on board, so now the only thing left was the large pieces of the aircraft spread out across three locations. They were out for three days straight, using demolitions as well as torches to cut the aircraft into moveable sections and then loading them onto vehicles that the conventional Army unit that owned the battlespace brought in.

Despite the gruesome and sobering task, Rangers worked until the mission was accomplished. The third stanza of the Ranger Creed states that you will never fail your comrades and that you will shoulder more than your fair share of the task, whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some. The Rangers of these two platoons more than lived the Creed in response to the Extortion 17 tragedy.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


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This Pearl Harbor survivor was buried in the ship he escaped from

In the early hours of Dec. 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and launching President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.


Well into the attack, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.

Due to the events of that traumatic day, 1,177 Sailors and Marines lost their lives, but the numbers of those men buried at the historic site continue to increase.

Also read: 4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
The USS Arizona memorial as it exists today in Hawaii. (Source: History)

Master Chief Raymond Haerry (ret), served as a Boatswain’s Mate on the Arizona as it was bombed by enemy forces in the pacific fleet, which threw him from the ship and caused him to land in the oil and fire covered water.

Haerry had to swim his way to Ford Island — then got right back into the fight by firing back at the enemy. He was just 19 years old.

75 years after the attack, Haerry returned; his ashes were laid to rest inside the sunken ship’s hull, rejoining approximately 900 of his brothers. More than 100 people gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial for the symbolic funeral in his honor — a ceremony only offered to those who survived the deadly attack.

The retired Master Chief became the 42nd survivor to be placed at the site out of the 335 men who survived.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRYTQdgJZvU
(Global News, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

9 Americans who raised their own armies to conquer other countries

Individual Americans invading other countries used to be a real problem for the fledgling United States. In fact, there were so many threats to U.S. security from its own citizens raising armies that the feds passed various Neutrality Acts to make it illegal for an American to wage war against any country at peace with the United States.


Still, it happened so often there were two words for it, “filibustering and freebooting” – but one man’s freebooter is another man’s freedom fighter, right?

Here are just a few of those American freebooters, some of whom were already judged by a jury of their peers.

1. A former Vice-President tries to conquer the entire Louisiana Purchase

Aaron Burr was the third veep, serving under President Thomas Jefferson. After his tenure as VP, however, his career took a steep dive. Not one to let massive unpopularity affect his career as a political leader, Burr conspired to create his own independent nation in the middle of what was 40,000 acres of territory belonging to Spain and the United States.

 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
His previous notoriety came from killing the Secretary of the Treasury.

He created a group of farmers, planters, and Army officers, including the Army’s top general James Wilkinson, and equipped them for a fight. But before he could wage his little war, Burr was arrested and shipped back to Virginia to stand trial. Wilkinson provided the most damning evidence against Burr, who was acquitted anyway.

2. John Adams’ son-in-law sought to liberate Venezuela

A prominent Revolutionary War officer, William S. Smith rose in ranks due to both his station in life and his martial ability. He began his career as an aide-de-camp but was soon on the General Staff for both Lafayette and Washington. So he knew what he was doing when he secured funds, arms, and mercenaries to free Venezuela from Spanish rule. The ships and 60 of the men he sent were immediately captured by Spanish authorities.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Smith was put on trial for violating the Neutrality Act of 1794, like many of the people on this list. Also like many of the people on this list, he was acquitted. He claimed Thomas Jefferson told him to do it, and it led to the landmark Supreme Court ruling that the President cannot authorize a person to do what the law forbids.Smith would later be elected to Congress.

3. Vermont tries to liberate Canada

The brother of famed Patriot leader Ethan Allen was less than successful in his own efforts to unshackle the New World from the British yoke. After the Revolution, Ira Allen traveled to France to gain support for leading an insurrection in Canada, seeking to create an independent “Republic of United Columbia.” Instead, he purchased 20,000 arms and 24 cannon but was captured at sea by the Royal Navy. Britain thought he was going to arm the Irish and put him on trial for that. The escapade bankrupted Allen, who died in Philadelphia hiding from his creditors.

4. Patriots from Georgia attempt to annex Florida

In the early days of the American experiment, everyone wanted Florida. Unfortunately, it was full of the people who owned it — the Spanish. Americans were constantly gauging the Floridians to see if annexation were possible. One such endeavor was led by George Mathews, a former Continental Army officer.

When the Spanish governor of East Florida reneged on a deal to cede it to the U.S., Matthews established an intelligence network and then a full-on insurgency in East Florida. His “Patriots of Amelia Island” were successful enough, but the U.S. had to deny the mission there because of the War of 1812. The insurgency soon collapsed and Mathews died in Georgia.

5. Trying to liberate Texas with Frenchmen

When he couldn’t fight the Spanish in Florida anymore becsause President John Quincy Adams purchased it from the Spanish, James Long set his sights on Texas. His original plan called for the use of Jean Lafitte’s pirate fleet. But Lafitte refused to help.

Instead, Long recruited dozens of former French soldiers and captured Nacogdoches, and proclaimed the first Republic of Texas, which lasted a month. Not to be outdone, he returned with 300 troops before being captured and shot by the Mexicans.

6. Doctor turned Lawyer turned journalist turned mercenary turned dictator

That’s one hell of a resumé – and yet William Walker did it all before turning 40.

In 1853, Mexico refused to give Walker permission to establish a fortified colony in Sonora, along the Mexico-U.S. border. He returned to San Francisco and built a 45-man army of slavery supporters from Kentucky and Tennessee to conquer Sonora and Baja California, forming the Republic of Lower California with his capital at Cabo San Lucas. After the Mexican government forced him out, he tried again to do the same thing, this time declaring the Republic of Sonora. When the Mexican Army intervened again and expelled Walker, he was tried for his illegal war in California but was acquitted in 8 minutes.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

Two years later, Walker turned up in Nicaragua, leading 60 “colonists” to support the government. His gang and a group of locals attacked a Conservative Party group who were in open civil war against Nicaragua’s Liberal government. He inflicted heavy casualties and later captured the Liberal capital. He ruled Nicaragua as head of the army, even being recognized by the U.S.’ Pierce Administration as the legitimate government. Fearing further conquests, nations of Central America formed an alliance to take down Walker, who surrendered to the U.S. Navy. He eventually ended up in the hands of the government of Honduras, who promptly executed him.

7. A Confederate diplomat in Mexico starts a rebellion

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
John T. Pickett

 

John T. Pickett was sent to Mexico as an emissary of the Confederate government. He found the Mexican government to be less than receptive to the Southern cause and more welcoming to the North. Pickett was arrested after assaulting a member of the U.S. diplomatic party by Mexican authorities. Pickett attempted to raise a rebel army against the Mexican government but failed. He tried numerous times to negotiate a treaty to annex large parts of northern Mexico. He was again arrested by the government, thrown in jail for 30 days, and expelled from the country.

8. Naval officers want to conquer South America, found Confederate colonies instead

Matthew Maury, the founder of the U.S. Naval Academy, sent two officers on a mission to map the Amazon for shipping purposes. The officers, loyal to the Confederate cause (as was Maury), instead mapped it to conquer it for the Confederacy. When the South lost the Civil War, Maury helped 20,000 rebels flee to Brazil, where they founded the Confederate colonies of New Texas and Americana.

 

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
A tradition they still celebrate.

 

9. Aiding independence movements everywhere

One American thought supporting independence movements worldwide all the time should be the extent of American foreign policy and acted on it whenever possible. William A. Chanler started his career as a freedom fighter in 1902 when Dutch investors tried to overthrow Venezuela for defaulting on its loans. Chanler created an outlaw army, recruited through Butch Cassidy, that landed in Venezuela and marched inland. The President of Venezuela, finally complied with the terms of his loan and Chanler’s army withdrew. He shortly after assisted the Libyans in fighting the Italians, Somalis fighting Italians, and he helped the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in China

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USS Cole steams back to site of deadly 2000 suicide attack

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) probably wouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to sail off the coast of Yemen. But in the wake of an attack on a Saudi frigate, the Cole is patrolling the waters near the war-torn country where she was attacked by a suicide boat in 2000.


That attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 and tore a hole in the hull that measured 40 feet by 60 feet. A 2010 Navy release noted that the Cole took 14 months to repair. That release also noted that the Cole’s return to Norfolk came through the Bab el Mandab, near the location where the Saudi frigate was attacked.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
160710-N-CS953-375
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USS Cole (DDG 67) maneuver into position behind three Japanese destroyers during a photo exercise. USS Cole is in the center of the photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)

According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Cole’s mission is to maintain “freedom of navigation” in the region. In the past, things have gotten rough during the innocuous-sounding “freedom of navigation” missions.

The region has already seen some shots taken at the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) on three occasions, prompting a retaliatory Tomahawk strike from the destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94). The attacks on the Mason, the Saudi frigate, and the former US Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift were blamed on Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. The attacks on USS Mason used Iranian-made Noor anti-ship missiles, a copy of the Chinese C-802.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Yemen, where the ship was attacked in 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)

Iran has been quite aggressive in recent months, making threats to American aircraft in the Persian Gulf. There have been a number of close encounters between American ships and Iranian speedboats as well. In one case this past August, the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels. Last month, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) also was forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘We would have lost’: Did U.S. lend-lease aid tip the balance in Soviet fight against Nazi Germany?

On February 24, 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft with serial number 42-32892 rolled out of a factory in Long Beach, California, and was handed over to the U.S. Air Force.

On March 12, 1943, the plane was given to the Soviet Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and given the registration USSR-N238. From there, it flew 5,650 kilometers to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, one of some 14,000 aircraft sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during World War II under the massive Lend-Lease program.


This particular C-47 was sent to the Far North and spent the war conducting reconnaissance and weather-monitoring missions over the Kara Sea. After the war, it was transferred to civilian aviation, carrying passengers over the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle. On April 23, 1947, it was forced to make an emergency landing with 36 people on board near the village of Volochanka on the Taimyr Peninsula.

On May 11, 1947, 27 people were rescued, having spent nearly three weeks in the icebound wreck. The captain, two crew members, and six passengers had left earlier in an ill-fated effort to get help. The body of the captain, Maksim Tyurikov, was found by local hunters about 120 kilometers from the wreck in 1953. The others were never found.

The plane spent 69 years on the tundra before a Russian Geographical Society expedition rescued it in 2016 and returned the wreckage to Krasnoyarsk.

“I knew that its place was in a museum,” Vyacheslav Filippov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force reserve who has written extensively about the Lend-Lease program’s Siberian connection, told RFE/RL at the time. “It was not just some piece of scrap metal. It is our living history. This Douglas is the only Lend-Lease aircraft that remains in Russia.”

An estimated 25 million Soviet citizens perished in the titanic conflict with Nazi Germany between June 1941 and May 1945. Overcoming massive defeats and colossal losses over the first 18 months of the war, the Red Army was able to reorganize and rebuild to form a juggernaut that marched all the way to Berlin. But the Soviet Union was never alone: Months before the United States formally entered the war, it had already begun providing massive military and economic assistance to its Soviet ally through the Lend-Lease program.

From the depths of the Cold War to the present day, many Soviet and Russian politicians have ignored or downplayed the impact of American assistance to the Soviets, as well as the impact of the entire U.S.-British war against the Nazis.

A Soviet report by Politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky in 1948 asserted that the United States, described as “the head of the antidemocratic camp and the warrior of imperialist expansion around the world,” contributed materiel during the war that amounted to just 4.8 percent of the Soviet Union’s own wartime production.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

A map of lend-lease shipments from the United States to the U.S.S.R. from 1941-45.

The Short History Of The Great Patriotic War, also from 1948, acknowledged the Lend-Lease shipments, but concluded: “Overall this assistance was not significant enough to in any way exert a decisive influence over the course of the Great Patriotic War.”

Nikolai Ryzhkov, the last head of the government of the Soviet Union, wrote in 2015 that “it can be confidently stated that [Lend-Lease assistance] did not play a decisive role in the Great Victory.”

Such assessments, however, are contradicted by the opinions of Soviet war participants. Most famously, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin raised a toast to the Lend-Lease program at the November 1943 Tehran conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

“I want to tell you what, from the Russian point of view, the president and the United States have done for victory in this war,” Stalin said. “The most important things in this war are the machines…. The United States is a country of machines. Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.”

Nikita Khrushchev offered the same opinion.

“If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war,” he wrote in his memoirs. “One-on-one against Hitler’s Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me.”

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941.

The Lend-Lease act was enacted in March 1941 and authorized the United States to provide weapons, provisions, and raw materials to strategically important countries fighting Germany and Japan — primarily, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. In all, the United States shipped billion (8 billion in 2020 money) worth of materiel under the program, including .3 billion to the Soviet Union. In addition, much of the billion worth of aid sent to the United Kingdom was also passed on to the Soviet Union via convoys through the Barents Sea to Murmansk.

Most visibly, the United States provided the Soviet Union with more than 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 aircraft, 8,000 tractors and construction vehicles, and 13,000 battle tanks.

However, the real significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet war effort was that it covered the “sensitive points” of Soviet production — gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and so on, says historian Boris Sokolov.

“In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler,” Sokolov wrote in an essay for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

British Matilda tanks are loaded onto a ship for transportation to the U.S.S.R. as part of the Lend-Lease program.

Under Lend-Lease, the United States provided more than one-third of all the explosives used by the Soviet Union during the war. The United States and the British Commonwealth provided 55 percent of all the aluminum the Soviet Union used during the war and more than 80 percent of the copper.

Lend-Lease also sent aviation fuel equivalent to 57 percent of what the Soviet Union itself produced. Much of the American fuel was added to lower-grade Soviet fuel to produce the high-octane fuel needed by modern military aircraft.

The Lend-Lease program also provided more than 35,000 radio sets and 32,000 motorcycles. When the war ended, almost 33 percent of all the Red Army’s vehicles had been provided through Lend-Lease. More than 20,000 Katyusha mobile multiple-rocket launchers were mounted on the chassis of American Studebaker trucks.

In addition, the Lend-Lease program propped up the Soviet railway system, which played a fundamental role in moving and supplying troops. The program sent nearly 2,000 locomotives and innumerable boxcars to the Soviet Union. In addition, almost half of all the rails used by the Soviet Union during the war came through Lend-Lease.

How the FBI busted the largest-ever espionage ring in the United States

A monument in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the American pilots who flew almost 8,000 U.S. planes to Alaska and to the Soviet pilots who flew them on to Siberia as part of Lend-Lease.

“It should be remembered that during World War I, the transportation crisis in Russia in 1916-17 that did a lot to facilitate the February Revolution [which lead to the abdication of the tsar] was caused by a shortage in the production of railway rails, engines, and freight cars because industrial production had been diverted to munitions,” Sokolov wrote. “During World War II, only the supplies brought in by Lend-Lease prevented the paralysis of rail transport in the Soviet Union.”

The Lend-Lease program also sent tons of factory equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union, including more than 38,000 lathes and other metal-working tools. Such machines were of higher quality than analogues produced in the Soviet Union, which made a significant contribution to boosting Soviet industrial production.

American aid also provided 4.5 million tons of food, 1.5 million blankets, and 15 million pairs of boots.

“In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid,” Sokolov wrote. “Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats.”

In 1963, KGB monitoring recorded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov saying: “People say that the allies didn’t help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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