Norman Polmar


Polmar, Norman. "American Spy Ships." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 129, no. 10 (Oct. 2003): 117-118.

This is an excellent quick look at specialized U.S. intelligence ships, utilized by both NSA and the Navy from 1961 until after the Pueblo incident in 1968.

[NSA/Thru80s; MI/Navy/To90s]

Polmar, Norman. "The ASDS Is Sailing Rough Seas." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 132, no. 1 (Jan. 2006): 88-89.

On 30 November 2005, U.S. Special Operations Command announced that it was cancelling "plans to acquire a fleet" of the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) submersibles. The sole ASDS, delivered to the Navy in 2003, has been plagued with troubles throughout its trials. At present, "there is no schedule for the construction of additional submersibles."

[MI/Navy/00s; MI/Navy/SpecOps; MI/SpecOps/00s]

Polmar, Norman. "'Here's Looking at You, Boris.'" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 121, no. 12 (Dec. 1995): 87-88.

Polmar, Norman. "In the Wake of a Sunken Soviet Submarine." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 136, no. 12 (Dec. 2010): 60-64.

The focus here is not the effort to raise K-129 (Project Azorian) but rather the effort to keep the operation secret after the fact and to deal with the Russian belief that the entire sub was retrieved.


Polmar, Norman. Spyplane: The U-2 History Declassified. Osceola, WI: MBI, 2001.

Bath, NIPQ 17.4, sees this as "an exhausively detailed history of the U-2 in all its variants." The "remarkable record" of this aircraft is "well-served" by Polmar's "in-depth study."


Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. "Decade of the Spy." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 115, no. 5 (May 1989): 104-109.

See Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar, Merchants of Treason: America's Secrets for Sale (New York: Delacorte, 1988).


Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1997. London: Greenhill Books, 1997. Rev. ed. 1998. 2d ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

"Spy Book seeks to describe spies, their tradecraft, the agencies they work for, and the acts of espionage that they have performed. In the almost 4,000 years since the first mention of spies in the Old Testament, many thousands of men and women have spied and worked at breaking into others' communications; many thousands of spymasters and case officers have directed their efforts; and scores of intelligence agencies have served dozens of countries. From this multitude we have chosen those we believe have had the most influence on world events, as well as those we felt were the most interesting." (xi)

Click for my full-length, detailed review of Polmar and Allen, as carried in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 11, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 239-242.

Bates, NIPQ, Spring 1997, calls Spy Book "a fine addition to ... reference texts on intelligence." The "ample cross-references ... reduce redundancy and still make it possible for a researcher to get a complete story." The reviewer notes, however, that attempting a work of this type has its pitfalls, since "any intelligence professional can go to entries of his or her particular area of expertise and find things which, in their view, are incomplete or questionable."

To Kruh, Cryptologia 21.3, Spy Book is "a valuable reference work ... [that] will also provide hours of pleasurable browsing and learning." Jonkers, AIJ 17.1/2, believes that the work will prove "[u]seful for researchers and students." For Price, Sea Power, Nov. 1998, Spy Book is "a thoroughly researched, authoritative, and well-written resource on espionage." He notes that the 1998 edition "includes information about the most recent spies to make the headlines."

Watt, I&NS 12.4, declares that Spy Book "is an excellent encyclopedia -- as far as it goes. But it reflects a narrow view and a narrow coverage of the sources available, and one which is particular to the United States." This view is shared by the reviewer for Newsletter 5.2 (International Intelligence History Study Group, at, who finds that the "selection of individuals to some extent concentrates on Anglo-American intelligence experts and uncovered spies for the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries, as well as on the many defectors from both sides, and the European countries are a bit neglected."

"[A] necessary source book for anyone who writes on intelligence" is how Goulden, Washington Times, 31 Oct. 2004, describes an expanded paperback edition of the earlier version of this work. "The reissue gave the authors an opportunity to clean up a handful of glitches that marred their earlier work."

Peake, NWCR, Winter 2000, finds that "[i]n most cases [the authors] have filtered out the fiction while presenting the material in a very reader-friendly format." Absent from the work are any mentions of "information warfare or of the problems that e-mail and the World Wide Web have created for counterintelligence." And Peake points to a number of errors, including an inaccurate reference to The Penkovsky Papers as black propaganda.

Commenting on the second edition, Peake, Studies 49, no. 1 (2005), says that with the corrections made in this edition, Spy Book is "the most accurate" of the various encyclopedias of espionage. However, "[a] number of errors remain uncorrected and one should be cautious if detail is important to one's task.... [I]n the absence of a documented casebook on intelligence, Polmar and Allen have provided the next best thing."


Polmar, Norman, and John D. Gresham. DEFCON 2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War during the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Wiley 2006.

Brooks, NIPQ 22.2 (Apr. 2006), finds that this work "provides significantly more detail" on the Cuban Missile Crisis "than any existing books on the subject." House, Military Review (Mar.-Apr. 2007), comments that despite being "well researched," this study has "a few omissions [that] result in an incomplete picture of events.... Overall, however, DEFCON-2 is a refreshing and informative study of a major strategic crisis in the history of the cold war. As such, it is instructive about many aspects of intelligence, government, and national security."

For Brenner, Proceedings 132.10 (Oct. 2006), the authors' evidence "points to the conclusion that we avoided a calamity in 1962 by luck." The book provides "a detailed military analysis of the missile crisis in the context of the Cold War." It also offers "sophisticated political analyses, which tend to avoid simplistic characterizations." However, there are "several small errors which taken together mar" the book's reliability.


Polmar, Norman, Mark Warren, and Eric Wertheim. Dictionary of Military Abbreviations. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.

Kruh, Cryptologia 19.1, comments that this dictionary "will benefit anyone bewildered by the widespread use of acronyms in military ... publications."

[MI/Refs; RefMats/Dicts]

Polmar, Norman, and Michael White. Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010. [Also a documentary film: AZORIAN: The Raising of the K-129, written, directed, and produced by Michael White (Michael White Films, 2009).]

Goulden, Washington Times, 4 Feb. 2011, and Intelligencer 18.3 (Summer-Fall 2011), says that "Project Azorian ... was a singular success for the CIA and the U.S. Navy." This "engrossing book, while highly technical in patches, tells a dramatic story of how Navy intelligence officers pinpointed the location of the lost sub, and how CIA devised the technical means of hoisting it to the surface." For West, IJI&C 24.3 (Fall 2011), the authors not only provide "the final word" on this project but "plenty of fresh detail." The book also "neatly dispose[s] of a dozen well-embedded intelligence myths."

For Robarge, Studies 56.1 (Mar. 2012), the film and book constitute "the definitive accounts of this remarkable effort." In both, the authors "draw on a much wider range of sources than have previous chroniclers of the project.... [They] put these new sources to excellent effect, presenting numerous fascinating and hitherto unpublicized or underappreciated facts about the planning, implementation, and accomplishments of AZORIAN.... White's movie is well produced and keeps the viewer's attention," although "[s]ome of the engineering sections drag a bit."


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