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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Lockpicker of Soviet Secrets Dies

NEW YORK -- James Bradley Jr., whose late-night brainstorm as a U.S. Navy officer led to the development of a system for tapping into Soviet submarine communications, died March 3 at a nursing home in Virginia. He was 81.

The cause was complications from a heart attack, family members said.

Bradley, who retired from the Navy in 1974 as a captain, was credited with discovering a way in the 1970s to find underwater Soviet naval cables that were used for communications. The first tap, in the Pacific, was used for nearly a decade before it was betrayed by a spy in 1981, but the method was successfully used in other locales until the end of the Cold War.

Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, the authors of "Blind Man's Bluff" (Public Affairs, 1998), wrote that Captain Bradley thought up the system in his office at 3 a.m. He was assigned to a military intelligence unit at the time.

Bradley recalled that in his childhood, the banks of the Mississippi River were dotted with signs warning, "Cable Crossing -- Do Not Anchor." He reasoned that if the Soviets had similar signs along their coasts, the U.S. Navy could find the lines and then tap into them.

In 1971, the U.S. submarine Halibut slowly approached the Siberian coast with its periscope up.

The sailors and intelligence officers aboard found cable signs, and then American divers put a tap at the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk to intercept Soviet communications, including those from the Northern Fleet and the KGB.

U.S. intelligence was able to intercept these communications until 1980, when a National Security Agency employee, Ronald Pelton, told the Soviets that the United States had tapped into the cable communications.

Pelton was convicted of espionage in 1986 and sentenced to life in prison.