US Navy AGER Program
(Auxiliary General Environmental Research)

USS BANNER (AGER-1) named for Banner County, Nebraska
USS PUEBLO (AGER-2) named for Pueblo County, Colorado
USS PALM BEACH (AGER-3) named for Palm Beach County, Florida

During the cold war the United States maintained an extensive intelligence collection effort directed  toward Communist countries. As the arms race grew in intensity the US Navy faced a growing need for electronic intelligence of all possible future enemies. The Soviet Union had developed a program of converting ocean going fishing trawlers outfitted as electronic intelligence platforms or AGI vessels. (See Soviet AGI Gidrofon)

Throughout the 1960's these intelligence collection ships trailed the United States Navy’s fleet. They inserted themselves into US fleet exercises and operated in the open just outside US territorial waters  attempting to intercept electronic signals and emissions. Ignoring US Coast Guard warnings to leave the immediate area due to the danger of a missile being destroyed in its first moments of flight, the Soviet AGIs became a permanent fixture at all US missile launches from the Kennedy Space Center. AGIs were clearly visible to tourists at the Cocoa Beach, Florida viewing area but remaining outside the US three mile limit. The Soviet intelligence trawler ships became permanently stationed in international waters  off Puget Sound, Washington, San Francisco, California, Norfolk, Virginia and Groton, Connecticut. All  home ports to US nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers. The Soviet AGI  intelligence collection trawler would report a departure from one of the US bases to a waiting Soviet submarine which would begin a trail of that US ship or submarine.

For its part, the United States depended on aircraft, submarines along with low earth orbiting, LEO  satellites, to provide a large portion of the electronic and signal intelligence of Communist countries. There was a major flaw in the US collection effort. That was, the ability for assets to remain on station. The monitoring and recording of target signals was limited by a requirement to keep moving. In the case of a submarine, to have its receiving antennas raised for significant periods of time in unfriendly waters was very dangerous. LEO satellites kept going around the earth. Looking at the apparent success of the Soviet trawler operation, the US Navy in conjunction with the National Security Agency began the development of what became the AGER program. It's mission, to provide a platform which could remain  inconspicuously on station for a considerable period of time.

Auxiliary General Environmental Research (AGER) ships were conceived as small unarmed or lightly armed intelligence vessels. Manned by US Navy crews, communications technicians (CT) from the Naval Security Group and civilian oceanographers from the U. S. Naval Oceanographic Office, they would provide an equivalent capability to Soviet trawlers. Destroyers or heavily armed combatants were dismissed for missions off the coast of Communist countries as being blatantly belligerent in nature and as such were more likely to provoke hostility than collect intelligence. Besides, larger ships were going to be more costly to convert and operate than the type like the Russians were using. The United States already had a series of converted WWII Liberty ships that served as intelligence platforms. The USS Liberty AGTR-5, a member of this series, was a success at its primary intelligence mission but was large and costly to operate. A small ship that appeared to be of an nonconfrontational nature might be able to remain on station for a significant period of time, receive much less attention than a large or heavily armed one, and cost to run would be a significant savings. Originally the US Navy envisioned a total of 40 ships in this new AGER class. To prove the theory behind this idea one ship was selected to be converted to this new type of intelligence platform. The FS-345/AKL-25, a light auxiliary cargo (AKL) vessel was selected for refitting as an intelligence platform and christened USS BANNER (AGER-1.) During operations in 1967-68 off the coasts of the Soviet Union, China then along the west coast of North Korea, the Banner's  intelligence gathering abilities were considered to be a success. Authorization was granted by the Navy to convert two more AKLs into AGERs. The ships became USS Pueblo AGER-2 and USS Palm Beach, AGER-3. USS Pueblo would join the USS Banner in the western Pacific while the USS Palm Beach would operate in the Atlantic. SOD Hut installations were managed by LTV Electrosystems of Greenville, Texas.

Prepared by Ralph McClintock
Soviet AGI  Gidrofon shown in Gulf of Tokin.
Gidrofon also operated among the US Navy ships assembled off North Korea after  PUEBLO's seizure.
See Banner Tales for a feeling for
what it was like on AGER-1.
(Click on photos for large view)
Copyright © 2015 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
(all 3 above photos
are official USN photos)
National Security Agency