The Sea of Japan, 1968. The USS Pueblo (AGER-2), a seemingly innocuous environmental research vessel, patrols the international waters off the coast of North Korea. However, beneath the surface, the Pueblo harbored a secret: it was an electronic intelligence-gathering ship for the US Navy.

This seemingly routine mission would take a dramatic turn, etching the ship’s name into Cold War history on what would become known as the “Pueblo Crisis.”

From Cargo Ship to Cold War Spy

USS Pueblo’s story begins far from the icy waters of the Sea of Japan.

Launched in 1944 as the civilian cargo ship “EK-2-MO-A” for the US Army, its initial purpose was far removed from the world of espionage before its destiny took an unexpected turn as the US Navy acquired the ship in the mid-60s.

US Army FP-344
US Army Cargo Vessel FP-344 in 1944 before she became USS Pueblo (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Here, the Pueblo underwent a covert transformation, with its outward appearance remaining that of an innocuous research vessel, but beneath the unassuming hull, a secret world unfolded.

The Navy reclassified the Pueblo as an Auxiliary General Environmental Research (AGER) ship, a seemingly mundane designation that masked its true purpose—a highly specialized electronic intelligence-gathering “spy” vessel.

Equipped with an array of sophisticated antennas and specialized listening devices, the Pueblo was tasked with collecting crucial intel on North Korea’s military capabilities and communication patterns.

Operating under the cloak of oceanographic research, the ship patrolled international waters bordering North Korea, gathering vital electronic data that would be analyzed by US intelligence agencies.