Twilight Warriors: Covert Air Operations Against the USSR
At first sight, the Fulton Sky Hook was as daffy as a gadget from Q's workshop. A B-17 dropped a package to an agent on the ground; he inflated a balloon and sent it aloft, trailing a cable to be snagged by the B-17. The airplane's crew then reeled him in and brought him home. The system was used for a 1961 snoop inspection of a Russian ice station in the Arctic--and to rescue James Bond himself in Thunderball.
Successes were few, however. For 30 years, the U.S. dropped agents into communist states, where they were killed or turned against the west in elaborate counter-strokes, often financed with CIA gold. Perhaps to our credit, we were very bad at this game.
Indeed, our most successful penetration involved blocks of ice. Wearying of losing agents, U.S. spooks in 1968 invented a charade in which most of the resistance forces parachuted into North Vietnam were phantoms. The first man out of the plane was real, and if captured he told what he thought he knew; but the other parachutes were found dangling empty from the trees. Those "agents" had literally melted into the rain forest. The regime's paranoia obliged it to waste inordinate resources on chasing the phantom resistance, which the Americans had dubbed the "Sacred Sword of the Patriot League."
Curtis Peebles is a thoughtful commentator and able writer. Though written mostly from published sources, his account of the twilight war is eminently worth reading.
(Published in somewhat different form in Air&Space/Smithsonian, September-October 2005)