Friday, June 07, 2013

NSA



Most of you by now have heard about the latest "scandal", the government is monitoring who you call.  This comes as no big surprise to me.  For you see, the big secret is out now.  Our government spies.  

Now here is another secret that you may or may not know (depending on how long you have been reading my blog). During my tour of duty in the Army I worked at the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland for two and a half years.  


Me in the barracks with my ever present cigarette hanging out of my mouth - 1962

Back "then", everything was hush-hush.  Especially for me being a gay man.  If they found out that I was a gay man and thus a "security risk", (a typical Catch-22 situation that the government and armed services are so well at doing), I would have lost my clearance and been kicked out of the Army as an undesirable.  


Me dressed for the weekly Wednesday night dance at the Service Club - 1962

Thus I had that burden to carry for two and a half years and the other burden was that I could tell no one what I did for a living other than I was "stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland."  When I got out I was debriefed that I was to wipe my memory clean of everything I knew (think "Manchurian Candidate") or else there would be "consequences."  Probably "Bradley Manning" consequences now that I see how the government if pillorying him and making him a scapegoat for the failings of our government but I digress.


Me on the south lawn of the White House 1962 - Ft. Meade if located equal distance between Baltimore and Washington D.C.

So after I departed service on January 27th, 1963 I breathed a sigh of relief.  My time at Ft. Meade was enjoyable and revelatory. I met my first gay friends at Ft. Meade - non-sexual by the way for those of you whose minds drift towards the carnal inclinations every time you hear the word "gay". 


Once a year we had to play soldier and qualify on the firing range.  Here I am with my good friend Jim Harris from Binghamton, New York - 1962 (we qualified)

I arrived at Ft. Meade when I was 18 years old and left when I was 21 years old, perhaps the most formative years of my life.  I could not have spent then at a better place on this earth.  


Here I am "Soundmaster" of a Broadway type production that my gay friends Sal and Ron (another "Ron") used to put on at the Service Club - 1962 - yes, even back in the early Sixties I was "producing" music to a show much like I do now with my iMovies - I think I missed my calling - I could have been one of those technical guys whose you never heard of who accept Academy Awards for sound mixing or some such thing 


The pictures I have included in this post were all taken during my time at Ft. Meade.  I think I've posted them all before but not in this "Ft. Meade" context.  Of course I could post no pictures of me actually at work (God forbid).  

By the way, I always worked in the basement.  In the whole 2 1/2 years I was at NSA I was NEVER on any of the upper floors.  Never.  I went in, got the elevator to the basement, spent all day there, and got on the elevator at the end of the day and left.  Even the coffee shop was in the basement.  I never saw the light of day until I left the building.


I always wanted a picture of the NSA building where I worked but of course in those days no such photos were available (God forbid).  This morning I came across this ariel photo of the National Security Building, the second largest in the world (second to the Pentagon).  See that little white canopied portico in the middle bottom portion of the photo?  That's where I entered the building everyday, showing my ID photo (attached by a necklace chain around my neck) to the Marine guards.  Looks like nothing much has changed.  By the way, I didn't have to worry about parking, I walked from my barracks to the NSA building, a ten minute very pleasant walk.  Yes, I had it very easy.

I do have some photos of the barracks where I lived but I can't find them now.  I'll post them if and when I find them.  

So what did I do for my two and half years?  Very simple (and boring).  I made tape copies of transmissions of intercepted communications from Communist China and Russia and forwarded it to an analysis unit in another part of the NSA building.  One side wasn't supposed to know what the other side knew.  "Need to know" was the operative word and rule.

I find it ironic that not much as changed since the early Sixties when I worked at the NSA, they're still intercepting communications, only now of American citizens.  Well, I guess some things have changed. 



14 comments:

  1. Ron,

    One of my former colleagues had a TS clearance with SCI. He's been to Fort Meade a lot. I was telling him about my son's Asperger's syndrome. He told me that I had just described about 50% of the civilian population who worked at Fort Meade. He told me that the people who worked in crypto were particularly odd.

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    1. Sean,

      I agree with you, the folks who did the analysis (not us) were a different breed. I and most of my service buddies were all "operational." Great social life though.

      Ron

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  2. I remember people building bomb shelters in their back yards during those years. My family had knapsacks packed in the back porch to grab and head for the hills with. It was a scary time at the height of the cold war. Thanks for the part you played to help us all through it, Ron.

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    1. Geo.,

      I worked there (24 hours shifts) during the Cuban Missile Crises. I didn't realize at the time how close we came to total nuclear destruction, only that we were working 24/7 shifts which we thought was a great inconvenience to a 20 year old soldier's social life.

      Ron

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  3. and if you believe the govt. is NOT listening in on its citizens THIS country, then I have a bridge to sell you in brooklyn!

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    1. Anne Marie,

      Back when I was at the NSA it was against the law to spy on American citizens. They probably did it then too. Would't surprise me.

      Ron

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  4. Anonymous10:15 PM

    Y'all better listen to this interview with William Binney (one of the "cryptos" at Fort Meade who designed the very system doing the
    data collection now. He was interviewed today on Dick Gordon's ( http://www.thestory.org/ ). He's the guy who blew the whistle.
    This interview is pretty scarey! I'm all set to watch "Enemy of the State" tonight.
    Stuart

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    1. Anonymous,

      I am not familiar with William Binney. I'll check him out. Thanks!

      Ron

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  5. When Congress passed the Patriot Act during the Bush/Cheney Administration all bets were off as far as our personal privacy is concerned.

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    1. You got that right Stan. They say they're not listening to our private phone conversations (and even our Internet posts) but I don't believe it for ONE SECOND. I just assume the government monitors everything we do. All we can do is hope that a tyrant gets into power and use that information against us to enslave us. Once you open the gates you know what happens.

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  6. Randy in NEB12:42 AM

    Ron, I heard a story about the Cuban missile crises, you might have heard it too. Before JFK got the Russians to stand down. The Russians did launch a missile but the engine didn't fire, it was aimed for SAC HQ at Offutt AFB/Omaha,Ne. About 88 miles east of me! And to add what Anne Marie said, just because your paranoid doesn't mean nobody not out to get you.

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    1. Randy,

      I did not know about that story of a missile fired at Nebraska. Interesting.

      My Mom was a big conspiracy (and Fox News devotee) person. Thank God I didn't inherit that gene.

      Ron

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  7. Ah, Ron, there are no enemies quite like the Americans......What a fascinating post. I'm sure that your time in the Army is what helped make you the wonderful person you are today. I wish we could retrieve the old days of our fond memories. While you were dealing with government secrets, I was a small kid in Pomona, California, swimming and climbing trees.

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    1. Jon,

      Looking back on my life now, as a small town kid I've had quite a life. Maybe I haven't met as many famous people as you have but I have experienced a lot. I didn't plan my life this way, I just went with the flow. I'm not religious but I do believe my life has a purpose. I'm not quite sure what that "purpose:" is other than to show my example how I have handled life's challenges of which we all have. All in all my life has been quite a journey as has yours but of course you have a long way to go Jon.

      Ron

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