A History of America’s National Reconnaissance Office – part 2

10 05 2012

by Trowbridge H. Ford

While America’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was busily occupied in designing and building rockets, spacecrafts, and the like for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s effort to beat the Soviets in putting a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s – President Kennedy’s lasting legacy – it was also continuing its own intelligence work, what was increasingly signal intelligence (SIGINT) from satellites.  By the time JFK was assassinated, Washington had successfully completed the Mercury Project, the program to have man successfully circumnavigate the globe, and recover not only the astronauts but also the space crafts – what required a half-dozen missions to effect. 
 
It had all started when the newly created NRO launched the 84-pound Discoverer XIV space satellite on August 18, 1960 from Vandenberg AFB in California – what was able to collect as much coverage as four years of U-2 flights – whose twenty-four pound rolls of film did, indeed, determine that the Soviets only had four operational ICBMs, ending for all reasonable purposes CIA’s paranoia about the “missile gap”. While officials at the NRO claim that the agency itself was created to perform this task, it was formed to prevent the collection of intelligence, especially that relating to the Soviets, from again being compromised and corrupted by the Agency’s HUMINT – what had happened with the ‘downing’ of Gary Powers’ U-2 over the USSR on May Day 1960.
 
Now the task for the NRO was to help land a man on the moon, and safely bring him back to earth (Apollo Project) – what NRO director Brockway McMillan was almost completely involved in.  Of course, the agency’s very existence was still Washington’s most closely guarded secret, so McMillan’s role was completely attributed to his being an Air Force undersecretary at the Pentagon.  It was in this capacity that the most cultured administrator functioned on its Planning Board – what determined which missions with NASA would occur, and whether they would have a military or civilian purpose – while leaving the NRO’s day-to-day functioning to gung-ho Brigadier General Jack Ledford, the director of special operations at Air Force Headquarters in Washington.
 
Ledford’s normal duties required things like collecting the take from Corona satellites, and seeing to the testing of more conventional intelligence aircraft, especially the A-12s and later the SR-71 (codenamed Oxcart).  These planes were intended to fly at yet greater altitudes and speeds – up to Mach 3 – to find early warning radars deep within the Soviet Union, and to avoid its ever-increasing air defenses.  It was while pilot Ken Collins was testing one variation of the A-12 over Area 51 in Nevada on May 24, 1963 that it went into a fatal spin, and crashed.  Though Collins managed to parachute to safety, the NRO and the Pentagon were so panicked that the public would find big bits of the plane, and determine a lot of what the agency was up to that director McMillan suggested that it be immediately found, and blown up to prevent discovery.
 
Actually, the remains of the plane were strewn all over Robin Hood’s barn, so there was no need of panic. Instead teams of searchers methodically retrieved every bit of the plane they could find, but the experience figured large when Ledford had to figure out what to do with Captain Glenn Hyde’s deadly revealing U-2 aircraft after the assassination of JFK turned sour when Texas Governor was also nearly murdered. 
 
While CIA’s Porter Goss was keeping a muzzle on the press from Key West’s Public Information Office, Ledford apparently ordered the destruction of the downed plane, lying on the bottom of the Florida Straits, after the hoax at the expense of Castro and Khrushchev had proven the last thing the plotters wanted.  The destruction of the damning evidence – what ended up with there only being “minor debris” left from the flight – seemed just what the most delicate crisis called for.  This way there would never be any damaging evidence to be recovered by anyone in future.
 
Still, Ledford’s problems with the Dallas foul-up were nowhere near finished.  Thanks to his connections inside the Pentagon, all the other services had been brought into the plot, and their role had to be diffused as quickly and as well as possible – especially Lee Harvey Oswald’s apparent role as somebody’s spy, and how the various military services were going to take advantage of the President’s assassination by attacking Cuba, and forcing a general confrontation with Moscow. 
 
As Major Al Haig, military assistant to Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance, partially described in Inner Circles, Defense Intelligence Agency claims that Oswald might well have been working for Cuba had to be destroyed (pp. 115-6), and Operation Americas, the Latin American armada to oust Castro, had to be changed into defensive maneuvers off Colombia’s north coast. CIA chief of counterintelligence James Angleton had to hush up claims from Mexico City that the KGB had recruited Oswald as an assassin when he visited there in September, and close down E. Howard Hunt’s Second Naval Guerrilla Operation’s plans to attack Cuba from Honduras. Ledford had to erase Oswald’s connections to its operations, and the military’s plans domestically to take advantage of what he had apparently done in Dallas.
 
The mere mention that Oswald had defected to the USSR in 1959, and that communist literature was found among his belongings after he was arrested foreclosed any real possibility of his being considered an American agent, and military intelligence kept mum about the cable sent by the Fourth Army Command in Texas on the evening after the assassination to the U.S. Strike Command, a joint army and air force attack unit, at McDill AFB in Florida that Oswald had defected to Cuba, and that he was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party – what was intended to trigger action.  Ledford, it seems, was the one who stopped the intended reaction.
 
Similarly, Oswald’s service in the Marines was made out to be decidedly below par, concentrating on his alleged performance with a rifle, instead of his being rather special.  After basic training, Oswald attended school to become a radar operator and an air traffic-controller.  He scored so well as an Aviation Electronics Operator – seventh out of a class of 30 – that he was assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron One at Atsugi AFB outside Tokyo, the home base of the U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, and the illegal storage depot of America’s atomic weapons in the country. Oswald, according to Anthony Summers in The Kennedy Conspiracy, knew everything about what was going on there (p. 114ff.)  – what, it seems, led air force intelligence to recruit and train him as a deep penetration agent of the USSR.
 
At this point, Oswald’s military record becomes most murky, and the hand of someone in the Pentagon seems to be the cause.  Oswald was apparently giving cause for being dismissed from the service so that he could defect more effectively to Moscow – what was dressed up after the assassination to make it look as if he were just a growing undesirable.  He was court-martialed twice but the convictions did nothing to slow his advancement.  There were unsubstantiated claims about him deliberately wounding himself, and contracting a serious venereal disease.  Then the Pentagon was most unclear about his security status, what he was being paid, and where he was serving.  “In the controversy over the alleged assassin’s true colors,” Summers concluded, “this period is pivotal.”
 
Matters became even worse when James Bamford got round to recounting the Dallas assassination and the Warren Commission in Body of Secrets: How America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ Eavesdrop on the World (p. 130ff.)  “That Friday was slow in the NSA Sigint Command Center,” Bamford wrote.  There is no mention of the downing of Hyde’s U-2 flight, and the disappearance of the pilot – what had taken the super powers to the brink of nuclear war when Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr.’s U-2 was shot down over Cuba during the midst of the Missile Crisis. Even when NSA did a massive review of all its SIGINT intercepts, there was still nothing about Hyde’s whereabouts and recovering the plane, even if it was the result of an accident, but plenty about Oswald and his associates. (p. 132ff.)
 
More important, Ledford arranged, it seems, for Captain Hyde to have apparently died a hero while providing him with a new identity as one Horace Smith, name given because of Hyde’s affection for the English poet’s sonnets. – what covered up the whole mess since he was no longer available to answer troubling questions.  In May 1964, Hyde’s wife, holding infant son Joe Glenn III, was awarded his Distinguished Flying Cross for displaying “heroism while participating in aerial flights on Jan. 19”, the citation read, and what seems to have been on January 19, 1963 since he was supposedly dead a year later when NSA McGeorge Bundy tasked the NRO to make sure that the Soviets were honoring the terms of the Missile Crisis settlement despite the bad-mouthing they were receiving about LBJ regarding KGB involvement in the assassination from former Kennedy confidant Charles Bartlett. (For details, see Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, “One Hell of a Gamble”, p. 348ff.)
 
Yet, Hyde allegedly took part in the aerial surveillance on January 19, 1964 when he was officially dead as there were no least bit threatening flights on the previous January 19th, ones during which he “obtained information of vital importance to the security of the United States.” (Quoted from The LaGrange Daily News, May 4, 1964, p. 1.)  In January 1963, Soviet-American relations were the best in years, Khrushchev having just sent Castro a conciliatory letter to patch up the long-term relationship with the island after the crisis, hardly what would merit the DFC for observing high in the sky. The point was reiterated when there was no mention of any such flight when Hyde received a Fifth Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal for “meritorious achievement participating in aerial flight as an aircraft commander between July 9 and Aug. 29, 1963, on Oct. 18, 1963, and on Nov. 5, 1963.” (Quoted from ibid.) 
 
For good measure about Hyde’s well-being, there was no mention of any Purple Heart – what any member of the Armed Forces automatically receives for being killed or wounded in any action against an enemy of the United States or by an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which American forces are or have been engaged.
 
While Ledford was helping extract the NRO from an imbroglio with Cuba which might well have resulted in a large-scale war with the Soviets because of the cock-up surrounding the JFK assassination, the agency shifted the action to the Far East where the Johnson administration was reassessing its objectives because of the rapidly deteriorating situation there, and fully committed to giving its communists a most bloody nose because of its frustrations over Castro. 
 
In February 1964, Washington started Operation Plan 34-A, a program of covert operations against North Vietnam.  “Through 1964,” Neil Sheehan wrote in the paperback edition of The Pentagon Papers – a most belated article entitled “The Covert War” – “the 34-A operations ranged from flights over North Vietnam by U-2 spy planes and kidnappings of North Vietnamese citizens for intelligence information, to parachuting sabotage and psychological-warfare teams into the North, commando raids from the sea to blow up rail and highway bridges and the bombardment of North Vietnamese coastal installations by PT boats.” (p. 238) 
 
The NRO’s reconnaissance flights, code-named Yankee Team, gathered photographic intelligence which led to a fleet of T-28 fighter bombers, carrying Laotian Air Force markings, and piloted by Air America and Laotian pilots, which attacked regularly Pathet Lao troops in Laos, and North Vietnamese targets. “An average of four flights per week have covered the bulk of Oplan 34-A targets,” State Department Assistant Secretary of State Marshall Green reported on November 7, 1964. 
 
The program was the brain-child of the Pentagon’s Lt. Colonels Al Haig, and Dewitt Smith – what Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson had ordered after a distressing trip to South Vietnam right after the JFK assassination.  “Make a list is what we did, starting out, as was the style of the Pentagon in those days, with the actions least likely to rock the boat,” Haig explained most disingenuously in Inner Circles. “They were mostly recommendations to shore up the existing effort in the South.” (p. 137)  After a year of such “routine” recommendations, though, the clueless President Johnson could not no longer stomach them, exclaiming heatedly to the General Johnson:  “Bomb, bomb, bomb. That’s all you know.” (Quoted from George C. Herring, LBJ and Vietnam, p.11.)      
 
On March 17th, National Security Action Memorandum 288 was adopted, calling for US forces to be ready to initiate a full range of Laotian and Cambodian “Border Control actions”, and “Retaliatory Actions” against North Vietnam on 72 hours’ notice, “and to be in a position on 30 days’ notice to initiate the program of ‘Graduated Overt Military Pressure’ against North Vietnam….” (Quoted from Robert J. McMahon, ed., Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, p. 208.)
 
To trigger such a response against the North, the destroyer USS Maddox, filled with electronic spying equipment, intruded into North Vietnamese waters at the end of July, hoping to provoke a military response by the edgy North Vietnamese.  In February, the USS Craig had carried out the first of these DeSoto missions, but it had come up empty-handed because Hanoi did not want to provide the Americans with a pretext for expanding the war at its expense.  This Desoto missions were combined with South Vietnamese commando raids on the North Vietnamese islands of Hon Me and Ngu in order to increase the possibilities of a serious incident – what would provoke a retaliatory action against the North.
 
Despite the fact that  the vessels appeared to be working together, and the Maddox was clearly trying to provoke trouble, the North Vietnamese still were most cautious in their response until the American ship came within easy range of Hon Me which was still clearing up the damage done by the South Vietnamese commandos.  By the time the Sigint operators on the destroyer determined from North Vietnamese naval messages that its ships were finally preparing to attack, the destroyer was safely out of range, its three torpedo boats allegedly firing one torpedo each at the disappearing target.   
 
Instead of forgetting about the missions, though, as SOD Robert McNamara considered them useless, a beefed-up mission took place on August 3rd, with the USS Turner Joy joining the Maddox, and the South Vietnamese using a four-boat raiding party which shelled a radar station and a security post on the North Vietnamese mainland.  In the ensuing melee the next morning, the American vessels “…issued more than twenty reports of automatic weapons fire, torpedo attacks, and other hostile action.  But in the end, no damage was sustained, and serious questions arose as to whether any such attack actually took place.” (Quoted from Bamford, p. 299.)
 
While the reports created a controversy down to the present day about what really happened, they were just another hoax to justify aggressive action – what the ‘downing’ of Hyde’s U-2 had been intended for. As Bamford indicated but did not adequately explain, an NSA analyst was relying upon intercepts they had already received from the NRO about the earlier imminent attack, the first one, upon the destroyer – one message from North Vietnamese naval headquarters in Haiphong giving a patrol boat its position, and another for patrol boats and if possible a torpedo boat to prepare for military operations – which were passed on to the captain of the Maddox. 
 
Little wonder that when McNamara was questioned about the legitimacy of taking the fight to the North, he responded that there was ‘unequivocal proof’:  “…the highly secret NSA intercept reports sent to the Maddox on August 4 as a warning.” (Quoted from ibid.)  While Ledford’s people had apparently resent them to bolster the cause, the recycled intercepts worked for the Pentagon, the White House, and Congress – resulting in passage of the Tonkin Gulf resolution, giving LBJ complete power to conduct the war –  and NRO’s operational chief was duly rewarded for his services, receiving the Distinguished Service Medal when he took his leave from office early the next year.
 
While the expanded war in Vietnam greatly increased tactical operations by the NRO’s fixed-wing components, it soon created devastating leaks by NSA’s Robert Lipka, an army clerk assigned to shredding its highly secret intercepts at Fort Meade. As with B. F. Mitchell in the Gary Powers affair, the youthful Lipka became totally cynical because of what he saw, deciding that since his colleagues manipulated evidence for their own, selfish purposes, he could do likewise.  In September 1965, he walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, and volunteered his services to the KGB resident.  During the next two years, Lipka provided the residency through 50 contacts with so much material about America’s conduct of the war – for which he received $27,000 –  that the KGB was obliged to assign Oleg Kalugin the job of reducing it to manageable proportions.
 
And Washington did not learn of Lipka’s betrayals until after the Cold War was over.  When his term of service ended in 1967, he simply returned to civilian life, apparently only contacting the Soviets, on occasion, in the hope of obtaining from them more money because of the intelligence he had provided. And while assessing the American failure in Vietnam has resulted in almost endless volumes, almost nothing in them is about communist spying, particularly Lipka’s, though it, along with a lack of concern about security, seems most important in helping explain the defeat – as Lt. Gen. Charles R. Myer, a SIGINT officer who twice served in Vietnam, explained:  “The enemy might disappear from a location just before a planned U. S. attack.  B-52 bomber strikes did not produce expected results because the enemy apparently anticipated them.”  (Quoted from ibid., p. 304.)
 
In fact, Bamford never mentioned Lipka’s spying, though he went to great lengths to describe the consequences of the spying by another walk-in in October 1967 – that of John Walker aka James Harper whose disclosures were so helpful in capturing the USS Pueblo off North Korea shortly thereafter.  When Bamford got the chance to talk to the KGB chief of station in Washington at the time, Boris A. Solomatin, he asked him if Walker was responsible for the failure of Operation Rolling Thunder.  “Walker is not responsible for your failures in bombing in North Vietnam,” the former KGB Major General replied. (p. 307)  The information handed over by Walker, according to Solomatin, was never supplied to the North Vietnamese or any other Soviet allies – a claim that his former subordinate Kalugin understandably denied but failed to explain in a direct way – and Banford was willing to let it go at that! 
 
The fact that the Soviets neither pressured Lipka to stay on at NSA nor offered considerable sums to make the prospect more attractive indicates that Moscow had learned enough from his two years of spying to require no more, as Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin indicated in an amazing footnote in The Sword and the Shield: “A later analysis by the Centre singled out 200 documents from NSA, the CIA, State Department and other federal agencies as of particular value.  Mitrokhin’s notes, alas, give no details of their contents.” (n. 12, p. 611)  To help cover up the inexplicable failure, Andrew still volunteered falsely that Mitrokhin had identified Lipka “…as a KGB agent.” (p. 18)    
 
The documents obviously gave Moscow all it needed to know about American’s conduct of the war in Vietnam, its modus operandi – what other agents, particularly Viet Cong ones, could use and expand upon in combating the Americans – and the absence of notes by Mitrokhin speaks volumes about the inadequacy of his archive. Viet Cong SIGINT prevented very few surprises from the air because of advance warning, and on the ground because of poor security of communications by American forces.  If Lipka’s take – apparently the most successful of the American spies, despite the hoopla about agents like Ames and Hanssen, did not merit special analysis – whose did?
 
And the fact was underlined when Andrew claimed that American prosecutors were holding Mitrokhin in reserve when Lipka was finally tried in Philadelphia in May 1997 for the spying he had committed 30 years earlier. While it was quite clear that the FBI started a surveillance of him by an agent feigning to be a KGB agent in May 1993 – months before the Bureau started acting on Mitrokhin’s leads – after his former wife had charged that he had worked for the Soviets while at NSA, and had gotten the goods on him by paying a demanded $10,000 for previous services rendered to the KGB, US authorities tried to make out that Mitrokhin, “the mystery witness”, had gotten Lipka to confess.  It was all eyewash to make Mitrokhin feel better about having defected, and the public better about Lipka escaping death, as he was only sentenced to 18 years in prison with time off for good behavior.  
 
It would have been a far different result if the NSA had come clean about what he had betrayed – what Kalugin would not recall the content of because of its sheer volume, and Mitrokhin, it seems, had amazingly not gone to the trouble of making notes of, making one wonder if he ever saw anything.  Of course, for NSA to have done so would have shown the public just how crucial – even at this late date – his leaks had been to America’s withdrawal, and Vietnam’s fall to the communists. By the time Lipka left the Agency, the CIA had even concluded that carrying to war to the North (Operation Rolling Thunder) had been a decided failure, stiffening the enemy’s resistance while only achieving limited results.
 
To make sure that the public did not get wind of why the war in Vietnam was escalated, and still going so badly, Washington revived in November 1967 the allegations about the Tonkin Gulf attacks being fakes to make sure that NRO’s liberties during them did not resurface. With the national consensus about the war’s wisdom breaking down, and Senator Fulbright looking into holding Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings about what had gone wrong, John White, a naval officer on the USS Pine Island, took great umbrage at The New Haven Register‘s editorial, claiming that the anti-war movement was just helping the enemy.  White responded by stating that the “attacks” were fabricated. “I learned this by speaking with the chief sonarman of the Maddox,” he wrote on the front page of June 1976 issue of The National Exchange, “who was in the sonar room during the ‘attack’.”  White added that he was also the best source under the circumstances.
 
Once White had sent a copy of his letter to Fulbright, the former naval officer’s claims started getting national coverage on tv, in newspapers around the globe, and in a documentary, ultimately obliging him to give testimony about the affair for Fulbright’s committee in Washington.  White claimed that he had seen secret messages from the Maddox, first describing the attack, and then another one stating that it might have all been a mistake because of its malfunctioning sonar. Several months later, back at Long Beach, California, White testified that he met the chief sonarman responsible for the secret reports, and he claimed that no torpedoes had been fired during the second incident. White’s testimony helped persuade Fulbright to hold hearings on the matter in January 1968.
 
The hearings turned out to be a fiasco because White could not remember enough details of the messages, and the name of the chief sonarman and his whereabouts.  This was when support for the war was breaking down – Martin Luther King was marching on Washington to protest a war which Robert Kennedy stated was unwinnable – and the hearings could have speeded its end.  Hawkish SOD McNamara had now turned into a dove, and had resigned because the Joint Chiefs would not agree to a bombing halt, and to fight the war with just the troops there then.
 
Instead of White identifying the chief sonarman, and his coming forward to testify, the field was left open to sonar personnel who had been on the Maddox, and they completely destroyed White’s basic claim.  And he later made no attempt to find the chief petty officer after staff on the Fulbright committee informed him that it had been informed that he did exist, and that he had told another seaman the same story. Of course, it would it would have been a far different matter if White, who claimed to have seen all the SIGINT, had stated that the NRO had deliberately recycled the intercepts before the first confrontation in order to provoke the second, crucial one.
 
By this time Dr. Alexander Flax was well entrenched as NRO’s director, having taken over from Dr. McMillan in October 1965 when the Gemini Project for preparing men and space vehicles for landing and returning from the moon (Apollo Project), and LBJ’s ground war in Vietnam were well underway.  Flax was an excellent administrator who needed no operational commander like General Ledford – able to keep the Apollo mission on course with NASA, while still developing reconnaissance vehicles, especially satellites, for the NRO, and seeing that its capability was used most effectively in the field.  This was no small feat, given the fact that LBJ’s prominent hawks, especially SOD McNamara and NSA McGeorge Bundy, were beginning to seek a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, and the American public was starting to speak out against the war.   
 
While historians have generally tried to veil the cause of these unexpected results by stressing underestimations of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese strength throughout, the Johnson administration knew that something was terribly wrong – i. e., the enemy simply knew too much about what was going on – and assigned the Bureau, then the CIA, and NSA to intensify efforts to discover possible spying. The Bureau initiated Operation COINTELPRO – a program to discredit communists and radicals opposed to the war, and what I became a target of after I wrote President Johnson, criticising its expansion after he had run in the 1964 election as the peace candidate.  CIA followed suit in July 1968 with MH/CHAOS, keeping tabs on the actions by America’s political activists. (See the article in the codshit.com Archive about my confessions as a college teacher for more.)  And NSA expanded its Operation SHAMROCK – getting all the transmitters of diplomatic telegrams to hand them over to American authorities.
 
The NRO’s assignment in these matters was to intensify efforts to win the war in Vietnam before its support at home collapsed – no small duties given the scope of potential opposition, especially among the scientific community and the social elite.  The crisis occurred in the spring of 1967 when LBJ was faced with the dilemma of whether to go all out to win the war, as the Joint Chiefs recommended, or an order a bombing halt and consider rolling back search and destroy missions, as McNamara urged.  The fat was in the fire when Johnson seriously entertained, thanks to support from leading scientists, that an elaborate electronic barrier be constructed across the Demilitarized Zone in lieu of the bombing.
 
To counter the threat, Flax arranged with the CIA’s new Director Richard Helms Operation Phoenix, the program, started under William Colby in June 1967, to eliminate the Viet Cong’s infrastructure – its alleged organization of spies and political commissars – using all kinds of special forces, and NRO intelligence.  During the next five years, it killed around 35-40,000 suspected Vietnamese terrorists with secret ambushes, daring assaults, and surprise assassinations – the forerunner of todays “war on terrorism”.  The purpose of the operation was to terrorize the Vietnamese into submission.
 
Then the United States Intelligence Board tasked NSA to check on all individuals dealing with Castro, alleging that they could be engaged in drug-trafficking, plotting the President’s assassination, and aiding and abetting the communist enemy.  The White House apparently believed that Hanoi was somehow funding opposition to the war through Havana, and it wanted all the information that could be gleaned, especially by satellites, about people like former CIA agent Stanley Sheinbaum, former Green Beret veteran Donald Duncan, the backers, organizers and writers of Ramparts magazine, Congressmen George Brown, Phillip Burton, Don Edwards, John Dow, Benjamin Rosenthal, John Conyers and others, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Jane Fonda, etc. NRO’s role in all this was most troubling as it indicated that apparent law-biding citizens were engaged in treason and espionage.
 
NSA, NRO and the country would pay a high price for these illegal liberties.       
                 
While the content of what cameras and eavesdropping devices, as microwave communications became more common, gleaned during satellite flights over the USSR and other strategically important locations are almost impossible to determine, we do know that it was the most highly prized information that the United States possessed, and what it went to the greatest lengths to protect. And this was no small achievement, given the fact that the NRO is by far the largest funded intelligence agency in America, but thanks to the fact that its operations are almost all Special Access Programs (SAPs) where any oversight is at a premium, no one on the outside really knows for sure what it is doing.   
  
 
 
 
 




Was Oxford’s Gudrun Loftus Killed Because She Threatened To Become Another Gareth Williams?

16 11 2011

by Trowbridge H. Ford
 
In the so-called war against terror, the role of eavesdropping upon its participants has become increasingly important despite the opposition of humint agents on the ground, whether it be catching terrorists before they do something, or apprehending them after they have. While the hardware involved in doing so, whether it be tapping land or fiber optic cables or wireless communications, has been extensively discussed, too little has been said about the technicians who collect the messages, whether it be encrypted or not, and the analysts who determine what it all means.  Of course, the biggest reasons that their role is not mentioned is because it would tip off potential terrorists about the risks involved, and would put the lives of those agents involved in greater danger.
 
Still, the increasing role of cryptologists and linguists in the process must be evident to all. If the open messages by the 9/11 suicide bombers had been focused on, and their import had been determined, there is little doubt that the bombings would have been prevented.  As James Bamford has stated in The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America regarding Osama bin-Ladin’s calls to action: “But inexplicably, the fact that the calls from Mihdhar had a U. S. country code and a San Diego area code – something that should have been instantly obvious to the NSA’s signals intelligence exerts – was never passed on to the FBI, CIA or anyone else.” (1)  To confound counter-terrorist experts about what they were up to, “…the group had worked out a series of code words, and using those terms…” (2) – ‘architecture’ meant the WTC, ‘arts’ the Pentagon, ‘law’ the Capitol, and ‘politics’ the White House – kept themselves informed about what was being planned, and what was required.
 
Of couse, when the bombings proved so successful, the National Security Agency (NSA), Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and others amounted a great effort to capture such messages, and determine what they meant so that there would be no recurrence of the tragedy. Unfortunately, they were repeated in Madrid in March 2004 (3), and in London in July 2005 (4) where messages were not received, were ignored, or were misunderstood.  The basic problem, though James Bamford has nothing to say about its cause, was that GCHQ, MI6, and MI5 were convinced that Al-Qaeda was going to pull off a terrorist attack around London, thanks to the electronic chatter that it was picking up in Britain and Spain from jihadist mullahs. When this proved terribly wrong, they dismissed as a danger the Leeds group, led by Mohammad Sidique Khan – which they had already tried unsuccessfully to set up as terrorists during Operation Crevice – only for it to be totally ignored in surveillance operations, allowing it to pull off the 7/7 bombings with no interference.
 
“In an effort to attract new Web-savvy recruits,” Bamford explained after the tragedies had occurred, “GCHQ has turned to ad campaigns within online computer games such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent and Rainbow Six Vegas. And to find talented cipher-brains, the agency joined the British Computer Society to sponsor a code-breaking competition called the National Cipher Challenge.” (5)  The challenge was carried out on the Internet, lasted three months, and obliged competitors to decipher coded messages exchanged between Lord Nelson and British naval intelligence during the wars against revolutionary France. They were required to keep on top of a Napoleonic plot to buy a mysterious Chinese weapon – what could only be fully understood by decrypting writings that Elizabethan spy Christopher Marlowe had written two centuries before.  It was a good test for future cryptographers to meet the demands of qualitative literacy in this field for today’s covert world.
 
The problems, though, are more complicated than the test and what Bamford indicated. Today, the messages are in all kinds of languages, and what they mean is more difficult than understanding anything Christopher Marlowe may have written. Cryptographers have not only to break down messages in all kinds of esoteric codes but also linguists must be able to make sense of them, especially since the controlling language is often not English, and the real meaning of ones in another language will require a colloquial understanding of their use. Little wonder that Bamford immediately added GCHQ’s, like NSA’s, need for linguists in all kinds of languages without explaining why, particularly in all kinds of European languages like Polish, Albanian, Bulgarian, Chechen, Georgian, Basque, Greek, etc.(6)  It is interesting to note, though, that Bamford made no mention of the most likely European languages – German, French, Spanish, Russian, and Italian – an oversight which does not seem accidental. 
 
Of course, the Treasury allocated all kinds of money to GCHQ to recruit such experts, but the money failed to meet the demand, as they, especially the linguists, were reluctant to join the spy agency in sufficient numbers. “At $1.6 billion,” Bamford explained. “GCHQ was the most expensive part of the budget, yet it was still overstretched.” (7) The lack of proper staff was dramatically indicated in not only Operation Crevis but also in Operation Overt. It was a massive surveillance and intelligence collecting investigation where securocrats hoped to prove that two cells of wantabe militants were seriously involved in plots to blow up transatlantic airliners – thanks to MI5 prodding – when they seemed to be more interested in making films, showing the plight of Muslams in Islamic countries. The problem was really caused by the eavesdroppers not being able to understand what the suspects were really up to, given their most crude messages.
 
To remedy the problem, Sir David Pepper, GCHQ’s Director, started recruiting mathematicians and linguists through the backdoor from his base at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he had received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics thirty years before. During Pepper’s thirty years at ‘ the Q’, he was able to establish a most solid base at the college for training the proper analysts. 
 
He and Principal Sir John Scholar became the closest of friends through their interests in music, walking and gardening. The Modern Language Department and its Associate Schools deeply trained graduates in just the languages Bamford made no mention of – German, Russian, Italian, French and Spanish.(8) The teaching and translations of its German experts – Taylor Professor Ritchie Robertson, now of the University of Oxford, and Lecturer in German Gudrun Loftus up until her mysterious death – have made its graduates the cream of the crop as many surveys have shown. Little wonder that some in German, and others in other European languages, have gone on to do secret work at Cheltenham, especially since continued professional work at university or in the private sector would give them excellent cover for what they are doing.  It’s always easier to have a most acceptable peg to hang one’s covert work on when asked by the public.
 
Pepper has been the biggest opponent of disclosing anything about GCHQ, even himself, especially in court cases, claiming that it will only benefit terrorists who the agency is having trouble keeping up with. “…As the GCHQ packed more and more eavesdroppers and analysts into the doughnut,” Bamford explained, “the quality of the intelligence went down.” (9) Of course, allowing the introduction of intercepts into court cases would not only divert needed resources from more important assignments in preparing them but more importantly disclose intelligence collection techniques. While Sir David, the perfect technospy according to Bamford, went on about keeping up with coded messages on the Internet, he made no mention of the role of GCHQ linguists. Given the failure of Bamford to mention their role in deciphering German, Russian, Spanish, Italian and French messages, it seems that Cheltenham’s linguists are the hub of such activity in Europe – what London is desperate to keep secret. It would show that the Scope system – a secure one to connect GCHQ with other intelligence agencies and their overseas offices – is superfluous. The Intelligence and Security Committee has increased GCHQ’s ability to access, process, and store Internet data and telephone calls by twenty fold.       
 
Scholar obtained all the proper academic credentials at Oxbridge’s other St. John’s College in Cambridge, and the administrative ones by serving at the Treasury, and becoming ultimately the Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Office, and then the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). His being a political insider was best illustrated when he became Prime Minister Thatcher’s Private Secretary (1981-3), just when she was cutting the unions, especially at GCHQ, down to size, and when reconnecting London to the Reagan administration in Washington became so important. NSA knew all about Thatcher’s problems because it “…always has a sizable number of its own personnel working at GCHQ…” (10)  Scholar had his hands full while dealing with GCHQ Director Brian Tovey in getting rid of the unions there, and while getting essential intelligence from NSA during the risky war with Argentina over the Falklands Islands. Scholar is quite beholden to the Americans.
 
While at the Welsh Office, Scholar became so helpful in integrating its universities into meeting GCHQ’s needs that he was unprecedentedly honored by them.  The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and the University of Cardiff made him an Honorary Fellow.  He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glamorgan in 1999. While at DTI, Scholar became responsible for handling the affairs of the Carroll Foundation Charitable Trust – what became the largest one in the world during the 1990’s, controlling 85 large corporations. (11)
 
In addition, in August 2007, Scholar became the shadow director of the UK Statistical Agency. It seems that he used this post to help recruit qualitatively relevant experts covertly for GCHQ by acting as a front for it for those who were nervously interested in joining it – what was apparently in violation of its steering clear of engaging in politics. He seemed most certainly inclined to dispel this by speaking out against anyone who used Britain’s statistics improperly, even Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Home Secretaries Jaci Smith and Alan Johnson, once the agency was officially established.
 
At the center of this whole network was St John’s College Senior Language Lecturer in German Gudrun Loftus. She was a refugee from East Germany who made her way West, and up the academic scale in an unprecedented way despite her only having an undergraduate degree from Tubingen University. She was able to do so because of her ability to plumb the depths of the language, and teach it most effectively to those just starting out but not in a misleadingly simplistic way or taking out of context the subtleties of modern German.  At the same time, she was so proficient in English that she soon became an actress for Buckinghamshire’s theatrical group, The Old Gaolers.
 
She co-authored three books, one with her husband Gerry, about learning German basic grammar, practicing its use, and providing a learning resource for more advanced students about the colloquial use of the language – what she and Ms.I. Scheiblauer expanded upon by running the Oxford Language Centre.  The Centre provides classes in the five key European languages, plus Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic, and its library has sources for 135 other languages for students to study independently.  And being only 37 miles away from Cheltenham, it is ideally placed for any students who may want to go there, or any spooks who have any questions about the subtleties of any language they are dealing with.
 
The basic counter-terrorist aim that NSA/GCHQ has is to make sure that another 9/11 or worse terror act doesn’t occur. While the activities of its leader Khalid al-Mihdhar is most often discussed, what went on at its operational center, Hamburg, was most important in knowing if a recurrence was not to happen. Counter-terrorists needed to know where the terrorists live, where they went, what kind of mosque they attended, what kinds of communications did they carry on with one another, what kinds of covert words did they use, and what did they mean, etc.
 
Here the center of attention should have been on Mohamed Atta, the organizer of the 9/11 attacks. If the three German intelligence agencies had had an inkling of what Atta and his associates were planning, they might well have stopped it, but because of their lack of technical and analytical expertise, they didn’t have a clue. They didn’t know just how mad Atta and his friends had become after Israel’s April 1996 Grapes of Wrath massacres in South Lebanon – what resulted in his signing his last will and testament against Israel and its allies in Hamburg’s al-Quds mosque (12) – the code words they developed for their targets in Washington (13), and that the plot was completed on July 16, 2001.(14)
 
The expertise that Loftus’s network provided European securocrats is well documented, though, understandably, without any acknowledgement. Germany, while having twice as many Muslims as either Britain or Spain, has not experienced a counter-terrorist cockup like either Madrid’s 3/11 or London’s 7/7. Its best example of stopping a 9/11 attack was its dogged pursuit of Eric Breininger, a German national who hoped to become a home-grown Mohamed Atta. In September 2007, the Federal Crime Office and the Foreign Intelligence Service (BND) caught three members of his notorious Sauerland group – two native-born Germans who had converted to Islam, and a Turkish resident planning attacks on German cities and American bases.
 
They were not worse than anything Europe had ever experienced (15), thanks to technical equipment they had used to break into their communications, and analysis of its take by Loftus-trained analysts that GCHQ had supplied them.  By the time Breininger was finally killed in April 2010, GCHQ/MI6 agent Gareth Willaims was playing a role in the ongoing process not only in Washington but also in Afghanistan. (16)
 
When Williams was found dead on August 23rd, it seems murdered, Loftus apparently began to have second thoughts about what she had been involved in, and when I wrote my article about the background to his murder, someone, apparently she, wrote an most approving endorsement of it which a poster, using the site name of  Shader Writing, passed along:  “This is obviously a great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!”
 
Of course, I was most pleased, especially since it showed much more clearly where I was headed than I imagine the vast majority of viewers possessed. The person had apparently been most taken by my mentioning the murder of former DCI William Colby, and the priority that NSA put on recruiting foreign experts, especially in Britain, for cryptological and linguistic posts in Appendix C of Bamford’s Body of Secrets.   The quoted source had digested all I had said about the illegal, covert, and, if necessary, the murderous ways of the NSA/GCHQ organization, and where I was headed when it came to what happened to Williams.
 
When I supplied the follow-up about Willaims’ murder on October 4th, I was most distressed to learn that Loftus had been killed early the next morning when she visited the Senior Common Room around 6 AM, apparently to meet someone about a most unexpected development.  It seems that she had decided to go public – what GCHQ could have easily learned by eavesdropping on her conversations – and the agency had sent a person to check out just how serious she was about her plans to blow the whistle on it too.
 
When the person she met learned of her determination, she was pushed backwards down the steep, spiral staircase from the landing outside the Senior Common Room, falling all the way down to the bottom, fatally injuring herself in the process. There were, it seems, no witnesses to the killing, and the person who discovered her body, possibly even her killer, has not been identified. And my plea to Shader Writing afterwards to confirm that her comments about my article regarding the background to the Williams one had nothing to do with Loftus has gone unanswered.
 
It was right after Williams’ body had been found, apparently a murder NSA arranged just before he left the States on August 10th, that President Obama joined law-enforcement officials on both sides of the Atlantic in getting the new Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, to stop stonewalling the prosecution of the Carroll Trust Case (17)  – one which apparently is most threatening to Scholar while he was Permanent Secretary of the DTI. The idea that Grieve is protecting the head of the UK Statistical Agency is best illustrated when he went out of his way to agree with Scholar’s criticism of Labour Ministers using statistics about knife crime in Britain incorrectly. One can only wonder that Loftus’s killing is to deflect further pressure in the States against him by his seeing that a favor for all the eavesdroppers is achieved.
 
The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher helped deflect any embarrassing moments or comments by deciding not to attend her 85th birthday party at No. 10  shortly afterwards.  Her former Private Secretary and wife had been invited, and there would have been uncomfortable conversation about the killing of Mrs. Loftus at St. John’s, and the unprecedented scandal at the Carroll Trust, so the ‘Iron Lady’ turned yet again – what she had done before when it came to getting of the Soviets and the Provisionals by force – not ‘returning’ to Downing Street, claiming conveniently yet again her sickly condition.
 
She has not managed a makeup party at No. 10 for either last year or this.
 
Where the Loftus killing ends up is anyone’s guess, like the Williams one.             
 
              
 
References
 
1. p. 27.
2. p. 70.
3. For more, see my article:  http://codshit.blogspot.com/2004/04/why-spain-suffered-its-911-attacks.html
4. For more, see my article:  http://codshit.blogspot.com/2005/07/perfect-conspiracy-london-bombings.html
5. Op. cit., p. 219.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid., p.230.
8. For more, see: http://www.sjc.ox.uk//368-748/Modern-Languages-and-joint-schoools.html
9. Op. cit., pp. 220-1.
10. James Bamford, Body of Secrets: How America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ Eavesdrop on the World, p. 398.
11. For more, see this link:http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=fb6_1277386170
12. Bamford, The…, p. 42.
13. Ibid., p. 71.
14. Ibid., p. 62.
15. See this link:  http://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C48EOFBFBOEC6C/
16.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/aug/29/mi6-officer-bondage-claims-untrue
17.  http://current.com/news-and-politics/92628912_president-obama-nation-security-issue-carroll-foundation-trust-case.htm