Under Military Intelligence Surveillance

I mentioned in one of my music posts that I was going to post this. I will try not to make it longer than it has to be.

Background
In late 1968, after basic training at Ft Lewis Washington and AIT (advanced infantry training) at Ft Dix New Jersey, I was sent to a signal school at Ft Gordon Georgia. I spent 6 months in training there on everything from morse code to large trailer held communications systems.

These systems required access to daily scrambling codes and thus, required what was called a Secret Crypto Security Clearance. At the time, I didn’t know what was involved in getting that clearance but I got one.

After the training I was assigned to a permanent duty company also at Ft Gordon. It was an okay assignment with regular hours, weekends off, and was the first time I can say I didn’t absolutely detest the army. I was there for 2 or 3 months and made a few casual friends in the barracks.

During this time I wrote an anti-army poem (see below) for no other reason than to pass the time. Another guy there read it and liked it. He told me he was associated with the local GI underground newspaper called The Last Harass. I had never seen it or heard of it before then. He also asked if he could print the poem in that paper. I agreed but told him not to use my name. He agreed.

As I was to find out, the army took a very dim view of this paper. The rules were, you could have one copy but if you had more than one you could be court-martialed for distributing forbidden material. (the paper was just a few 8 1/2 x 11 sheets stapled together). I did see the issue that contained my poem. The signature at the bottom revealed that I was RA (enlisted) and what company I was in. To make a long story short, it was not long before the company commander called me in to talk about it.

He was nice about it, warning me that I should just stay clear of those involved in the paper and I agreed. It was the only association I ever had with it. However, within 3 weeks, myself and two others who had contributed came down on special levy for transfer to Vietnam. (Levies normally came out once a month at the same time. This one was between normal levies).

So, after a 30 day leave, off I went. I never did even see any of that high-tech communications equipment while there, but I was assigned to MACV as a ground radar operator. Apparently, this piece of equipment also required a secret clearance, which I still had. It was sensitive equipment that a three man team could carry and set up anywhere. It was designed to spot personnel or vehicles up to 6 kilometers away under certain conditions. If activity or movement was spotted after curfew (7pm) we called in artillery or gunships to hit the area. We were sent out to several sites, sometimes just for the night, sometimes for as long a 2 weeks.

We did well and I was promoted twice. As a sargeant, I became leader of three teams of 3 men each. We also worked alongside a sensor team that was made up of Military Intelligence (MI) personnel. Often they were assigned the same site as we were and so we became aquainted.

It was after about 4 months that I had my mother send me some of my favorite albums and a portable turn table (see previous post). These albums included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez who were among the many protest songsters of the time. Not long after I received these, I was called into base camp at Dian (pronounced Zeon) for an interview with the MI’s. They interviewed me for an hour on subjects ranging from the poem, The Last Harass, why I had Dylan and Baez music, if I supported the US or was sympathetic to the communists and other bullshit. I must have done ok because I never heard from then again.

When I left Vietnam I had another year to serve and after a leave was assigned to a MI company at Ft Hood Texas. I was assigned as an instructor to teach new officers how to operate the equipment I had used in Vietnam. Very cushy job. However, before I held one class, I was suddenly transferred to an armor company and stripped of my security clearance. Though I tried, I was not able to find out why. I ended up as the training sgt for an armor company.

The Surveillance

This gnawed on me for years after I left the army. I had been a good, loyal soldier and, while I hated being in the army, everyone else did too. I still behaved well, was decorated a few times, and did my job. I also could not understand why the army would allow me to keep my clearance and work with this equipment in Vietnam, where it mattered, and then take it away once back home where it didn’t.

In about 1984 I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Dept of the Army, Defence, DIA, and anyone else I could think of, requesting information on myself and this problem. Several weeks later I received a response from the Dept of the Army records depot in St. Louis. Included was 250 pages of reports, mostly written by MI surveillance teams and covered all of my alleged activities from the time I was in Ft. Gordon, through the year in Vietnam, and right up until I got out of the army!

I was shocked. Why were they spending all this time and manpower on me? I was one of the good guys! Would they do that because of a stupid poem and because I liked Bob Dylan music? The answer is a resounding YES. That is exactly the reason because I had done nothing else to warrant it.

The report started with interviews with my family, teachers, friends and aquaintances back home. These interviews were done in order to determine if I was loyal enough to get the security clearance in the first place. Same questions, same answers. “Do you have any reason to believe that Mr ————– is sympathetic to communist causes or belongs to any of the following organizations”? Then a list of a bunch of groups I had never even heard of. Everyone said no, no reason to believe that.

The rest of the documents, well over 200 pages, were reports on my movements, sometimes daily, over more than a 2 year period. The kicker here is, most of the reports were false. They had me attending meetings that I never attended. They had me meeting people I had never met. They reported seeing me at the location where the Last Harass was printed several times. I never went there-didn’t even know where it was. I assume the reason for the false reports was that the low level MI guys had to justify their time. It was very clear, however, that in order to write what they did that was true, they had to have been living right along side me, in the same barracks or at least within the same company. It is very probable that, at this time, due to the growing protests against the war and even the unrest within the military, that the MI’s had plants in all military units listening, following and reporting. I would, infact, be surprised if that were not the case today also. Soldiers, beware.

Final note. Many line items on the documents I received were blacked out. These were mostly names of interviewees and information on other people contained within the same documents. Under the Freedom of Information Act there are apparently limitations on what information they will release on others without their permission. Also, information I had requested on MACV and the military activities of my radar teams was still classified in 1984. They did tell me that I could get that information after 1992. I never did. They also told me they were waiving the copying costs! Ya gotta love em for that.

The Soldiers Lament (keep in mind this was written by a 19yo kid)

Following lonely black of night,
I seek the new sun’s shining light.
But does it rise or do we fall,
And why am I supposed to crawl
Upon my knees to be a man.
Alone, I know that I could stand
High above those who tell me first
That I’m supposed to die of thirst,
Or drink the spittle from their lips,
The urine from their penis tips.
I want to but I cannot tell
This “higher” class to go to hell.
And how am I supposed to say
That this, perhaps is not the way.
But friendship, love and peace of mind.
I want to but I cannot find
A better way to win my trust.
I need your help and help you must,
Or, not only me but you
Surely will be drinking urine, too.

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8 Comments on “Under Military Intelligence Surveillance”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Interesting story. It’s sad that the military put so much pressure on the people investigating you to find something that they had to lie. Do you think any of them ever regreted doing that?

    BTW, I liked the poem, and I don’t really see what the military was offended by. It was probably the line about telling the higher up to go to hell. You probably rankled somebody who was out to put you in your place.

  2. expatbrian Says:

    A couple of the MI’s (one being a woman)were found out and “outed” in Ft Gordon. I assume the MI team I worked with overseas are the ones who reported the Dylan/Baez part. A funny aside. Like so many, I was smoking pot over there almost daily but that never was an issue.
    As far as the MI’s regreting, I doubt it. It takes a certain mentality to join the part of an organization that has the job of spying on others within the organization. Their status in the eyes of GI’s was already low. To spy and then lie about what you observed really makes them scum.

  3. London Hyatt Says:

    Easily, an interesting anecdote to add to your memoirs.

    I’m not hugely discerning, but I like that poem…I am guessing that almost any army would simply interpret it as a one-dimensional, rebellious poem by a 19yo, though their reactions might be more or less severe from the one you got.

    I’ve not been in the army, but my take is that in the military environment, the absolute mentality would be “are you with us or against us?”. After all, you’re not in the military to question your superior or the authority. And the Arts has always had a political element to it, be it music (I am discounting the likes of Britney music here heh), art, theatre, literature or cinema. Your harmless poem probably hinted at the questioning of the powers at hand, hence the big and unnecesary hoohaa.

    My 1.5 cents 🙂 Any more poems? Oh and I keep wanting to address you sir hahah… you kinda remind me of a teacher I had.

  4. Libbyhttp://theimpolitic.blogspot.com Says:

    Fascinating story and a good reminder to those of us who get discouraged by this administration’s malfeasance, that they only perpetrate it, they didn’t invent it. We beat them once, we can do it again.

    BTW, it’s a great poem. Expresses the times very well I thought.

  5. Venitha Says:

    Amazing story, Brian. And it certainly explains to me why you care so much about the current sad state of affairs in the US.

    I admit that I frequently read your blog and wonder why you care, why you bother staying up on US news, why you let the Bush administration rankle you. I’m enjoying a kind of hiatus from caring about it while I’m here. I still vaguely follow the latest news, but somehow I’m too far away for any of it to get to me in the way it would have back in the US. It’s likely irresponsible, but it’s a nice bonus for living in Singapore. And I’m absolutely enjoying not having the hear Bush’s voice on a daily basis.

    What I guess I’m saying is that I’m proud of you for still caring and for still trying to make a difference from so so far away. I’m glad there are Americans out there like you.

  6. expatbrian Says:

    London,

    No other poems good enough to let others see, I’m afraid. Back in the 60’s, during the cold war, the military was very paranoid about the protesting. Supposed commies were responsible for all demonstrations and any evidence that there might be sympathizers wearing the uniform was dealt with harshly.

    Libby,

    Thank you for your kind comments and you are right, what is happening today is not new, but it is happening during a more critical time and in conjunction with so many other abuses of our rights that we all have good reason to be not only concerned but frightened. I always feel a little proud when you stop by my measly blog-yours is surely one of the very best.

    Venitha, Thank you so much for your comments. I am going to post something related tonite. Hope you are enjoying CNY.

  7. London Hyatt Says:

    Yeap, there was the same communist paranoia in Singapore during those years…governmental crackdown was harsh. Heck, try demonstrating today even.

  8. Left of Center Says:

    Great reading, thank you.


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