Reflections Over the Years of Security During My Military Career and Afterlife.
By Lou Rothenstein, CSM RET & Former Military Intelligence Corps SGM
The reflections from Lou Rothenstein give great insight to Army Intelligence during the Cold War from 1956-86, through the eyes of an infantryman turned MI soldier. He has been in some interesting units. JRL
Through my military career and afterlife, I occasionally found that organizations and activities put most of their efforts into things that are easy and safe. For the police, it is generally easy and safe to pick up a pothead and his girlfriend after they buy some pot. On the other hand, it is difficult and dangerous to do surveillance and then make arrests in the middle of a large-scale drug transaction, particularly in Chicago. I think that in security, this can also be the case.
Back in those earlier days, we had to rely on the MP Corps for some physical security guys to do surveys. The problem was that there were very few of them. Of course our CI folks would come in to check for bugs, do the required interviews and some of us would check document security. It could often take a long time to get these basic security measures completed. So many were simply never finished. It became apparent that some units and officials did not want to be embarrassed with a poor survey or perhaps hearing their voices picked up by technical means discussing classified matters in an area not cleared for anything above rumor. Vending machines were rare back then at military headquarters, but janitorial service was not. It was also difficult to get someone who wielded a mop a clearance, so we usually did the cleaning ourselves in classified areas.
I thought it ironic that often SECRET NOFORN (except UK) could be shared with the Brix but not the French. I know there were some treaties and we did not have that close security relationship with them over things like TOPAZ. What I often found was that the French would have the same SECRET-NF report as NATO CONFIDENTIAL. I also discovered that we always put some sources and methods into SCI whereas many other countries reserve that for higher level things, not tactical. Using foreign reports made it easier to disseminate information to the field. If we would have had that dual kind of setup in Vietnam, I believe the war would have gone a bit better and perhaps saved some lives.
When I was in a cast in 1962, I was assigned to OCINC at USAREUR HQ. Down in the basement, I had the vault for messages. 11 of the standard issue 4 drawer Moslers, each one a different classification or access. Some of the exotic names I would wager that few people ever heard of. The most difficult part of this short-lived job was remembering combinations and when items were returned, checking in detail who had access to them.
I not only had access to the intelligence side of a potential war, but also the operational side to include special weapons items. I never carried anything in or out of that dungeon-like office. A voice told me it was not a good idea. After having a few messages delivered to me that I should not have received, then signing a couple of letters that advised me of severe fines and possible incarceration if I so much as looked at them, I was convinced that, as soon as I could, I would request a transfer back to a tactical field unit.
On a later job at G2 USAREUR & 7A, we had a couple of teletypes spouting out AP, Reuters, and the best, The Christian Science Monitor (they had real sources in unusual places). The unclassified story or info often was a near carbon copy of something we had marked SECRET NOFORN. But of course, I could not use the unclassified item to send down to troops units, and the powers that be were unwilling to request declassification of the items easily found in the press. Seems that when something is once stamped, no one downgrades it but leaves it for someone else to shoulder the responsibility. Since that time, I have tried to tell junior analysts that OSINT is an important part of their job. Over the years, I have seen a tendency to rate intelligence information more by the classification or compartment rather than the content.
In that same job, I noted several career US civilian GS-00 types that had access to everything. They attended briefings that were no longer related to their day-to-day work having moved up the ladder, they were in one area of specialization. When I inquired about this, a field grade officer advised me that we couldn’t take away their special accesses as it would be seen as “punishment.” I could live with that except there were often a limit on billets and pick and shovel analysts had to get updates by word of mouth. I had a bit of experience following a few of our cold war era turncoats. Fortunately, only one had knowledge of anything that might help the other side long term. All of them were in some form of economic crisis and had relationship problems as well. After a few years, a couple got in trouble in their new homeland and one got kicked out. Although there was information available in their units, none of it was reported to investigative elements.
In the late 1960’s in Heidelberg, I worked in G2. One evening in government quarters I received a call from a medic I knew who was assigned to the hospital. He asked me to stop by and look in on a seriously injured USAF Major who was muttering some foreign language. I went in and I immediately recognized Russian from my days in Berlin. I called the local CI field office and they came in and placed someone on guard there.
Later I heard (I never confirmed this) that this Major was not who his records indicated but a sleeper. He had orders to report to NORAD HQ. The value of a good unit SAEDA/TARP program has been with me ever since then.
Thinking back on my years in AIS/MI, I do not believe I ever saw anything declassified or “automatically downgraded” until I was at Sergeant Major with G2, 25th Infantry Division in 1976-77. All the message traffic around the Pearl Harbor attack was declassified. They clearly depicted the numerous intelligence and operations mistakes that were made in judgement, communications, and information dissemination from November 1941 to the attack on 7 December. I posted them on the bulletin board for all to read. Even with the downgrading instructions clearly on the messages, some questioned whether they should be on a board for all to see. 25 years after the attack that seemed a bit too long. The messages were a good training aid to point out the importance of reporting everything out of the norm by all to appropriate parties or units.
The story of perhaps the greatest spy ever, Pham Xuan An who worked for the US media in Saigon from the very early days of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, had access to most briefings from MACV HQ that were distributed to the press by PAO (who always provided answers to the press). They were hand carried by chiefs of the various news media from the MACV daily briefing to their offices and simply put on a clipboard for reporters to read. Of course Mister An, (The spy who loved us), also had access to them. One could spend hours on the numbers of operations that were compromised by him. All intelligence and security personnel should read the book about him. This story is close to me as during a couple of TDY trips to Vietnam, I was billeted at a hotel where the press lived, and partied. I was able to provide some information to the intelligence side of life there on some of the people at the hotel. It resulted in my assignment to intel duties, and I probably had a drink or two with Mister An.
Every time I see a picture of a document safe or think about security, a recurring memory pops up on my screen. Around New Year’s 72-73 I was assigned as a First Sergeant at the US Army Intelligence Center & School at Fort Huachuca. I had quite a few soldiers in work areas spread around the old post WWII era hospital. Doing my rounds of the rapidly deteriorating wooden buildings, I often unchecked fire extinguishers, doors and windows inoperative or lying on the ground, and steps that were unsafe. I was jotting down problems that were in need of repair when I entered an unused wing that on prior inspections was simply just looked at. I noticed a door at one end. I opened it, went into the windowless room and lo and behold, before my eyes stood seven gray 1100 pound Moslers in this unlocked building. There wasn’t much identifying data on them but one had the old OPEN/CLOSED sign at the top drawer handle. It said open. I just had to try it. Of course it was unlocked. I opened it and found that it was full of classified material.
The safes were shipped from Fort Holabird, MD probably a year prior, unloaded at their present location and forgotten. My heart was actually racing as I leafed through some of this really interesting material.
I could not immediately make a decision to lock it or leave it open while I went to a phone to report it. I checked the other safes but only one other was open. It contained a lot of lesson plans mostly unclassified.
As I was leaving, I picked what looked like a good sample document of what was in the safe marked SECRET, put it on my clipboard under my inspection sheet, locked the safe and was leaving when the floor caved in on me. I hit a spot of rotten wood. Somewhat scratched and bruised I went to the School HQ and provided a Colonel a brief summary of my discovery and he asked what happened to me. The dry rotted floor was explained to him. I gave him the document and he then slapped his forehead, muttering something. What I could surmise is that there was some knowledge of missing documents from the intel school move that was being investigated but the full listing of missing documents could not be determined as registers were also missing. The Colonel asked me to write a brief note on it and to not discuss it with anyone outside of the HQ. I didn’t.
Some years later when I was attending an INSCOM/USAICS conference at Fort Huachuca, I attended a briefing by the commandant, a two-star who at one time was assigned to my company as a LTC. He mentioned how things can go awry and he mentioned the incident. I had to tell him it was I who found the safes. I never witnessed General Weinstein laugh so much. Between guffaws, he stated he now had the responsible party and I would be justly punished. I got a coin.
On an assignment in Korea, I was designated as a part-time inspector with the KORSCOM, later Eighth Army IG team. Mostly company training and administration but also arms room, document and personnel security along with the PRP. From prior tutelage from an old CI hand, I always checked desk calendars for safe combinations. I found a couple. I opened my favorite, the 1100 pound Mosler, removed a document to show the IG. It had an unsigned receipt that was never sent to the sender. It was a document that was mailed from Japan to Korea some months back and was being searched for. The officer had no cleared enlisted personnel in his area. It was a field office for a unit physically located in a different geographical area. I provided some instruction on document security to the enlisted technicians in the unit. This same type of physical setup of field offices from different commands revealed other violations. It was a good policy for Eighth Army to provide inspection services on a geographical rather than command lines that plugged oversight violations like this from becoming serious.
I cannot address the area of cyber security much as I was watching the internet being born about the time I retired. This was the time when nearly every senior person – whether officer, NCO or civilian – in areas that were suddenly blessed with ruggedized Apple II computers needed a bright young soldier around to insure things would get done correctly and to teach us how not to be embarrassed. Some of us actually learned how to make up a few macros from these young software developing soldiers.
I do know that cyber security is a serious matter. I also know that the only personal information compromise on me occurred through two USG agencies. Apparently there was little emphasis in this area as the low bids and least secure systems were contracted. I hope that this is being corrected but somehow I have doubts. Being a doubting Thomas is a good approach to working around security. What can go wrong often goes wrong unless the boss checks things fairly often and well.
Background about the Author: Lou Rothenstein, CSM RET & Former MI Corps SGM
30 years AD 1956-86, 4 years Honorary SGM of MI Corps working with USAR/NG MI units activated during Desert Shield/Storm. Recruited into AIS after Infantry, injury/admin.
Started in AIS when the army converted some infantry/recon positions to AIS in 1962/63. Working with several GO along the way I got to see things a bit different than some other guys.
As primarily a 96B Analyst, I was often in jobs that were short 97’s, II’s, and learned to do some of this stuff – correspondence courses, questioning old hands, etc. I never went to an MI school. OJT. Only at the school as a 1SG at Fort Huachca. I also learned while there from old hands.
As an example, I learned accountability/fund handling from the US Navy. Taught it once a month in Vietnam to those going to Phoenix. I think a really rewarding area was trying to take care of MOS 97’s on special assignments. Many were overlooked for promotion boards and we were able to get them caught up by placing in a job for a short time for experience or convincing the board that they did good things. Another was the integration of ASA and MI.
I was fortunate to have had outstanding MI officers as bosses. Many of these early officers took over billets that were previously combat arms and convinced commanders that they could be of valuable service in their missions. I was most fortunate to end up at US Army CECOM as I was asked for my field experience on several projects.
Would have gone to to the higher HQ, AMC but could hardly walk, so I quit.
Lou Rothenstein, CSM RET
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