Throughout the day at the symposium, I was surprised when attendees would approach me and say hello. Once I saw their name tags, I realized who they were—NSA employees now retired. I remembered them as young men and women, but they’re now my age.
I knew all the speakers who were at NSA during the Vietnam war. We had worked together over the thirteen years I was trundling to Vietnam and back. They recalled moments and incidents I had come to believe were my memories alone. It felt as though my classified past was now being exposed to public view. I had to adjust my thinking. My past wasn’t secret any more.
While the central focus of the symposium was the 1968 Tet Offensive, the discussion ranged over the whole period of the Vietnam war and signals intelligence role in the conflict. I caught myself nodding and saying softly, “Yes, that’s right. That’s the way it was.”
I was most moved by the presentations of Tom Fogarty and Jack Barrett, both my compatriots during those years. They confirmed what I have maintained over the five decades since: the Tet Offensive was not a surprise to the U.S. government. Signals intelligence had foretold it. NSA issued its first report predicting the country-wide attacks the week before they began and had issued ten follow-up reports between 25 and 30 January 1968.
I didn’t write any of those reports. I was in Vietnam at the time. But I was instrumental in their issuance in two ways.
More next time.