Readers of this blog periodically ask me why I never write about my career after 1975. The answer is: it’s still classified.
During all my years in Vietnam, I was under cover, but I used my own name. Until 1973, my cover was as an enlisted soldier or Marine. I wore the uniform of the unit I was serving with. The point was to prevent the enemy from knowing they had a spy in their midst.
After 1973, when U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, my cover identity was as a State Department employee. At one point, I even masqueraded as a covert CIA agent. As far as I know, the enemy never discovered that I was an NSA operative.
After 1975, the venue changed. As in Vietnam, I often had assignments under cover, but now it was different. Now I assumed a new identity. I learned what it was like to take on a completely different personality, name, and background. I taught myself to respond to nicknames I’d never had. I carried pictures of a wife and children that weren’t mine. Most often, I had to conceal my education and knowledge of foreign languages. I was supposed to be a blue-collar guy who would be of no interest to the target of my signals intelligence effort.
I can tell one story of an adventure without revealing classified information. I was stationed in a foreign city that I found exotic and beautiful. One day when I was off duty, I decided to go sight-seeing. After strolling for an hour or two, I realized that I didn’t know how to get back to my apartment. I was lost. I wandered for another hour or so trying to find my way but to no avail. The fact that I spoke the language of the country was classified. But no one on the streets spoke English. I finally had to speak the local tongue to ask for directions. It’s easy for foreigners to spot Americans. And there was no question of my nationality. People were genuinely surprised to hear me speaking their language and were more than anxious to help me. They told me where I had to go to find my way home.
The next day, back at the office, I confessed that I had violated security by speaking the language of the country publicly. My boss was more amused than angry. He told me he’d let it go this time, but I should be sure it never happened again.
It never did.