Rerun: Communications Deception

In March and April 1975, I repeatedly warned the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, that a North Vietnamese attack on Saigon was imminent. My signals intelligence data, the result of intercepting and exploiting North Vietnamese radio communications, was rejected as successful North Vietnamese communications deception. The Ambassador forbade evacuation and even preparations for evacuation. I cheated and got 41 of my 43 subordinates and their wives and children safely out of the country before the end. Fortunately, General Homer Smith, the Defense Attaché, disobeyed the Ambassador and proceeded with evacuation planning in conjunction with the Department of Defense and Command-in-Chief, Pacific. The two communicators who volunteered to stay with me to the end went out by helicopter on the afternoon of 29 April. I went out that night under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.

To my knowledge, labelling signals intelligence data as communications deception has been rare in our history. I never knew of a case in which the label was accurate. Those of us who worked on North Vietnamese communications knew the target backwards and forward. Anything false transmitted for the purpose of fooling us would have been immediately obvious. Communications deception is extremely difficult to design and carry out, and it’s so easy to detect.

My memories of the Ambassador’s refusal to accept the intelligence warning of a forthcoming attack makes me all the more uneasy about what’s going on right now with President Trump. He dismisses valid intelligence and blames the intelligence agencies for leaking. In my years in the business, it was rare if ever that a member of the intelligence community leaked classified information to the press. When leaks occurred, the source nearly always turned out to be an intelligence customer, that is, a recipient of the finished intelligence. The culprits, more often than not, were members of Congress or their staffs.

Trump ignored intelligence warning that the coronavirus posed a severe threat to the nation. The result was worsening of the pandemic. I shudder to think what else he may have dismissed.

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