My recent blog post on combat led one reader to ask what was classified about my work. The answer: everything, including my connection to locations where I did my spying.
I can now talk about my time in Vietnam because my presence there and the fact that I was monitoring North Vietnamese radio communications has been declassified. What remains secret are the techniques I used and why they worked. My assignments in other parts of the world after the fall of Vietnam in 1975 remain classified, and I can’t speak of them. Suffice it to say that on those missions even my name was classified—at times I operated with a complete false identity.
During my years in Vietnam—1962 to 1975—any connection between me and Vietnam was hidden. The fact that my employer, the National Security Agency (NSA), had any connection with Vietnam was secret. At the time, NSA worked hard to remain invisible. Its success in deriving information from a country’s radio communications depended on the targets’ ignorance that they were being targeted.
So, for most of those years, when I was in the states, any association I had with Vietnam was classified, as was my knowledge of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. No one, including my family, was allowed to know that (a) I worked for NSA, and (b) I had spent any time in Vietnam. They could know one or the other but not both.