My discussion earlier in this blog of so-called “intelligence failures” brought to mind my own history as an intelligence operative and my skill at foretelling what was going to happen next. It started early during the thirteen years I worked as signals intelligence analyst during the Vietnam war. I learned that my target, the North Vietnamese, prepared carefully for each military move and always followed the same procedures: command elements move close to the target, reconnaissance begins, combat forces take their positions, a simplified signal plan is introduced for ease of communication during combat, and a forward headquarters—a tactical command post—takes control of fighting units. My detection of those moves allowed me to warn friendly forces of what the enemy was going to do before he did it.
My job was signals intelligence, that is, the intercept and exploitation of the enemy’s radio communications. I got so good at my job that I was able to accurately predict what the North Vietnamese were going to do, where they were going to do it, and when they were going to do it.
The problem I ran into fairly often was that U.S. military commanders and government officials sometimes didn’t believe my predictions or didn’t act on them. They couldn’t imagine why a civilian was masquerading as an enlisted man in a military unit and telling them all about what the enemy intended to do. That happened before the 1968 Tet Offensive which I foretold and again before the fall of Saigon in April 1975—which led to my escape under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. I could tell similar stories about things that happened after 1975, but all that is still classified.
Another unfortunate outcome was that I was constantly away from home as my four children were growing up. I was so good at my job that I would no sooner return from a trip abroad than I would be sent on another one. My kids got used to the idea that dad was a fun guy and very caring but too often absent. Since what I was doing was classified as top secret codeword, I couldn’t tell them about it. Over time and as a result of my accompanied tours abroad where they were with me for as much as three years living in another country, I think they figured it out.
Despite the costs to my family and to me (permanently damaged hearing from being caught in shelling and relentless bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury [PTSI]), I wouldn’t have done things differently. I had the required skills as a linguist (seven languages) and extended experience on the battlefield that allowed me to be of great and valuable service to my beloved country.
I am honored and rest content.