U.S. Marine Corps

A reader asks me why, in my review of Parker Hitt: The Father of American Military Cryptology by Betsy Rohaly Smoot (University Press of Kentucky, 2022) (you can read the review at https://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/parker-hitt-the-father-of-american-military-cryptology), I singled out the U.S. Marine Corps as the only American military service not guilty of ignoring the value of signals intelligence (SIGINT) on the battlefield.

Al Gray, arguably the finest leader I ever knew, was a Marine with a very long career. When I first met him in Vietnam, he was a captain. He’d started out as an enlisted man and had, among other things, worked in SIGINT, my field as a covert National Security Agency (NSA) employee in Vietnam. He went on to command combat units in Vietnam and, as a colonel in April 1975, arranged for my escape under fire when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Because of his experience with SIGINT, he trained his subordinates to exploit it to the max. As a result, when I was working in combat on the battlefield with Marines, they used the information I was able to give them to defeat the enemy time after time.

Meanwhile, my experience in working with army units was far less successful. Too often, army commanders, not trained to exploit SIGINT and even unaware that it existed, refused to listen to me. They consequently missed great opportunities to surprise the enemy and to avoid traps he set for them.

More next time.

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