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Security Clearances, Intelligence Analysts and Moral Intelligence - or -

Why Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are American heroes

Let's start with MY security clearance. I was drafted into the US. Army during the Korean War and was sent to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky for basic infantry training. If you think that sending a Brooklyn kid to Kentucky isn't a culture shock, think again. Suddenly I was flung together with kids my own age from all over the country. Well, so what? you may ask. And you'd be right. The army, as all military organizations, has an open-secret psychological weapon which works: Group Integration.

The war in Korea was not going very well in 1952 mostly, I think, because of incompetence. Conscription time was two years and the tour in Korea was 18 months. So by the time the boy-soldiers had become reasonably well-oiled killers their time was up and they left the battle zone. The draft was not popular, you see, and the draftees were not real soldiers, just civilians in uniform against their will. Nevertheless, they kept going and kept alive (most of them) as members of a group – a patrol, a squad, a platoon. You became “we”, meaning you and the rest of the members of your squad. You didn't keep pulling the trigger in order to defeat the North Koreans or Communism of even to defend America. No sir, you did it to protect the guys in your squad and naturally to thereby come out of it alive yourself.

The same principle held true in basic training (playing at war) at Camp Breckinridge, KY. We were Company A, 101st Airborne Division. Don't worry, we weren't airborne, the 101st had returned from Korea and had become a training division. So we only had the name and the screaming eagle shoulder-patch.

There were very few cadre because Korea needed experience more than training – the Department of Defense thought. So Company A's Commanding Officer was a First Lieutenant lawyer who showed up at reveille most mornings, signed stuff, then went back to his real job at the Judge Advocate's office. The company was run by the First Sgt and Field First Sgt Silas Taylor. The First Sgt – forget his name – was an old timer with a beer-belly and a heart – the latter becoming evident on the Last Day when he gave most of us orders to ship out to Korea as infantry replacements and tears were in his eyes, although they could have been caused by the cold.

Sgt Taylor, a 21 year old much decorated combat veteran, informed us eloquently of two military truths:
1. If we didn't shape up real quick, the consequences would be that we'd be fuckin him – who was responsible for us shapin up – in which case he would have no choice but to fuck us: “An ah kin fuck y'all much better than y'all kin fuck me.”

2. We'd be sent to Korea unprepared and therefor in danger of getting our asses shot off by the gooks.

Any idiot could understand that, Sgt Taylor went on, even city-slickers. And in order to insure that he, Sgt Taylor, be satisfied with us, Company A would have to be declared best in the Division every month of the four months our training would take – which would also make Taylor the best Field First Sgt and could result in a promotion to Master Sergeant – although he didn't mention this last item. And, thanks to Sgt Taylor, we were the best company – every month. How that happened isn't the subject of this essay, so I won't go into it now. What is pertinent is that one day toward the end of training, I, alone from Company A, was called to the Division Classification and Assignment office – which until that moment I had never heard of. Well, I thought, at least it gets me out of today's training schedule which included a multi-mile march. We were a dozen grunts, the rest from other companies, seated in a warm meeting room waiting for something to happen. Finally a Sgt came in and announced that we were lucky scum because the Army Language School in Monterey, California, which we hadn't known existed, needed students.

What kinda students?” someone asks.

Language students, asshole,” the Sgt says, but with a grin. “Now just shut up and listen until I ask for questions.” He waited half a minute to make sure that we understood. “This Army Language School teaches 24 different languages, they tell me, I've never been there. Based on those boring IQ tests you guys took the first week in this army, you have aptitude to learn a foreign language. So you can do so...if you want.”

Instead of Korea, we were all thinking...if we want...ha! The language courses available were: Swedish, Russian, Korean and Mandarin Chinese. He passed out application forms where, besides the usual name, rank and serial number information, we were to list our first three choices. Everyone put Swedish first of course – except me, because I was on a Dostoevsky kick at the time and dreamed of being able to read him in the original. So I put Russian first, Swedish second and Chinese third. (No one wanted anything to do with Korean.) The catch to all this was that we would have to reenlist for three years upon finishing basic training. But what the hell, it would be worth it to avoid the war in Korea and learn a language.

A week later they called us back to C&A where we were advised that the Swedish course was full by the time our applications arrived, so the only one who got his first choice was Pvt. Frank T. Smith. Meanwhile that course was also full, as was Chinese, so the only one still available for the rest was Korean, which nobody had listed. However, they could select it now. A few left, feeling cheated I guess, and the rest signed up for Korean.

The next year I spent in Monterey, California at the Army Language School studying Russian six hours a day, five days a week. It was the army, we wore uniforms, very few officers, no saluting or Yes Sir, No Sir crap. It was like a university campus with free (excellent) food. I had a month's leave coming when the course ended, after which I was to ship out from New York, my hometown, to Europe. We were given money to buy air transportation to New York, but in order to save the money I got a ride with a sergeant who was driving his own car, and wanted passengers to share the cost of gas. My friend Jim McCay, who was from Washington, DC, also came with us. The sergeant – forget his name – was a German Jew, accent and all, and Jim was black (Negro then), the only black student in the school, as far as I could see. We had to drive through the segregated south because of a wicked snow storm in the North. (I know I'm digressing, but this part is interesting.) We thought we could drive day and night, taking turns driving and sleeping. But it didn't work out that way. It's hard to sleep during the day sitting up. So we had to stop at night to sleep. The first stop was in New Mexico, which was also segregated, but not so strictly – so we were all able to stay in a very nice Negro motel, with swimming pool and restaurant. We asked the owner, a charming lady, if there were other places like that along our route. She shook her head. In the deep south, where we were going, the only hotels where blacks could stay were in poor, rundown black neighborhoods. She gave us a copy of “The Negro Travelers Green Book”, containing the names and addresses of Negro hotels and restaurants throughout the South.

The next stop was Jackson, Mississippi – of all places, but we were exhausted. There was only one address in the Green Book for the whole state of Mississippi. It was late and we didn't know the city, so we stopped at a diner, which I entered and asked the counterman for directions to the street where the Negro hotel was located. There were a half a dozen rednecks in the place and they all looked at me curiously: a Yankee looking for an address in the Negro neighborhood.

“That's in Nigger-town,” one of them said.

I really wasn't tempted to say, “Yeah, well we got a nigger in the car and we want to dump him off in Nigger-town before going to a real nice motel ourselves – that is, my Jewboy freind and me.” But I didn't, although it was the fact. All I said was: “Can you please tell me how to get there.”

They stared at me for a few seconds for effect, until the counterman finally told me how to get there. It wasn't far. I left very glad to get away before they decided to check out our car.

The hotel was a rundown dump in the really poor Negro section of Jackson. Jim went in to inquire. He came out a few minutes later having reserved and paid in advance for a room. He handed me his wallet to hold until the next morning. The sergeant and I then drove out of town to a motel with all the amenities, including southern hospitality. I was so ashamed I almost cried. We picked up Jim the next morning early. He looked as though he hadn't slept much.

During the whole trip we never ate together in restaurants, because segregation was absolute in the South. So one of us white guys would go into the restaurant and buy sandwiches to take out and eat in the car. At least we didn't succumb to the indignity of leaving Jim to eat alone outside while we were waited on inside. Even the restrooms and water fountains in the service stations were segregated.

The next stop was Macon, Georgia, more or less the same story as in Mississippi, but we were already veterans so knew what to expect. We finally arrived in the nation's capitol, Washington, DC, where Jim left us in his usual good humor. He was also an “intelligence analyst” because of his intensive language training, but was assigned to driving a truck of “confidential materials” to Berlin through East Germany along the one open corridor. Naturally, he needed a Top Secret clearance for that.

I was assigned to Military Intelligence and also given a Top Secret clearance, although I hadn't asked for one. It meant I could have access to everything confidential, secret and top secret. I could have read the president's tea leaves if I had access to them. But there were no computers then, so in practice I only had access to what directly concerned me – just as Jim only had access to the top secret whiskey and cigarettes he hauled to Berlin.

What, then, did concern me? My first posting as Intelligence Analyst was to an army installation in Oberursel, just outside of Frankfurt. It was an interrogation center for defectors from the east, mostly from East Germany, but also from Poland, Hungary, etc. Russian defectors were rare, I was told, but in reality they were non-existent. When a rare one turned up he was grabbed by the CIA. So I had nothing to do, literally nothing, except work out in the gym playing basketball. One day a guy I was shooting around with asked me to play on the team. I said why not. Then he revealed that we were in a jockstrap outfit. He played basketball in the winter and softball in the summer, and they were planning to graduate to baseball. He could arrange for me to be permanently stationed there as a fellow jockstrap. If not, I was sure to be transferred to Frankfurt soon. I was somewhat flattered by his opinion of my limited sports skills, but decided I'd rather go to Frankfurt and do some real spook work.

That happened soon enough. I was transferred to the 7982 Usareur Liaison Group in the IG Farben Building (which we had taken over un-bombed) in Frankfurt. This was a unit in which about 20 men did nothing; although they had mastered the art of seeming to work. We received reports from the field about Soviet military whereabouts in East Germany. From Berlin some of our guys sent German “sources” (spies) into East Germany – there was no Wall yet – with the mission of copying Soviet vehicle numbers, or photographing them, if possible. They were paid of course, and a fairly large percentage were double agents, working both sides. Then we “analyzed” this information. The idea was to be prepared in case the Russkies decided to invade West Germany.

I was assigned to the “shithouse”, so named because our job was to analyze the Russian garbage collected from dumps around Soviet installations. Since the Soviet army was notoriously short of toilette paper, they often used official and personal correspondence for that purpose before throwing it away. Although by the time it reached us in Frankfurt it was at least dry, a pervasive unpleasant odor had impregnated our windowless laboratory. (This is all Top Secret, btw, so please do spread it around.) My compañeros were an American classmate from the Language School and a horny Armenian hobbit who spoke fluent Russian and several other languages and had joined the army as a fast lane to citizenship. During the six months I survived in that toxic atmosphere we never, ever, found anything of intelligence value in the shithouse – except being able to confirm something already well known: that Russian moral was lower than low both in the military and at home.

After a year I was transferred again, this time against my will. It would take too long to explain why, except to say that I didn't get along with my C.O., a captain with a Polish name whom I (and my hobbit) suspected of being a Soviet spy. I wanted to stay in Frankfurt for personal reasons (don't ask), but at least I wasn't transferred to the infantry, where they wouldn't have known what to do with an intelligence analyst.

My next unit was located in Bad Kreuznach, a small city about 50 miles south of Frankfurt – and home to the 2nd Armored Division. I wasn't sent to that Division, but to a “support” company so nondescript, dull and bumbling that I don't even remember its name. Let's call it Company X.

On the train to Bad Kreuznach I opened my service record from its sealed envelope. I had bought a small flask of glue at the train station with this security breach in mind. It's like a military biography, mentioned basic training, the Language School – all with a satisfactory rating. Then came Frankfurt, with no rating but a report signed by my friend the Polish Captain, stating that I didn't follow orders. Before giving myself a chance to re-consider, I ripped it out of the file and took it to the WC to burn with my Zippo lighter and dump the ashes in the toilette. Not following orders is a mortal sin in the army, worse than desertion. Just think what would happen if nobody followed orders. And I could spread the infection in my new unit.

At the train station in Bad Kreuznach, I had the name of Company X and nothing more, so I asked the station master if he could tell me where the Amis (what the German called Americans) were. He told me about the 2nd Armored and had a telephone number. I called it and they connected me to Company X. I identified myself, but before I could ask how to get there, the voice at the other end, said, “Cpl. Smith, yes, we've been expecting you. At the station? Just stay where you are, a car will be there in ten minutes.” I thought there must be some mistake. Send a car for a corporal? Never happened. But he did say Corporal Smith, or maybe he said General Smith and my subconscious scrambled it.

I was picked up by a German driving an army car. He treated me like royalty, carrying my duffel bag to the car, holding the door open for me and offering me an American cigarette, which I accepted. My German had become pretty fair by then and I asked him directly what was going on, did he usually drive non-officers. He said I was the first, that I must be special. He didn't know why.

At the company HQ I was shown to my room by the First Sgt, a grizzled veteran who ran a twenty percent loan racket. A month later, needing some cash to go to Frankfurt for the weekend, I asked him for a $20 loan, knowing that I'd have to pay $24 back on payday. But he said he was sorry, he's a bit short himself right now. Then I realized that he thought that I – an intelligence analyst – may have been sent to analyze him. It explained the royal treatment. I didn't go to Frankfurt that weekend.

I was in Company X for 18 months and never did figure out what it actually did, except the 2nd Armored Division's laundry – but that was done by a company of Polish defectors, which had its own officers and noncoms. When I went to work the next morning at our office building about 5 miles from the Kaserne, a German Army one we had taken over, with central heating and indirect lighting, nothing like the wooden shacks of Camp Breckenridge, KY. I was whisked into Lt. Col. Banks' office. He seemed happy to see me. “Welcome, Corporal,” he said with a Georgia drawl, “ you're sorely needed here.”

I didn't say what I was thinking: I am?

The small building contained a full colonel, two Lt. Colonels, two majors, three captains, a chief warrant office, three sergeants and four corporals – including me. It didn't take me long to figure out that this was a fuck-offs outfit, a garbage can of ne'er-do-wells who were not wanted anywhere else. My arrival provided Lt. Col. Banks with the opportunity to create an S2 (M.I.) section with him as officer-in-charge and me as noncom-in-charge.

Yes,” he told me, “your intelligence analyst experience will enable us to carry out our mission more efficiently.” He smiled. “And I see that you have a top secret clearance."

What mission? “Yes, sir.”

In case of a Soviet invasion of West Germany, American dependents of military personnel would be told to drive (their cars should always have at least a half tank of gas and canned food for a week in the trunk) west through France to ports on the English Channel where ships would be waiting to transport them to safety … somewhere. Lt Col. Banks thought it would be important to have written instructions prepared to be handed out to dependents at the last minute showing the routes to be taken and the ports where the ships would be waiting.

He wanted me to prepare a draft of the “Evacuation Dossier” (my inspired title).

Lt Col. Banks assigned me to a desk in an office across the hall already occupied by his other underlings: a captain and a master sergeant. They also seemed happy to see me, probably hoping for something to alleviate the boredom of doing nothing all day. (Veterans get used to it, but there's always hope of a reprieve.)

The next morning I reported to Lt. Col. Banks – a written report, a memo. I was always good at writing reports saying what the recipient wishes to hear. I recommended that we not rely on maps to guide our dear dependents, but someone – me of course – should make the trip and record exact landmarks, route numbers, state of the roads, etc. etc. And, most importantly, select the port where the ships would be waiting. Banks approved the suggestion, and told me to leave ASAP. In order not to reveal that I was carrying out a clandestine mission, I wore civilian clothes. That disguise was somewhat diluted by the fact that I drove a US Army gray-green Ford Taunus sedan with army license plates, But we had no unmarked cars in the Motor Pool: So what? Nobody's perfect.

I followed the direct route to Calais, noting down the names of every town I passed through. An idiot could have done the same. Roads didn't circumnavigate towns and cities those days; they went through them. So the trip took much longer than it would now. Going through Paris would have been madness though, and it was possible to avoid it. However, I had never seen the La Ville-Lumière and was anxious to do so – especially the Lourve, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, not to mention its haute Cuisine. So why not take advantage of this unique opportunity. One must realize that in 1953 France was far from having recovered from the war, so although Paris was expensive in French francs, dollars went a long way and I had drawn per diem of $100 a day for ten days.

I stayed a week in Paris, saw all the sights, tasted its many other delights and fell in love twice. To explain the delay, I told Lt. Col. Banks such a cock and bull story that I can't even remember it. Something about having been kidnapped by French brigands, or the car breaking down – whatever. He would have believed I'd been “taken” by Martians. I finally got to Calais, put it in my report as destination number one; then Le Havre and third Cherbourge as back-up ports in case Calais had been nuked.

I wrote it all up in a report which would have made John LeCarré proud. Banks got it approved by everyone up the line, even the Pentagon, who stamped it Top Secret. They built me a bunker behind the office with barred windows and an unbreakable door opened with a combination which only Lt Col. Banks and I knew. We both wore 45 automatics whenever outside the bunker just in case a Soviet spy tried to kidnap and torture us for the combination. Inside the bunker were a thousand copies of the route the dependents were to take when the Russians invaded. The Secretary of the Navy promised to make transport ships available if and when...

I was promoted to sergeant. Lt Colonel Banks stayed a Lt. Colonel, because they decided that two full colonels in that crummy outfit was too many crumbs.

Why am I telling you all this – despite it probably still being classified? To show that security clearances are meaningless. In order to give me mine, the FBI investigated my past in Brooklyn. They asked my neighbors there if I was a Communist or a homosexual. Both were considered security risks, the latter because the new meaning of the word “gay” had not yet been invented and they were mostly all still ensconced in their closets. Therefore, so went the thinking, they could be blackmailed into giving up the secrets to which they had access.

And, more to the point, the tons of paper and/or bytes classified as secret, top secret and whatever else may have invented since then, is meaningless when the country is not at war. Its only value is to hide the government's crimes and stupidity – especially the military's. War is hell, sure – for the civilians who get in the way and for the soldiers who do the actual fighting, which does not include officers, who mostly are able to sit back in the shade and wait for the next promotion. Officers love war, because it's the best way to get promoted. Didn't you know that?

Pfc (one half-step above the lowest rung of rank) Bradley Manning is a hero for making public some of military's cruelty and bumbling. The one thing I feared in the safety of relative peace was losing a classified document. We were told that the punishment would be devastating-- not only transfer to the infantry, but even courts-martial for dereliction of duty. Without computers those days I only had access to what directly concerned me. But Bradley Manning saw to the putrid bones of the system and had the courage to reveal it. Edward Snowden revealed that the government not only rides roughshod over citizens' rights, but also does it in an absurd way, and in an ignorant way.

Which brings me to my last point. Many people seem surprised that someone as low in rank as Manning should have access to such sensitive material. It is because Bradly Manning is intelligent. And in the United States Army the higher the rank the lower the intelligence. It's as though perfectly normal people, with at least average intelligence, lose it gradually as their power increases. Intelligence is in reverse proportion to power. Actually this is not that bad. Because if the reverse were true, and pure intelligence increased with power, the world could hardly survive much longer. For intelligence to have positive effects it must combine with morality. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have moral intelligence. May they survive - in freedom - to use it again.

Frank Thomas Smith, September 2, 2013

Dont miss this interview with Edward Snowden before it's blocked everywhere

Interview with Edward Snowden on German television