My first assignment was in Naval Intelligence and I was in with a bunch of Lutherans who didn't (never mind what exactly . . .) and when I came back from my honeymoon, they announced with great glee that there was no billet for me, and I would be reassigned, and I would probably go to sea.
I didn't want to go to sea because I was enrolled in law school at Georgetown, so I was a little nervous. I didn't know that I was going to be assigned to Communications in the Pentagon no matter what the clowns said I had done because everybody that got cut loose in the Washington area was sent there. There was always a need for people, and nobody wanted it.
So I ended up in a Top Secret room at the Pentagon, in the Chief of Naval Operations Communications Office, and I just sat there for about six weeks, because I couldn't get a security clearance transferred from Washington D.C. to Arlington, Virginia. I read law books, read magazines -- they let me into this unclassified section where all the weather reports came in, but there was no duty for me there so I just kind of wandered around the Pentagon and got my hair cut a lot. I had a crewcut then.
I got a duty clearance just in time for the invasion of Cuba.
It was a debacle, and when we landed Cuba was waiting for us. Castro himself was manning one of the guns when we came ashore. It was an emergency situation, and they don't send that encoded because it takes too long to break it down. They send the messages in clear language. But the only place they had a secure line -- secure meaning, only used for Navy messages -- was with Harry Truman's Key West White House. There was what they call a land-line, an actual secure telephone line that went from Key West to the Navy communications in the Pentagon. It had been in operation and had never shut down since the time Harry Truman used Key West as his summer White House.
So they put all the messages about the invasion on that. They'd come in via ancient teletype machine. They'd get garbled -- misspellings, and capitalization would be off. So, we'd clean them up, and ship them over to the White House by another secure landline, and we'd bring them into the War Room and so forth and so on.
I was working a night shift. I went back home to our apartment in Arlington and picked up The Washington Post one morning and on the front page is the same message I had just cleaned up. There it was with all the mistakes in it, and I realized that somebody had leaked it.
What the Admirals had done was they had installed a teletype in the Press Room, and they had spliced into our supposedly Top Secret line. The press was getting the reports as soon as the Top Secret room was getting them.
And that was because there was an intense jealousy among the Admirals that Kennedy had elected Arleigh Burke as the Chief of Naval Operations -- I think he passed over thirty-five Admirals to get to Burke -- for some reason he picked Burke. Maybe he just liked his name. Arleigh Burke, I think it was "33 Knot Burke." He was a Destroyer Fleet Commander in World War II, and he was a very good tactician. Anyway, he was not politically-correct among the other Admirals, so they embarrassed Kennedy by exposing the fact that. . . All the sordid underbelly of the invasion was put out in the press. Unadulterated. I just watched.
The Chief of Naval
Operations Communication Room is a huge affair with -- I can't recall -- twenty
officers, sixty enlisted men? There was a section for Top Secret, there was an
encoded section, and there was "President's Eyes Only." Then there
was just the general messages. Every ship in the world reported its position.
Weather reports . . . So it was a huge bustling operation.
Right in this same area at that time, they had ditto machines with the blue ink, and the first of the satellite encryption machines were there. Everything was there. There was also a pneumatic tube system. The Army had a similar communications center, the Air Force had a similar communications center. So there were these pneumatic tubes, just like a department store or a bank. You'd get this large plastic capsule with felt ends, open it up and there'd be a message inside; you'd distribute it. You could also send messages from the Navy to the Army and instead of carrying it you'd just put it in these tubes and they'd whizz off someplace, I never even knew where the other places were, but you could only assume they were upstairs or downstairs . . .
So one day I open
up the box, and in the Navy box: there's a message. It was Top Secret, it was
SETO, Southeast Asian Tactical Organization, Top Secret clearance. I looked at
it, and there was the name of a weapon. I'm a speed reader, I'm curious, so I
read it, and it was about this weapon. A cluster bomb is what it actually was,
that's what we call them now. It was a weapon that would explode and cover
every six inches of space the size of a football field with shrapnel.
Anti-personnel weapon. And it had some name on it.
I read it, and all
of a sudden I looked up at the address and it wasn't addressed to the Navy, it
was addressed to the Air Force. So I said, oh, they miss-sent this message to
us, so I put it in the Air Force's special color coded capsule and shipped it
up to the Air Force. And, you know, I went on, finished the shift, went home,
never gave it another thought. We were handling that kinda stuff every day.
Different experimental weapons and everything -- CIA reports, Defense
Intelligence reports, FBI reports on agents here and there. It was just the beginning
of Viet Nam -- we had what they called MAAGS over there, and we'd be getting reports from
the top field.
So anyway I'm
sitting there one day, weeks later. How I remember it now, at minimum, two or
three weeks later, and these two guys in civilian clothes come in to the secure
area and asked to speak to whoever was on duty, they had the date, and I said,
"Well, I've been here that long, so it had to be me." And they said,
"Were you in charge of the tubes that day?" Yeah, I took the messages
out, I put them in, I gave them to the guy who makes copies, I did this, yeah,
I guess I'm the OIC [Officer in Charge], yes."
So, they took me
into a side room and, I didn't know what the hell was going on, and they said "Do you recall a message
regarding. . ." And I didn't. They gave me the name of the weapon, it
didn't mean anything. They said," An Air Force message came here . .
." I said, "Oh, that one, I remember that, yeah. It was Top Secret,
it came here instead of the Air Force, so I put it in a tube and sent it to the
been trying to trace that, and you didn't have the clearance to do that."
And I said, "Well I didn't have the clearance but it popped outta the tube
so I put it back where it belonged!"
"Well, did you read that?" I said "No." By this time, you'd
have to be a moron to say yes. "I just looked to where it was addressed
and shipped it, that's why I didn't know what the name of it was."
"You didn't have clearance for that, so you'll have to fill out those forms . . ." They gave me a whole batch of eight or ten forms, and that's how I obtained Air Force SETO Top Secret Clearance.
Bob Doyle was born, in 1937, at Northampton, Massachusetts. He attended public schools and graduated from Holy Cross College (1959), and obtained his law degree from Georgetown (1963). He served in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1961, mostly at the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. He has practiced law in Northampton from 1963 to the present and has been active in Democratic politics ("it seems forever"). He lives in the foothills of the Berkshires. With his friend and colleague, Peter D'Errico, he has for the past decade represented, among others, traditional native peoples and nations. He is married to Poppy McCluskey and they have eight children.