United States Army Security Agency
The United States Army Security Agency (ASA) was the United States Army's signal intelligence branch. The Latin motto of the Army Security Agency was Semper Vigilis (Vigilant Always), which echoes Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." The Agency existed between 1945 and 1976 and was the successor to Army signal intelligence operations dating back to World War I. ASA was under the [operational] command of the Director of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA), located at Fort Meade, Maryland; but had its own tactical commander at Headquarters, ASA, Arlington Hall Station, VA. Besides intelligence gathering, it had responsibility for the security of Army communications and for electronic countermeasures operations. In 1977, the ASA was merged with the US Army's Military Intelligence component to create the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).
Composed of soldiers trained in military intelligence, the ASA was tasked with monitoring and interpreting military communications of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and their allies and client states around the world. The ASA was directly subordinate to the National Security Agency and all major field stations had NSA technical representatives present.
All gathered information had time-sensitive value depending on its importance and classification. Information was passed through intelligence channels within hours of intercept for the lowest-priority items, but in as little as 10 minutes for the most highly critical information.
ASA personnel were stationed at locations around the globe, wherever the United States had a military presence – publicly acknowledged or otherwise (Peshawar, Pakistan). In some cases such as Eritrea, it was the primary military presence. The 13th USASA Field Station, outside of Harrogate, England in what is now North Yorkshire was and is a primary listening post. It was subsequently turned over to the British and became an RAF station. It is called RAF Menwith Hill, and was the site of peace protests.
Although not officially serving under the ASA name, covertly designated as Radio Research, ASA personnel of the [3rd Radio Researchd Unit were among the earliest U.S. military advisors in Vietnam; 3rd RRU later grew to become the 509th Radio Research [Group].
The first battlefield fatality of the Vietnam War was Specialist 4 James T. Davis (from Livingston, Tennessee) who was killed on 22 December 1961, on a road near the old French Garrison of Cau Xang. He had been assigned to the 3rd Radio Research Unit at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, along with 92 other members of his unit. Davis Station [at Tan Son Nhut] was named after him. President Lyndon Johnson later termed Davis "the first American to fall in the defense of our freedom in Vietnam".
Most ASA personnel processed in country through Davis Station; others attached to larger command structures prior to transport to Vietnam processed in with those units. For example, the 601st Radio Research Unit, attached to the 198th Light Infantry Brigade, processed in with that brigade. ASA personnel were attached to Army infantry and armored cavalry units throughout the Vietnam War. Some select teams were also attached to MACV/SOG and Special Forces units. Some teams were independent of other army units, such as the 313th Radio Research Brigade at Nha Trang. Many ASA personnel remained in Vietnam after the 1973 pullout of US Army combat forces and remained present until the Fall of Saigon in April 1975.
ASA military occupational specialties (MOSs) included voice intercept operators, who are usually linguists with MOS 98G (plus a four character suffix (pLnn) to indicate proficiency level and language code), morse code intercept operators ("Ditty Boppers" or sometimes "Hogs" for their 05H designation), non-morse (teletype and voice) intercept operators (05K), communications security/signal security specialists (05G) whose monitoring of military communications often led to soldiers being punished), direction-finding equipment operators ("Duffys" for their 05D designation), computer system operators (74E) who operated equipment at the NSA headquarters and out in the field,
Crypto-Clerks (72B), Cryptanalysis/Cryptanalytic Technician (crippies),(98B), communications traffic analysts (98C), voice intercept operators (Monterey-Marys)(98G) non-communications intercept/analysts (98J – RADAR and telemetry) electronic cryptographic maintenance technicians(32F-G, and 33S), and Specialized Teletypewriter Equipment Repairman (31J B3).
Electronic Maintenance MOS' included 32D Technical Controller, 33B intercept equipment repairman, 33C Intercept Receiver Repairman, 33D Intercept Record System Repairmen, 33F Digital Demultiplex Intercept Systems Repairman, 34F Digital Systems Terminal Equipment Repairman and 33G Electronics Countermeasures System Repairmen and a 44 man Special Operations Detachment or field teams to conduct clandestine combat operations, among others. ASA had its own separate training facilities, communication centers and chain of command. In 1976, all 33 MOS designations were consolidated into one field, 33S Electronic Repairman. The designation became Electronic Warfare Intercept Systems Repairman.
Other specialists intercepted and analyzed radar transmissions. Others intercepted communications and data transmissions from missiles and satellites.
These occupations, which required a top secret clearance with Special Intelligence/crypto special clearances, were essential to U.S. Cold War efforts. ASA units usually operated in four groups using revolving shifts to provide coverage twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. ASA troops were not allowed to discuss their operations with outsiders – in fact, they could not talk among themselves about their duties unless they were in a secure location. Even today, decades after they served, some of the missions still cannot be discussed. ASA personnel processing out of sensitive operations were debriefed and signed a document specifying a forty-year elapsed time before they could discuss what they had done or observed.
Owing to the sensitivity of the information with which they worked, ASA personnel were subject to travel restrictions during and sometimes after their time in service. The activities of the U.S. Army Security Agency have only recently been partially declassified. This turn of events has been accompanied by the appearance of a small number of ASA memoirs and novels (see the list below).
Human resources (1945–1965)
The ASA, during the majority of the years of its existence, from 1945 to 1978, was largely a “Cold War” operation. ASA enlisted troops were usually recruited from the top range of scores in aptitude tests given during initial induction.
The Army itself exhibited little concern for the ASA until 1965, as it was a "Joint venture" essentially under the control of a civilian organization. However, there was a general concern in the Department of the Army that enlisted technicians of all kinds should be given recognition and adequate pay in order to retain them. Accordingly, in 1954, Army Regulation 615–15 created the grades of Specialists Four, Five, Six, and Seven, (SP4, SP5, SP6, SP7) corresponding to Corporal (E4), Sergeant (E5), Staff Sergeant (E6), and Sergeant First Class (E7), in order to get around the general Table of Organization and Equipment restrictions on the total number of individuals (normally regular NCOs), who could be placed in these grades. Promotion in the specialist grades was fairly rapid with specialists with two years of military experience reaching E5 and E6 in another two years. Due to the long training requirements, and initial four-year enlistment was normal. However despite sometimes intensive efforts to retain personnel, reenlistment rates were very low.
In 1958, DA Reg 344–303 also created Specialist Grades Specialist Eight and Nine. There were never more than a handful of Specialist 7’s in the ASA and no individual in the ASA was ever promoted to the grades of Specialist 8 or 9 before these top grades were eliminated in 1965.. Promotion to warrant officer after E7 was the normal military progression in ASA units.
The officers within the ASA were generally commissioned into the Signal Corps branch since there was no separate branch for ASA. Effective in 1967, the Military Intelligence (MI) branch stood up and officers were commissioned into MI.
In today’s Army, modern technology has largely replaced the specific tasks performed by most ASA troops. The current Army MOS Military Intelligence 35 series involving SIGINT, requires the same high security clearance levels as the old ASA standards. However, the modern Soldier in the MOS 35 series actually perform the full range of now computer-driven SIGINT functions that the average ASA trooper never came close to performing.
The educational level of an ASA linguist in the late 1950s is typified in a memoir by a graduate of ALS class R-12-80, the school’s 80th 12-month class in Russian. He had an M.A. in one of the humanities, and had been working on a PhD. In addition, ASA specialists and linguists were recruited from high-scoring inductees. Specialist in different MOS were trained at Arlington Hall Station, Fort Devens Massachusetts and sometimes at Signal Corps facilities while those selected to be linguists were given 9 to 12 month language courses which were usually taught by native born instructors at DLI at the Presidio of Monterey, CA and in Washington DC. Native born speakers in Spanish, German and others were also recruited, as well as personnel whose previous assignments and experience had gained them proficiency in a language.
From 1965 to 1973, Major General Charles Denholm, supervised the integration of the ASA with the rest of Army Military Intelligence and the organization underwent a dramatic change, including a vast increase in size and scope and a completely changed relationship with the NSA during the final period of its existence. By this point in time it was not, of course, the traditional "ASA".
List of ASA memoirs and novels
- #1 Code Break Boy: Communications Intelligence in the Korean War (memoir) by John Milmore (2002). ASA in Korea.
- Baumholder 1961 (a Novella, 75 pages) by Charles Deemer (2009). The personal crisis faced by an ASA Russian Monterey Mary in August 1961 when the Berlin Wall goes up, and he is involuntarily extended on the day before he is scheduled to return to civilian life.
- C Trick: Sort of a Memoir (memoir) by Don Cooper (2000). Republished and expanded in 2003 in soft-cover as Worth the Trip. Re-republished as C Trick in 2010 with a prologue, new epilogue, and four new chapters. An ASA German linguist in Berlin in the mid-1960s.
- Death On Devil's Mountain (novel) by David Von Norden (pen name) (2009). ASA on Teufelsberg in Berlin in the late 1960s.
- Involuntary Tour: Book I of the ASA Trilogy (novel) by Robert Flanagan (2009). An ASA-er rotates from Vietnam via DLIWC Russian to Germany and back to 'Nam.'
- Dragon Bait: Book II of The ASA Trilogy" (novel) by Robert Flanagan (2011)
- Falloff: Book III of The ASA Trilogy" (novel) by Robert Flanagan (2011) (Three linked novels feature ASA in the 1960s, from Kagnew Station to Vietnam to Rothwesten, Gartow, and Bad Aibling, to Vietnam.)
- Kagnew Station (novel) by Paul Betit (2005). A suspense-mystery novel set at the 4th United States Army Security Agency Field Station in Asmara, Eritrea in 1968.
- Lübeck: A Wonderful Moment in Time (memoir) by Don E. Johnson (2004). An ASA "ditty bopper" at the border site in Lübeck in the mid-1950s.
- McCurry's War (novel) by Chuck Thompson (2012). Field Station Berlin atop Teufelsberg in the 1960s. A closer look at the escapades of the soldiers of Teufelsberg with a little bit of humor mixed in that only the Army could provide.
- My Detachment: a Memoir (memoir) by Tracy Kidder (2005). ASA in Vietnam.
- One to Count Cadence (novel) by James Crumley (1969). ASA in Vietnam.
- Phubai: A Vietnam War Story (novel) by Paul Betit (2006). A suspense-mystery novel set at the 8th Radio Research Station, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in 1967.
- Potsdam Mission: Memoir of a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer in Communist East Germany (memoir) by James R. Holbrook (2008). While primarily about USMLM, there is a good chapter on the life of an ASA Russian linguist in Berlin.
- Reunification: A Monterey Mary Returns to Berlin (novel) by T.H.E. Hill (2013). Published on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary (1963-2013) of the first permanent buildings on Teufelsberg, the operational home of Field Station Berlin. A juxtaposition of Berlin in the 1970s with Berlin in the 2010s, spiced up with the stories of escapades that only ASA-ers could have pulled off.
- The Sentinel and the Shooter (memoir) by Douglas W. Bonnot (2010). The story of the 265th Radio Research Company (Airborne) in Vietnam.
- Snapshots on the Road to Peace (memoir) by H. Palmer Hall, in Coming to Terms (Austin, TX: Plain View Press, 2009). Day to day life in an RRC in the Pleiku, Vietnam, area in 1967–1968 and later participation in the peace movement.
- Soldier Boy: At Play in the ASA (memoir) by Timothy James Bazzett (2008). An ASA ditty bopper in Turkey and in Germany in the mid-1960s.
- Stay Safe, Buddy (novel) by J. Charles Cheek (2003). ASA in Korea.
- TANS (That Ain't No Sh*t) by John Klawitter (2002). A collection of short stories written by members of the ASA who served in Southeast Asia recollecting their experiences.
- Top Secret Missions by John E. Malone (2006). ASA in Vietnam.
- Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary (novel) by T.H.E. Hill (2008). An ASA Russian linguist in Berlin ostensibly in the mid-1950s, but closer in reality to the mid-1970s.
- The Waldenthal Gasthaus by Ron McGraw (2008). A novel based on the author's experiences living in a German village while stationed at an ASA border detachment on Schneeberg, West Germany, during the Cold War.
- "We Served In Silence" - by Glenn K. Fannin Jr. A novel of Army Security Agency activities in the Vietnam War. Recently categorized as Unclassified by NSA.
- Menwith Hill Station-A Case Study in Signal Intelligence Gathering During the Cold War By Kenneth L. Bird -Monitoring Times magazine, February, 1997.
- The story is told on the National Security Agency website in: THEY SERVED IN SILENCE – The Story of a Cryptologic Hero: Specialist Four James T. Davis. 
- Charles Deemer, Dress Rehearsals: The Education of a Marginal Writer, Three Moons Media, 2004, p. 92.
- Web site about the Agency: http://www.nasaa-home.org
- Historical ASA data and European Theatre WW2 Signal Radio Intelligence Companies
- Web site for acquisition of The ASA Trilogy novels:
- 374th RRC Viet Nam*
- 226th ASA, Kangwha Do, Korea
- 318th ASA at Herzo Base in Germany
- Schneeberg Det J an outstation of the 318th ASA at Herzo Base
- 75th / 600th USASA Company, Italy (Det A: Aviano-Ravenna HFDF)
- Locator Database for ASA Personnel: http://www.asalives.com
- Southeast Asia US Army Security Agency Veterans Association
- Berlin Army Memories
- 8th RRU/8th RRFS, Trai Bac Station, Phu Bai Founder Curtis Wayne Now Deceased. Site remains but unmodified.
- 4th USASAFS Asmara, Ethiopia (now Eritrea)
- Army Security Agency in Korea
- 11th RRU, Viet Nam 1965–1966
- Home of the Army 33
- Co. B USASA Group Korea (Alamo & Camp Casey/Tongduchon)