United States Army Security Agency

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Army Security Agency
Active 1945–76
Country  United States
Branch United States Army
Role Communications Intelligence
Electronic Intelligence
Signals Intelligence
Communications Security
Motto(s) Semper Vigilis Latin Vigilant Always
Shoulder Sleeve Insignia [1]

The United States Army Security Agency (ASA) was the United States Army's signals 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."[2] The Agency existed between 1945 and 1976 and was the successor to Army signals intelligence operations dating back to World War I. ASA was under the operational control 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, Virginia. 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. In some cases, such as Eritrea, it was the primary military presence. One former Field Station, outside of Harrogate, England, in what is now North Yorkshire, was a primary listening post that was subsequently turned over to the British and became an RAF station. It is called RAF Menwith Hill and has been the site of peace protests.

Vietnam War[edit]

Although not officially serving under the ASA name, covertly designated as Radio Research, ASA personnel of the 3rd Radio Research Unit were among the earliest U.S. military personnel in Vietnam; 3rd later grew to become the 509th Radio Research Group.

The first ASA soldier to be a 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 Airport near Saigon, along with 92 other members of his unit. Davis Station, at Tan Son Nhut, was named after him. Although President Lyndon Johnson later termed Davis "the first American to fall in the defense of our freedom in Vietnam", a look at the Vietnam Veterans' memorial shows that he was nowhere near the first U.S. fatality.[3]

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. ASA personnel were attached to Army infantry and armored cavalry units throughout the Vietnam War. Some teams were also attached to the Studies and Observation Group of Military Assistance Command Vietnam and special forces units. Assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based out of Nha Trang was the 4O3rd Radio Research Group, Special Operations Detachment (SOD). SODiers deployed to Operational Detachment base camps throughout South Vietnam. Other teams were independent of other army units, such as the 313th Radio Research Battalion at Nha Trang. 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 MOSs include:

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 high speed intercept operators ("Ditty Boppers", MOS 058 and later "Hogs" for their 05H designation), non-morse (teletype and voice) intercept operators (05K), communications security/signal security specialists (05G, "Goofies") 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; A K3 attached to the primary MOS meant the person was qualified to operate Jamming equipment. There was an additional MOS known as a 93G-Microbarograph specialist. The last class for this MOS was taught at Ft. Devens 1968-1969.
Telecommunications Center Specialist (teletype) – 'Tape Ape' – (72B w/D1 designator), Radio Teletype (RTTY) w/Morse Code qualifier (05C), 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, 33E20 Microbarographic Equipment Repairman, 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, Military Police force, 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 or 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 called 'tricks', 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, some of the missions still cannot be discussed. ASA personnel processing out of sensitive operations were debriefed and signed a document specifying a thirty-year elapsed time before they could discuss what they had done or observed. Note: Information other than XGDS (eXempt from General Declassification Schedule) is automatically declassified after 30 years.

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.[citation needed] The activities of the ASA 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 (1945–65)[edit]

The ASA, during the majority of the years of its existence, was largely a "Cold War" operation. ASA enlisted troops were usually recruited from those scoring in the top 2% 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, an 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.[citation needed] 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 performed manually. These functions are still performed today; they are collection, processing, analysis and reporting. Before computers were brought to bear on the very complex problem of communications/signals analysis, ASA personnel performed these functions by hand.

ASA specialists and linguists were recruited from high-scoring enlistees or inductees. Specialists in different MOS were trained at Arlington Hall Station, Fort Devens Massachusetts and the Joint Service Cryptologic Center and School at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Some communications personnel were trained 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, California and in Washington, D.C. Native-born speakers in Spanish, German and other languages 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".[citation needed]

List of ASA memoirs and novels[edit]

  • #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).
  • 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.
  • McCurry's War (novel) by Chuck Thompson (2012). Adventures atop Teufelsberg in the 1960s.
  • Death On Devil's Mountain (novel) by David Von Norden (pen name) (2009).
  • Involuntary Tour: Book I of the ASA Trilogy (novel) by Robert Flanagan (2009).
  • 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). 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). At Lübeck in the mid-1950s.
  • 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). Set in South Vietnam in 1967.
  • Potsdam Mission: Memoir of a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer in Communist East Germany (memoir) by James R. Holbrook (2008). There is a chapter on ASA Russian linguists 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.
  • 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). Pleiku, Vietnam, area in 1967–1968.
  • Soldier Boy: At Play in the ASA (memoir) by Timothy James Bazzett (2008). Turkey and in Germany in the mid-1960s.
  • Stay Safe, Buddy (novel) by J. Charles Cheek (2003). ASA in Korea.
  • Tales of Ramasun (2 volumes of short stories) by M H Burton (2012, 2013). ASA at Ramasun (Thailand), the 7th RRFS.
  • 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.
  • "Threads of War" ASA aviation adventures in the Vietnam War novel by Glenn Fannin
  • Top Secret Missions by John E. Malone (2006). ASA in Vietnam.
  • Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary by T.H.E. Hill (2008). An ASA Russian linguist in Berlin.
  • "Vignettes, Memories from Three Years in SE Asia with the Army Security Agency" (2012) By Richard McCarthy
  • The Waldenthal Gasthaus by Ron McGraw (2008). ASA 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.
  • Unlikely Warriors: The Army Security Agency's Secret War in Vietnam 1961–1973 by L.M. Long and G.B. Blackburn (2013) 475 pg
  • What Did You Do In The Cold War, Dad? by Kevin Trainor (2015)

See also[edit]

  • Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior;; by Dean Barrett (a novel) 1999


  1. ^ "Berlin Skyline Monuments". Voices Under Berlin. 1991-12-02. Retrieved 2014-05-27. 
  2. ^ "pre-Field-Station ASA in Berlin". Voices Under Berlin. Retrieved 2014-05-27. 
  3. ^ "THEY SERVED IN SILENCE – The Story of a Cryptologic Hero: Specialist Four James T. Davis" (PDF). National Security Agency. 

External links[edit]