John McCaslin

Turtle neck

We've written lately about the great lengths the White House has to go to in order to maintain secrecy surrounding President Bush's unscheduled visits to Iraq — an item that brought "a smile" to the face of one William C. Grayson, who practically compromised a similar surprise presidential visit 40 years ago.

Mr. Grayson forwards to Inside the Beltway an anecdote he's written — "security-reviewed and approved for publication" by both the National Security Agency and U.S. Air Force (USAF) headquarters — that goes back to 1966, when a rumor rippled through U.S. ranks that President Johnson would be making a surprise visit to troops in Vietnam.

"One of the missions of my unit, Detachment 5 (Det 5) of the 6922nd Security Wing, USAF Security Service, was to intercept and analyze USAF communications throughout Vietnam and to report detected security breaches along with corrective recommendations," Mr. Grayson recalls.

"Having brought with me to Vietnam some experience in producing intelligence from the analysis of foreign VIP travels, I redirected some radio and telephone intercept coverage and asked the listening traffic analysts to look for any indications of a presidential visit, concentrating especially on any attempts to 'talk around' the subject in vague or masked terms."

Sure enough, on Oct. 25, a flight plan was intercepted addressed to the Saigon Air Route Traffic Control Center for a C-141 transport flying from the Philippines to Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam. The plane's tail appeared "familiar" to the security analyst, and upon checking records he confirmed the same C-141 once carried the president's armored limousine while on other official travel.
"From this little tidbit, it seemed likely that the rumored visit might occur on the 26th at Cam Ranh Bay. We wrote a secret 'Transmission Security Analysis Report' [TSAR], suggesting that LBJ was possibly going to Cam Ranh Bay," says Mr. Grayson, who sent the report with "immediate precedence" to Air Force contacts in Vietnam and the United States.

At which time, the security analyst almost lost his neck.

"Next day, on the 25th, we intercepted a telephone call from the chief of staff of the USAF himself in the Pentagon to the commander 7th Air Force, a hundred yards from where we were working. Clearly, our TSAR of the 24th had hit the bull's-eye and the chief of staff had been briefed.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

Be the first to read John McCaslin's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.