Turtle Neck

John McCaslin
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Posted: Sep 14, 2007 4:01 PM
Turtle Neck

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.

"I personally replayed the taped call several times; the chief of staff was obviously mightily annoyed," says Mr. Grayson. "He chewed out the commander 7th Air Force in unkind words and instructed him to find out who had compromised the presidential visit and to hang two of his private anatomical features 'from London Bridge.'

"I knew what the right thing to do was but ... the Air Force Special Security Officer, who owned the compound we worked in, thought I should let the matter lie and not rattle the chief of staff's cage. I think he used the word 'suicide' in his guidance," he says. "Local predictions of my certain gruesome execution abounded.

"But there was dead silence from all quarters. No one at any level of authority ever said a word to Det 5 about it. Next day, LBJ and General [William] Westmoreland met at Cam Ranh Bay as planned, just as we had reported. As a memento of the moment, the troops of Det 5 gave me a wood-carved turtle with a little plaque that reads: 'The turtle only makes progress when his neck is sticking out.'

"That turtle has shared my many offices since 1966."

 

Ouch!

"I just note in passing, the Orioles could use Cal Ripken today."

Or so remarked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, on the Senate floor this week, referring to horrid play recently by the slumping Baltimore Orioles baseball team, which on Wednesday lost for the 18th time in the past 21 games, allowing 10 or more runs seven times, starting with a crushing 30-3 loss to the Texas Rangers three weeks ago.

 

Liberal bunch

We see where a petition was laid on the desk of the clerk of the House of Representatives this week by the city of Takoma Park, a Maryland suburb bordering Washington, "petitioning the Congress of the United States to institute proceedings to investigate the activities of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney."

The petition will now be forwarded to House Judiciary Committee, which frankly has been investigating the "activities" of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney ever since Democrats took control of Congress in January.