The two instances of the adverb “slowly” in the preceding description may have caught your eye. Yes, we had bracketed a high speed computer system with two instances of an archaic one. The goal then was to replace the TTY technology with an automated system in the strategic communications centers.
The Navy, of course, felt they should take the lead in the project to automate the terminals inasmuch as they already “owned” the backbone of the system. The State Department as well as the sister services felt it was their turn to lead the way. The result was a competition.
I came to the project in 1969 when it was on the verge of failing. The Army's Automated Communications and Message Processing System (ACAMPS) was failing its tests. So too were the systems built by the Navy and the Air Force. The problem we discovered in our case was that the systems analysts had been cut along with the budget and the separate programs refused to integrate. (For the computer illiterate: the pieces of the system worked but not together.) The new management team (of which I was a member) decided to patch the pieces together rather than starting all over – an effort for which we did not have the budget. Surprisingly, it worked and we put it on line successfully in 1970.
Before we launched it, however, I discovered a small glitch – ACAMPS was programmed to send all Flash messages regardless of security classification to a printer in the Tactical Operations Center. Stop! Before your eyes roll up in their sockets and you pass onto another web page, let me define some terms so that you may understand the rest of this story.
Precedence: All strategic communications are handled in order of their importance.
- FLASH – Messages that take precedence over all others requiring immediate attention, including those containing information regarding imminent peril to the nation, its citizens or armed forces.
- IMMEDIATE – Messages that require immediate attention, but not so much that a delay would involve peril to the nation or its citizens or armed forces.
- PRIORITY – Messages usually containing information, usually of an administrative nature, taking precedence over routine messages.
- ROUTINE – Self described.
Prior to ACAMPS, FLASH messages were hand-carried to the Tactical Operations Center as soon as they were received. Obviously, is seemed advantageous to have these self-print in the TOC as soon as they arrived. However, this could raise problems if the FLASH messages contained information for which TOC personnel were not cleared.
Classification: All strategic communications are handled by authorized personnel only. Thus, all are clearly marked for their level of clearance.
- UNCLASSIFIED: May be viewed by anyone.
- FOUO: (For Official Use Only) Not to be communicated outside official channels or offices. May be viewed by anyone in those channels or offices.
- CONFIDENTIAL: Restricted to those persons cleared for Confidential information and having a need to know.
- SECRET: Restricted to those persons cleared for Secret information and having a need to know.
- TOP SECRET: Restricted to those persons cleared for Top Secret information and having a need to know.
Acronyms such as SIOP-ESI, CRYPTO, SPECAT, NOFORN, etc are not security classifications, but rather special instructions limiting access to persons cleared for them. EYES ONLY is a special example of special handling. Although the personnel manning our Tactical Operations Center all had TOP SECRET clearances, none of them had pre-approved access to documents designated for such special handling.
Here is the problem that I identified. ACAMPS was programmed to send all FLASH messages to the Tactical Operations Center without blocking any requiring special handling.
When I raised this issue I was asked if I had ever seen a FLASH message so classified and I said “no.” Inasmuch as we were significantly over budget and out of time, my betters decided to ignore the problem.
When I persisted with my objection, I was told to write a Memorandum for Record and I did.
Now, if you have stayed with me this long, you deserve a reward and here it is. You have reached the interesting part of the story.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from my NCOIC at the Communications Center requesting my immediate presence. I dressed and hoped on my bicycle and was there in minutes to find that a FLASH message had arrived, EYES ONLY CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific) – that was Admiral John McCain. Ordinarily, his messages all went through the Navy's Communication Center, but they were off line for repairs. Although the switch held all messages for an off-line terminal for several hours, they forwarded FLASH messages to the alternate – my Communications Center.
I immediately went to the Tactical Operations Center and asked for admittance to recover the message and “sanitize” the printer (clear all copies and replace the ribbon). Although I had authority to enter their facility (my clearances were vastly superior to theirs) and I had a need, I was refused. The officer on duty claimed that he had already destroyed the message. When I insisted on retrieving the ashes and sanitizing the printer, he took umbrage. I went back to my office and wrote out a form request which he also denied. He also refused to respond in writing to my formal request.
As it was getting close to morning, I decided to wait for my commanding officer and we went through the whole thing again with the same results.
I can't divulge the contents of the message, but I was not surprised to learn of a dust up that occurred at Admiral McCain's morning briefing when the Army's representative, a major general, mentioned to the CINCPAC his regrets at hearing the news of his son.
Admiral McCain didn't become CINCPAC by being slow-witted. “What news?” he is reported to have asked.
Of course, the praetorians went looking for someone to crucify – someone with responsibility for maintaining the security of classified messages and having the lowest rank – me. Unfortunately for the next person up the chain of command, I was armor-plated. I had covered my ass with paperwork.
Surprisingly, the general who took the brunt of McCain's displeasure was man enough to admit that he should have listened to me.