"Kagnew Station - Tract C" by George Cook

T O P S E C R E T Codeword
Most of the work performed by members of the Army Security Agency was highly classified. Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) involved learning about other countries by listening to their radio broadcasts (Morse, Teletype or voice) and has always been sensitive because revealing the method of acquisition often resulted in the loss of that source of information. Recently declassified material however allows for the disclosure of some of the work of the ASA at Kagnew Station's Tract C.

Some of the information in this writing, while "Top Secret" at one time is no longer classified. Of course, the source (Kagnew Station) no longer exists, the technology is obsolete, the Cold War is over (we won!) and much of this information can be seen on the History Channel!

The Funny Farm
Our worksite was composed of several one-story buildings surrounded by several acres of radio antennae. From a distance it appeared to be a farm of antennae. Hence the name, "funny farm." It had nothing to do with the fact you had to be nuts to work there. Well, maybe some.

The operation was composed of several administrative support groups and intercept sections.

RDF - Photo: Radio Direction Finding. Every radio signal has its own "fingerprint." This small department determined the direction the signal was coming from and recorded snapshots of those signals. This enabled the Army to trace units by following their radios. Once you identified a signal from, say, the Third Russian Army and later you noticed that same radio signal originating 50 miles further west you could conclude that unit was on the move. Were they going to attack? Retreat? Moving to the side to get a better position? Without knowing the contents of the messages, all these questions could be answered by monitoring the movement and "fingerprint" of the radio signals.

Teletype Intercept: This group (MOS 055) recorded commercial radio Teletype broadcasts from various countries. Many news organizations, such as UPI and Reuters, used Teletype. It's amazing how much information can be gathered from everyday, public sources. The sound was like a rhythmic buzz saw.

Comm. Center: Used cryptologic ultra-high speed multi-channel transmission devices that scrambled the signal so that no one, without a de-scrambler on the same settings, could read the message. We want to know what other countries are saying but we don't want them knowing what we say. This area was off-limits to anyone not assigned to it.

Manual Morse Intercept: This department (MOS 058) was concerned with manual Morse code signals from around Africa and the Mideast. On June 30, 1960 the Belgian Congo had become independent. With the departure of Belgian forces the country was in turmoil. When 4,000 UN forces arrived to keep the peace the infrastructure was a total failure - all banks were closed, post office was shut. There were no telephones, no hospitals, no transportation and no air control.

Two factions fought for control. Russia backed Prime Minister Lumumba, while the West backed President Kasabubu as the province of Katanga sought their independence. Naturally the US intelligence community wanted to know what was going on so our Morse Intercept Operators were kept busy.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson, sent a letter of commendation to the CO, Operations Company at Kagnew for the excellent support to the UN mission provided by the intercept operators.

Automatic High-Speed Morse Intercept: This section (also MOS 058) monitored commercial stations that used machines to generate Morse code at speeds above 25 wpm, usually around 30 or 35. Too fast for a person but by turning on a paper tape machine with synchronized ink pen the Morse signal could be recorded onto white paper tape.

About 75% of the work involved monitoring commercial broadcast stations, the foreign versions of Western Union. Before FAX machines and E-mail, companies would send telegrams regarding their business dealings. Private companies sent business messages to their foreign affiliates or to suppliers ordering parts. By watching the company's transactions the US intelligence community was able to get an idea of what a country was doing. For example, a sudden increase in ball bearing orders might indicate an increase in vehicle production. Other messages from the same country ordering diesel fuel would narrow it to tanks and/or trucks. Even mundane messages reporting shipments of buttons from a clothing factory would indicate an increase or decrease in military uniforms.

All messages contained who the message was going to, who it came from, the time of transmission and the message text. If a message was in a foreign language a list of significant words was available. The list contained common foreign words for major companies or general business terminology. For example, if the Russians monitored the United States they would look for such words as; COMPANY, CO. LTD, INC., IBM, GENERAL ELECTRIC, GENERAL MOTORS, ARMY, NAVY, AIR FORCE. If there was a match the message was saved for typing.

Our main concern during the cold war was the Soviet Union. We monitored radio broadcasts both to and from Russia. One of their key words was "TORG". Any message with "TORG" was of interest. That was the equivalent of "Company". We would see words such as, "Comintorg, Vishtorg, Machintorg," (Machine Company) etc., cut the message out and manually type it onto multi-part paper.

Then it would be carried to the Communications Center (Comm. Center) for transmission back to Ft. Meade, MD, the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA). If the message was in code it was assumed they decoded it. Then, in either case (plain text or code) the information was distributed to the appropriate department responsible for the countries involved. Thus the NSA and CIA would have information on the latest commercial developments around the world.

Analysts working in the "USSR Section" studied only the Soviet Union, receiving information from several sources to enable them to become experts on that country. A single piece of information might seem innocent by itself but coupled with data from other sources there might be a suspicious pattern that needed verification and further examination.

For example, (hypothetically) an ASA intercept operator in Shemya, Alaska reporting new construction in the Ural Mountains might not mean anything. An intercept operator in Turkey might report high-octane fuel purchases in Georgia, Russia while Kagnew Station (USM-4) reported an increase in titanium purchases in central Russia. Then the CIA (with the President's approval) would schedule a U2 flight over that area for pictures. Thus the suspected construction of a ICBM rocket base would be confirmed in the mountains of the Soviet Union.

The general process of the job meant tuning in a station (they came on the air at regularly scheduled times), looking at yards and yards of paper tape and manually search for one of the keywords.

Years later the NSA would use computerized eavesdropping procedures with their "Echelon" system, used to monitor international electronic messages. The FBI would use similar eavesdropping procedures with their "Carnivore" system, used to monitor electronic communications over the Internet.

Gobbledygook It Ain't
About 25% of the work involved coded messages. Such as...


A coded message with the distinctive 5 letter coded groups were usually between a government's capital and one of their foreign embassies. Intercept Operators didn't have to know what the message concerned, they simply copied it from the paper tape and typed it onto the multi-part paper for transmission back to the US. It was NSA's job to de-code the message, if possible, and pass it on to the appropriate department. Ultimately the NSA had 11 acres (yes, 11 acres) of high-speed computers devoted to decoding these messages. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether they were successful or not.

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