Considering all the espionage movies that have saturated the American entertainment culture, I am sure you have some idea in your mind of what a spy should look like and how he or she should behave. What comes to mind when you think of a spy:
- Probably number one on everyone’s list, at least those of us from my generation, is James Bond. Smart, debonair and dangerous. Hmm. That’s not me on at least two fronts and some would say all three.
- How about Robert Redford as Joe “The Condor” Turner. Piss him off and he’ll nail you to the wall. Yeah, that sounds like me. Not.
- Then there is one of my favorites, Val Kilmer as Scott in Spartan. A top member of Delta Force, Scott negotiates more hairpin turns than a French Grand Prix in his search for the President’s daughter. Now, when you stop laughing, I’ll move on.
The point is, spy would be the last thing to come to mind in anyone who knew me or those I worked with in the NSA listening post in Berlin in the late ‘60s. For that matter, we didn’t think of ourselves as spies.
Yeah, we did have weapons, but they were kept safely locked away. Rumor had it, according to McCurry and his mates, that the treads were frightened to give loaded weapons to a large group of ASA personnel.
We each had a top secret crypto security clearance, but we didn’t think much about that. It certainly didn’t require us to chase around Europe seeking out the bad guys to gather intelligence. We went to work, sat in the same spot every day, and listened to conversations among officials in the East German government’s Central Committee. We recorded those that could be significant and sent the tapes on to National Security Agency analysts. But most of the time it was boring, tedious work that was interrupted by games and pranks that drove our tread superiors batty. Surely not the work of spies.
Therefore, it came as something as a surprise when, after explaining what I did during my service to a friend a few years after I got out, he said, “In other words, you were a spy.” Well, not really, I sputtered.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a spy is “one who keeps secret watch on a person or thing to obtain information.” So, I guess that was what I was. But don’t tell anyone.