This site is dedicated to ALL those who served in usafss, the united states air force SECURITY service, on the nsa comint intelligence team, during the cold-war years

The headset is probably the most representative icon of our work--after all, we did a lot of listening. The photo on left was provided by Al Lorentzen (USAFSS 1956-1962). He wore this set while stationed on Shemya Island and later in Scotland. One can only estimate what intelligence came through this one set but, believe me, it was substantial. Then multiply that by the thousands that were in use 24 hours a day around the globe and you may get an idea as to the magnitude of the USAFSS MIssion.    

 Home  |  Listings  |  Contact Us  |  Links
Administrator Note:  This piece was presented by Phil Kivett in response to a request for former USAFSS folks to share their experiences with others.

                             ". . . and so, It's All Come Down to This"
                                                                                                    By Phil Kivett   11/03/2008
In some ways it seems nearly impossible that I've lived for seventy years, have retired from two very satisfying careers and am well into my third.
My first began in USAFSS when the NSA was just five years old, and I was 19.  It was 1957, and I graduated RTA (202) school at its new location across the highway and up the hill from March AFB near Riverside, CA.  Having since visited Kelly AFB for FTVA reunions, I imagine the move from there must have been a disappointment to permanent party personnel who bade goodbye to Security Hill and King's Bar across the way and too soon found themselves in La La Land.
I boarded a C-121 (Super Connie) at Travis AFB with several other grads and headed for Shiroi AB just an hour or so by train from Tokyo.  We became part of the 6902nd SCG (Special Communications Group) a second echelon unit, where I was assigned to the KORCOM problem (PDN-3) under the leadership of 1st Lt Ron Galin (deceased) and TSgt Leonard Zumas.  I worked directly for SSgt George Patrick (Pat) Ryan (deceased) and with Ron Helms, Bob Paul, Angus Lee, Tim Reynolds, Dan Lipsey and others with now forgotten names, but forever familiar faces.  My good friend of more than half a century, Cryptanalyst Bill Martin, now a long-time resident of Taipei, Taiwan worked somewhere in the building as well.
It was a good two years that included motorcycling to, and climbing Mt. Fuji with old friend and roommate, Chinese Lingy Nick Sutherland.  However, as my first-ever overseas tour extension began, we all boarded C-124s at Tachikawa AB, the pilot firewalled ours, we lumbered down the short runway, hit a bump, retracted the landing gear and were airborne and bound for a rendezvous with a typhoon.  Thus as the curtain fell on Shiroi, we moved the unit, lock, stock and barrel to Okinawa.  On Oki, our unit would become the 6922nd RGM, and by then, Lt. Galin had passed the "baton" to 2nd Lt Douglas Ramsey.  A few years later (Jan 17, 1966) I would see his picture in the Stars and Stripes and read how he, as a U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer, had become a civilian P.O.W. in South Vietnam, an ordeal that lasted more than seven years (See for his POW bio).
When my six-month extension ended, I headed straight back to Japan and my W-202 older brother Dave's unit, the 6918th RSM at Brady AB across Hakata Bay from Fukuoka City and Itazuke AB.  The unit had moved not long before from Ashiya AB a bit over an hour's drive away, where it had been the 6922nd RSM, affectionately known "downtown" as the Skivvy Double Deuce.
At Brady, I joined the Contingency Team, and in March 1961, I became Buzz Dement's replacement at the Team's first deployment location, the USASA (US Army Security Agency)'s 5th RRU(P)--Radio Research Unit (Provisional)--located between our house in Bangkok and Don Muang International Airport not far away.  It was a 179-day civilian clothing assignment that added $19 a day per diem to our regular pay and a one-time payment of $200 for the purchase of tropical civilian clothing.  We were a Captain, a SSgt and half a dozen or so lower ranking Airmen.  The mission was, is, and I truly believe always should be--and hopefully will be--unmentionable.
Exactly one year, to the day in March 1962, I was one of the second small group of Contingency Team members deployed to DaNang, Vietnam where the first small group had arrived about three months before.  It was they who physically built the site and got it up and running under the leadership of Captain Rudolph Zobel and TSgt Carroll ("Chief") Miller.  For a detailed account of that daunting chore by those dauntless men, see old fiend and Chinese Linguist Donald F. Carey's account on pages 16-19 of Intelligence Failures and Decent Intervals (autographed copies available directly from yours truly at  The initial unit designator was Team 1A, 6920th SW, but the members were known as "Zobel's Zombies".  My duty lasted a bit less than the originally scheduled 179 days due to the unit's being re-designated Det. 1, 6923rd RSM, a new PCS assignment.  Between that unit designator and its final one, the 6924th SS, there would be others, but as the 6924th, it became the most accomplished USAFSS unit in the war, a feat made possible by Lt. Col. Delmar C. Lang (deceased)'s revival of a technique he had used to make amazing history in the Korean War as a young 1st Lt.  Both are detailed in Intel Failures.
Back at Brady AB, I received orders for the 6970th SG (Support Group) at Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland.  Arriving there I found myself once more in the KORCOM problem at NSA just as 1962 ended.  The highlight of my duty with NSA was a month-long civilian clothing assignment under orders labeled, "Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington 25 DC" to proceed ". . . from Fort George G. Meade, Maryland (via Washington DC if necessary) to Japan, Korea, Okinawa and Hawaii on temporary duty on official business for the Department of Defense, for a period of approximately 30 days, etc."  My civilian attire and passport instead of uniform and ID card, and the staff car--instead of the kimchii bus--in which my NSA civilian employee travel companion and I arrived at Osan AB drove the A.P.s on the main gate berserk.  Looking directly at my orders, they demanded to know who had issued them.  I pointed first to the "Office of the Secretary of Defense", a gesture that caused a tirade of expletives and a repeat of the demand.  I then pointed to the signature of Assistant Admin Officer, Mary M. Coates, and they went nuts all over again.  Apparently, in the Air Police world, she could not have such authority.  My travel companion's appeal for logic and calm was meaningless to them, and it all culminated in the Base Provost Marshall's personal presence at the gate to take up the matter before contacting 5th AF HQ, at which point permission to enter the base was granted.  Once granted, the APs' loathing for me, a mere SSgt, was palpable and the Provost Marshall tailed us from the gate to the 6929th RSM's secure compound where he and his entourage were denied entry, of course.
On the day in March 1965 when the golden voice of Nat "King" Cole was forever stilled, I left Travis AFB for yet another tour of duty in Japan, and again my choice was the 6918th SS at Brady, by then known as Hakata Admin. Annex.  There I worked first in Traffic Exploitation as a "day lady", then on Charlie Flight as Surveillance and Warning Supervisor, and finally as Reporting NCO working with all flights, their S&W Sups and Flight Commanders, 2nd Lts Trygve Anderson and John King and 1st Lts Chuck Bolf and Marshal.  While on this tour of duty, I again climbed Mt. Fuji, never dreaming that I would later return to Japan for the sole purpose of climbing it a third time.
I left Japan for Vietnam again in late summer, 1967 on orders that changed my assignment from the 6924th SS at DaNang to the 6994th SS at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut AB.  Things got dicey during the 1968 Tet Offensive, but otherwise I had a satisfying tour as a ground analyst supporting 292 and 202 backend crews of aging but able C-47s "owned" and operated as "Antique Airlines" by the 360th TEWS (Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron).  Every day our guys went hunting, tracking Charlie down with ARDF (Airborne Radio Direction Finding) called by the NSA, "the most successful SIGINT technique used during the war," and once located, the SIGINT targets became targets for artillery and air attacks.
From Vietnam, I was assigned to OL-1 (Operating Location-1) of the 6927th SG on Okinawa, living on Kadena AB and working at Torii Station's JSPC (Joint Sobe Processing Center) an NSA Second Echelon unit.  While there, I flew to Fukuoka and married my 20 year old fiancee, a student at Fukoka University and employee of Koa Fire and Marine Insurance Company, an event that earned me a 70010 AFSC.  I passed the 20430 exam just in time to escape to Mather AFB near Sacramento, CA and the 3537th EWTS (Electronic Warfare Training School).  During our two short years and three months there, I upgraded to the seven level, was promoted to MSgt, wore 3 hats--for a time simultaneously--as Acting Unit First Sgt, NCOIC of Classified Documents Control and developer and teacher of Intelligence blocks for the final hours of the UNT (Undergraduate Navigator Training) and EWO (Electronic Warfare Officer) Schools' curricula.
In June of 1972, my wife, baby daughter and I flew away to Naples, Italy for assignment in Det 4, 1141st USAF Special Activities Squadron, the support unit for Air South, NATO's Southern Air Command.  I went to work in Air South Intelligence and stayed four and a half years in order to be eligible for our retirement base of choice:  Mather again.  During our time in Naples, our second and third daughters were born in the Naval hospital there, I completed my BS Degree requirements and drove from Naples, Italy to Oslo, Norway on a 30-day family vacation, hitting points of interest along the way.  During our final year in Naples, I taught night classes in Management for Central Texas College, tested for the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), scored well enough to be accepted to four of the six law schools to which I applied in the Santa Clara, San Francisco, Davis and Sacramento areas, and on Oct 7, 1976 we came home.
On May 1, 1977, I retired and four months later entered University of Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.  In this small world, my partner in the International Law Moot Court competition was a former Navigator in the 360th TEWS, although neither of us realized we were so closely associated before law school, until two years ago.  Roger Curnow and I prevailed in the competition, taking Honors for Best Written Brief.  Roger currently practices appellate law in the San Francisco Bay area.
I graduated McGeorge with a Juris Doctor Degree, and our son was born while I struggled in the wake of postpartum euphoria, to concentrate on studying for the bar exam.  Having disposed of that, I practiced law for nearly a quarter century and retired a second time.  But in 1997, I took a short vacation away from the law, and per a long ago promise made to my four children (all grown but teen-aged Philip in 1997) I took them and two of their friends to Tokyo by air, to Fuji by train, and together we climbed Fuji as the tail of a typhoon raked across the mountain.  That third climb, at age 59 earned me an artificial hip.  Still, I would do it all over again if I could, but I cannot.  Now, it's difficult to climb into the cab of my puckup truck.
For the past three years, I have been busy writing.  My first book, Intelligence Failures and Decent Intervals is an expose of how military and diplomatic blunders are often falsely blamed on intelligence in order to protect the blameworthy.  I myself was involved in two such incidents, the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam (more a witness than a participant) and the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the Middle East (a major participant).  The book is widely available, but you as a fellow USAFSS Vet can get a signed copy from me for less, free of tax, shipping and handling charges by e-mailing me at
I also have begun to dabble in the publishing business, having established Deep River Publications, which published my second book, a novel, entitled The Trinity Coin, "Compelling the Second Coming."  Marketing channels are in their infancy, but as with Intel failures, you can get a signed copy directly from me.
Philip G. Kivett
538 W. Vartikian Ave.
Fresno, CA 93704