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.    

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The following article was written in 2000 as a note of thanks to the folks we served with during our days in Security Service. While I emphasize the important role the young airman played in our intelligence effort the article by no means was meant to be an officer bashing piece. The officers had their job to do and they did it very well indeed. They earned our respect and I think the respect was mutual.  But this article was designed to give proper credit where credit has been long overdue.

Article as Written in 2000



Don Lehmann

This is just a small note of thanks, in commemoration of the forthcoming Veterans Day, to those who made the United States Air Force Security Service what it was during the Cold War years. If you know anyone who served as an Intercept Operator, Voice Specialist or Traffic Analyst, please let them know their efforts were truly appreciated.
Time has a way of getting by and it is hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed since my Security Service days between 1955 and 1975. Nostalgia-fueled net-search met with some success but I couldn’t get “the feel” for USAFSS, as I knew it, in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. In particular, any report of contributions and accomplishments by first- and second-termers in the communications intelligence field seemed remarkably absent while generals and colonels, if one were to go by honors bestowed by some organizations, would appear to have carried the day for Security Service. The roles of these airmen were not only significant but, indeed, were the critical element of our successful intelligence operation.

First, and foremost, Security Service was an enlisted man’s (and woman’s) organization until at least the early 70’s. By this I mean that all activities, from the commanding general’s on down, were in direct support of the collection, processing, analysis and reporting of communications intelligence. All of these activities, plus most ancillary missions, were conducted by the 201 (Cryptanalyst), 202 (Radio Traffic Analyst), 203 (Language Specialist) and 29X (Morse Intercept and Printer Ops) who were, to a man, enlisted personnel. Conversely, an officer’s organization would be one that all activities are in direct support of a mission that is carried out by officers. A fighter unit would be a good example where the mission would be to put the pilot and plane on target. In Security Service, the 20X’s and 29X’s were the “pilots” who delivered the “goods.” (As an aside—and I won’t mention this again—when a pilot downs five enemy planes he becomes an ace. His commander and those above him in the chain-of-command do not become aces by proxy.)

Secondly, the Security Service that I remember was Air Force but very few mistook us for the military. Many military traditions tended to be at odds with mission efficiency and some personnel who transferred into Security Service had a difficult time dealing with the free spirits and the flexible, get-the-job-done atmosphere. For example, in Misawa, Japan, circa 1963, a captain submitted his request for a transfer back to his old command because, as he stated, he had never seen such a group of unmilitary-like enlisted people in his life. Who could forget, in 1957 at Zweibrucken, Germany, the 1stSgt announcing to the assembled troops that he was going to, “make everyone soldier, by God!” The laughter he received in response pretty well summed it up. The idea was so incongruous with reality it was, well, just funny. Near Taipei, Taiwan, in 1962, an E-4 who had crossed-trained from another career field took affront when he learned that he would be trained by a lower ranking E-3, the person he was replacing. (Training/orientation by the person being replaced was the customary practice in Security Service at the time.) The cross-trainee was offered an apology for being put into such a demeaning position and was told that the next day he should report for duty less the number of stripes on his sleeve it would take for him to be comfortable with the situation. Even though it was non-military, Security Service was definitely an elite organization—without the individual elitists. We still had the Selective Service Draft and therefore the intelligence specialists came from all walks-of-life, representing all ethnic groups and every socio-economic strata of our Country. They were in the top ten percent of all enlistees in the Air Force. They were involved, intelligence-wise, in every international situation that was a threat, or had a potential threat, to our Nation. When their shift came up they performed like the true professionals they were.

Sputnik was launched in 1957 and our space program didn’t get up full steam until shortly thereafter. In the 50’s we didn’t have the cyberspace technology now available and, consequently, if there was a pretty-good-sized remote hill in the proximity of a Osan, Korea, 1968target nation’s communications we likely put an intercept site there. The hill (Hill # 170) in the background of the February, 1968, photo on the right, Osan, Korea, was rather typical of some of our smaller sites. Throughout Europe and Asia and from the Mediterranean to the Pacific and in Alaska and down the Aleutian Chain these collection sites were manned by—you guessed it—enlistees, mostly first- and second-termers. These land-based intercepts were supplemented by our Airborne Communications Reconnaissance Platform RB-50s (and later the RC-130s and even later the RC-135s) with rear-end crews of ten or so 203’s and a lonely 292. These enlistees chased those dits and dahs all over the ether and they intercepted and transcribed voice intercepts of many tongues. They mastered Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, German, Spanish, Eastern-European Slavic, Arabic and other languages. This massive amount of data was screened for perishable intelligence by the analysts and reported to the appropriate national-level consumer. The technical knowledge and communications intelligence expertise this required fell strictly in the enlisted man’s domain.

As anyone who manned the intercept sites during the tense Cold War period knows, a sense of well-being for the Country could only come with the knowledge that there was always a damn-good intercept operator or voice specialist sitting in front of that console. Our operations were directed by NSA (The National Security Agency). Nsa SealNSA, of course, had the horses and did the heavy lifting when it came to cryptanalysis, long-term and in-depth analysis. We had our Command Headquarters at Kelly but to the troops in the field it was almost a non-entity though they occasionally made their presence known. For instance in the mid-1960s, Headquarters announced that Security Service would have its very own BEAVER Program. ‘Most everyone was delighted when they heard this, especially those stationed at the more remote sites, only to learn to their chagrin that the term was an acronym (Be Ever Alert Vigilant Error Removal) for a Department of Defense mandated “Zero-Defects” program. I’m sure Command played an important role in planning, budgeting, logistical and other support activities to implement NSA directives but, to the field locations, their light was well hidden under the proverbial bushel as we dealt primarily with NSA and other operational units.

Throughout the years, after I turned “lifer,” the first-termers continued to provide the bulk of personnel for manning our positions and they always performed admirably. They came in hurt and sick (but mostly hung-over) when necessary and did the job at hand—they were the best of the best. I know they went on to successful careers in civilian life after their stint in Security Service and it was my privilege to have known and worked with them and, speaking I’m sure for all of us lifers, I thank them. So when you see the lists honoring the colonels and generals give them the due they deserve, but remember—always remember—that it was the young (at the time) airmen who produced the intelligence in Security Service and it was the young (at the time) airmen who stood watch over the Nation. Then, as you view the list, pencil in hundreds of names of young (at the time) airmen and you will have re-created a pretty good image of what Security Service was like in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s.
The above are the opinion of the writer based on his observations and are not to be construed to be an official or unofficial history of Security Service. But it’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
For the record, the writer completed six overseas tours in Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Korea during his lackluster career. He also completed stateside tours at the Air Force Special Communications Center (Remote Intercept Recovery at Kelly), Air Force Electronic Warfare Center and The National Security Agency. He trained and worked as a cryptanalyst and also served as a radio traffic analyst, flight analyst, flight reporter, flight commander and in an ground-support analytic role for an Airborne Communications Reconnaissance Platform unit. He also pulled a four-year tour of duty as a Watch NCO at an All-Sources-Indications-Center. (NOTE: In the above job titles, “flight” has nothing to do with flying and “watch” has nothing to do with a timepiece.) He took his turn at burn detail and through good luck, the grace of God and with more than a few heads with a blind eye turned, received the Good Conduct Medal. He retired as a MSgt in 1975.  He may be contacted at:  CTFARM1@PEOPLEPC.COM

I categorized my USAFSS service as "lackluster" which was meant to convey the idea that I was the "Average Joe" in Security Service who did their job to the best of their ability without fanfare. All of us, despite our "averageness", were quite professional in our approach to the intel work at hand. During our Spring, 2011, house-cleaning ritual, some old, forgotten, AF records surfaced and the following APR was among them. It reflects how my work was viewed by those I worked with and is consistent with my on-the-job attitude throughout my 20 years of military service. I don't recall working with anyone who didn't share the same on-the-job attitude.  CLICK HERE TO VIEW APR CITED