It was just about 50 years ago that I got my first – and only – peak at military intelligence.
Having said that, I’m still not certain today that what I saw was shrouded in secrecy. I’m also not sure what I saw was even classified.
But, at the time, I felt privileged to have been included. With all the recent revelations about security “leaks” in the White House and Congress, it’s a good time for me to reveal my own flirtation with military intelligence.
Let me explain.
I’d been assigned to the sub-division headquarters of the Fourth Armored Division, serving in the Public Information Office. I’ve said before that my particular Army job was sports editor of the division’s semi-weekly newspaper, the “Rolling Review.” It wasn’t all that exciting, although I did get to do quite a bit of traveling to cover things like USAREUR (United States Army Europe) championships in such things as wrestling, track and basketball.
Those infrequent travels were quite enjoyable.
Mostly, though, I spent seven of 10 working days in a small office on the second floor of a building at Monteith Barracks, a World War II German military base that had been taken over by the U.S. Army after World War II ended, located in Furth, a suburb of Nuremberg.
The building was adjacent to a large field, where soldiers played such things as flag football, and across the street from an even larger field. That field was the subject of much talk among soldiers, many of whom believed the tale that underneath that large grassy expanse were underground airfields that had been used by the Germans during the war.
It probably wasn’t true, but it provided many moments of talk while soldiers sat around in barracks after working hours had ended.
The particular building in which I made my military home during day-to-day working hours was shared by several other Army organizations. My particular unit was small – there were only four desks in one room and a couple more in another. Our entire “unit” was made up of fewer than 10 and that included one sergeant and one second lieutenant. Both of them left the rest of us virtually completely alone; ol’ “Sarge” preferred to spend his days sipping away at a bottle he kept “hidden” in his desk and our lieutenant spent a whole lot of his time traveling around Germany with his new bride.
We knew just about everyone in the building, all except the few men who worked across the hallway on the second floor. They were an even smaller group who served in a lower level of Army intelligence. They rarely spoke to anyone and if you’d get a nod of the head when you offered up a “good morning” or “how’s it goin’?” … well, you felt rewarded.
So, it was quite a jolt when, one day, one of the “intel” men walked into our newspaper “office” and invited my buddy John and I into their office to check out a new “prize.” “Bring your camera,” the man ordered. We were told that we shouldn’t go telling everyone what we were about to see, but that it had been de-classified and they wanted an “expert” opinion.
It was huge – cylindrical in shape – perhaps 10 inches around on one end and six on the other. It was more than two feet long and was threaded on the smaller end.
It was, without a doubt, the largest telephoto camera lens I’d ever seen. We were asked to screw our Leica camera onto the lens, take a few photos and return them to the intelligence folks the next day. Far away through the German countryside a church steeple was barely visible to the naked eye. My buddy, John, and I took turns looking through the lens and taking a few photos of the German church. The lens brought the building so close it seemed you could reach out and touch it.
We were told the lens was somehow obtained from the Russian military. We didn’t ask how. We didn’t ask why.
We just took a roll of photos through the lens, developed the black and white negatives and returned both photos and negatives to the intelligence folks.
It was probably nothing. I’m sure the guys across the hall didn’t jeopardize security in any way when they asked us into their office that day. Still, there were enough unanswered questions that, for a day at least, I felt as though I was an important part of our nation’s intelligence community.