Before 1984

The Sixties:

It’s interesting remembering ease dropping in the age before satellites and internet. Back then governments only spied on other governments, all governments – both friend and foe. I was in the Army Security Agency, stationed in Asmara, Eritrea – East Africa, some 2000 meters above sea level, a good place to listen to radio traffic.


Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Spy

There was a forest of antennas, hundreds of them which directed their interceptions to a compound surrounded by a double row of concentric anchor fences with barbed wire on top and dogs patrolling the corridor between . . . gate guards of course.

Inside the compound enlisted personnel sat at typewriters called mills. They had a spiked platens that took six layers of drill paper with five carbons in between. Do you remember carbon paper? The mills were in use 24/7, eight hour shifts. The typists listened to earphones and copied Morse code as it came in, five letter code groups that looked like this.

xuskj ebjvx  mneod covd bncvd h2nd

voizd krudt  wjcbe   cifog wodht fotue

tpgom domxs djerg bmfm foldy eudgr

Thousands of pages of it . . . endless.  Sometimes the typists, called operators, went nuts. At the end of the shift their work was sorted by traffic analysts like me. We had no idea what the messages were about, only who was interested in looking at it. Carbons were removed and papers labeled, US  UK  Canadian Eyes Only and shipped by air to interested parties.

Pre Internet Security:

At the end of  each 24 hour period the carbons and papers no one was interested in were put into large paper bags, stapled shut and taken to a square anchor fence cage with a large incinerator inside. Burn detail was rotated; my turn came once every two weeks. It took about three hours to burn all the bags in the cage. Then the ashes were removed and put into a barrel. There was a hose to fill the barrel with water and a large paddle to stir the contents with. The mess was stirred until one had what was defined as a slurry. Then the sergeant was called out to inspect the slurry. He would probe the contents with a stick and if no particle larger than a quarter could be found the contents were officially declared a slurry. The barrel was then picked up by a truck which took it someplace and buried it.

It was in interesting job. We didn’t know much about what was going on, but enough to know that the general public had no idea what was going on. We copied Russian ships carrying missile parts to Cuba months before Time magazine announced: Missiles In Cuba! I remember we were called into a briefing and told it didn’t matter what was said in Time magazine, or in the papers. If we said anything to anyone about the subject we could get twelve years in the Fort Leavenworth stockade – which was a very bad place to be. Asmara was considered a hardship post, but it was easy duty and I fell in love with Africa. It was one of the happiest times of my life.


About Bruce Louis Dodson

Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat now living in Borlänge, Sweden with his wife, cat and dog. He is an artist and world traveler who writes fiction and poetry and practices photography in his less than copious free time. His work has appeared in: Barely South Review - Boundaries Issue, Blue Collar Review, Pulsar Poetry (UK), Foliate Oak, Breadline Press West Coast Anthology . The E-buffet, Qarrtsiluni, Struggle Magazine, Pearl Literary Magazine, Contemporary Literature Review: India, 3rd Wednesday, Sleeping Cat Books - Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Authors Abroad - Foreign & and Far Away Anthology, The Path, Page & Spine, The Crucible, Sleeping Cat Books -Trips of a Lifetime, Vine Leaves, Pirene's Fountain,Tic Toc Anthology - Kind of a Hurricane Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac and mgv2.
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17 Responses to Before 1984

  1. Marilyn says:

    Fascinating post, a personal glimpse into the cold war era of spying on nations.

  2. stutleytales says:

    This was a fascinating read, Bruce.

  3. lgyslaine says:

    very interesting post 🙂

  4. Thanks for the interesting account. At home we had J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spying and keeping records on whomever he decided might be a problem. in the 50s there was Joseph Mc Carthy “investigating” anyone with whom he disagreed.

  5. Bruce – this was brilliant… I pine for those simple dishonest days…what a delicious insight into the miniscule military mind.
    Particularly love your very superior camel…..

    • bldodson says:

      Ah yes, I remember them well.
      I remember feeling a bit nervous standing next to that parked camel.
      They almost always had attitudes.
      That photo was taken by the Red Sea, at the port of Massawa.
      Camels could not take the high altitude at Asmara.

  6. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    when I listened to radio traffic I always wondered who was on the other end…
    I was a RattRigg operator…I am not sure I could even remember morse code anymore…
    I saw a modern RattRigg a while back, nothing like mine LOLs..
    .(we were told 15 years at Ft. Leavenworth)
    and in war we had a 45 second life span if someone zeroed in on our signal… but we were young and immortal so what did it matter what “they” said….
    An interesting post , I too long for those simpler shady days where sometimes you actually knew who the bad guys were….
    Take Care…

  7. Jay Wang says:

    Hey Bruce, I’ve got lots of carbon paper if you need some! Typewriters, too. I’m ready when cyber comunications comes to a grinding halt and we can all slow down!!,, Ha, Ha.

    • bldodson says:

      Really. I could use some slow.
      I think you are the only man in the world who still has carbon paper, teletypewriters, and dial up telephones.

      • Jay Wang says:

        I guess I’m just a luddite at heart. Even my computer’s a dinosaur– but it’s gonna have to be replaced as soon as I can. Under protest, of course.

      • bldodson says:

        I need a new one too, but can’d buy as all new ones have that ka ka Windows 8. I refuse to get into that mess!

  8. Hi Bruce, thanks for stopping by my blog. Australia is having a stoush with Indonesia over spying. I’m amazed at the moral high ground the Indonesians are taking. What a game.

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