Naval Security Group Activity, Fort Meade, Maryland September 1985 – September 1987

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We are home. We are Lori, Dwane “DJ,” Tiffany “Tiff,” and me. Our home is 8107B Falconer Court on FT Meade.

Sporting khakis and new collar insignia, and with great anxiety, I report to my work location in Airport Square 11.

The plans for the two computer labs on the first floor proceeded while I was gone. The NSA contractors had almost completed the under-raised floor power installation. While they were finishing the power, raised floor, and air handler installations, I completed the plan for installing the computer systems.

Finally, the day came when the preps were complete, and I moved into my office in the secure computer room. They included an office for the system administrators and me in the room preparations.

A week or two later, a Navy Petty Officer reported as one of my lab assistants. Eventually, I would have a staff that included Navy, Army, and Air Force enlisted operators.

It took months to install the computer systems and the communication fibers from my lab to the researchers on the third floor. Finally, we began the daily operations. The operators performed routine maintenance and supported the network linked to other secure NSA computers.

One day, I received word that someone had penetrated (accessed, broken into) another NSA computer system from one of mine. It was an unauthorized entry, a violation of the law. It took a few days before my staff and I identified who had used my system to break into the other.

My supervisor notified NSA security, and they took the individual into custody. It was one of our researchers. He was released a few days later after confirming he was authorized to perform penetration testing of other NSA secure systems. He had only failed to notify the other systems administration of his plans. Still, my staff and I were given a letter of commendation for our work in finding the intruder.

Most of our work was mundane. We ensured the computers were online and available to the researchers through the ethernet network. We monitored the logs for any unauthorized system access, as happened with the system I previously mentioned.

One of our regular tasks was changing system passwords. We notified the researchers when we changed them. The researchers needed them to access the computers in support of their work. They were developing procedures and ways to keep computers secure.

Often, after changing passwords, we would notice in the logs that a researcher had logged into their account on a system, though we had not given them the new password. In other words, Some of them were proficient at successfully penetrating computer systems. We wouldn’t call security when noting such a thing because this was one of their authorized tasks, leading to improving computer security.

I also helped design the unclassified computer laboratory. It contained a computer system that supported dial-in connections. It allowed authorized persons to call one of several telephone numbers and access the computer using a username and password. Remember, this was when the modem speeds were 300 bits-per-second (baud), not megabits-per-second. several

I enrolled in a C computer language course requiring me to write a program outside my daily duties. I had the Atari computer I bought before going to Panama. After researching, I located a communication (comms) program to interface my computer with a modem NSA loaned me. The program translated the letters I typed into a code to be sent by the modem through phone lines to the receiving modem and computer.

I would start my computer and start the comms program. It initiated the phone call and negotiated a link with a comms program on the unclassified NSA computer. Then, I logged in with my username and password. Still, I hadn’t reached the resources needed to write the program.

The internet was yet to be a reality. However, the government created a network called ARPAnet. The acronym comes from “Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.” ARPAnet linked government facilities and multiple universities. It was the predecessor to the INTERNET.

After connecting to NSA’s computer, I used ARPAnet to connect to a computer at MIT-Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT computer had the resources to create and test the program I developed.

During the last days of the course, I used a punchcard machine to create a deck of punch cards with my code. Then, I ran the cards through a reader to load my program onto an NSA computer. My program stored names, addresses, and phone numbers alphabetically. The program inserted new entries in their proper place. My program performed as designed. I had passed the course and got to keep the modem until the end of my tour at NSA.

The National Computer Security Center (NSA C3 group) was fully functional, and both labs were functioning. It was time to show off the organization with an open house.

I don’t know what went into organizing it, but my part was to showcase my lab. Someone else would host the unclassified laboratory capabilities. So, my staff pulled a field day, cleaned, dusted, etc., and got the room and system in pristine condition.

I gave tours of the computer room when the day came. I identified each computer system and told how researchers used them for an Undersecretary of Defense, several company CEOs, and other dignitaries.

The after-event was disappointing. Shortly after, the C3 director held an awards ceremony to give out those for the open house. Several government people received a monetary (cash) award. Those in the military received a letter of appreciation because we couldn’t accept money. It was the law I heard. I need not say my staff and I were frustrated and a bit angry. It was stupid, in our opinion.

My son, DJ, joined the Boy Scouts. One weekend, we went to an overnight campout at FT Meade. I chatted with other fathers as we sat around the campfire. I didn’t know how this campout would affect my life at the time.

I neared two years in C3 as a Chief Warrant Officer. I needed to complete three years as a W2 to satisfy the obligation for taking a commission. I could submit a request to retire on 1 August 1987, a year before my three-year obligation ended.

I had spoken with my manager at C3 about a position as a civilian after I retired in a year. He said I likely could fill the same role I had as the classified lab manager. I became excited about the prospect and began considering what changes it would bring.

We would have to relocate from the quarters on Falconer Court to an off-base house. Our children might have to go to different schools, depending on the location of our new home.

Then, life turned upside down, and my plans were disrupted on 17 July. The command received word that the Navy was short-touring me to Adak, Alaska. My tour at FT Meade should have been three years, but I would transfer after two. It was fourteen days before I could submit retirement papers. I had two choices: refuse the orders or go to Adak. I elected Adak.

Lori and I decided that I would do an unaccompanied tour to Adak. She and the children would stay in quarters on FT Meade until I returned. It would be less disruptive for the family since my assignment officer promised I would return to the NSA after Adak. Not all promises are kept.

I learned the command on Adak needed an Electronics Maintenance Officer to replace the departing officer in October. I popped to the top of the replacement list because the Executive Officer at Naval Security Group Activity, Adak, Alaska, knew me from a Boy Scout campout. He had specifically requested me for the assignment.

October came. I boarded the flight, which led to my new command after hugs, kisses, and tears.

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