During my time in the Air Force, I did some pretty crazy stuff. When our nation went to war, I went to the Pentagon. I had the good fortune of working with some of the brightest stars in the remote spying business. Each person brought a wealth of talent, a sense of pride in the work we did, and humor. Roald J. (RJ) Moyers was one such star. In twenty-two years, I never got my hands dirty. In contrast, during RJ’s time in the Army, he fought in wars few people had ever heard of. He’s a combat veteran of operations in Panama, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central America. In twenty years, RJ never seemed able to get his hands clean.
Humor is often on display in the most difficult of situations or endeavors. People rarely laugh when things are going right, or people agree. Let things go south. Let tempers flare. That’s where you’ll find humor. But only from the best of people. Those people. The ones who’ve been held personally responsible yet had to rely on others to do the most difficult of things. For several years I found myself at the center of a new organization in the NRO. The Operation’s Office for all the NRO’s SIGINT systems spanned a network of satellite ground stations scattered around the globe. Each station was a self-contained city, equipped with police and fire departments, water and sewer plants, and power generating facilities. These stations employed anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand people.
My job was to support the office director and the site commanders as their de facto chief of staff. Basically, a highly paid cat herder. While the government chief of staff focused on the day-to-day operations of the stations, my job was executive communications and decision-making. Working in the ‘front office,’ I typically got to work before 7 am. Arriving early, I could catch the NRO Ground Station Commander in England before he headed home for the day. During the day, I could catch the Station Commander in Denver. More importantly, I could catch RJ. RJ knew everything; his network spanned every aspect of our world. If I stayed until after 6 pm every day, I could talk with the Station Commander in Australia as they started their day. For several years, that was my routine.
If I got to work early, RJ got there earlier. RJ worked at the NRO site in Denver. When I arrived at the office around seven, RJ had been in his office for over an hour. Please keep up folks, Denver is two hours earlier than Northern Virginia. RJ was three hours smarter than me every day. While I was in my job due to my overall knowledge of the NRO on the grand scale, RJ knew the NRO and Signals Intelligence from the ground floor up. RJ was a retired Army Warrant Officer but now a contractor just like me. While I often refer to my military career as unorthodox, it holds nothing compared to RJ’s time in the Army. While I moved my family four times in twenty-two years, RJ moved his eighteen times during his twenty-year career.
Together, RJ and I kept a worldwide organization in sync.
RJ knew SIGINT from up close. As an Army Warrant Officer, flying in the Army’s OV-1 Mohawk twin-engine observation and attack aircraft, RJ rode shotgun and collected electronic intelligence on hostile forces. While the glamor side of intelligence is to divine what the enemy will do before they do it, discerning your adversary’s intent is the chief goal of most intelligence collection efforts. In contrast, RJ’s job was to collect radar signals of hostile forces actively shooting at you. If hot lead is headed toward you, your enemy’s intent is pretty clear. While I grew up doing almost everything imaginable with imagery intelligence, RJ spent twenty years learning, improving, and teaching SIGINT. Twenty years with a single focus, ensuring that if the enemy were shooting, our guys would know it before they did. In that world, in his SIGINT world, he was twenty years smarter than me.
Eighteen separate assignments in a twenty-year career is a lot, even by Army standards. He served two twelve-month tours at the Korean DMZ jamming North Korean radars. He also spent a couple of tours in Alabama and Ft. Riley in Kansas but was deployed to Central America to collect intelligence on Russian-made radars secretly located in Nicaragua and Honduras.
After his career in the Army, RJ stayed in Denver and took a job as a contractor at the NRO site in Aurora, Colorado. I met RJ shortly after his retirement through a mutual friend and my boss at the time, a CIA senior named Mark Broswick. I worked for Mark on a project to integrate imagery and signals intel for a specialized search ‘all source-Intelligence’ mission. We wanted to do an all-Intelligence collection effort against a single target. We wanted to prove the value of having all the intelligence disciplines work together in real-time. This was unheard of at the time. Each ‘Int’ was in their own world, highly specialized, compartmentalized and run like independent factories. Each of these factories churned out its own products. Our target was a known bad guy. A real bad guy—named Osama Bin Laden. The year was 1999.
While Mark and I lined up Imagery and ‘all-source’ analysts from the CIA, NSA was hesitant to participate in our experiment. “Why should we take good NSA resources off our active targets to chase this guy hiding in the hills of Afghanistan?” they’d say. “Because we want to prove the benefits of all the intelligence agencies and their specialties working together.” Mark would tell them. “Why would we want to do that?” The NSA collection manager would ask. It would take 9/11 and ten more years for the different intelligence agencies to begin working together. Ten more years before the United States intelligence community would have a working all-source counter-terrorism or counter-narcotics center. I’d like to think that, under Mark’s leadership, RJ and I were a bit ahead of the curve. Large government organizations, like large corporations, take time to change.
This chapter is titled ‘Trust.’ Mark, the CIA civilian, spent three years in Vietnam as an Air Force NCO. RJ made Staff Sergeant in the Army before becoming a Warrant Officer. I enlisted and made Staff Sergeant in the Air Force before my commissioning. If you want to get hard things done, find an NCO. An NCO is all about trust.
Leadership helps, but that’s the next chapter. . .