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antennas would be set up and warning signs would be posted. "Signs
telling," said Parks, "that this was a classified site and not to enter on
pain of death and according to some regulation or another." In the
center, sitting on a tripod, would be the PRD-1, which was about
eighteen inches square and crowned with a diamond-shaped antenna
that could be rotated. At its base was an azimuth ring marked off in
degrees.
Once he was set up, the DF operator would put on his earphones and
begin listening for enemy signals. "Time to get on the knobs and kill a
Commie for Mommy," said Parks. In order to cover the operational area,
a "net" of three DF sites would have to be set up. This would allow the
operators to triangulate the enemy signals and get a fix on their exact
locations. " 'Find them, fix them, and fuck 'em over!' was our unofficial
motto," said Parks. " 'Better Living Through Electronics' was another
one."
Once a DF station picked up an enemy transmission, the operator
would take a bearing on it. The information would then be encrypted and
sent up the chain of command and an attack order would frequently be
given. Heavy artillery fire would then plaster the site, and the infantry
would sweep in.
Unfortunately, the Vietcong were wise to the game; they knew the
United States was probably listening and they avoided transmitting as
much as possible. Or they would place their transmitting antenna up to
a mile from the actual transmitter, in order to avoid fire. "It was a great



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and intricate game of fox and hounds played silently between us," said
Parks. "Each side aware of the other though we never met. It was a life-
or-death game for them, too. To place it bluntly, the DF teams were there
to aid the 199th in its task of killing those Vietnamese radio ops and all
of their buddies, if at all possible. We hounded them unmercifully. . . .
Their radio ops became worse as time went by due to the better-trained
ones having been killed."
But DF missions were a double-edged sword, as Specialist Davis had
discovered. Since the range of the PRD-1 was only about five miles”on a
very good day”the Sigint soldiers had to be almost in the enemy's camp
to locate them. "They were practically in our lap most of the time," said
Parks. "Once, we DF'd a transmission that was coming from a grass hut
not three hundred yards from me”easy rifle shot if I could have caught
him coming out of the hut."
For Parks, the constant tension took its toll. "It was a rough way to
live and work, and it took a lot out of men even as fit and young as we
were," he recalled. "I'm not talking about the mission”I'm talking about
being in that environment and doing everything it took to try and stay
alive. I myself ended up in the hospital suffering from sheer exhaustion
about three-quarters the way through my one-year tour. Truth is, I
awoke in the 'hospital' after passing out cold one fine day. The 'hospital'
was actually more like a ward on the upper floor of a barracks a block
from the 856th. They needed to keep an eye on their own, you know”
can't have me giving away any secrets in my delirium."


By January 1968 NSA had placed Vietnam under a massive electronic
microscope. Sigint specialists even scanned every North Vietnamese
newspaper for pictures of communications equipment. Hardly a signal
could escape capture by one of the agency's antennas, whether in a mud-
covered jeep slogging through the Mekong Delta or in the belly of a
Blackbird flying sixteen miles over Hanoi at three times the speed of
sound. Yet the signals were useless without adequate analysis, and
analysis was useless if military commanders ignored it.
A few years earlier the Joint Chiefs of Staff had calmly approved
committing acts of terrorism against Americans in order to trick them
into supporting a war they wanted against Cuba. Now that they finally
had a war, the senior military leadership once again resorted to deceit”
this time to keep that war going. Somehow they had to convince the
public that they were winning when they were really losing.
"If SD and SSD [both were Vietcong Self Defense forces”militia] are
included in the overall enemy strength, the figure will total 420,000 to
431,000," General Creighton Abrams, the deputy U.S. commander in
Vietnam, secretly cabled the chairman of the JCS in August 1967. "This


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is in sharp contrast to the current overall strength figure of about
299,000 given to the press here. . . . We have been projecting an image of
success over the recent months. . . . Now, when we release the figure of
420,000”431,000, the newsmen will . . . [draw] an erroneous and
gloomy conclusion as to the meaning of the increase. ... In our view the
strength figures for the SD and SSD should be omitted entirely from the
enemy strength figures in the forthcoming NIE [CIA National Intelligence
Estimate]."
As intercept operators trolled for enemy communications, the results
flowed back to NSA, where analysts deciphered, translated, and traffic-
analyzed the massive amounts of data. Reports then went to the CIA and
other consumers, including General Westmoreland's headquarters, the
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). Westmoreland's staff
included NSA's Sigint reports in the command's highly classified
publications, including the Weekly Intelligence Estimate Updates and the
Daily Intelligence Summaries, both read by Westmoreland. Nevertheless,
MACV refused to include any NSA data in its order-of-battle summaries,
claiming that the information was too highly classified.
There may have been another reason. NSA's Sigint was making it
increasingly clear that enemy strength was far greater than the military
commanders in Vietnam and the Pentagon were letting on, either
publicly or in secret. CIA Director Richard Helms saw the difference
between the estimates and told his top Vietnam adviser, George Carver,
that "the Vietnam numbers game" would be played "with ever increasing
heat and political overtones" during the year. To help resolve the
problem, he asked analysts from the CIA, NSA, and the Defense
Intelligence Agency to travel to Saigon and meet with General
Westmoreland's staff to resolve the differences in numbers.
The meeting took place in Saigon in September at the U.S. embassy.
Over a conference table strewn with intercepts and secret reports, the
Washington analysts attempted to make their case, but it was useless.
Rather than rely on NSA's Sigint for enemy strength figures, the military
instead relied on questionable prisoner interrogations. "MACV used
mainly Confidential-level documents and prisoner interrogation reports,"
said a recent CIA study, "and, in contrast with CIA's practice, did not
generally use data derived from intercepted enemy radio signals, or
Sigint."
George Carver, the lead CIA analyst at the meeting, expressed his
anger in an "eyes-only" cable to Helms, characterizing the mission as
"frustratingly unproductive since MACV stonewalling, obviously under
orders." Despite the evidence, he said, Westmoreland's officers refused to
accept any estimates of enemy forces larger than 298,000, and "the
inescapable conclusion" must be drawn that Westmoreland "has given
instructions tantamount to direct order that VC strength total will not


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exceed 300,000 ceiling." He added that he was planning to see
Westmoreland the next day and would "endeavor to loosen this strait-
jacket. Unless I can, we are wasting our time."
In the end, the military refused to budge. Westmoreland's top military
intelligence officer, Major General Phillip Davidson, told Carver to buzz
off. "I was frequently and sometimes tendentiously interrupted by
Davidson," Carver cabled Helms, "[who] angrily accused me of impugning
his integrity," and who stated that the figures MACV had tabled were its
"final offer, not subject to discussion. We should take or leave it."
Eventually, caving in to the pressure, Carver and the CIA took it, greatly
angering many of the other analysts.


In November 1967, NSA began reporting that two North Vietnamese
Army divisions and three regiments were heading toward South Vietnam.
Follow-up reports continued over the next several months until the units
arrived in South Vietnam, or in staging areas in the DMZ and Laos, in
late 1967 and early 1968.
Other reports began coming in January 1968 that a major attack was
in the works. William E. Rowe, with the ASA's 856th Radio Research
Detachment near Saigon, picked up intelligence that two Viet-cong
regiments were planning to overrun the U.S. compound at Long Binh,
Bien Hoa Air Base, and several other locations around the Saigon area.
In addition to passing the information to NSA, the Sigint detachment
"also told MACV headquarters personnel about reports of the planned
attack on the Bien Hoa Air Base and several sites in Saigon such as the
MACV headquarters building, the U.S. Embassy, the relay station, the
radio station and the Phu Tho racetrack," said Rowe. "MACV
headquarters personnel sloughed off the information. They ignored
intelligence reports indicating the Vietcong were assembling in tunnels,
caves, and foxholes."
On January 17, NSA issued the first in a series of intelligence
bulletins reviewing recent Sigint from Vietnam. It was likely, said the
report, that NVA units were preparing to attack cities in Kontum, Pleiku,
and Darlac provinces. Other attacks were being planned against the
coastal provinces of Quang Nam, Quang Tin, Quang Ngai, and Bin Dihn.
Still other intercepts indicated that Hue would be attacked. NSA reported
that Sigint had also picked up indications of increased enemy presence
near Saigon.
Despite all these reports, the mood within Westmoreland's
headquarters was upbeat, like the bridge on the Titanic. Although he was
being warned that there were icebergs ahead, Westmoreland knew his
massive ship was unsinkable. According to a recent CIA analysis, "A 'we
are winning' consensus pretty much permeated the Saigon-Washington


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command circuit; intelligence reports and analyses that deviated from it
tended to be discounted."
Off the coast of North Korea, the USS Pueblo was attacked on January
23, suddenly turning attention from the growing threat of a North
Vietnamese invasion to the possibility of North Korean invasion. Many in
the Johnson administration saw a connection. "It would seem to us that
there is a relationship," said Westmoreland. Johnson and McNamara
agreed. Nevertheless, there has never been any indication that the two
events were in any way linked.
Incredibly, despite the fact that NSA's Sigint warnings on Vietnam
were becoming more and more alarming, the USS Oxford, NSA's premiere
spy ship, was given permission to leave its station. On January 23, as
North Korea captured the Pueblo and North Vietnam was on the verge of
a major offensive, the Oxford sailed to Bangkok for a week of R&R. It was
an enormous gaffe.
The following day, NSA reaffirmed an earlier report that attacks
against cities were imminent in northern and central South Vietnam. On
January 25, NSA issued another alert, "Coordinated Vietnamese
Communist Offensive Evidenced." The Sigint report gave clear evidence
that a major attack was about to take place, citing an "almost
unprecedented volume of urgent messages . . . passing among major
[enemy] commands." The analysis went on to predict imminent
coordinated attacks throughout all of South Vietnam, especially in the
northern half of the country. Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year, was
only five days off.
Richard McCarthy also noticed unusual activity in the days before
Tet. He was on a direction-finding patrol near the Cambodian border in
his small RU-6A Beaver. Nearby was a large rubber plantation, Loc Ninh.
"Evening missions were usually very quiet," he said. "The Americans were
all lagging [sic] into their night defensive positions, and the VC were
preparing for their night activities. This night was no exception. There
was a large component of the 1st Infantry Division lagging in on the golf
course at Loc Ninh, and I could see the smoke from white phosphorus,
as smaller units around the area were setting in their final protective
fires.
"Suddenly I started picking up a familiar sound. I quickly identified
the target as the reconnaissance element of the VC division that
controlled the area. This was very unusual, because this guy usually
didn't come on the scene until the last phases of planning an attack!
When we finished the fix, we knew that we had something big. The target
was located 300 yards outside of the American perimeter at Loc Ninh. We
tried to contact the [ASA unit] at Loc Ninh, but they had shut down for
the night. I elected to return to base and report that fix, instead of flying



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the full four hours that we were scheduled to fly." McCarthy later learned
that his alert had thwarted one of the rehearsal attacks for the coming
offensive.
On January 30, Westmoreland finally saw the iceberg dead ahead. He
had just been handed several warnings, based on Sigint, from the
commander of the U.S. forces in the region around Saigon. The
commander, Major General Frederick C. Weyand, had become convinced,
by intercepts, traffic analysis, and DF indications he had just received,
that a major offensive was about to take place. Westmoreland
immediately canceled a previous Tet cease-fire he had issued and
ordered that "effective immediately all forces will resume intensive
operations, and troops will be placed on maximum alert." "These
precautionary moves," said a recent CIA analysis, "doubtless saved
Saigon and the U.S. presence there from disaster."
That night Dave Parks noticed something very unusual. "At twelve
midnight, the enemy went on total radio silence," he said. "It was just as
if someone had switched off a light”'Nil More Heard' on any frequency.
Now, that spooked the hell out of me. I had never experienced anything
like it. Military units go on radio silence for only one reason: they're up to
something. In this case they were on the move to their assigned targets."
One of his colleagues, serving a second tour in Vietnam, told Parks, "If
anything is going to happen it will happen at three A.M.” we may as well
go and get some sleep." "He was dead on," said Parks, "we got the hell
rocketed out of us at precisely three A.M. . . . What we didn't expect was
the scale and intensity of the attacks."
About the same hour, the 856th Radio Research Detachment at Long
Binh, which weeks earlier had attempted to warn Westmoreland of the
coming attack, came under bombardment. "They had been hiding in
tunnels and foxholes in the area for about two weeks, awaiting orders
from Hanoi," said William E. Rowe. "For the next two and a half hours
the Vietcong initiated probing attacks against our bunker line and other
positions along our perimeter. . . . Most of my buddies were in the
operations building setting satchel charges and incendiary grenades to
all the filing cabinets, equipment (radios and receivers), maps and
reports”everything that should not fall into the hands of the enemy."
It was a ferocious attack. "Each time they attacked," said Rowe, "some
would get hung up in the wire. Each time they attacked, we went crazy,
yelling expletives as we went out to meet them, firing and firing each time
they approached. A mound of enemy dead was forming in front of the
concertina, body upon body. The frontal attacks lasted for another two
hours. After each advance, we would pace up and down the bunker line,
nervously anticipating the next attack. After each attack, the mound of
enemy dead got bigger and bigger."



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As the fighting continued, Rowe's unit began running out of
ammunition. "Those not swearing loudly were praying, preparing for
close-in fighting. We knew if we did not get more ammunition, it would
be a one-on-one struggle for each of us." The Sigint soldiers were ordered
to hold their fire until the last instant, to preserve ammo. "When we
could wait no longer," said Rowe, "we started to run toward the wire to
meet them head on." A short while later, six helicopter gunships came to

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