In FREEDOM THROUGH VIGILANCE, author Larry Tart offers an appealing, in-depth history of the United States Air Force Security Service, for decades the most secretive command in the Air Force. A retired Senior Master Sergeant and career Russian linguist, he provides a rare look at Air Force signals intelligence operations, now possible following declassification of much of the Cold War SIGINT mission.
The appeal of “FTV” lies in its hundreds of first hand accounts shared by the airmen and officers who created USAFSS history. Men and women––intercept operators, linguists, cryptologists, analysts, communicators, clerks, and maintenance technicians––describe their personal involvement. In a smooth blend of formal and informal styles, Tart has written a very readable history.
Assigned to newly activated units in the United States, Alaska, Europe, and Asia, in the 1940’s and 1950’s the command’s pioneers literally built, often in remote locations, some of the bases and facilities needed to accomplish the mission.
The veterans relate stories of harsh weather, shortages of manpower, materials and supplies, and lack of spare parts for their signals equipment, much of which was obsolete or unsuited for assigned tasking. They write or speak matter-of-factly about challenges overcome by resourcefulness, fortitude, and unstinting devotion to duty, with high morale and without complaint.
Former Security Service members share precise details of the intelligence gathering role they performed against the backdrop of the Cold War, including times when it heated up––the Cuban Missile Crisis, and during war––Korea and Vietnam. Their accounts, although told with modesty and sometimes humor, illustrate inventiveness combined with technical expertise, courage and devotion to duty. Members of redesignated Air Force commands, which inherited and still conduct the mission of USAFSS, provide a look at current collection of multi-source intelligence.
A wealth of photographs from the author’s collection will delight Security Service veterans and assist other readers in understanding the nature of the command’s work. Many tables of information provide clear outlines of unit organization and manning history.
The majority of FREEDOM THROUGH VIGILANCE addresses Air Force Security Service (1948-1979), with limited coverage of Electronic Security Command (ESC), Air Force Intelligence Command (AFIC), Air Intelligence Agency (AIA), and Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISRA). “FTV” is divided into four volumes:
• Volume I, USAFSS General History and Women in USAFSS
• Volume II, USAFSS History in Europe and Middle East
• Volume III, USAFSS History in Far East
• Volume IV, USAFSS Airborne SIGINT Reconnaissance
The United States Air Force Security Service was created as a separate Air Force command on 20 October 1948, and on 1 January 1949 it inherited from the U.S. Army Security Agency the mission of providing communications intelligence and communications security to Air Force commanders. On that date, under a joint Army-Air Force agreement the new USAFSS command acquired “certain classified communications intelligence and communications security functions” from the Army Security Agency. Security Service was given only six months to put into place its own staffing to replace the ASA personnel on temporary duty with its four newly activated squadrons.
The ASA transferred to USAFSS four Signal Corps units that had been performing COMINT and COMSEC missions for the Air Force. Those four units—1st, 2nd and 8th Radio Squadrons Mobile and the 136th Radio Security Detachment—represented what remained of Signal Corps organizations that supported those Army Air Forces missions during World War II.
The Army activated Signal Corps signal radio intelligence companies (aviation) in World War II expressly to intercept enemy air force communications and provide “radio intelligence” to American air force field commanders. The SRIC (aviation) evolved into the highly mobile and flexible radio squadron mobile, which was attached to and supported a numbered Air Force. For example, the 3rd RSM supported the 9th AF in Europe from the D-Day Invasion at Normandy, France, until the end of the war. Other Signal Corps entities monitored American military communications, providing communications security during WW II.
Security Service established its first Headquarters at Arlington Hall Station, Virginia, but transferred it in April 1949 to Brooks AFB, San Antonio, Texas. In 1953, HQ moved into its newly constructed building on Security Hill a few miles away at Kelly AFB. Today’s successor to USAFSS, the AFISRA, is headquartered in the same building, although in 2001 Security Hill was realigned to be part of nearby Lackland AFB.
Also in April 1949, USAFSS established a proficiency school at Brooks in which airmen, who were skilled in radio operating, radio mechanics, language, cryptologic duties, etc., could train while awaiting their cryptologic security clearances. Establishing its SIGINT school at Kelly AFB in 1953, the command moved the school to March AFB, California, in 1957 and relocated it in 1958 to Goodfellow AFB, San Angelo, Texas, where it trained voice intercept operators and analysts. Today SIGINT specialists of the Army, Navy, and Marines also are trained there.
The deployment of radar during World War II added to the complexities of the intelligence mission, as did the introduction of multichannel communications and computer-controlled weapons systems in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The signals intelligence environment now included communications, plus electronic and data transmissions. By the late 1970’s the SIGINT mission had expanded to include the use of command, control and communications countermeasures (C3CM), and USAFSS became the Air Force Electronic Security Command (ESC) in 1979 based on its broader electronic warfare responsibilities, largely gained during the Vietnam War. ESC brought C3CM to the fore in the 1980’s with options to monitor and exploit, spoof (deceive), jam or destroy target signals of interest.
Further changes in communications technology (personal computers, email, and cell phones), plus the end of the Cold War, resulted in other changes in the SIGINT mission and a realignment of the Air Force intelligence community. In 1991 a significantly downsized ESC was combined with other intelligence elements into Air Force Intelligence Command (AFIC), and as the information age dawned Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) was born in 1993. When information itself became the center of gravity, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISRA) was formed in 2007 to wage information warfare.