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NSA Intercepts on November 22, 1963


Robert Howard
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The most cogent analysis of NSA activity on November 22nd was provided by James Bamford in his seminal work Body of Secrets, concerning NSA activity and it's monitoring of intercepts around the world, on the day of President Kennedy's assassination. The following passages are from Body of Secrets.

"That Friday, November 22, 1963 was much like any other day at NSA. In the early morning hours, Cuban intercepts from the ferret ship USNS Muller had richocheted off the moon and down to NSA. The backlogged Cuban analysts and cryptologists of B Group were only now putting out translations of messages intercepted weeks earlier. One of those was a report by a Cuban official on the country's internal problems with rebels. "I believe that the approaching Presidential elections in the United States will strengthen reactionary forces from within and without" said the worried official "Therefore, there is a need for a strong gorilla [sic] collar around Cuba." That Friday was slow in the NSA Sigint Command Center. The duty officer logged some messages in; Sergeant Holtz arrived at ten o'clock to pick up a few tapes; at 1:30 P.M. a Strategic Air Command surveillance mission codenamed Brass Knob sent a preflight message. Five minutes later, couriers assigned to secretly collect cables from Western Union and other communications companies over the weekend were briefed.

Then at 1:36, a bulletin flashed over the radio. Don Gardiner of the ABC radio network cut into a local program to report that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. NSA Director Gordon Blake was sitting at his desk in his third-floor office when he heard the news. At the White House, crowded around a large circular table in the West Basement's staff mess, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was deep in debate following a late lunch. Across the Potomac, General Maxwell Taylor and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were meeting in the Pentagon's Gold Room with the commanders of the West German Bundeswehr. Down the hall in his E-ring office, Secretary of Defense Robert S.McNamara was discussing the $50 billion budget with a half-dozen aides..........

At fourteen minutes past two, General Blake sent out a message alerting all NSA stations and listening posts. Twenty-two minutes later he sent out another message over NSA's restricted communications links "President Kennedy is dead." At the eavesdropping base at Kamiseya in Japan, the operations center suddenly went quiet..........

As the world mourned, NSA continued to eavesdrop. Immediately after the assassination, NSA instituted a large-scale manual and and computer review of all available signals intelligence information, including all traffic between the United States and Cuba. At the same time, NSA was intercepting about 1,000 messages a day worldwide. Suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald' name was entered into the computer search. A short time later, additional names provided by the FBI from Oswald's address book were added. At the same time between twenty-five and fifty analysts manually reviewed all traffic between Cuba and New Orleans and Cuba and Dallas, and some traffic between Cuba and Russia.

Fifteen hundred miles to the south, Navy intercept operators, monitoring both Cuban and "Soviet Forces Cuba" communications, listened in as Cuban military forces were placed on high alert. "A state of alert is ordered for all personnel," said the intercepted message. "Be ready to repel aggression." A message intercepted from the Polish embassy in Havana indicated that "military units are being relocated" and a new military draft, was called. Intercepts flooded in from other listening posts. Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia suddenly went on alert. One foreign ambassador in Havana cabled home a report of a large movement of troops, adding a note about Castro: "I got the immediate impression that on this occasion he was frightened, if not terrified."

From early intercepts of Cuban diplomatic communications, it was clear that, far from being involved, Castro's people were as mystified by the assassination as the rest of the world. "The assassination of Kennedy" said one message from Havana to its embassy in Mexico City "was a provocation against world peace, perfectly, thoroughly planned by the most reactionary sectors in the United States." An intercept of a message from Brazil's ambassador to Cuba back to his Foreign Office indicated that Cuban officials "were unanimous in believing that any other president would be "even worse" than Kennedy...............In the hours and day's following the assassination, a wide variety of intercepts poured into NSA.................Egyptian diplomats speculated that Kennedy was assassinated as a result of his stand on racial equality............

A diplomat in Leopoldville, in Congo, reported: "Certain ill-intentioned persons are rejoicing over the death of the President of the United States of America, considering that grievous event a sign of victory for them." The Argentine ambassador to Budapest reported that the Hungarian people "were deeply touched" and that the government attributed the killing to "fascist elements inspired by racial hatred."

In the aftermath of the assassination, Meredith K. Gardner, one of NSA's top Soviet codebreakers, was assigned to examine a number of items taken from assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and suspected to contain codes or ciphers. The Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination, was particularly intrigued by a Russian novel Glaza Kotorye Sprashivayut ["Questioning Eyes"] Oswald had apparently cut eight letters out of page 152. But this was too little to go on. "The manner of perforating only a few known letters, wrote Gardner "does not conform to any known system. . . . . .We believe, nevertheless, that it is most likely that the letters were cut out for some purpose related to Oswald's photographic experiments."

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The most cogent analysis of NSA activity on November 22nd was provided by James Bamford in his seminal work Body of Secrets, concerning NSA activity and it's monitoring of intercepts around the world, on the day of President Kennedy's assassination. The following passages are from Body of Secrets.

.......

In the aftermath of the assassination, Meredith K. Gardner, one of NSA's top Soviet codebreakers, was assigned to examine a number of items taken from assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and suspected to contain codes or ciphers. The Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination, was particularly intrigued by a Russian novel Glaza Kotorye Sprashivayut ["Questioning Eyes"] Oswald had apparently cut eight letters out of page 152. But this was too little to go on. "The manner of perforating only a few known letters, wrote Gardner "does not conform to any known system. . . . . .We believe, nevertheless, that it is most likely that the letters were cut out for some purpose related to Oswald's photographic experiments."

THE NSA FAILS TO SOLVE OSWALD CRYPT?

APPARENTLY THEY DIDN'T WANT TO.

OF ALL THE WORK THE NSA DID REGARDING THE ASSASSINATION, THEY PRODUCED VERY LITTLE IN THE WAY OF TURNING OVER DOCUMENTS TO THE NARA IN RESPONSE TO THE JFK ACT.

THEY COULDN'T EVEN PRODUCE A TAPE OF THE AF1 RADIO COMMUNICATIONS, WHICH WENT OUT OVER UNSECURE RADIO CHANNELS ANYONE COULD PICK UP.

BK

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