Who’s the Next Moron to Fuck Up
When I was in the military (back in the Dark Ages) classified documents were one thing you didn’t mess around with (First Sgt was the other) It was impressed upon our young, malleable minds that losing, misplacing, forgetting or otherwise allowing classified documents to be exposed to anyone other than person(s) designated to view them would result in dire consequences about which we didn’t even want to hear, much less experience. There were whispers of guys who left classified documents unsecured being suddenly “disappeared.” There were stories of guys who lost classified documents and sentenced to 20 years to life at Leavenworth Federal Prison. I’m sure if Guantanamo had existed back then, we would heard whispers about guys being “rendered” to Gitmo. Bottom line, messing with classified documents was a SERIOUS offense.
As a lowly EM (enlisted man,) my only exposure to classified material was the radio codes we kept in a safe in our remote post in Turkey and an occasional classified mission orders. In the safe, we kept codes for our high frequency single-sideband (hf-ssb, basically a shortwave ham radio) radio station. Using the codebook, we would daily and routinely “authenticate” ourselves on the network to ensure other stations we communicated with were who they said they were. An early version of “spoofing” if you will.
We had another hf-ssb radio tuned to a highly classified network which we were told, “If Cemetery is ever activated, the world as we know it has ceased to exist.” The meaning was clear. That network would only ever be activated in the case of nuclear war. Everyday, we conducted radio checks on all the networks including Cemetery but never expected that radio to ever crackle to life… until it did. One cold Turkish night, Cemetery suddenly came alive. A weak, thready voice asked if anyone could hear him. SSgt Joe Poole and I looked at each other in disbelief. The unthinkable was happening.
Sergeant Poole secured the facility, ensuring all doors and windows were closed and locked while I opened the safe. I’d opened and closed the safe dozens of times but, this time, my hands and fingers didn’t seem to be communicating with my brain. It took me two or three attempts to dial in the correct combination and open the safe. We first donned the USAF issue .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolvers which were always kept secured. I guess the idea was that one of us would shoot the other if they became irrational and tried something nefarious like, start a nuclear war?
Fortunately, it turned out the call had been initiated by an untrained embassy staffer requesting help getting a staffer’s gravely ill child airlifted to a hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany. The whole process took an inordinate amount of time as each station on the Cemetery Network had to authenticate that every other station was who they claimed to be by looking up and responding to various codes in the code books. We had to have absolute confidence that our codes had not been compromised, otherwise, the whole system would have collapsed.
Afterwards, sergeant Poole and I spent hours ensuring that every piece of classified material was accounted for and replaced in its proper place. At the end of our shift, we had to swear that every single piece of classified material had been accounted for and returned. The entire process was meant not only to account for all material but also reinforce the gravity of treating classified material with the seriousness it deserved. Bottom line, it was impressed upon us that classified documents could be, and were, matters of life and death, something today’s politicians seem to have forgotten.