[ISN] San Angelo, Texas: Home of Spies

From: William Knowles (wkat_private)
Date: Tue Jun 26 2001 - 01:01:33 PDT

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    By Bill Lamb 
    2:00 a.m. June 25, 2001 PDT  
    SAN ANGELO, Texas -- As president of the chamber of commerce, it is
    Michael Dalby's job to be this city's biggest civic booster, always
    available to talk glowingly about the tax base, jobs, home prices and
    good corporate citizenship.
    But his repertoire of good news and optimism contains a little
    something extra: "We understand the security business."
    No doubt.
    Thanks to neighboring Goodfellow Air Force Base, this isolated West
    Texas city of 87,000 may harbor more spies, ex-spies and future spies
    per capita than any place in America, save Washington, D.C.
    Since the late 1950s, the relatively obscure base, 90 miles of
    two-lane highway south of Abilene, has trained thousands of men and
    women in the increasingly high-tech art of signals intelligence, known
    in military jargon as SIGINT.
    The stock and trade of the super-secret National Security Agency,
    SIGINT is one of the most closely held, least discussed aspects of
    U.S. intelligence efforts.
    In San Angelo, however, it's a secret that really isn't, although it
    may be spoken of in euphemisms or simply referred to in vague terms.
    Publicly, the base's new armed forces firefighter training program
    grabs most of the spotlight simply because it is a mission that can be
    talked about.
    "From what (a new resident) reads, he thinks all they do at Goodfellow
    is train firefighters," said retired Air Force Col. Charles E. Powell,
    Goodfellow's commanding officer from 1980-1984. "As you well know,
    that's far from the truth."
    Smoke rising from Goodfellow's firefighter training grounds may
    attract the public's attention, but the work inside windowless brick
    buildings keeps the NSA's worldwide front lines manned and takes place
    without acknowledgment. Even passersby -- civilian and military alike
    -- who photograph nearby flight exhibits are warned not to shoot
    buildings in the background.
    But these simple rules belie the level of security that surrounds
    Goodfellow's mission. In many respects, the public's perception of how
    secret something can be is wholly inadequate for describing how
    carefully the details and technologies of SIGINT operations are
    With an average base contingent of 3,000, and military retirees living
    in the area numbering in the hundreds, San Angelo residents can never
    know if a new acquaintance is or was one of America's high-tech spies.
    Glenn Miller would be one of those unassuming strangers with stories
    to tell, but don't count on hearing any.
    He joined the Air Force in the early 1970s with plans to become an air
    traffic controller. Those plans changed when he scored well on
    language aptitude tests and was made an offer he didn't want to
    refuse. After 37 weeks of Russian language training, he arrived for
    his first tour at Goodfellow, as a student, in 1972.
    "San Angelo was one of those places (the students) either liked or
    hated. And I think the people who hated it were the single guys,"
    Miller said. "They used to roll the streets up at 9 o'clock around
    Twenty-three years of active duty led him to additional language
    studies, multiple tours in Europe -- including a two-year stint at the
    U.S. Embassy in Moscow, a tour at NSA headquarters in Maryland and two
    additional tours at Goodfellow as both an instructor and supervisor.
    Following his second tour at Goodfellow, the Pennsylvania native
    decided San Angelo was a good place to call home. He and his wife
    Janet retired to the city in 1994, and he is now a county veterans
    service officer.
    "It was friendly. Low cost of living. And totally different from
    Pennsylvania. And we didn't want to go back there," he said. "We liked
    it. We just liked it."
    It's not an uncommon story, according to Dalby, who cited two of the
    more well known Goodfellow retirees: a former base commander who
    served as mayor and another veteran who established a highly
    successful chain of convenience stores in the area.
    "(Retirees) are serving on different boards and committees here in the
    community, and that makes for maybe a better understanding of the
    base's mission than perhaps other communities would have," said Dalby.
    While a growing number of European governments question and fear the
    scope of American SIGINT missions, and privacy advocates protest the
    presence of American intelligence personnel at overseas collection
    sites, Goodfellow Air Force Base remains mostly unknown to the public
    and largely ignored. But the scope and importance of worldwide events
    aren't ignored in West Texas.
    "As a community, we tend to take a little more interest in those kinds
    of stories," said Dalby.
    The only serious threats to Goodfellow have been home grown: A series
    of proposed base closings during the past two decades left civic
    leaders scrambling to save the facility. In 1992, thousands of San
    Angelo residents lined the streets to greet members of a base closure
    committee in town for a public hearing. At stake was not only the
    base's financial impact -- Goodfellow is estimated to pump more than
    $250 million annually into the local economy -- but civic pride.
    "Now, that's legendary throughout the Air Force," Dalby said of the
    outpouring of support.
    "That wasn't orchestrated by the chamber or the Kiwanis Club or the
    Rotarians," Powell said. "It was spontaneous. We even saw school
    children beside the highway whose teachers had brought the class out.
    They had crudely printed signs that said, 'We Love Goodfellow.'"
    Whether the turnout influenced the decision is debatable, but the
    committee instead chose to shut down Lowry Air Force Base near Denver.
    In the end, survival meant growth, since Goodfellow absorbed many of
    the intelligence missions previously given out to other bases that are
    now closed. Now, according to Powell and others, it would be difficult
    to spend a career in Air Force intelligence without some association
    with Goodfellow and San Angelo.
    "Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
    without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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