The Anti-Edward Snowdens

Edward Snowden is still, as far as we know, hiding out in the transit lounge of an airport in Moscow, Russia. He is, as President Obama referred to him “a 29-year-old hacker” who leaked damaging information about what the National Security Agency is doing to, according to our government, protect American citizen from foreign attack.

Stay with me here …

I had the honor of traveling to San Antonio, Texas on Wednesday to be present at what is known in the military as a Change of Command ceremony on the grounds of the Alamo.

nsaspy_small The Anti-Edward Snowdens

The command that was changing was the 717th Military Intelligence Battalion from Lieutenant Colonel Joe Kushner to Lieutenant Colonel Jay Haley. The 717th is a subordinate unit of the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade.

I was invited to attend by LTC Kushner who, when we met, was a young Captain in the Psychological Operations battalion in Iraq back in 2003. The commander of that unit was Mike Ceroli, now a full Colonel.

I wrote a weekly column during my “Ranger Rick” days and most of my travel was either with PsyOps or Military Intelligence convoys, because they had to go everywhere and some of those places were where I needed to go, too, so I got to tag along.

One of them was to Fallujah with then-LTC Ceroli.

During that particular adventure, Ceroli went to see how a small detachment of about a dozen PsyOp soldiers under the command of a young First Lieutenant were faring since they had gotten there the previous October.

I’m not exactly sure what the soldiers in the 717th Intelligence Battalion do, but it is involved with Signals Intelligence – SIGINT in the jargon – which has to do with plucking electronic traffic out of the air and sending it on to whomever they send it on to.

These are not contractors making $120,000 per year working for Booz Allen Hamilton in some cushy office job in Hawaii. The base pay for an LTC with 16 years in the military works out to about $92,000 per year plus allowances.

For the someone like Edward Snowden – a “29-year-old” with a GED – who is the equivalent of a Sergeant, his base pay would be more on the lines of $30,000 per year.

With all of the allowances permitted (hostile fire, family separation, hazardous duty, and – food) a sergeant can make as much as $57,600 per year – about half of what Snowden was reportedly making – but he or she has to be in a place like Afghanistan, not Hawaii, to make that much.

The lineage of the 717th Military Intelligence Battalion goes back to World War II. According to the official history it “began with the unit designated as ‘Monitor Station One’ located in Warrenton, Virginia” which is about 42 miles west of Alexandria.

According to the Army:

“Monitor Station One quickly became a critical intelligence gathering unit, playing a pivotal role in eavesdropping on enemy communications [emphasis mine].

In 1943, the station intercepted messages from the Japanese ambassador in Berlin to his superiors in Tokyo providing a detailed description of Nazi fortifications long the French coast.”

You know what came next. Knowing how the Germans had deployed along the coast gave allied planners an inside look at how to deal with them during Operation Overlord.

I want to point that out because these young men and women are doing exactly the same thing their great-grandparents did in World War II – using technology to help our side better understand what the other guys are plotting. Exactly what Edward Snowden thinks is so reprehensible.

I got to spent a few hours among men and women who, unlike Snowden, are not looking for public notice – neither glory, nor infamy – but have volunteered to join the American military to help keep the rest of us safe.

Mike Ceroli went back to his base at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. I came home to Alexandria, Virginia. In the way of military life, Joe Kushner and his wife are, today, packing up his office, their home, and their two-week-old baby son and are moving to Pennsylvania for a year at the Army War College.

In that essay about our trip to Fallujah I wrote this about the young commander of the PsyOps detachment there:

We just keep growing these kids, asking them to do unbelievably important things in the harshest possible circumstances at an age when we should be worried if they aren’t home by midnight much less home by next September and, oh, by the way, please be responsible for the lives of a dozen-or-so other soldiers most of whom are older than you are.

Still true today. And we should thank God for them.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to that essay about Fallujah, to a web page showing military pay scales for various ranks, to the official history of U.S. Army Military Intelligence, and to theNSA’s definition of SIGINT.

The Mullfoto is a typical buddy photo: Joe Kushner, Mike Ceroli, and me.