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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

6908th Security Squadron

Text Provided By Paul Bernards

Further data and pictures needed from personnel
formerly within the unit.

The 6908th Security Squadron at NKP operated three basic missions:
1. Compass Flag using the QU-22
2. Olympic Torch using the U-2 out of Utapao
3. T-Ball using the U-2

The operations area for the 6908th was inside of the TFA complex at NKP. TFA personnel did not have access to this area although 6908th personnel had access to TFA operations areas, especially the comm center.

COMPASS FLAG

Compass Flag was the Security Service Mission using the Qu-22B to carry an onboard intel pallet. This pallet was essentially a multi-user radio receiver downlinked to the 6908th Ops area at TFA. The uplink and downlink were encrypted using a continuous variable encryption circuit. There were about 10 radio intercept positions in the 6908th Ops area at TFA for the Compass Flag mission. Each position was manned by a USAF Vietnamese Linguist.
All 6908th USAF personnel were cleared for Category III Crypto Intel; very sensitive stuff. Our main customers were the USAF, NSA and the CIA.

The 6908th also had several South Vietnamese Army personnel stationed at NKP. This was a clandestine operation until the cover was blown by some disgruntled troop. See the attached article. The Vietnamese were not allowed inside the ops area, but spent their days inside a van transcribing the many hours of Compass Flag intercepts. These troops were quartered with the 6908th personnel at Camp TarBox on the base perimeter.
Camp TarBox was named after Lt. Col. Luther Tarbox, the first commander of the 6908th. Col. Tarbox was USAF not a Marine as some have reported.

The quality and quantity of intelligence data resulting from the QU-22B Compass Flag mission was superb. The main target of Compass Flag was the NVA GDRS; General Directorate of Rear Services. This was the command responsible for the movement of troops and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The Compass Flag mission intercepted communications from the main supply point north of the DMZ at Vinh (BT-18), through the Mu Gia Pass (Fishes Mouth; pronounced; Moo Za; in North Vietnamese) down the trail and into Laos and Cambodia.

Most of the traffic intercepted was code. Four figure, six figure and some alpha numeric. The code was passed via voice and we had guys who could copy the fastest talking North Vietnamese radio operator. There was this one NVA chick we called "The Bitch". She passed only six figure code at such blazing speed that her own guys used to ask her to slow down! Our guys could hand copy her every damned day!

The coded intercepts were mainly concerned with supply and troop movements, reports on wounded and BDAs. We were able to decode almost 100% of these transmissions.
Many TACREPs and target frags were obtained from these intercepts.
There was also a large quantity of plain language intercepts.
The plain language intercepts tended to be of the SITREP nature. Daily report stuff, aircraft spotting and AAA site comms. Sometimes we would get some tank comms.

The aircraft spotting reports were really valuable. When they would report an OV-10, for example, we could correlate their siting with an active OV-10 mission and determine the location of the NVA transmitter. Then we could issue a TACREP and get a target frag on that location.
Sometimes the AAA activity involved firing on USAF aircraft. You could hear the guns going in the background. If a shoot down was claimed we could alert rescue forces immediately via a TACREP SongBird.

There were many occasions when we intercepted comms from vehicles when the troops were being entertained by the girls from the Special Action Unit. They would sometimes bump the transmit switch by mistake. These provided some much needed laughs from the usual serious nature of the traffic.

Other traffic seemed to be humorous, but was in fact very important. One intercept I saw personally involved a unit that was unable to get their visit from the Special Action Unit. Their morale was at a very low level and they resorted to some very creative measures of amusement. This was good intel it spoke to the effectiveness of our bombing and interdiction efforts.

The QU-22B, always flown by a pilot on actual missions, was replaced by an EC-130. The EC-130 carried the intel pallet just as the QU-22B did except it took four turboprops and a 4 to 6 man aircrew. Yes, reliability was better, but the QU-22B broke the ground on this remote receiving technology.

25,000 ft., single pilot, single engine, unpressurized, no weather radar, IFR over hostile territory now that is one hell of a tough mission! The QU-22B Compass Flag mission provided timely and accurate information. These are recollections after 40 years. I hope that I remembered things accurately.

OLYMPIC TORCH

The Olympic Torch mission used an intel pallet much like the one installed in the QU-22B. This time the pallet was in two U-2 aircraft based a Utapao. These missions flew an orbit over the Gulf of Tonkin at 72,000 ft or higher. The pallet was downlinked to the 6908th at NKP in the TFA complex. The intercept operators for the Olympic Torch mission were housed in a semi type trailer adjacent to the Compass Flag and 6908th operations area.

The Olympic Torch mission was one of tactical air, air defense and higher level voice intercept. The operators could plot the locations of the MIG fighters based solely on their radio communications. Remember that the Soviet based air intercept system is much different that the American/Free World System. Under the Soviet system back in 1972 the MIG pilots were completely controlled from the ground stations. This GCI, or Ground Controlled Intercept, allowed our operators to plot the actual positions of the MIGs. We could hear when they dropped their aux tanks, changed speeds, armed missles and fired. We even knew when they were low on café(fuel) and had to return to base – prime targets for our guys. This was a huge asset to our own aircraft in the area. Operation T-Ball used this data to vector our own fighters onto the tails of these MIGs during the Linebacker II campaign. T-Ball was highly successful. The T-Ball ops area was across the hall from the Compass Flag ops center.
The air defense function used our intercept operators to monitor SAM site activity in real time and issue tracking and launch warnings to aircraft. Many a pilot heard on the guard frequency "This is T-Ball on guard, SAM, SAM, Bullseye, 140 for 45, T-Ball out." This meant that a SAM site located on a bearing of 140 degrees from Hanoi at a range of 45 nm from Hanoi has launched a missle. Aircraft in this area would start looking or start evasive action.

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