Compartmented control system/Signed Articles/Howard Berkowitz

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Unexpected consequences of compartmented security physical facilities by Howard Berkowitz

For the record, not every sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), the guidelines for which tend to be followed for SAPs, is copper mesh lined, or, as in some, copper sheet. When they are, and the copper isn't allowed to tarnish, it's a rather pleasant environment.

One of my less pleasant SCIF memories was the end of a meeting, when smoking was still permitted in government offices, and the NSA representative lit a cigar. That's when we found the vault door was stuck, and SCIF ventilation leaves something to be desired. There were, however, worse things. In 1970, I was working in a Navy computing facility, in a branch that tracked our own ships -- frightening today how only vaguely we knew where they were until satellite communications were widespread.

An all-hands memo came out from the Captain, decreeing that from that time on, food would not be classified above SECRET. Obviously, everyone had to know the story behind that.

Down the hall from my group was a vaulted set of offices that handled submarine launched ballistic missile targeting. Technically, that's not SCI, because it's not intelligence, but the SAP material there was handled in like manner. The operational targeting stuff was classified (at least) TOP SECRET SIOP/ESI. Every sheet of paper with those classifications was numbered, and the destruction had to be witnessed by two officers, one of which had to be armed.

Taking the burn bag down to the incinerator at the Washington, D.C. garbage facility, and witnessing the destruction was not, shall we say, the most sought-after duty in the place. The junior ensigns really preferred courier runs to Honolulu, but they got what they got.

As I mentioned, one had to be armed. Remember this was the Navy. We had no Marines. Naval officers tended not to be all that proficient with handguns, and after a regrettable incident when one ensign shot himself in the foot, the Captain came up with something that technically met the regulations. He interpreted that "armed" meant that the individual had to have a firearm, but it didn't say anything about ammunition. After the foot incident, one officer was given the .32 automatic, but a security guard, with a pistol he knew how to use, accompanied the officers. Barney Fife style, the guard held the .32 clip, and was told to give it to the ensign if circumstances called for it.

Well, the rumor mill quickly got active. Two ensigns had been observed coming in the main entrance, screaming at a hysterically laughing security guard to give them the ammunition, so they could go kill somebody.

This was summer in Washington, and Navy uniforms were often whites. These two ensigns' whites were rather foul-smelling and smeared in unpleasant shades of green and brown.

As was reconstructed, someone was having his lunch in the vault, and didn't finish what was thought to have been a sardine sandwich. Instead of the unclassified trash can, he threw the remnants into the TS/SIOP-ESI burn bag. It fermented for a while, the vault's air conditioning being less than ideal.

Flash back to the incinerator. Ensign 1 would take a sheet of paper, numbered and saturated in fermenting fish, out, and recite "I recognize sheet number 12792." The other ensign would say "I confirm 12792." Ensign 1 would throw the reeking sheet into the incinerator, and the junior officers would then take turns retching, as the guard with the ammunition stayed a safe distance away.

It was determined that the ensigns wanted the clip, so they could go find the individual who put the sandwich in the bag, and shoot him. Since SECRET and below didn't need to be accounted for when destroyed, those burn bags were OK with food, hence the order.

With a Navy like that, we could understand the German General Staff axiom, "War is chaos. The Americans do so well because they practice chaos every day."

© 2008 Howard C. Berkowitz. Reprinted with permission of the author.