This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump - We Are The Mighty
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This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

In February 1967, the U.S. Army launched Operation Junction City, one of the largest operations of the Vietnam War and one that included the only major combat jump of the war.


Joining the 173rd Airborne Brigade on their historic mission was a young civilian, Catherine Leroy, who many believe to be the first civilian journalist ever to participate in a combat jump.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

Catherine Leroy was born in Paris in 1945 in the shadow of World War II. Raised in a convent, she was intrigued by the photos of World War II she saw. Then in 1966, at the age of 21, she bought a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia and left home with nothing but a camera and $100 in her pocket.

When she arrived in Saigon, she met legendary photojournalist Horst Faas who gave her three rolls of film and promised to pay her $15 for every photo that was published.

At 5 foot nothing and weighing only 85 pounds, she humped the jungles in combat boots two sizes too big – she couldn’t find any small enough to fit her size four feet – and carrying near her body weight in camera equipment and other gear. But she was determined to capture the human element of war.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
A Marine screams in pain, Operation Prairie, near the DMZ (Photo by Catherine Leroy)

Not long after arriving in country, she found her way to the front lines with American forces. Her determination lead her so far forward that on February 22, 1967 she joined the 173rd during their combat jump as part of Operation Junction City. This made her the first newsperson to jump into combat with American forces. However, she was soon slapped with a 6-month ban from the front lines for cussing out an officer – in her defense, most of the English words she had learned up to that point had come from hanging out with foul-mouthed grunts, so cussing was about all she could do in English.

In early 1968, Leroy was with the Marines during the Battle of Khe Sanh. It was while she was with the Marines battling for Hill 881 that she took her most famous photo “Corpsman in Anguish” depicting a Navy Corpsman tending to a wounded Marine as he passes away.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Corpsman in Anguish (Photo by Catherine Leroy)

Two weeks later during more intense fighting Leroy was wounded and nearly killed by an enemy mortar. She was badly wounded and as she lay stunned, she heard what she thought would be her last words: “I think she’s dead, Sarge.” She credits her camera with saving her, as the largest piece of shrapnel destroyed it instead of entering her chest.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
A soldier of the 1st Air Calvary Division punches a Viet Cong who was caught hiding in a stream, Bong Song (Photo by Catherine Leroy)

Later in 1968, she was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive. Relying on nothing but wit and charm she was able to convince her captors to let her go. Before she left, she managed to do something no other photographer had done in the war, get pictures of the NVA behind their own lines. These pictures made the cover of Life Magazine under the title “A Remarkable Day in Hue: The Enemy Lets Me Take His Picture.”

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
A North Vietnamese soldier atop his foxhole (Photo by Catherine Leroy)

During her time in Vietnam, Leroy also became known as “the woman with the wine” to the troops out in the field. Instead of carrying the heavier C rations in her already heavy pack she would bring a six-pack of wine in cans and trade or share it for food with the troops she was with.

Leroy also said she never had a problem being a woman in Vietnam. “I was never propositioned or found myself in a difficult situation, sexually,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 2002. “When you spend days and nights in the field, you’re just as miserable as the men – and you smell so bad anyway.”

Catherine Leroy would continue to cover the war in Vietnam until the Fall of Saigon in 1975. In 1972, she made a documentary, “Operation Last Patrol,” about anti-war Vietnam Veterans, particularly Ron Kovic. Kovic was inspired by the movie to write a book, “Born on the Fourth of July,” that would later become a movie starring Tom Cruise.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Wounded soldier being bandaged (Photo by Catherine Leroy)

After Vietnam she covered other war zones. She covered the civil war in Lebanon and later the Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanon. She co-authored a book, “God Cried,” about the siege of West Beirut by the Israeli Army in 1982.

During her career, she was awarded the George Polk Picture of the Year in 1967 and the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award for her coverage of the street fighting in Beirut in 1976. Leroy died of Lung Cancer in 2006.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Leroy in Vietnam

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Montel Williams is asking the presidential candidates about this Marine veteran imprisoned by Iran

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump


American television personality Montel Williams wants the Democratic presidential candidates to talk about a Marine veteran imprisoned in Iran, and he’s using his star power to make it happen.

In addition to questions asked by the moderators at Tuesday’s debate, CNN is soliciting questions from anyone via Facebook and Instagram, some of which will end up being asked by Don Lemon. In a video posted to his Facebook page, Williams — who served in the Marine Corps and Navy — asks about Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran held in Iran for more than four years, the longest of any American held there.

“What will the candidates do to bring him home so that his father’s dying wish to see his son just one more time comes true?” Williams asks.

Born in Arizona to Iranian immigrants in 1983, Amir Hekmati served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps — mostly as a translator — and he was discharged in 2005 as a sergeant. In 2011, he decided to visit his extended family in Tehran, but soon after he arrived, he was arrested and sentenced to death by an Iranian court on charges of spying for the CIA, according to Al Jazeera America.

Iran later released a videotaped confession of Hekmati, where he admitted to being recruited into companies affiliated with the CIA with the goal of infiltrating Iranian intelligence.

“Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN in 2012. “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

Hekmati’s death sentence was later repealed in March 2012 and a new trial was ordered, though that has yet to take place. He continues to be held in prison in Tehran with little contact with the outside world, though he was able smuggle a letter out of jail, according to The Guardian. In it, in which he addressed Secretary of State John Kerry, he wrote:

For over 2 years I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement. This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad. I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition.

The debate airs live on CNN at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

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This program brings vets closer to home by working the land

Christopher Brown squats among knee-high rows of green garlic. He grasps a stalk at its base and tugs it from the ground with a satisfying crunch. After popping several plants from the soil, he peels back their papery protective layers, revealing bulbs that are a brilliant, glossy white.


Six months ago, much of this Skagit Valley farmland was a mucky soup of tangled grass, mud and standing water under stormy skies. Today, it’s a pleasant 70 degrees. Rows of produce, from garlic and sugar snap peas to kale and broccoli, spring from the valley’s soft loam.

A three-time Marine combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown struggled to adjust when he returned to the U.S. So, too, did many of the men and women who are now harvesting produce alongside him — military veterans from all branches, of all ages.

Welcome to Growing Veterans, the thriving nonprofit that has transformed the life of Brown, its president and co-founder, and the lives of many of its workers and volunteers.

Together, they use sustainable practices to plant, grow and harvest a rich variety of produce for sale at farmers markets and donation to food banks. It is satisfying work, but there’s a deeper mission at stake: helping veterans reconnect — to each other, and to the communities they serve. And, in the process, tackling the pervasive isolation that underlies many of the issues they face.

In the morning, they park their cars in the gravel driveway of a former dairy farm. They greet each other with hugs. As they work, they share stories — funny stories, sad stories, terrifying stories — from their time in the service. They talk politics. Medications. Family. Civilian life.

Brown has a story of his own. In 2008, he returned from his final tour of duty. “There was a lot of guilt, grief, anger, frustration and anxiety,” he says. He also had to cope with a mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

His struggles were not unique. Along with PTSD, many returning veterans face depression. Substance abuse. Unemployment. Homelessness. And suicidal thoughts.

There was a lot of guilt, grief, anger, frustration, and anxiety

Brown’s Marine battalion, the 2/7, has a suicide rate four times that of all young male veterans. At least 15 men from the battalion have taken their own lives since he left the military.

“When I went back to get my undergraduate degree,” he says, “I made a commitment to myself that I would pursue an education and a career where those losses would not be in vain.”

Brown also began working on his own mental health. He spent over two years in group and individual counseling, processing his traumas and learning coping strategies. Following the advice of his counselor, he started growing plants as a way to reconnect with life.

Soon, he was harvesting food from his own garden for dinner, and he was feeling better and better. “I realized that there really is something to working with food and growing plants,” he says.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

And then, just before he turned his thoughts to graduate school at the University of Washington, he says, it clicked: Why not combine food and sustainable agriculture with helping veterans?

For the past four years, he has done just that. Along with counselor-turned-farmer Christina Wolf, who serves as operations manager, Brown co-founded Growing Veterans on a 3.5-acre site north of Bellingham. The organization has since leased its expansive Skagit Valley location and a half-acre spot in Auburn, and continued to deepen its connections with regional farm agencies, veteran service providers and nonprofits.

Brown, who just completed his master’s in social work at the UW, and Wolf have also deepened their organization’s focus on mental health. Each of Growing Veterans’ nine employees has completed a peer-support training program designed to tackle veteran isolation and prevent suicide.

And beyond providing life-sustaining social support at its farms, Growing Veterans helps people connect with as many meaningful opportunities as possible: through other local and national veteran organizations, business and community networking, and educational projects.

There’s plenty of excitement cropping up for Growing Veterans. More community partners. More acreage planted. More people receiving healthy, sustainably grown produce. More veterans beginning the journey to healing.

But there’s also tremendous power in the present: The warmth of the sun. The fertile soil that gently gives way under each step. And the rhythm with which dirt-covered, callused hands pick and peel bunches of garlic, set them aside, and then begin anew.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

When Growing Veterans was just getting off its feet, Christopher Brown embarked upon another journey: He took on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Washington.

Now a newly minted graduate, Brown recently transitioned from executive director of Growing Veterans to president of the board of directors — freeing up time to launch his career as a PTSD counselor for veterans.

Brown says the UW’s flexible M.S.W. extended degree program gave him much more than just the tools and credentials he needed to be a counselor.

His professors supported him as he focused many of his research projects on furthering the mission of Growing Veterans. And, though his concentration was in integrative health and mental health practice, Brown also learned about leadership and community building.

“Many of my professors also ran their own foundations and brought their worldly experience to the classroom,” he says. “They helped challenge and refine not only my understanding of how to work with others, but my view of the world, too.”

For more on Growing Veterans visit their website here.

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Army chief wants power to select new pistol

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
1st Lt. Lyndon Hill, assigned to 30th Medical Command, fires the M9 pistol during United States Army Europe’s Best Junior Officer Competition | U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach


The U.S. Army‘s chief of staff said Thursday that if he had his way, he’d abandon the bureaucratic Modular Handgun System effort and personally select the service’s next pistol.

Speaking at the Future of War Conference 2016, Gen. Mark Milley said he has asked Congress to grant service chiefs the authority to bypass the Pentagon’s multi-layered and complex acquisition process on programs that do not require research and development.

“We are not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon, right?” Milley said. “This is a pistol. And arguably, it is the least lethal and important weapon system in the Department of Defense inventory.”

The Army launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August to replace its Cold War era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the MHS effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.

Gunmakers had until Feb. 12 to submit proposals to the Army.

Milley used the program as an example of the bureaucratic acquisition system that often makes it overly complicated to field equipment to soldiers in a timely manner.

“We are trying to figure out a way to speed up the acquisition system,” Milley said. “Some of these systems take multiple years, some of them decades to develop.”

As the service chief, Milley said he should be able to say “here is your purpose; here is the end-state I want to achieve … if you succeed, you are promoted and I give you a medal. If you fail, you are fired. You hold people accountable.

“I’m saying let me and then hold me accountable,” he added. “Let me figure out what type of pistol we need and let me go buy it without having to go through nine years of incredibly scrutiny.”

The program has a “367-page requirement document. Why?” Milley asked. “Well, a lawyer says this and a lawyer says that and you have to go through this process and that process and you have to have oversight from this that and the other.”

Milley also criticized the lengthy testing process for MHS that’s slated to cost $17 million.

“The testing — I got a briefing the other day — the testing for this pistol is two years,” Milley said. “Two years to test technology that we know exists. You give me $17 million on the credit card, I’ll call Cabelas tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol and I’ll get a discount on it for bulk buys.”

That calculation appears off, though, since the handguns under consideration retail between $400 and $700 apiece and the military may purchase nearly a half million firearms as part of the program.

Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 full-size handguns and 7,000 compact versions, officials maintain. The other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.

MHS is set to cost at least $350 million and potentially millions more if it results in the selection of a more potent pistol caliber, sources said.

The request for proposal calls on gun makers to submit packages that include full-size and compact versions of their handgun as well as hundreds of thousands of rounds for testing.

In a break from tradition, the Army is also requiring competing firms to prove that they are capable of delivering millions of rounds of pistol ammunition per month in addition to delivering thousands of new handguns per month, according to the request.

The competition will also evaluate expanding or fragmenting ammunition, such as hollow-point bullets, that have been used by law enforcement agencies for years. The Army’s draft solicitation cited a new Defense Department policy that allows for the use of “special purpose ammunition.”

“We are not figuring out the next lunar landing,” Milley said. “This is a pistol.

“There is a certain degree of common sense to this stuff and that is what I am talking about — empower the service chiefs with the capability to go out and do certain things. Speed the process up.”

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Putin says Russia is pulling its forces from Syria

Russia announced today that they are pulling most of their forces out of Syria because Russian air and missile strikes there over the last six months have allowed the Syrian government to push back rebels in many key areas.


“I hope that today’s decision will be a good signal for all parties to the conflict,” Putin said on state television. “I hope that this will considerably increase the level of trust between all parties of the Syrian settlement and will contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian issue.”

Russia will keep forces at its new air force base in Latakia, Syria. The base was carved out of Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in 2015 and has been the central hub for Russian air operations in Syria. Russian forces will also remain at the Cold War-era naval base in Tartus, Syria.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Russian Hind helicopters launch rockets. Photo: Alex Beltyukov CC BY-SA 3.0

According to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Russian mission in Syria flew over 9,000 sorties and helped the Syrian government retake 400 settlements and 3,860 sq. miles of territory.

The Syrian government was teetering on the edge of collapse before the Russians intervened, but now it has forces surrounding the rebel stronghold of Aleppo. In February, government forces took sections of the city before their supply lines were cut by ISIS attacks.

Putin’s announcement that Russian forces were withdrawing came the same day that peace talks resumed in Geneva, Switzerland. Earlier talks had resulted in a shaky ceasefire but the Syrian government was accused multiple times of breaking the terms of the deal. The timing has led to speculation that Putin’s announcement was timed to place pressure on President Bashir Al-Assad to seek a peace deal.

Any deal would not directly affect operations against ISIS as the terror group is not party to the negotiations. But, a truce between government forces and moderate rebels would allow both groups to focus more resources and manpower against ISIS.

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The Air Force created an army of online trolls

Everyone gets Facebook friend requests from strangers. We used to worry about them being identity thieves. Nowadays, those strangers might be spooks.


This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

Many experts agree cyberspace is the battleground of the future, and for good reason. We see that future playing out in many ways, even now. There are real cybersecurity threats out there, as the recent hacking of the Office of Personnel Management demonstrates. Experts estimate the cost of information lost to hackers could be as high as $4.6 billion.

This isn’t The Pirate Bay sharing films and music via free torrent downloads. This is actual damage from ideological foes like ISIS and North Korea. China alone accounts for 70% of intellectual property theft. One Air Force counter strategy took a play from Russia’s playbook: create an online army of trolls.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

Russian trolls pump out 135 comments, 50 news article posts, and maintain 6-10 Facebook and Twitter accounts per 12-hour shift. But Russia uses actual humans to do this work, while the Air Force commissioned software to allow one service member to control the same number of online identities, accounts known as “sock puppets,” toward purposes not specified.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Unlike the Air Force’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts, which rightfully celebrate National Waffle Day.

In 2010, Air Force contractors took bids for developing this software on FedBizOps (which is a real government website, despite sounding like a subsidiary of Cash4Gold) as legally required for potential contractor opportunities. According to the contract synopsis the Air Force wanted:

“50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user. Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.”

That’s 500 people spreading disinformation and propaganda, much more than the mass emails your parents send to all their friends.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has the same technology. It might even be better than the Air Force’s request, as CENTCOM’s can fool geolocating services, allowing for misinformation and propaganda (or anything else the software could provide) from anywhere in the world.

“This contract supports classified social media activities outside the U.S., intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda,” said Commander Bill Speaks, the chief media officer of CENTCOM’s digital engagement team.

In contrast, the Air Force’s guidelines for actual humans posting on blogs and social media is actually pretty well constructed.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump

One of the original bidders for the software was the now-defunct HBGary, whose CEO infamously bragged he was able to take down hacker collective Anonymous, the same collective who subsequently dumped HBGary’s secret documents onto the Internet, where it was found HBGary had developed similar software as a part of the U.S. government’s ongoing not-so-secret supervillain plan to destroy the Wikileaks website.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Supervillainy is another area dominated by the Russians

Whatever the persona technology was for, it was launched in March 2011, presumably in support of Operation Earnest Voice. For the record, it would be illegal for the Air Force or CENTCOM to use “sock puppet” accounts against American citizens.

NOW: Russia has a ‘troll farm’ of people posting crazy internet comments all day long

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5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

You never invited combat stress or post-traumatic stress disorder to be a part of your marriage. But there it is anyway, making everything harder.


Sometimes you want to give up. Why does everything have to be so, so hard? Other times, you wish someone would just give you a manual for dealing with the whole thing. Surely there’s a way to know how to handle this disease?

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
Understanding PTSD is critical for both members of a military marriage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

Like the rest of marriage, loving someone who suffers from PTSD or who is trying to work through the ghosts of combat doesn’t come with a guidebook. And although the whole thing can feel very isolating (everyone else seems fine! Is my marriage the only one in trouble?) that doesn’t mean you’re alone.

Therapists who specialize in PTSD know that while some couples may put on a good show for the outside world, dealing with trauma is hard work and, no, everything is not perfect.

If you’re dealing with PTSD at home, you are not alone.

Also read: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Husband and wife team Marc and Sonja Raciti are working to help military couples work through how PTSD can impact their marriages. Marc, a veteran, has written a book on the subject, “I Just Want To See Trees: A Journey Through PTSD.” Sonja is a licensed professional counselor.

The Racitis said there are five things that a spouse dealing with PTSD in marriage should know.

1. It’s normal for PTSD to impact the whole family.

If you feel like your life has changed since PTSD came to your home, you’re probably right. The habits that might help your spouse get through the day, like avoiding crowded spaces, may become your habits too.

“PTSD is a disease of avoidance — so you avoid those triggers that the person with PTSD has — but as the partner you begin to do the same thing,” Sonja Raciti said.

Remember that marriage is a team sport, and it’s OK to tackle together the things that impact it.

2. Get professional help

. The avoidance that comes with PTSD doesn’t just mean avoiding certain activities — it can also mean avoiding dealing with the trauma head on. But trying to handle PTSD alone is a mistake, the Racitis said.

“We both are really big into seeking treatment, getting a professional to really help you and see what treatment you’re going to benefit from,” Sonja said. “Finding a clinician who you meet with, and click with and really specializes in PTSD is so, so important.”

3. No, you’re not the one with PTSD. But you may have symptoms anyway.

The Racitis said it is very common for the spouses of those dealing with PTSD to have trouble sleeping or battle depression, just like their service member. That’s why it’s important for everyone in the family to be on the same page tackling the disease — because it impacts them too.

4. Be there.

As with so many issues in marriage, communication is key, the Racitis said. But also important is being supportive and adapting to whatever life built around living with PTSD looks like for you.

“You have to adapt — the original man you married has changed. The experience has changed him and that’s part of life,” Sonja says. “He has gone through something that has been horrific, and life altering and life changing, and together you’re going to adapt to that and you’re going to help support each other in that.”

5. Don’t give up.

It can seem very tempting to just give up and walk away, they said. After all, the person you married may have changed dramatically. And while splitting may ultimately be the right answer for you, it doesn’t have to be only solution on the table.

“Don’t give up,” Marc said. “It’s so easy to do. It’s the path of least resistance. But people who engage, people who actively engage — these are the marriages that survive.”

— Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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The CIA built a secret and groundbreaking mobile text messaging system in the late 1970s

One of the most significant US intelligence operations in modern history took place in the heart of Soviet Moscow, during an especially dangerous period of the Cold War.


From 1979 to 1985 — a span that includes President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, the 1983 US-Soviet war scare, the deaths of three Soviet General Secretaries, the shooting-down of KAL 007, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — the CIA was receiving high-value intelligence from a source deeply embedded in an important Soviet military laboratory.

Over a period of several years, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics related to the next generation of Soviet radar systems.

Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities. Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft.

This was vitally important information. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could develop its fighter aircraft, and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles, to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection — and to exploit gaps in Soviet radar systems.

The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. If a hot war had ever broken out between the US and the Soviet Union, Tolkachev’s information may have given the US a decisive advantage in the air and aided in guiding cruise missiles past Soviet detection systems. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. And he’s part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive story of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose. And it revisits a compelling example of the unexpected ways in which technology can effect intelligence collection.

In the 1960s, the CIA was attempting to develop a hand-held two-way communications system that would allow case officers to swap messages with sources without having to physically meet.

There were a few possible advantages to these early Short-Range Agent Communications devices (SRAC). SRAC systems could eliminate detection risks associated with face-to-face meetings. Messages could be sent directly to sources, rather than left in vulnerable “dead drops” or conveyed through risky “brush passes” in public. Agents could transmit instructions in text-form over short distances, using radio frequencies that were far more difficult to intercept than those used for long-range or telephonic communications.

Buster, an early version of SRAC, had “two portable base stations — each about the size of a shoe box — and one agent unit that could be concealed in a coat pocket,” Hoffman writes. “With a tiny keyboard one and a half inches square, the agent would first convert a text message into a cipher code, then peck the code into the keypad. Once the data were loaded — Buster could hold 1500 characters — the agent would go somewhere within a thousand feet of the base station and press a ‘send’ button.”

This “primitive text-messaging system” underwent a major upgrade in the late 1970s. The Discus, a greatly improved version of Buster, “eliminated the need for the bulky base station and could transmit to a case officer holding a second small unit hundreds of feet away.” The Discus consisted of just two devices that could send and receive messages, along with a keyboard larger and more user-friendly than Buster’s. The terminals were small enough to fit in an agent or source’s coat pocket.

In addition, the Discus automatically encrypted its messages, eliminating the cumbersome process of converting communications into cipher code. It could also transmit a larger data load than its predecessor.

As Hoffman puts it, the device was “way ahead of its time,” a hand-held personal messaging system in an era when there was “nothing remotely like the Blackberry or the iPhone” in existence — except for the Discus.

Although there are no open-source images of the Discus, the CIA has published images of early text-messaging systems used by rival agencies. This East German device from the mid-1960s could wirelessly send and transcribe morse code messages at a range of up to 300 miles. Its

At one point, the CIA considered giving Tolkachev a Discus that he could use to signal his handlers for meetings, since just relaying even basic messages in Cold War-era Moscow ran a a significant risk of exposure. Some hoped the Discus could eventually be used to send intelligence: “While the traditional method of dead drops usually took a day or longer to signal, place, and collect, the electronic communicator could transmit urgent intelligence almost instantly,” Hoffman writes.

The Discus could be “an invulnerable magic carpet that would soar over the heads fo the KGB.”

But there were a few drawbacks. In order to send and receive a message, both users had to remain still. A user would know that a message had arrived when a red light flashed on the device, but had to remain in place until they were positive it had been received. On top of that, even something as basic as checking for a flashing light on a concealed piece of complex electronics could give an operative away in a city swarming with counter-intelligence agents.

The Discus was also obvious spy equipment. There was no plausible cover story that a source could concoct if the device were ever spotted. It would almost necessarily compromise the source and expose the CIA’s work.

There was another, more fundamental problem with the technology. The Tolkachev operation was successful in large part because a succession of talented CIA case officers had built up trust with the radar researcher based on little more than hand-written notes and brief and infrequent face-to-face meetings. From that, the CIA was able to build a profile of Tolkachev, analyzing his motives and state of mind and ensuring that the Agency wouldn’t alienate, needlessly endanger, or psychologically break one of the most important intelligence assets in US history.

That was only possible because of masterful case officer handling of Tolkachev. “Human intelligence” methods that would still be essential to espionage regardless of how far technology advanced — as Hoffman writes, some of the agents involved in handling Tolkachev realized that in spite of the the Discus’s impressive technology, “they still needed to look the agent in the eye, and Tolkachev needed to shake the hand of a case officer he could trust.”

Tolkachev was eventually given a Discus, but never successfully used it to contact the CIA. Other, less technically sophisticated methods proved more effective in his case.

Hand-held communication devices are now ubiquitous around the world. The Discus represented a huge step forward, and it’s a virtually unknown fore-runner of smart phone technology. But it’s still an example of how even the most vaunted technology doesn’t automatically solve every problem in intelligence and national security. The human element will always be decisive — no matter how good the technology may look.

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This colorized German war footage shows why Stalingrad was hell on Earth

It was the pivotal battle that most historians believe turned the tide against the Nazis for good in World War II, resulting in a cascade of defeats as the Wehrmacht beat its retreat to Germany from the Soviet Eastern Front.


But it wasn’t always that way, and in the opening months of Operation Barbarossa the German army seemed poised for a stunning victory against the Red Army.

As part of its push to secure the southern Caucasian oil fields, the German 6th Army was ordered to take the city of Stalingrad in September 1942, a move some historians believe was strategically irrelevant as the Nazis were already well on their way to Baku.

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The German army quickly made it to the center of the city in Stalingrad, but was eventually cut off from resupply and forced to surrender in early 1943. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

But many believe Adolf Hitler wanted to capture the city as a thumb in the eye to Soviet leader Josef Stalin, for whom the city was renamed.

Initially, the German army was able to push well into the city, taking the Univermag department store at its center. But the Red Army dug into the city’s industrial areas along the banks of the Volga river and the battle ground down into a brutal street-by-street slugfest.

One of the Red Army’s most accomplished generals, Marshall Georgi Zhukov, hatched a plan to surround the 6th Army and cut off its supply lines. And by mid-November, the Soviets began to squeeze the Nazis inside the city.

As winter descended, the Germans were running out of food, ammunition and other supplies, and when a rescue mission launched by Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein failed to break through, the Nazi’s fate was sealed. The German forces under the command of Gen. Friedrich Paulus eventually surrendered in early February 1943.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
While the Soviets lost nearly 500,000 men in the battle, the Wehrmacht surrendered 91,000 soldiers and lost nearly 150,000. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

It was a horrific battle waged on a titanic scale in a battlefield unlike any seen in modern times. In all, the Germans lost about 147,000 men in the battle while surrendering 91,000. The Soviets took even more catastrophic losses, with 480,000 dead and 650,000 wounded. An estimated 40,000 civilians were killed in the fighting.

Watch some of the extraordinary footage sent back by German photographers of the battle for Stalingrad culled from historical archives and colorized for a more vivid portrayal from FootageArchive.

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Air Force announces first 30 enlisted drone pilots

The first 30 board-selected enlisted airmen will begin training to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, the Air Force announced Wednesday.


The service’s inaugural Enlisted Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot Selection Board picked two senior master sergeants, five master sergeants, nine technical sergeants, 14 staff sergeants and five alternates from about 200 active-duty applicants from various job assignments, according to a release.

Related: 6 ways to use those retired Predator drones

“These 30 Airmen join the Enlisted RPA Pilot program along with the 12 other Airmen from the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, four of whom started training in October 2016,” it states. “The Air Force plans for the number of enlisted RPA pilots to grow to 100 within four years.”

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Tech. Sgt. William, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing sensor operator, flies a simulated mission June 10, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The 432nd WG trains and deploys MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircrews in support of global operations 24/7/365. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen/Released)

The selection board met in February to deliberate and choose from 185 active-duty enlisted airmen who made it past an initial qualifying phase of the program. Airmen holding rank from staff sergeant through senior master sergeant and having six years of retainability from course graduation date were considered for the board, the release said. Those considered also had to complete the Air Force’s initial flying class II physical examination, plus a pilot qualification test.

Two airmen from the board are expected to begin the Initial Flight Training program at Colorado’s Pueblo Memorial Airport by April, Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson told Military.com last month. Subsequently, two enlisted airmen will be part of each class thereafter throughout this fiscal year and into early next fiscal year, Dickerson said.

Also read: Here’s how bad the Air Force’s pilot shortage really is

The Air Force announced in 2015 it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft.

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U.S. Air Force photo

The AFPC said in November that 305 active-duty enlisted airmen had been identified to apply for the selection board. The center saw a surge of interest from potential RPA airmen during the application process that began last year, AFPC said at the time. It received more than 800 applicants, compared to a typical 200 applicants.

The Air Force said its next call for nominations for the 2018 enlisted RPA pilot selection board is scheduled for next month, the release said.

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In the ongoing fight between Delta Force and ISIS, Deltas win again

A 200-strong force of U.S. special operators, led by the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force, recently arrived in Iraq. Until now, the bulk of U.S. efforts against the terror organization have been through aerial operations, bombing and air support for Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground. The United States now has this significant ground combat force in the country, the first combat troops on Iraqi soil since the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2011.


Taking a page from General Stanley McChrystal’s special operations playbook from the Iraq War circa 2004-2006, today’s operators established internal intelligence networks to tackle the ISIS networks working against Iraqi and American forces. This strategy led to the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (what would become ISIS) most notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. Now, the strategy has led to the capture of a “significant” ISIS operative in Iraq and is currently questioning him for intelligence information.

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Is there anything more awesome than seeing US Special Forces inside a captured ISIS compound?

Related: SEAL Team 6’s plan to surrender and 7 other amazing JSOC tales

This isn’t the first time an ISIS (or Daesh, as the group loathes to be called) fighter has been captured but it is the first time a “significant” member of the terror group has been captured. It is also the first time the “network vs. network” strategy yielded such a result – just weeks after it was was raised. The high value detainee has not been identified. The “key operative” has been moved to Irbil, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, where, eventually he will be handed over to Iraqi authorities.

The ground force is known as a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” at the Pentagon, and their missions will include intelligence gathering through raids on ISIS strongholds, grabbing papers, hard drives, and capturing operatives. The presence of the U.S. special operators also gives the United States the ability to conduct hostage rescue raids. These raids will continue and will look like the May 2015 raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS oil minister, along with mobile phones, laptops, and other intel.

The exact timing of the latest raid was not disclosed.

U.S. Army Delta Force soldier Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed by enemy gunfire during a raid to rescue 70 hostages from an ISIS compound in Iraq in 2015. His death was the first American combat fatality since the U.S. returned to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve.

 

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In spite of comparisons, here’s why these conventions won’t be like Chicago in ’68

 


The media has been eager to paint the upcoming political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia as repeats of the DNC convention of 1968, but is this a valid analogy? The 60’s were some of the most turbulent years in the history of the United States. The Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, and the anti-war movement divided America like nothing since the Civil War, and it all came to a violent head in Chicago during the summer of 1968.

Here are the building blocks of that chaos:

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1. LBJ does not seek re-election

President Lyndon B. Johnson stunned the country by announcing he would not seek re-election to the presidency. Johnson, despite passing historic civil rights legislation and furthering the integration of the South, also escalated the war in Vietnam. It was in 1968 that the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive and began the perception that the United States was losing the war. Johnson withdrew from the primaries, endorsing his VP, Hubert Humphrey, for the job.

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The fact that you don’t know if this is Humphrey or not should tell you how his election went.

It was during this tumultuous period that former Vice-President (under Eisenhower) Richard Nixon saw a political renaissance and re-emerged into the national spotlight. Nixon lost the Presidential election of 1960 and was famously trounced in the election for governor of California in 1962. Many thought this was the end of his political career, and as if to punctuate the loss, Nixon told the press: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

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Boom. Nixon – 1, Hippies – 0

But they would have Nixon to kick around again. His campaigning for Republican candidates helped the GOP regain seats in 1966, and Nixon believed a Democratic Party split on Vietnam could be beaten. Nixon easily beat out the other Republican candidates on the first ballot in the Republican Convention in Miami, including George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, and a more “extremist” up-and-comer named Ronald Reagan.

2. The Democratic Party is corrupt

The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago is probably the most infamous in American history. After Robert Kennedy was assassinated, his nearly 400 delegates were up for grabs by the other candidates. The party was in fact divided over the Vietnam War, with Humphrey running on the pro-war Johnson platform and Senator Eugene McCarthy running an anti-war campaign. Even though 80 percent of Democratic voters voted for peace candidates, the nomination still went to Humphrey, even though he didn’t enter any of the state primaries. Peace Democrats saw corruption in the party.

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Best headline of the year.

Outside the convention, a coalition of anti-war groups converged on Chicago. When Mayor Richard Daley learned there were upwards of 10,000 protesters outside, he organized a response consisting of 23,000 policemen and Illinois National Guard troops. Daley was worried they would try to disrupt the convention, spike Chicago’s water with LSD, or attempt to harm the candidates. the area was swarmed with National Guard troops, who formed around the convention and surrounding hotels. The Chicago Tribune called the convention site “a veritable stockade.” The stage for a battle was set.

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The National Guard in Chicago, 1968 (photo by Bea Carson)

3. Protesters fight police in Chicago

On August 28, the crowd gathered at nearby Grant Park. When one of them lowered the American flag at the park, police officers broke through the crowd and beat the demonstrator. The crowd began to throw food, rocks, and pieces of concrete at the cops. The riot broke out in front of the Chicago Hilton, right in full view of all the TV cameras, as the crowd chanted “the whole world is watching.

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Student demonstrators in Grant Park (photo by Bea Carson)

Inside the convention, even journalists were roughed up. Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, and Ed Newman were all punched or otherwise assaulted in some way. Rather was famously punched in the gut by a security officer. Walter Cronkite even said of the convention, “I think we have a bunch of thugs here…” When one person tried to nominate George McGovern in a speech, he took the opportunity to mention that if McGovern were president, the police wouldn’t be using Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.

This woman was likely the first journalist to ever make a combat jump
National Guard trucks rolling down Michigan Avenue, 1968 (photo by Bea Carson)

4. Nixon wins

The police brutally beat and gassed protesters, reporters, and doctors who came to help. The incident became known as “The Battle of Michigan Avenue.” It split the Democrats in 1968 and allowed Nixon, who ran a campaign on restoring law and order and pulling out of Vietnam, to ascend to the Presidency.

This most unsteady course of events in American history altered the way the Cold War was fought, created distrust in the office of the President, and didn’t stop until after Nixon’s resignation in 1974, which ended over a decade of social unrest, upheaval, and uncertainty in the United States.

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