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Back in the day when I was in Military Intelligence (there are a lot of people who have suggested to me that the term 'Military Intelligence' qualifies as an oxymoron, and they might be right) we had a great deal of time devoted to listening to countless hours of meaningless dribble while we waited for something interesting to turn up. On the whole, if the entire mission got one hour of excitement out of an entire month, we were on a roll. Coming upon meaningful intelligence is a lot like searching for a needle in a haystack; a) you don't even know if it's actually in there, and b) finding a tiny little sharp needle in a stack of hay is tedious and often impossible. You could search for days, months, even years and never come across anything that isn't just more hay. Technology has advanced light years since then, of course, and I imagine that it is a lot more precise now than it was back when I was involved with it. In the minds of my children, that was pretty much back when dinosaurs walked the earth and just after the last ice age. Now we have websites where you can pinpoint your own house from space. Back then we had satellites, but pinpointing anything was more like throwing a bucket of water at a forest of trees and hoping that you managed to get a hardwood wet. People today are pretty oblivious to how exposed they are by all their electronic toys. The fact of the matter is that if someone wants to know what you are up to and they have the right equipment and the knowledge, you wouldn't be able to order a pizza on your cell phone without them knowing about it. When I was learning about electronic intelligence gathering in the Army they taught us that it was far easier to intercept electronics than it was to keep them secure. Hence the problem of 14 year olds managing to hack into the Pentagon. I doubt if the security problems have lessoned all that much since I was doing it, if anything, I would guess that the dangers have multiplied.
I suspect that modern intelligence gathering still involves a great deal of tedium. It did for us. Back in the day we used to listen to reel after reel of tiresome phone conversations, cavalry and artillery maneuvers in eastern Europe, aerial refueling over the arctic circle, and everything else you can think of that sounds like it would make your brains start to pour out of your eye sockets. As a consequence, we tended to occasionally occupy ourselves with the business of staying awake and reasonably amused. The intelligence business is unlike any other mission in the armed services. We worked together with all branches and all ranks and the lines between them were pretty blurred. You didn't get assigned to our mission without being something of a smarty-pants, so a lot of us were kind of obnoxious and a little crazy. We worked in a huge room full of partitions and electronic equipment which, in those days, took up plenty of space. No microchips for us. The computer rooms were enormous to accommodate the computers, which were also huge. The officer in command of our mission was a Navy Admiral who didn't have a lot of use for anything that didn't float on water or anyone who didn't sail on the thing floating on the water. Some Navy guys were like that, just as some Airforce guys were silly about flying things. The Army and Marines didn't really care; the Marines called the Navy guys floating chauffeurs and the Army called the Airforce the flying taxi service. Your average cavalry officer had no problem with anyone who had the sense not to ride around in a tank or a jeep.
Our Admiral was located in the back corner of the room in his own special area surrounded by standard ugly green partitions. When we happened upon anything particularly interesting we were supposed to type it up on a piece of paper, stamp it Top Secret, and give it to him. Unfortunately, being bored to tears most of the time, we decided the best way to do this was to fold it into a paper airplane and fly it over the partition into his office. We had contests challenging everyone to design the perfect airplane with the best distance and accuracy. I won once, which made the Airforce guy sitting next to me kind of huffy. Needless to say, the Admiral was not amused. When a paper airplane sailed into his area he would roar like a wounded water buffalo and come charging out from behind his partition, red in the face with a vein throbbing in his forehead. We would all be sitting at our desks, of course, with our earphones on, looking innocent and diligent and blinking in feigned surprise. Esprit de Corps demanded that no one ever ratted out the culprit. He used to pace up and down and yell at us about our lack of military discipline and our arrogant and misplaced idea that we were special and didn't have to adhere to the code. We usually just stood there at attention and looked like we were taking it all in and seriously pondering our slack, nonconforming, degenerate ways. Then we'd do it again.
One day, when four airplanes flew over his partition at once, he came flying out of his area, and screamed, “I've had it with all you !%# #$&! arrogant $#@!!!x*!. The next thing that flies over into my area better be a !@# !!@% *#!@*&! boat or I'll see you all in the brig!”
Flying boats? Finally, something really interesting to work on. And we did.
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