Out of the Shadows (English)
Copyright © 2021 by George Guy Thomas
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Early Commitment/Setting the Stage 6
Chapter 1: Looking Back from the Mid-Point 12
Chapter 2: Early Times, then in the Navy 18
Chapter 3: USS HORNE – A Missile Cruiser 28
Chapter 4: Shrike Hit! - My First Watch 52
Chapter 5: Mines, Missiles, and MiG’s 72
Chapter 6: Airborne Reconnaissance 94
Chapter 7 Submarines at Last! 112
Chapter 8: Experience Pays Off 130
Chapter 9: My First (and Only) Command 142
Chapter 10: Career Takes off with the USAF 160
Chapter 11: Naval War College – Student, Innovator198
Chapter 12: Joint Electronic Warfare Center 220
Chapter 13: A Dog's Breakfast 234
Chapter 14: FBI, Undercover - Short but Sweet!250
Chapter 15: Origins of Satellite AIS - My Child!264
Annex 1 Naval War College Review Article
Annex 2 JHU/APL Release
28 July 2020
A Silent Warrior
Out of the Shadows
CDR Geo. Guy Thomas, USN (ret.)
Setting the Stage
The title of this memoir comes from two related places. First, “back in the day,” those of us who served in military reconnaissance (AKA intelligence collection, AKA Spying) called ourselves “Silent Warriors” because we could tell no one, not even our families, what we were doing in any detail. Our families knew we were engaged in dangerous operations, but we could never discuss specifics at all. Thus, the stress on the families was, and is, immense. It is one of the significant sacrifices “Silent Warriors” make. Second: Members of the intelligence world operate “in the shadows.”
It is hard for me to believe my career happened, and even harder, that I lived through it! I started as a deck-force seaman on a missile cruiser. After a successful career in the intelligence world and then in industry, I have ended up as an honored member of both the classified and unclassified Space worlds. The twisted and convoluted road between those two points is the story I am going to relate here.
Toward the end of my career, while an employee of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab (JHU/APL), I conceived satellite AIS (S-AIS). I have spent the last 19 years working on first getting it funded and built and then making the world aware of the unique tool it has become. But the first 23 years of my adult career were very different. I spent those years in an almost unknown part of the Navy, where I was deeply involved in highly classified and sometimes dangerous operations.
I thought I would die by being shot down, or crash, or sunk over a dozen times during my ten years of field operations. Almost 11, if you count my time with the FBI as a drafted volunteer. A vivid imagination is not a good thing to have in some situations, but “if you are not at least a little bit scared, I do not want to fly a mission with you” is an adage in military aviation. That very definitely pertains to the reconnaissance business. If you are a bit scared, you are focused. If you are not focused, you can get killed in a hurry. You do learn to operate a bit concerned. That is good. It keeps you alert.
But that is part of my early history. Let us return to the present. S-AIS is now also used for a great deal more than I had initially foreseen. The same thing happened to satellite navigation, the forerunner of GPS. I was an employee of JHU/APL when I conceived S-AIS, and JHU/APL is also where satellite navigation was created. I believe this is not a coincidence.
JHU/APL is a unique place. I spent nine years there. The intellectual ferment at APL is unlike any other organization I know. The Naval War College’s research side, the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS), where I also spent over seven years, comes close. Still, APL is exceptional. It adds in the science and technology development, making the ideas generated at NW and CNWS implementable. It was an exciting place to work, and I seem to crave excitement.
It is fair to ask why I think that. And also, to ask, how did I, a former deck-force seaman and college student studying history and hoping to go to law school someday, come to be at JHU/APL, the Navy’s center of technology innovation and creation, in the first place.
My course from the deck force of a missile cruiser to APL was anything but a straight line. I was a Navy “spook” for 20 exciting years. “Spook” is a nickname for someone who collects intelligence, although some also use the name to refer to those who analyze intelligence as well. I was a genuine spook. I went in harm’s way to collect intelligence. When I became too senior for work in the field, I worked on improving one aspect or another of the United States’ ability to collect, fuse, analyze or report intelligence for most of my 23-year military career.
I was a member of the elite Naval Security Group (NavSecGru). I say elite because I was told that multiple times, in many places. I do know that the NavSecGru had the first pick of enlisted personnel and second pick of newly minted officers, just behind the nuclear submarine program. Its enlisted personnel had to score higher on the Navy skills aptitude and intelligence tests than the score to get into the Naval Academy.
That raises the question as to how I got to be a Spook. That question is, in many ways, the heart of this story. I was put on this course by a series of events that I initially took to be bad luck. I think I probably squeezed in because of my experience on that missile cruiser off Vietnam (part of the “bad Luck”) as an enlisted man (more “bad luck”), where I became the acting Intelligence Officer (balancing good luck!). And I do take aptitude tests very well.
Since World War II, the Naval Security Group has had teams of intercept operators, analysts, and sometimes communicators, deployed on ships, submarines, and aircraft to provide signals intelligence (SIGINT) in direct support (DirSup) of operational units in hostile areas. Because these units were forward deployed and engaged in activities that often drew hostile reactions, they were dangerous. At times people died, but they were also unique collection opportunities. These units were (and probably still are) front-line intelligence collection units.
To the best of my knowledge, and that of Admiral Bobbie Inman, who I conferred with while writing this story, I am the first career officer who served in these tactical/ operational teams targeted against hostile forces to ever write about these operations in any detail. They were highly classified during my time in them.
Indeed, the very existence of these teams was classified 40+ years ago. However, times have changed. In the last few years, I have seen SIGINT collection mentioned in the open press, including in press interviews with very high-ranking officers in the intelligence community. So, I decided to “test the water” and see if I could get my story, rather unique even for a “Spook,” approved by the proper authorities. Because my time in these operations was long enough ago, I suspected I could now talk about my time in those teams that collected that intelligence without jeopardizing anyone or anything today.
We were highly trained to do our job, especially if you came through the submarine pipeline, as I did. Few people, even in the military and fewer yet in the civilian world, understand how we trained, what we did, where our career path might take us, or what career highlights might entail.
This book is an effort to pull back the cloak of secrecy just a bit and describe these things from a personal view without violating national security or any legal constraints. My military career was one of the most exciting as well as the oddest I know. I did not plan it that way at all; it just happened, often with me thinking I was being screwed. But, in looking back, nearly all these trying twists of my career path (AKA “screwings”) were actually “blessings in disguise.”
I participated in reconnaissance and surveillance operations for over ten years, something like three times the average of most NavSecGru officers, or officers of any other service for that matter. However, the previously enlisted officers are a very special group, and I take my hat off to them. Indeed, I am proud I helped a number of them make the from enlisted to officer transition. In many ways, it was the highlight of my life. It is undoubtedly a fact that, except for my creation of S-AIS as I mentioned above, it is my time in the Navy and especially NavSecGru, as unusual as it was, of which I am most proud.
My career since I retired from the Navy has been odder yet. I have had several other adventures since I retired from the Navy, but the two peaks of my post-Navy career were dramatically different.
The first came five years after I retired from the Navy. I was living in the Dallas area, where I spent several months working for the FBI in an undercover role, observing some suspicious individuals I had brought to their attention. Nine years later, the FBI arrested more than 20 spies of Hezbollah and Hamas due, in part, to my early work.
Of course, as I mentioned above, the absolute highpoint of my life came on 4 October 2001 when, at 58, I conceived satellite AIS (S-AIS) in a flash of intuition. That intuition, based on 35+ years of experience and study, traces back to my training and experience as a Navy “Spook” as well as my time with the US Air Force.
I have included why and how I created satellite AIS (S-AIS) because my time working on S-AIS also involved me in historical events in the civilian maritime world. It took me almost three years to find funding for S-AIS and get it on track for full development and deployment, and there was a lot of frustration in those years, but the payoff has been HUGE.
My idea to take an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, designed as a collision avoidance and local maritime traffic management beacon between ships, and put it on a satellite to be used as a global ship tracking system was initially met with great skepticism and even good-natured ridicule. However, I was sure I was right, at least in part because of my odd set of experiences, so I persevered. I am very glad I did.
There are now over 175 AIS receivers in Space and more on the way. S-AIS now generates accurate updates of the location of nearly every legal ship anywhere in the world almost once a minute. Many people involved with civilian maritime operations believe S-AIS has caused the most significant paradigm shift in the world’s maritime operations since the steam engine, the screw propeller, or radar. Yes, even more significant than GPS.
A Royal Navy commodore recently compared the invention of S-AIS to John Harrison’s creation of the chronometer, which allowed mariners to calculate their longitud
s had known their latitude by the elevation of the North Star above the horizon for hundreds of years. Still, until John Harrison’s chronometer, they had no way of precisely knowing “local apparent noon,” which was crucial to determining longitude until satellite navigation. More on the impact of S-AIS later in this book.
I am also in the process of writing a second book I have tentatively entitled “Satellite AIS and the Birth of Global Maritime Awareness, How and Why they both came to be.” It is the story of my life since 9/11, since I left the Shadows. I am utterly amazed by its uniqueness as well. I am a blessed man for some unknowable reason. ¡Gracia de Dios!