When I was enlisted in the seventies and stationed in Taiwan for a couple of years, mainland China, the PRC, was still closed to the west, pre-Nixon. While my duty was to help monitor a narrow slice of commint of the PRC, I was privileged to get to see CIA satellite photos of military installations, airbases and naval bases. Little circles and arrows on grainy B&W prints with notes, 'truck convoy, tanks' or 'submarine pens. nuclear reactor basin.' The Chinese had a single highly secret nuclear sub in final development at the time.

We had, side-by-side with our Jane's All the World's Aircraft, which included descriptions with specs, of MIGs and Tupolev bombers, transports, helicopters, etc., along with CIA reports and a desk reference copy of the CIA's worldbook or yearbook, I think it was called, for China. The CIA publishes general knowledge, encyclodedia type info annually in a yearbook for each country around the world. Mostly, I think, for consumption by the State department or NGOs. If you wanted to, you could look up how much tonnage of some cereal crop or sheep the country exported, their GDP, or the number of active duty troops, the extent of their naval forces, etc. I actually owned a copy, back then, because they issued them to us at some point after our language training. Even though it was compiled by the CIA none of the content was actually classified, but you won't find a copy in the bookstore or library. I also remember getting to read a copy of the large format printed magazine, printed on the mainland, of PRC propaganda called China Today, IIRC. I remember seeing photos featuring a show-case farm co-op in a village, happy peasants wearing the Mao coats and hats with the red star, on some river bank in the south, the shot taken from an overlooking highway bridge, and in the shadows of the bridge in the photo, they had airbrushed out the image of a slum of abject poverty. All praise our beloved leader Chairman Mao. Prior to computers and the internet, the Chinese and the Russians, too, were notorious for changing historic photos of embarrassments, like aspiring fearless leaders who've fallen from grace.

All that reminiscing to say, it was understood at the time, and since WWII, that the national attitude of the Chi-Coms on the mainland was diametrically opposed to that of the Nationalists on Taiwan, with regard to whether there were legitimately two Chinas or only one and a rogue state on the island, to be recaptured one day, which could be sorta summed up on the Taiwan side, with the Mandarin expression that I remember, 'Da hwei, da lu.' Which is a battlecry that means 'retake the mainland.' The ROC was at least nominally a democracy, General Chiang being a popular hero autocrat, and the people fiercely rejected the communism of their brethren across the strait.

The people got reminded constantly that they were technically in a state of war with the their kin across the water. Madame Chiang, who was the defacto ruler while her husband was in seclusion in failing health, would ride through the city, between his hospital and their residence, the presidential palace, in her military motorcycle escorted, black Lincoln limousine motorcade, with the little flags out on the fenders. Military armed guards looking like cops in class A uniforms, at the intersections of the major boulevards through the city and in olive drab combat fatigues, with helmets and M-16s at key tactical places like bridges.

There was a story that, one day, as the presidential motorcade was riding a narrow two lane road along between rice paddies outside the city, a local taxi driver was tooling along in the same direction but going slow and not pulling over. The bike cops sped up out of formation, pulled the taxi over onto the shoulder, pulled the driver out of his window, beat him until he quit responding, and then reached in, grabbed the car keys, then walked around the taxi, using a nightstick to bash in all the window glass and lights, and then tossed the keys out into the rice paddy. And then they got back on their hogs and rejoined the motorcade. Don't mess with Madame Chiang.


At work, I would see the US built Chi-Nat fighter jets overfly our hilltop base, headed north to escort the weekly resupply of the tiny off-shore island, Jin Men Dao, occupied by the nationalists. Every few days such a flight would escort a transport til it was in the pattern over the airstrip, the fighters would then peel off and fly a route along the coast, up and back, right on the line demarcing international waters, for several hundred miles, heading back to pickup the cargo plane outbound after unloading. The entire time the flight of four nationalist fighters would be paced by a flight of Chicom MIGs with visual tracking, reporting speed and altitude, bearing and heading of each other and the HAC.

Imagine the indistinct garbly staticky voice of the fighter pilot, on a throat mic, in Mandarin, squawk 'sz wu jyou, diji, faschian, shr li jwunbei kaishr gungji' 'four-five-nine, enemy spotted, ten clicks, locked on, prepare to begin attack.' 'Roger four-five-nine. four-five-nine, four-five-ten, altitude ten thousand, speed eight hundred.' 'four-five-nine begin work.' Begin work, 'kaishr gungdzwo' or 'kaishr gungji' meant 'engage the enemy.' If they said that, and had reported being locked-on, our alert status went up a notch.

And we were listening to all the radio comms, of both sides, getting ready to go to a higher alert status and report to the NSA and the White House within ten minutes, should either side do any actual shooting. Which happened, but rarely. Every now and then, apparently spontaneously, one of the nationalist fighters in an F-4 would peel off from the scheduled coastal route and fly up a river valley at tree-top, playing chicken with the Chicom AA radar stations and batteries. And we monitored and reported all that, too. We had a yuuge dry-erase board, the kind where there's a light at the bottom that lights up the grease pencil on the clear plastic over the map, at the head of our ops floor where the flight commander and supervisors worked. We had a section of a dozen linguists monitoring, in eight hour shifts around the clock, every flight, military and commercial, that operated in or crossed the PRC airspace, and a plot for each was penciled in on that map which showed the whole of mainland China, all the cities and airbases and etc. And we were marking the plots that the Chicom radar stations were reporting to their chain of command and fire stations. We also monitored infantry and tanks. We catalogued every call sign used by an aircraft, we kept logs of which fields had which aricraft,we had plots for the regular U2s and the less frequent SR71 flights, and transcribed the voice and morse signals, sending a hardcopy back to NSA regularly through secure channels, along with real-time electronic transmission of the same data, sent over dedicated hardwired secure comms to NSA. The reports I poked up had a header at the top of each one, 'attn: DIRNSA.' The director of NSA was informally known as 'Daddy DIRNSA,' I once sent an unofficial message on that circuit addressed to Daddy DIRNSA, wishing the director a happy father's day. I was told that was not appreciated.

And, later in my tour, in South Korea, we did all the same monitoring, focusing on the northern regions of the mainland, with real-time down-links of all those comms from the U2s orbiting over the Sea of Japan or the Korean DMZ. Other folks stationed in the Philipines, hosting KC-135s along withe blackbird and U2s, were doing the same to augment the mission monitoring activity in the southern parts. Bases in Japan, same same.

While I was in, it was understood by those of us so employed, that we had such stations and monitoring all around the globe with a case notation for every country that had a military, including the Vatican. About the time I got back stateside to spend my last two years painting in San Angelo, Texas, the land-based monitoring stations were being closed and replaced by satellite programs. Same commint and elint traffic, same ops, just different platform.

[op comment; EOR (end of ruminations]