The Utah National Guard's military intelligence units would like to train Guard members with the Pentagon's latest sophisticated signal intelligence equipment.
But the U.S. agency responsible for code-making and code-breaking has turned down the Guard's request, concerned that the devices could be used for nefarious purposes political spying.The super-secret National Security Agency has told Congress it is withholding the latest intelligence equipment "out of concerns that state authorities (who control the National Guard in peacetime) might misuse the equipment for the purpose of spying on political enemies."
Have Guard members used intelligence equipment to listen to communications between politicians and reported those conversations to their governors?
Probably not, according to Utah Adjutant General John Matthews, but the NSA apparently worries that some Guard unit might.
The issue has made Matthews, as well as officials in Maryland, particularly unhappy since the Utah and Maryland Guards have intelligence units under their commands. The Army itself believes the agency has overstepped its authority.
Congress, in the form of the House Armed Services Committee, is about to order Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci to provide the equipment to appropriate Guard units.
Matthews told the Deseret News it would be a "serious error to assume from this that there are any instances in any state where there has been a misuse of this type of equipment.
"The Army National Guard is under the laws of the United States," he said, and penalties for misusing equipment that apply to other military branches also apply to the Guard.
"I've served under two governors in Utah, and (misusing equipment) is just not a problem for us."
The National Security Agency was given authority over all communications intelligence under a December 1981 Executive Order and has routinely delegated field intelligence to military commands. This is the first time, according to Pentagon sources, that the agency has balked over giving equipment to the Guard.
No one will describe just what "signals intelligence" equipment is being denied the Guard, but it apparently would be able to monitor radio signals, possibly cellular telephones, microwave communications and other common civilian channels.
It is possible to "read" data transmissions by recording very low-level "noise" that computers or teleprinter equipment make on power lines. Field intelligence units like those in the Utah National Guard, however, probably would concentrate on reading an enemy force's radio traffic.
There is no federal law against monitoring radio communications, as long as the person listening in does not profit by the information or reveal it to a third party. Many individuals monitor police, fire and air traffic radios for amusement.
Presumably the Guard would be able to listen to other types of conversation, probably on equipment far more sensitive that the average Radio Shack scanner.
Such monitoring would easily be within the capabilities of the Soviets to be sent to Utah under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
In fact, defense firms in the Salt Lake area are now putting many secure communications circuits on wires, rather than on the air. Data transmissions are being filtered under a Pentagon program to prevent their being detected by outside listeners.