the Wanderling

dancer [ dan-ser, dahn- ]


DANCER: In military jargon a Morse code sender/receiver, i.e., telegrapher, operator, who is extremely light or nimble in their Morse code sending abilities. From the phrase "trip the light fantastic" meaning a dancer whose abilities are graceful and light on their feet, that glides smoothly through a dance routine as though a prima ballerina assoluta. Typically applied to a telegrapher whose skills are almost savant in nature. More specifically, an operator with a rare ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's "fist" to such a point that what is sent by the counterfeiter is totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent and the person being imitated.

THE CIVILIAN G.I, 1968 VIETNAM: Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, the Highlands, and Cambodia

Throughout all the years the U.S. participated in the war in Southeast Asia there were no doubt many, many attempts at wiretapping in one form or the other. Some attempts were successful, some probably not so successful. Some were simply routine with outcomes that had no impact or very little on the war, other attempts had huge impacts. Some were secret, highly secret, and top secret, some remain so even to this day.

Although most people don't realize it, besides all of the above, military-wise, there are two major distinctions in the implementing of wiretapping itself. It has to do with how, what, when, where, and why. Quietly tapping wires on the side for intelligence gathering is quite different than tapping wires to clandestinely modify or change the content of a message during real time, especially if the message involves voice or Morse code. As well, there are big differences in wiretapping depending on the physical environment. If it is in friendly territory or requires secret infiltration into hostile territory requires highly different approaches. So too, if its urban areas and buildings is one thing, if its a remote jungle-like wilderness or a highly exposed barren desert area its another.

There were four major secret wiretap missions during the Vietnam war that in the end had huge impacts in deciding, at the time, the direction of the war. If there were others they remain unreported because they are still secret or unsuccessful because of mission failure including loss of or nor-return of personnel. All four of the wiretapping events were illegal in that the teams crossed into areas that violated the lawful designated parameters of the war even though all four were tied directly back to the president, either with the initial approval or go ahead and/or any follow up action or non-action following the results. One was in China in 1964, one was in Laos in 1966, one in Cambodia in 1968, and the fourth in North Vietnam circa 1972. The one in Laos and the one in North Vietnam were typical wiretapping in that they were listening to and gathering intelligence. The other two, the one in China in 1964 and the one in Cambodia in 1968 were significantly different in that they weren't just listening and gathering intelligence, but influencing the flow of information by physically interceding and changing what was being sent and received between one location before being received by the other.

It was in both of those two cases where I came in

I: CHINA 1964

"I was at one time in the military a notorious code sender of some repute, thought by some of my superiors to have been on par with the infamous Confederate guerilla telegrapher George A. Ellsworth or, just as equally if not more so, thought by the Army Security Agency as ready for the stockade."

Ellsworth was known for being able to listen to another telegraph operator for just a few minutes and then mimicking that other operator's "fist" or "footprint" to a perfection. For the most part all telegraphers send with a distinct style, known as a fist, which other telegraphers can recognize as easily as they are able to recognize a familiar voice. Ellsworth would tap into a telegraph line used by Union forces and copy military dispatches transmitted on that line. By tapping the wire, Ellsworth's instruments became a part of the line and he could then, by blocking the downstream or incoming code at his point of entry, rewrite or send misleading or false messages downstream with the other-end recipient, listening to the fist, assuming the sender was a familiar.(see)

Good old Uncle Sam discovered that unlike almost everybody else in the world --- after I was caught goofing-off big time by the ASA replicating the "fist" of a staff sergeant that unbeknownst to me at the time was actually gone from the base on leave --- that I, with almost a minuscule amount of practice, had an uncanny ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's "fist" to such a point that what I sent, was totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating. Even though in the early days when I was no more than a private slick sleeve, if it hadn't been for higher authorities with higher priorities, ASA would have most certainly nailed me. However, because of that ability, early in the year 1964 I was recruited without any choice to do otherwise, as a member of a team whose primary purpose was to cross over into China and complete a special wiretapping mission.

"Each team member and their equipment was sheep dipped and all teams embedded with specially trained communication personnel, each heavily blanketed with security clearances, versed in Morse code and the non-conventional expertise to build from scratch and use, if necessary, easily disposable spark-gap transmitters and QRP transmitters, along with foxhole radios and crystal set receivers, of which all members were trained to travel light, eat indigenous foods, and leave no tracks.(see)

Toward the end of March of 1964 I boarded a USAF mule-train C-123 to Pleiku. There I transferred to a U.S. Army CV-2 which was later called a C-7 Caribou by the Air Force, flying some two hundred miles further north along the western edge of Vietnam. In that it was known a USAF single-engine light recon plane crashed in the vicinity of the Khe Sanh airstrip a day or two earlier and thought to have been pulled out of the sky because of small arms ground fire, the pilot and crew diverted the Caribou instead to a tiny rain soaked jungle-like airstrip wedged between Colonial Route 9 and the Xe Pone River along the Vietnamese Laotian border near the village of Lao Bao. Members from Special Forces Detachment A-101 or A-728 out of Khe Sanh were to pick me up.

The Special Forces were holed up just east of Khe Sanh village. The XO pointed out two men that had arrived earlier in the day by helicopter who were it would seem, looking for me. One of the men was a company spook, the other a non-com with the Army Security Agency. Both were out of an I Corps communication intelligence facility in Phu Bai. I joined the group of SF soldiers they were swapping lies with, telling the ASA non-com I had just been brought in from Bien Hoa in the south. The spook pulled me aside putting his arm around my shoulder saying it could be a day or two before we pulled out, depending on the weather at this end and the other end. I asked if we going into North Vietnam. He answered, close.(see)

II: LAOS 1966

Declassified MACV SOG documents report that a Shining Brass Spike Team went into Target Area MA-10 in Laos October 3-7, 1966 completing their first successful wiretap operation. The results of the wiretapping mission have either not been disclosed or too general in a broader sense to be specifically applied to a given situation. In a separate account on the same dates in the same designated area in Laos it has been reported that a Shining Brass team was overrun by PAVN and some members are listed as MIA. The only survivor, a Vietnamese interpreter named Bui Kim Tien reported he had at first evaded the enemy with another Spike Team member, SFC Eddie L. Williams, who had been wounded in the thigh. He last saw Williams on October 4th when Williams sent him to check some caves, at which point Tien was spotted and forced to flee. Searches were conducted on October 4, 5, and 6th with negative result. A month later, an enemy POW reported he had seen a black man with a wounded thigh, hands tied behind his back and a noose around his neck, being led through villages for public mockery until he was too weak to walk, he was then executed.(source)


"Towards the end of the day five bush types accompanied by several Montagnards came into camp. The Caucasians were all armed with AK-47's and looked more like the jungle they came out of than G.I.s. None wore any rank or unit designation. The camp CO called all of us together, all the while as they looked us over. One, apparently the leader and probably an officer, looked at me specifically, then as though pointing with his nose without saying anything, flicked his head towards me as to ask who's that pale-ass prick. The CO said I was the 'Dancer,' had been into China, had Site 118-A clearance, and although no longer an active member of a jungle tracker team, had completed the SAS tracker school. With that, after a few glances between themselves, they seemed to relax and the tension evaporated."

THE CIVILIAN G.I, 1968 VIETNAM: Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, the Highlands, and Cambodia (see)

I was squatting Vietnamese style outside on the tarmac leaning against the building in what shade I could find tossing rocks into a little pile when I was approached by two men in civilian clothes. Before I even had a chance to totally stand up one of the men yelled, "Hey, footprint man!" As I looked up from my semi getting up position I recognized him as one of the Americans that I had gone into China with. We shook hands and I asked what the hell was going on.(see)

He told me not to worry, he figured my life was getting dull and just wanted to spice it up a little. Not much to it he said, just a quick trip ino Cambodia and Laos for a few days. I told him I was a civilian now, nobody knew my past, I was in college, serious with a lady, and couldn't take the chance. He said he needed me, trusted me, and even though he couldn't tell me the nature of the job I was the only one who could do it. Besides, he said, "They didn't send you to learn all that tracker shit for nothin'." When I asked what would happen if I refused he put his hand on my shoulder and told me it was River Styx stuff, only the Boatman knew and I had to do it. I closed my eyes and shook my head in a slow motion fuck me fashion. Then he said, "See you in Phu Bai." (see)


A special project mission tapping phone lines near Vinh, North Vietnam was implemented on an unspecified date sometime late in 1972. A Hughes 500 P helicopter carried personnel into North Vietnam at low level under cover of darkness on a two-fold mission. Drop the technicians near the phone line and wait for them to tap the line, then, bring them out and drop an antenna into a tree at a higher elevation that would transmit the signal from the tap. Once on the ground things started to go wrong.The tappers were trained for wooden telephone poles and carried the appropriate equipment and gear to perform the tap, but after arrival discovered the poles were concrete.

That night and weather conditions was the only available window of opportunity and once on the ground they had no way to communicate with anyone for guidance. They were illegally in North Vietnam in the dark and susceptible to capture at any time. One of the technicians used a roll of electrical tape and attach the tap hardware to the pole. They signaled for pickup, and the helicopter placed the spider web antenna to a designated tree in Laos. The the signal came through 5-by and the mission was deemed a success. No one knew what was heard, but supposedly information received from the tap was used to assist Henry Kissinger during the Paris peace talks. So too, the day after the tap the "Operation Linebacker II" bombing campaign began running from December 7, 1972, right through the Paris Peace Talk negotiations up until May 1973.

Please note that this late in the war rather than listening and collecting the tap information and having it brought back it was being retransmitted in real time.



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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.

As part of my training the Army sent me to a two week two part hands-on workshop or seminar where, after classroom introduction to theory and application, we built and operated our own spark gap transmitters from stuff that could pretty much be just scrounged around for --- and made in the field without using any commercially available or already made tools. In other words, side cutters, screwdrivers and such weren't allowed, so we had to improvise. At the end of the workshop we were all supposed to end up with a viable operative spark gap transmitter, of which I did. Then as a group we shared what we each had done individually to improvise tools and how, that is, what we did, use, or came up with in lieu of screwdrivers, drills, or wire cutters --- or did we implement shortcuts or discover other options. Telegraph keys weren't provided either, so we had to make those from scratch too. Although ignition coils were acceptable, at the end of the seminar we were taught how to make our own induction coils from scratch, along with their application and use as well as learning about devices other than traditional spark gap transmitters that could accomplish the same purpose.


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For the most part, all telegraphers send with a distinct style known as a "fist," a rhythmic tapping pattern that by it's own nature is individually specific to a given telegraph operator. Such patterns are, albeit not limited to, such things as spacing, time-length intervals of dots, dashes and/or the blank or empty space separations between them, lightness or heaviness of touch, innate or habitual mistakes, etc., which other telegraphers, especially particularly astute ones, can recognize as easily as they are able to recognize a familiar voice. Because of that fist a telegrapher leaves behind them a "footprint" that cumulatively leaves a trail in their wake, a trail that can be tracked. When applied to military situations, when it is discovered that a known recognizable fist continually shows up assigned to a given military unit, the footprint or trail from that specific fist can be followed, revealing troop or ship movements and locations.