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THE ONCE-CLASSIFIED TALE OF JUANITA MOODY
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THE ONCE-CLASSIFIED TALE OF JUANITA MOODY
BY DAVID WOLMAN, March 2021, Smithsonian Mag

On the morning of Sunday, Oct 14, 1962, Juanita Moody exited
the HQ of the National Security Agency, at Fort Meade MD,
& walked the short distance to her car, parked in one of
the front-row spaces reserved for top leadership. The sky
was a crystalline blue, “a most beautiful day,” she recalled
later. Moody had just learned that the USAF was sending a U-2
spy plane over Cuba to take high-altitude photos of military
installations across the island. Moody was worried for the
pilot—twice already in the past two years a U-2 spy plane
had been shot out of the sky, once over the Soviet Union &
once over China. She was also worried for the country.
Tensions between the US & the Soviet Union were worsening by
the day. JFK, American military leaders & the intel community
believed that the Soviet military was up to something in Cuba.
Exactly what, no one could say. “I went out & got into my old
convertible at the precise moment I had been told this pilot
was going to get into his plane,” Moody said.

What unfolded over the next two weeks was arguably the most
dangerous period in the history of civilization. Close to
60 years later, the Cuban Missile Crisis is still considered
a nearly catastrophic failure on the part of America’s national
security apparatus. How America’s top agents, soldiers,
diplomats, intel analysts & elected officials failed to
anticipate & uncover the buildup of a nuclear arsenal on
America’s doorstep, less than 100 miles off the coast, is
still being studied & debated. At best, the story of American
intel activities before & during the crisis is far from complete.
One of the most extraordinary omissions to date is the central
role played by Moody, a 38-year-old code-breaking whiz & the
head of the NSA’s Cuba desk during the perilous fall of 1962.
Even today her name is largely unknown outside the agency, &
the details of her contributions to the nation’s security
remain closely guarded.

Of medium height, with lightly curled brown hair & a round
face, Moody was not a spy in the secret agent sense. Her
world was signals intelligence, or “sigint”—radio messages,
radar data, electronic comms, weapons systems readings,
shipping manifests & anything else that could be surrepti-
tiously intercepted from friends & foes alike. Her only brief
turn in the spotlight came more than a decade after the Cuban
Missile Crisis, when she found herself caught up in the
domestic surveillance scandals that engulfed Washington after
Watergate. But who was this woman? I’ve spent several years
trying to find out, digging thru govt archives & reviewing
formerly classified docs, including internal NSA rpts &
performance reviews obtained using the Freedom of Info Act,
as well as interviewing historians, current & former NSA staff
& Moody’s surviving relatives, who provided personal letters
& photos. Now the story of this spy service pioneer & key
figure in the nation’s response to Soviet encroachment in
the Western Hemisphere can be told for the first time.

Juanita Moody (Née morris) was born on May 29, 1924, the
first of 9 children. Her father, Joseph, was a railroad
worker turned cotton-&-soybean farmer, & her mother, Mary
Elizabeth, a homemaker. The family lived in the hamlet of
Morven NC, in a rented house with no bathroom, no electricity
& no running water.

Moody was a leader from an early age. “I felt I had to do
what Juanita said,” her sister Virginia “Dare” Marsh, 90,
told me on a call last spring. To her siblings, Juanita’s
authority was on a par with that of their parents, yet her
brothers & sisters didn’t resent her. “She was always sweet
lovin’ & fair to me,” Marsh said. There was also a sense that
Juanita was special. “I felt at times like my parents looked
up to her as well.” The school superintendent in Morven saw
a spark in her, too, & recommended her for Western Carolina
Teachers College, in Cullowhee.

Juanita borrowed money & enrolled, but then came the war.
“All of the sudden there were practically no men left on the
campus,” Moody recalled later, in one of a series of interviews
with NSA historians that were declassified in 2016. “I felt
that it was wrong to be spending my time in this beautiful
place—clear blue skies, going around campus & studying and
going to classes at leisure, when my country was in a war.”
At the Army recruiting office in Charlotte, she said she wanted
to volunteer. “What do you want to do?” the recruiter asked.
“I’d like to get into intelligence work,” she said.

It was spring 1943. Moody took a few tests & was sent to
Arlington Hall, in Virginia, HQ of the Signal Intel Service,
the precursor to the NSA. She was trained quickly in what was
known as “cryptanalysis,” & was soon part of a group that
used ciphers to crack encrypted Nazi communications. When she
finished work for the day, she & a few other obsessives stayed
late into the night, working illicitly on an unsolved “one-time
pad,” a code that could only be cracked with a key provided to
the message’s recipient ahead of time. She recalled working
“every waking moment” & subsisting on buns made by a
sympathetic local baker who left them for her to pick up on
her way home in the middle of the night.

The painstaking nature of code breaking in those days, when
teams of analysts sifted through piles of intercepted texts
& tabulated & computed possible interpretations using pencil
& paper, made a deep impression on Moody. Eventually, she &
a colleague, a linguist & mathematician who had worked at
Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking HQ, persuaded agency
engineers to custom-build a machine for the one-time pad
problem based on Alan Turing’s work that could generate cipher
keys automatically, using the agents’ inputs. “It was a very
clumsy thing,” Moody recalled. But it worked, helping the
Americans decode secret messages sent to Berlin from the
German ambassador in Tokyo. It was the first of many times
in her long career that Moody, who would herself become a
familiar face at Bletchley Park & at the IBM campus in NY,
helped advance intel work by pushing for an ambitious &
innovative use of new tech.

After Japan’s surrender, Moody told her superior at the SIS
that, with the war done, she planned to return to college.
Although he himself had earned a PhD, he told her that she
was making a big mistake. “This is your cup of tea, & there
are going to be other targets”—other secrets to uncover in
defense of the nation. “This effort is not going to stop
today. This is just the beginning.”

Moody stayed with the SIS, as a staff cryptanalyst focused
on signals collection in E Europe. In 1947, she was promoted
to chief of the Yugoslavia section. Five years later, on
Oct 24, 1952, President Truman signed a secret memo, & the NSA
was born. Since the NSA’s inception, its role was unambiguous:
snoop, scoop, filter, deliver. The agency’s responsibility
ended at gathering info. Analysis was the purview of the
brains at CIA.

During the 50s, Moody took on several new leadership roles
at the NSA—chief of Euro satellites, chief of Russian manual
systems, chief of Russian & E Euro high-grade manual systems.
She also fretted over tech inefficiencies. At a time when
computing tech was advancing quickly, she viewed the NSA’s
use of handwritten decryptions, memos & top-secret comms as
anachronistic. Where she excelled was not high-level math or
engineering but the application of new tech to distill huge
amounts of data & make it available to decision makers as
quickly as possible. She was an advocate for using big data
long before the concept had taken hold, & she pushed the
agency to adopt the latest tools—Teletype, Flexowriter,
early IBM computers, an intranet precursor & a searchable
database called Solis.

She managed whole teams of people—her “troops,” as she
called them. As a leader, she was impolitic by her own
measure, occasionally calling meetings to order by whacking
a hockey stick on the table. She established a system she
called “Show & Tell.” Each morning, while she sipped her
coffee, the division heads under her command would come by
her office one by one to present highlights from the previous
day’s intel haul. Moody would then grill them about when the
intercepts were made & when the info had been sent to the
NSA’s “customers”—the White House, congressional leadership,
military brass, the other intel agencies. When she judged the
lag time to be substantial, she said so. “You people are doing
a tremendous job producing beautiful history,” she’d tell
them. “You’re not producing intelligence.”

When it came to being a woman in a male-dominated world,
Moody had a simple outlook. “I never had much of a problem,”
she told an NSA historian in 2001. She credited the men in
her family for bringing her up not to question her own worth.
“They always made me feel that I could conquer the world if
I wanted to,” she said. At the same time, she was convinced
that on more than one occasion she had been passed over for
a promotion because she was a woman. As the only woman present
at NSA stag parties she was treated like a spectacle—one time
the men had fed her with a spoon—yet she would only say,
“That stood out a little bit.”

She was also aware of harassment. One NSA director (Moody
wouldn’t name him) employed several young women in the
offices in Fort Meade, whom the director, believing himself
to be witty, called NSA’s “paint & body shop.” Moody ran
into 3 of these women one time in the restroom. Thru tears,
they described what they’d been subjected to, which Moody
did not specify, but which appears to have been inappropriate
sexual comments or behavior, perhaps even solicitation. Moody
chose not to do or say anything. “Until this day,” she told
the NSA interviewer, “I wish I had done something, you know—
but I didn’t.”

When she wasn’t working, Moody & her husband, Warren, an
executive at Eastern Airlines, would escape the Beltway for
the Shenandoah Valley, where they had a mountain cabin nick-
named Hoot ’n Holler. Life away from Washington was about
cocktails, lawn games, music, tracking turkeys—anything but
national security. Officials from Washington, friends from
around the globe, military generals, even the occasional MI6
agent were guests. Moody’s favorite pastimes were listening
to jazz, working in the garden, fishing, & hunting deer with
a Ruger .44-cal carbine. “She’d be singing Roger Miller songs
& had a drink & was all happy,” Moody’s nephew William Peter
Jacobsen III told me.

In 1961, having been attached to the so-called “Soviet
problem” for several years, Moody moved up again, becoming
chief of a section known as G-Group, which was responsible
for overseeing NSA’s ops nearly everywhere excluding China
& the Soviet Union—some 120 countries. On the way home the
night of her promotion, she stopped at a store & bought maps
of Africa & S America. She wanted “to learn what all the
countries were,” she recalled.

On April 17, 1961, paramilitary soldiers stormed Cuba’s Playa
Girón, launching the brief & doomed attempt to overthrow
Castro that became known as the Bay of Pigs. The surprise
attack, carried out by Cuban exiles trained & led by the CIA,
was in disarray almost from the start, & the blundering
operation set in motion a rapid escalation between the US &
the USSR that led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Before the Bay of Pigs, Castro had been lukewarm about Soviet
overtures & support. When the superpower next door tried to
oust him, he changed his mind. For those in the American
intel community, Khrushchev’s vow to help the Cubans defend
themselves made it imperative to focus more attention on the
Caribbean, a new front in the Cold War.

That spring, the NSA reorganized its ops, shifting resources
to Cuba, which fell squarely under Moody’s command. “There
might have been the equivalent of two people on the problem
at that point,” Moody recalled. One of the first things her
team detected was Cuba’s improved communication security,
which had until then been “relatively unsophisticated,” as
Moody put it. Now it was strengthened with the intro of a
microwave system across the whole island. The tech provided
a high level of secrecy because land-based microwave antennas
relay info in a chain, & the only way to intercept a message
was to be close to an antenna. U.S. military & intel agencies
knew about the towers but couldn’t intercept the signals
being transmitted.

The NSA responded by establishing new intercept facilities
in Florida & flying surveillance aircraft around Cuba. But
that wasn’t enough, so the Navy deployed the Oxford, the
Liberty & the Belmont—WWII-era ships newly outfitted with
surveillance equipment—which sailed along the edge of the
island’s territorial waters. Over the next few months, Moody’s
team discovered that the microwave towers were the least of
America’s worries. Sigint revealed increased maritime traffic
from Soviet naval bases to Cuba. Cargo manifests intercepted
from Soviet ships docking in Cuba were sometimes blank.
Other times, declared cargo didn’t match weights reported
in port. Through intercepted conversations, the NSA learned
of clandestine unloading at night, as well as the delivery
of Soviet tanks. Things “were getting hotter & hotter,” Moody
recalled.

Around this same time, intercepted communications in Europe
contained Spanish-language chatter at air bases in Czechoslo-
vakia: The Soviets were training Cuban pilots. Also, the
Americans learned, the USSR was sending MIG jets & IL-28
bombers to Cuba. Moody traveled to London at least once
during this period, most likely to coordinate with her
counterparts at Britain’s Govt Communications HQ.

By the fall of 1961, the Soviets had backed out of a bilateral
moratorium on nuclear-weapons testing; in late Oct, they
detonated a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb in the Arctic Sea,
producing a blast equivalent to 3,800 Hiroshima bombs.

A few weeks later, Louis Tordella, deputy director at the NSA,
showed up at Moody’s office with two high-ranking officials
from the Kennedy admin, one of whom was Edward Lansdale, an
asst sec'y of defense. They stepped into a small conference
room, where Tordella closed the door & drew the blinds.

“We want to know what you know about Cuba,” Moody recalled
Lansdale telling her. “Even if it’s a hunch, or a thought,
or a guess, I want to know everything that’s on your mind
when you think Cuba.” Moody started in on a highlight reel
of intercepts—the blank cargo manifests, the bogus port
declarations, conversations that mentioned tanks, radar &
antiaircraft guns, the Soviet money & personnel flowing to
the island. At one point, Lansdale interjected, “Now, come
on!” as if Moody was exaggerating. She was unfazed. “I don’t
have to have any hunches,” she said. It was all in the sigint.

Impressed by her expertise, alarmed by what she had to say,
& perhaps concerned that no one was providing the White House
with this level of detail about an aggressive military buildup
in Cuba, Lansdale asked Moody to write up her findings. Along
with a few colleagues, she spent the next 3 days & nights
compiling “wheelbarrow loads of material” into what she called
“a special little summary for the asst sec'y of defense.”
When she was done, Moody urged Tordella to “publish” her
report, meaning circulate it among the intel agencies, the
White House, the State Dept & the military. Cautious not to
step outside NSA’s prescribed role, Tordella rebuffed her,
but he did send it to Lansdale, who sent it to President
Kennedy, who returned it with his initials—signaling he’d
read it. “I told my troops, ‘Keep this updated,’” Moody said
of her report. “‘If you get anything to add to it, do it
immediately & tell me.’”

Over the next few months, Moody repeatedly, & unsuccessfully,
pleaded with Tordella to release her updated report. By early
1962, she said she was “really getting scared.” The amount of
military equipment piling up in Cuba didn’t square with the
Soviets’ repeated assertions that it was all “defensive.”
Details about Soviet technicians “moving around in Cuba” were
especially worrisome, & by this point the NSA likely knew the
Soviets had moved surface-to-air missiles (not to be confused
with ballistic nuclear missiles) to Cuba as well.

In Feb, not long after the NSA learned that a general from
the USSR’s Strategic Rocket Forces arrived in Cuba, Moody
went to Tordella once more.

“Look, let’s publish this,” she said.

“We can’t do that,” Tordella replied. “It will get us in
trouble, because it would be considered outside of our
charter.” It was the same rationale he’d been giving since
November. Moody persisted.

“It has reached the point,” she told him, “that I am more
worried about the trouble we’re going to get in having not
published it, because someday we’re going to have to answer
for this. And if we do....”

Tordella relented. It was the first such NSA report
distributed to the wider intel community, & it quickly
made the rounds. Before long, an old CIA friend of Moody’s
showed up at her office. He wanted to congratulate her, he
said. “Everybody knows that you were responsible for getting
that serialized report on what’s happening in Cuba out, &
I want you to know that was a good thing you did,” she
recalled him saying. But he also warned her that not everyone
was thrilled about her initiative; he had just come from a
high-level meeting at the CIA during which officials tried
to “decide what to do about NSA for overstepping their bounds.”

Even today, in spite of the fact that so much about the Cuban
Missile Crisis has been made public, Moody’s groundbreaking
report, dated Feb 1962, remains classified. Nevertheless,
it’s possible to track the crucial impact it had on American
decision-making as the Cuba situation pushed closer to
disaster. By springtime, it was clear that the Cubans had
established an air defense system similar to one in the
Soviet Union & manned, at least in part, by native Russian
speakers. In a little over a month, the NSA & its partners
had tracked 57 shipments of personnel & military equipment
from the USSR to Cuba. MIG fighter jets were soon buzzing
U.S. naval aircraft venturing near the island.

The CIA, meanwhile, was hearing from spies & double agents
about missiles, but what kind of missiles was still unknown.
In an Aug 22 mtg, CIA Director John McCone updated Kennedy
about Soviet ships that had recently delivered thousands of
Russian troops plus “substantial quantities of military
materiel as well as special electronic equipment, many large
cases, which might contain fusillade for fighter airplanes
or it might contain missile parts, we do not know.” What he
did know came, at least in part, from sigint reports by
Moody & her team.

This was two months before the apex of the crisis. If anyone
was worrying about the possible presence of nukes specifically,
they didn’t say so. But McCone was closest to guessing the
nature of the threat. The CIA director grew convinced that
the Soviets had placed surface-to-air missiles on the island
to keep prying eyes away. His deputy at the time later
recalled McCone telling his team: “They’re preventing
intrusion to protect something. Now what the hell is it?”

The Americans stopped conducting U-2 recon flights over Cuba
in early Sept out of concern that the planes might be shot
down. Later that month, armed with intel from Moody’s G-Group
& info from sources on the ground, McCone persuaded the
president & the National Security Council to restart U-2
flyover missions to get answers. Poor weather & bureaucratic
holdups delayed the first mission. Finally, on Sun, Oct 14,
after a so-called “photo gap” of more than 5 weeks, a U-2
spy plane took off from California’s Edwards AFB for the
5-hour flight to Cuba. That same morning, Moody sat in her
convertible at Fort Meade, staring at the sky.

Because of the danger, the pilot spent only a few short
minutes in Cuban airspace before landing in Florida. The
next day, a group of intel experts huddled over tables in
the Steuart Building in downtown Washington, D.C., the secret
HQ of the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center,
to pore over 928 images that the U-2 had taken of several
military sites. Examining one set of photos, an analyst
named Vince Direnzo paused when he saw what appeared to be
six unusually long objects obscured by a covering, possibly
canvas. He determined that these objects were much larger
than Soviet surface-to-air missiles the Americans already
knew were in Cuba.

Direnzo checked photos of the same site taken during
flyover missions weeks earlier & saw that the objects had
been placed there in the intervening time. In the archives
he compared the images with photos of May Day celebrations
in Moscow, when the Soviets paraded military equipment thru
Red Sq. He became convinced that the objects spotted in Cuba
were SS-4 medium-range ballistic missiles, weapons that
could carry nuclear payloads & had a range of more than
1,200 miles—capable of striking a large portion of the
continental US. Further photographic evidence from other
sites revealed missiles with a range of 2,400 miles.

Direnzo & his colleagues spent hours checking & rechecking
their measurements & looking for ways they might be wrong.
When they shared their assessment with the center’s director,
he concurred, adding that this was most likely “the biggest
story of our time.” The findings were soon verified by a
Soviet colonel secretly working for MI6 & the CIA.

Faced suddenly with an unprecedented threat, Kennedy ordered
a maritime “quarantine” of Cuba, to block any further
transport of weapons to the island, & declared that non-
compliance by the Soviet Union would mean war. The hope was
the line-in-the-sea strategy would demonstrate force &
readiness to attack while providing both sides with
breathing room, so they could begin inching away from the ledge.

With the discovery of nukes in Cuba, the mission at the NSA
shifted abruptly from uncovering secrets to assessing the
enemy’s war footing in real time or as close to it as possible.
Gordon Blake, the NSA director, established an around-the-clock
team to churn out sigint summaries twice a day as well as
immediate updates as needed. Moody was put in charge of this
effort; she spent many nights sleeping on a cot in her office.
She later recalled the solidarity throughout the agency, with
staff members from other groups showing up at Moody’s office
to volunteer their help. Late one night, Blake himself stopped
by & asked how he could lend a hand. Moody gave him a list
of names. Blake picked up the phone, & Moody overheard him
rousing people from their sleep: “This is Gordon Blake.
I’m calling for Juanita Moody. She wonders if you can come
in. They need you.”

Listening & watching for new activity on & near the island,
sigint collectors relied on land-based electro surveillance,
a “net” of underwater hydrophones, spy planes, listening
devices on Navy ships, & other, still-classified tools. The
USS Oxford continued its near-shore mission, despite being
well within range of a Soviet attack. It wasn’t long before
sigint indicated that radar systems at the newly discovered
missile sites had been activated.

Of paramount concern was figuring out how Soviet ships
would respond to the quarantine. Using intercepted radio
& radar info, maritime traffic analyses & location data
provided by the Navy, Moody’s team kept close tabs on
Soviet ships & nuclear-armed subs as they made their way
from the N Atlantic toward Cuba. One critical intercepted
correspondence, from the Soviet naval station at Odessa,
informed all Soviet ships that their orders would now come
directly from Moscow. But whether this meant Moscow was
planning a coordinated challenge to the blockade, or a
standdown, no one knew.

Then, on Oct 24, two days after Kennedy announced the
quarantine, there was a glimmer of hope: Sigint confirmed
that at least one Soviet ship headed toward Cuba had stopped
& changed direction, & appeared to be rerouting back toward
the Soviet Union—a sign the Soviets weren’t intending to
challenge Kennedy’s quarantine. Yet it was also crucial that
American officials feel confident in that assessment. This
close to the ledge, there was simply no room for miscalculation.

Nobody understood that better than Moody. Although the intel
about the ship redirecting its course came in the middle of
the night, Moody felt the higher-ups needed to know about
it right away. She made an urgent call to Adlai Stevenson,
the U.S. ambassador to the UN, who was slated to address the
Security Council about the crisis the following day. When
State Dept officials refused to put her thru, she dialed the
number for his hotel room directly. “I called New York & got
him out of bed,” she recalled. “I did what I felt was right,
& I really didn’t care about the politics.” (She also noted
that later “he sent up congrats to the agency.”)

The intel provided the first positive signs of a peaceful
exit from the standoff, but it was hardly over. At one point,
Navy destroyers & the carrier USS Randolph tried to force a
nuclear-armed Soviet sub just outside the quarantine zone to
the surface by detonating underwater explosives, nearly
provoking all-out war. Then, on Oct 27, the Soviets shot down
a U-2 plane over Cuba, killing Air Force pilot Rudolf Anderson
Jr. In Washington, the plan had been to strike back in the
event that a U-2 was downed, but Kennedy ultimately decided
to refrain. Finally, on the morning of Oct 28, after the US
secretly offered to remove its nuclear missile bases in Turkey
& Italy, Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites in
Cuba.

A few weeks later, in a letter of thanks addressed to the
NSA director, the commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Adm.
Robert Dennison, wrote that the intel coming from NSA’s Cuba
desk was “one of the most important single factors in
supporting our ops & improving our readiness.”

Moody’s use during the crisis of what were known as
“electrograms,” essentially top-secret intel rpts sent to
the highest levels via Teletype, forever reshaped how the
agency handled urgent intel, according to David Hatch, the
senior NSA historian. “Juanita was a pioneer in using this
capability,” he told me. Before Moody’s innovation, he went
on, “most product was released via slower means, even in a
crisis—hand-carried by courier, by interoffice mail, or even
snail mail, to cite a few examples. The importance of having
the ability to disseminate sigint in near-real-time was
clearly demonstrated” during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“The info Juanita & her team produced was very important in
the decision to launch U-2s,” Hatch said. The US would not
have learned what it did, when it did, about offensive nukes
in Cuba without Moody, a civilian woman in a male & military-
dominated agency.

Moody would later say the work she did in the 40s & 50s had
prepared her for the Cuba standoff. “I felt at the time,
while it was happening, that somehow I had spent all of my
career getting ready for that crisis,” she said of those
tense weeks in the autumn of 1962. “Somehow, everything that
I had done had helped point me to be in the best position
possible, knowledge-wise, to know how to proceed in that crisis.”

Moody would go on to lead management training courses within
the agency, & she helped establish a permanent position for
an NSA liaison in the White House Situation Room. The deaths
of U-2 pilots had troubled her deeply, & she worked to improve
the system for warning pilots when enemy aircraft made
threatening course corrections. And she continued to work
closely with IBM engineers to improve the NSA’s tech
capabilities. Within the agency, she reached legendary status.
One of her Fort Meade colleagues told me that a gaggle of
young staffers, nearly all of them men, could frequently
be seen trailing Moody down the halls, scribbling notes
while she spoke.

In 1971, Moody received the Federal Woman’s Award, established
to honor “leadership, judgment, integrity, & dedication” among
female govt employees. During the Cuba “emergency,” Moody’s
citation noted, “when the provision of intel to the highest
authorities was of utmost importance, Moody displayed extra-
ordinary executive talent.” In his nomination letter, Tordella,
the deputy NSA director, whom Moody had clashed with about the
Cuba report, called her “brilliant,” & wrote that “no one in
a position to know can but affirm that so far as this Agency
contributed to the successful U.S. effort in a critical period,
Moody must be given credit for a significant share in that
success.”

At the banquet dinner, Moody, dressed in a pink gown, sat next
to Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security adviser.
She brought her parents from NC, as well as her sister Dare.
Afterward, congratulatory letters & cables came from the White
House, the British Embassy, the U.S. Mission in Vietnam, the
CIA, the Navy. Yet the broader American public, at that point
unaware even of the existence of the National Security Agency,
had no idea who she was.

That changed in 1975, when a bipartisan congressional
investigation launched in the wake of Watergate found that
the NSA had intercepted conversations that included U.S.
citizens. More than that, the NSA was supporting federal
agencies, namely the CIA, FBI & Secret Service, in their
efforts to surveil American citizens put on secret watch lists.

An outcry ensued. The maelstrom would cause lasting damage
to the American people’s perception of the trustworthiness of
the country’s national security apparatus. Moody, as the
liaison between the NSA & other federal agencies—memos to the
NSA from J. Edgar Hoover were addressed “Attention: Mrs.
Juanita M. Moody”—was caught in the middle.

In Sept 1975, NSA Director Lew Allen Jr. sent Moody to Capitol
Hill to testify in hearings about the agency’s surveillance.
She had never been trained to testify or speak to a general
audience about NSA work, but she accepted the assignment
without protest. Frank Church, the Idaho senator who chaired
the committee investigating abuses of power by U.S. intel
agencies, told Moody that she would have to testify in an
open & televised session. Moody refused. “I took an oath to
protect classified infon & never to reveal it to those who
are not authorized & have the need to know,” she told him.
“I don’t know of any law that would require me to take an
oath to break an oath. Is there such a thing, Senator?” There
was not, & it was closed sessions for her week on Capitol Hill.

At one point, Sen. Mondale, of Minnesota, demanded that Moody
bring “everything” NSA had—meaning all the material gathered
that might relate to American citizens. Practically speaking,
it was an absurd demand; NSA was already collecting enormous
amounts of info, much of it superfluous. Very little of it
would be of value to the committee’s investigation. Moody
tried to explain to Mondale that he misunderstood the nature
of the info he was requesting, but he cut her off. “I don’t
give a good goddamn about you & your computers, Mrs. Moody,”
Mondale barked. “You just bring the material in here tomorrow.”

The next day a truck dumped hundreds of pounds of paper at
Mondale’s office. Mondale, having learned in a hurry how
ill-informed his request had been, tried to make nice with
Moody the next time they met. Putting his hand on her shoulder,
he thanked her for being so cooperative. “I wasn’t too pleased
or happy about that,” she said later, referring to Mondale’s
hand on her shoulder, his change in tone, or both.

During her testimony, Moody explained that lists of names
were given to her group at the NSA. When the names appeared
in their intercepts, NSA flagged it. She maintained to the
last that the NSA had never done anything wrong. “We never
targeted Americans,” she told an NSA interviewer in 2003.
“We targeted foreign communications.” NSA’s own tribute to
Moody in the agency’s “Hall of Honor” says the congressional
hearings “incorrectly identified [her] with some possible
abuses of govt power.”

Still, Moody kept cool throughout the hearings. She even
savored the opportunity to teach committee members about
the sigint process. She considered it “a great privilege”
to help educate the men down on Capitol Hill. “It was the
only thing I enjoyed down there,” she said.

Two months later, in Feb 1976, Juanita Moody retired. If
she was ever upset about the way she had been treated during
the wiretapping scandal, she kept it to herself. She & Warren
made frequent trips to Hoot ’n Holler, their Shenandoah
getaway, & to North Carolina, where Moody’s parents & many
siblings still lived. “All the years I was working, my sisters
& brothers were the ones who took care of my parents,” she
told a friend. “Now it’s my turn.”

After Warren became ill, in the 80s, the Moodys relocated
to a seaside town in SC. When not caring for her husband,
Juanita planned renovations & real estate ventures & hunted
antiques & secondhand jewelry. “She was a delightful lady,”
Fred Nasseri, a former Iranian diplomat who moved to the U.S.
after the Iranian Revolution, told me recently. Nasseri had
opened a Persian rug business in nearby Litchfield, & he &
Moody became friends. “We would discuss art, politics,
diplomacy.”

But even in retirement Moody, who died in 2015, at age 90,
& was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, was discreet.
When asked about her past, she would deflect. As one friend
remembered her saying, “Oh, I’ve done lots of interesting
things for a country girl from North Carolina.”

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/juanita-moody-woman-helped-avert-nuclear-war-180976993/
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