The 1967 emergency deployment to Detroit had caught the Army by surprise, and one of Secretary Vance’s recommendations was that a new Army Operations Center (AOC) be built so that the Army could handle up to 25 simultaneous deployments of Regular Army troops to American cities.

I remember being on duty in the new AOC in January 1969 when President Richard Nixon was being sworn in. With the country on edge in the aftermath of the riotous Democratic Party convention in Chicago the preceding fall, the seat of the federal government was a constant target for antiwar demonstrators, and the frequency and size of their gatherings in Washington were increasing.

The AOC was in a subbasement Pentagon space. Built as a duplex war room with ancillary offices, its entrance was guarded day and night and restricted to those with proper security clearances. Above the large, rectangular lower-level of the main room was a large atrium-like opening. On one side of the two-story atrium was a glassed-in command balcony where civilian and military decision makers sat. From this perch they could look down upon the military worker bees at their desks on the floor below or they could look straight across the atrium at the wall opposite. This wall was filled with several large projection screens. Apart from showing maps and troop positions, at least one of the screens would always display any live television coverage of an ongoing demonstrations.

Counter-Inaugural Protests

In standard military fashion, operational briefings in the AOC began with a uniformed Air Force officer giving the weather report. Addressed always as Mr. Bowe, with no indication of rank, I would follow in civilian dress with the intelligence report. As you might expect, the most useful intelligence had to do with the expected size and likely activity of demonstrators. For this purpose, widely available, non-classified newspaper and other common publications were a primary source I used to build my estimates.

The Air Force weather officer and I would precede the operations portion of an AOC briefing. All speakers would deliver their remarks from glass briefing booths on either end of the upper level of the AOC. The briefers were visible to the adjacent command balcony, and, because the pulpit-like booths jutted out a bit over the lower level, briefers were also visible to the joint service officers coordinating information on the lower level. The only thing I had seen before that was anything like this was the isolation booth Charles Van Doren was in when he answered questions on the rigged Twenty-One television quiz show in the late 1950s, and the bulletproof glass cage where Nazi Adolph Eichmann stood when he was on trial for war crimes in Israel in 1961.

I always thought Van Doren and I did better after we left our respective booths than Eichmann. Eichmann of course got the noose, but both Van Doren and I later in life worked for Encyclopedia Britannica. I discovered this in the late 1980s, when I spent time working on a Greek language publishing project that Van Doren had initiated the decade before shortly before he retired.

The AOC could be a strange place at times. In December 1968, I saw accused mass murderer Lieutenant William “Rusty” Calley, Jr. in the AOC. I had my desk at the time in the AOC and one day after lunch, as I came in past the security desk at the entrance and entered the complex, I happened to glance to my left into the anteroom. There looking very much alone, sitting by himself at a small table, was Calley. I recognized him immediately. His time in Vietnam had landed him on the cover of both Time and Newsweek that week. With the tragic My Lai Massacre all over the press, he had been sequestered for interrogation by the Army in the safest out of the way spot it could find for him, the AOC.  Sometime in 1969 before I got my office in the AOC, CIAD had moved from our windowless quarters next to the Northern Virginia Community College’s automobile shop to more upscale quarters, the Hoffman Building high rise office building in Alexandria, Virginia.

                                Hoffman Building. Alexandria, VA

This building had plenty of light, was near the beltway, and was close to the Wilson Bridge over the Potomac. While I had a desk there for the duration, I was spending most of my time in either the AOC or another Pentagon office.

Another office at the Pentagon that I rotated through daily was entered through a nondescript door on a busy corridor on one of the Pentagon’s outer rings. I was moving up in the world. Having started in OACSI’s lowly assignment office, I had moved up to a first-class basement duplex with the AOC. Now I had been promoted part of the day to an above ground cubby hole in one of the prestigious outer rings.

In this easily overlooked spot in a highly trafficked hall, one nondescript door led to a small reception area. I regularly had on a neck chain my Army dog tags, my Pentagon ID, my Hoffman Building ID, my AOC ID, and an ID for the area behind the door. Behind the door’s guard was an inner sanctum of windowless offices. This space was where highly compartmentalized, secret intelligence information collected by various foreign and domestic intelligence agencies could be viewed. It was interesting stuff to plough through daily, but rarely bore directly on my main job of preparing and delivering written and oral briefings on the likelihood of demonstrations or civil disturbances involving the Army.