Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chip, who writes:
I remember reading a number of years ago that the NRO/NSA was the largest consumer of magnetic tape, utilized for pre-detection recordings of various spans of spectrum, all over the world.
I’m wondering if those tapes become declassified at some point, and if they are available through FOIA requests. Were they just bulk erased, destroyed or sold at GSA auction along the way.
Do you know if anyone has ever queried into their existence, and if they have been electronically preserved to some other digital medium?
The idea that our government records huge chunks of spectrum, fuels thoughts in my mind of huge spans of non-classified spectrum from across the years. All the DX shortwave outlets captured for posterity.
Thank you for sharing this note, Chip.
Of course, I’ve always been interested in adding recordings like this to the Radio Spectrum Archive. If these recordings exist, I would love to see them added to the Internet Archive–who stores Radio Spectrum Archive recordings– so that they could be shared and enjoyed by all.
Post readers: If you have any information on this, please comment!
Here’s another photo courtesy of 6987th USAFSS Dawg Flight:
“May 1969 shot of Dawg Flight “203s” (linguists) working a day-watch in the 203 section of Ops located behind the X1 blocks.”
Yes, a lot of tape was consumed.
This links to a photo from the ‘Dawg Flight’ (6987th USAFSS Shu Linkou AS) web site: https://shulinkou.tripod.com/bjvoa1.jpg
Home page is here: https://shulinkou.tripod.com/Dawg1.html
Photo shows a number of tape reels on the shelves to the right of the voice operator at this one remote intercept station on Taiwan. Imagine the accumulation from all AFSS, ASA, and NSG sites worldwide?
Maybe I could ask for my first , shaky CW CQ transmission!
Like roomfuls of tape reels transcribed to a …. thumb drive. The biggest issue is time consumed playing the tapes in real time to record into digital. May take a couple of millenia to get complete.
I think this is “information”? Maybe…
The release of old tapes might reveal, sources and methods, one of the most stringent exceptions to the FOIA. It would show what our capacity/capability was on a certain day, areas of interest and filters or bandwidths of interest.
Satellite Imagery tends not to be released for decades after the info becomes out of date for this reason. We don’t want them to know inn the past we got a shot of this or that or an elint/masint snippet of bandwidth. on such and such a day. Better to let them guess!
I also know a little about digital media management and that many tapes would be too many to manage. And the formats go out of date. I think the USG has been using spinning disks over tapes for a very long time. You set a management policy and there is nothing to erase 5 times before you can send tape media to GSA or whatever.
Would be cool if there were audio recordings of stuff known to not be classified, like FBIS recordings of Foreign broadcast news during an international crisis.
If they’re declassed, the most likely landing spot is NARA: https://www.archives.gov/. But getting them converted to online files would’ve been a gargantuan task!