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Phone Tapping in Germany
By Ted Heck 

Tea Party members or Obama fans are focused on the hubbub surrounding the National Security Agency’s world-wide phone tapping.

When I first learned how disturbed German Chancellor Angela Merkel was by NSA’s nosiness, my mind flew back 61 years to a sports incident in which talk about eavesdropping almost cost me my job.

It involved the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSCA), which was predecessor to NSA, before President Truman scrapped it. A former combat infantryman, I had returned to Germany as a civilian athletic consultant to the U.S. Army, administering sports programs that kept military personnel amused during the Cold War. I also did a sports column for the Munich American and Overseas Weekly newspapers and play-by-play football announcing for Armed Forces Network.

There were basketball teams with college-level players. We also had local leagues for lesser athletes. I captained the only civilian basketball team, which also had state department employees and two Mormon missionaries.

One of my sports columns saluted a young man playing for a mysterious army unit that no one knew anything about. They were stationed in a remote suburb and we suspected they were in the spying business. Jim was the star of their basketball team. I assumed he liked my story.

Apparently not! Our teams met sometime later. Jim and I stood together under the basket, waiting for his teammate to try a foul shot.

I call it stupid now, but I thought it was camaraderie then. I turned to him and said, “What do you hear from the Russians?

Jim gave me a blank stare.

But not the colonel of Munich Military Post the next morning. Jim had blown the whistle on me. The colonel almost tore my head off: “Heck, what the hell were you thinking?” And he laid out ground rules for the future, including a restriction on ever discussing the incident. He did not tell me that Jim’s unit was the AFSCA.

Although I saw Jim at subsequent sports events, we ignored each other.

As for the colonel’s embargo, I think six decades exceed the statute of limitations. In today’s world, however, Chancellor Merkel and many other foreign leaders remain miffed by the phone taps. Media are devoting a lot of time and space to the subject.

I wonder if Jim made a career in surveillance. If he’s still around, I suspect he's following the NSA play, but I’m sure he doesn’t share Angela’s anguish.

More by Ted Heck

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