By Command Master Chief W. G. “Sam” Houston, U.S. Navy (Retired) and Intelligence Specialist Master Chief David Mattingly, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Naval Intelligence has a long history of periodically using enlisted personnel in undercover counterintelligence cases as well as more mundane investigations. The official history of ONI in World War II lists duties performed by enlisted personnel to include assignment as inspectors for security against sabotage, naval investigations, and as "planted agents" for counterespionage investigations/operations1. But after World War II enlisted personnel used in that capacity were typically those already assigned to the District Intelligence Office for administrative support or enlisted personnel assigned to other Naval activities who were recruited for a specific case. There was no rate or Naval Enlisted Classification (NEC) code for enlisted investigators to directly support the investigative requirements of ONI and (subsequent to 1966) the Naval Investigative Service (NIS).
All that changed in 1958 when the NEC 9592, Enlisted Investigator, was created under the sponsorship of the DNI. OPNAVINST 1221.3 sought applicants from any rate except "critical" rates where manning was short. Applicants had to be E-6 or above and would be subject not only to background investigations but also to suitability interviews by ONI personnel. Once appointed, they would undergo training and could anticipate overseas assignments. The first ONI Basic Agent training class for new 9592s was conducted 21 August – 5 September, 1958 and all nine graduates were assigned to activities in Japan. Training for subsequent 9592s was conducted either by ONI or by attending the Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) Basic Agent course at Ft. Hollabird, Maryland.
On completion of training, 9592s were issued Naval Intelligence “Agent” badges and credentials. They possessed the same authorities as officer-agents or civilian Special Agents with the single exception that they could not apprehend an officer without either another officer or a civilian Special Agent being present.
Assigned to overseas posts (primarily in the Pacific), enlisted agents would typically be under cover as government civilian employees and would work the same cases as their officer or civilian counterparts. In the early days of the program, it was envisioned that the typical office would comprise "at least one officer, a limited number of contract Special Agents, and sufficient enlisted agents to satisfy local requirements.2"
An early example of this was Saigon in 1962 where the first ONI presence was an office comprising one civilian Special Agent on temporary duty from the Philippines and one permanently assigned enlisted (9592) agent. By 1964, the office had grown to one officer, two Special Agents, and two enlisted (9592) agents under civilian-employee cover.
Upon completion of an overseas tour, a 9592 could be assigned to a CONUS District Intelligence Office or, after 1966, an NIS office. But billets were not always available and, in some instances, 9592s were returned to billets in their basic rate.
Promotion for 9592s could also be problematic. They still had to pass promotion examinations for their basic rate, but studying for and taking the promotion examinations while under cover overseas became difficult, if not impossible.
Due to severe military manning shortfalls, the Department of Defense promulgated a "civilian substitution" program in 1966. The timing of this edict coincided with the creation of the NIS and the desire of the newly created organization to work toward an all-civilian, Civil Service3 Special Agent force. The 9592 enlisted agent program began to be phased out. The NIS Activities Report for 1966 reflected only twelve 9592s on board with nine of those scheduled to depart in 1967. The Bureau of Naval Personnel terminated the 9592 NEC, effective 31 December 1969. A number of 9592 enlisted agents went on to become Special Agents with NIS or other Federal Law Enforcement agencies. But the Naval Intelligence enlisted investigator was no more.
About the authors:
Command Master Chief Houston served as an NEC 9592 enlisted investigator from 1962 through the end of the program in 1970. He returned to the fleet and ultimately retired as Command Master Chief of USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67).
Intelligence Specialist Master Chief Mattingly, now retired from the Navy, serves as a senior analyst in federal law enforcement agencies and the Intelligence Community.
1U.S. Naval Administration in World War II, Volume XXVI, History of ONI in World War II, U.S. Gov’t Printing Office,1947, p.30. For examples see also Packard, Wyman C., A Century of Naval Intelligence, U.S. Gov’t Printing Office 1996, particularly p.283.
2Naval Investigative Service, Pacific, A Brief History, 1974 p.I-V-2.
3At the time, NIS employed non-Civil Service civilian contract agents. By 1 July 1969, all had been converted to “Excepted Service” Civil Service Special Agents.