Among my peers in the world of Navy cryptologic operations, we enjoyed a sense of humor that few civilians might understand. To this very day, when friends or family ask me about my work, I will likely smile, then say, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” I do not get asked very much about my work.
Today, when recalcitrant equipment that I either test or provide customer with needed support and repair, I always have a smart-aleck response as my double-secret probation/ inside-voice, final debug plan. Put it in a barrel and light off some Thermite. But then, I am hired to fix it; it is up to my bosses to determine when the expense outweighs the continued troubleshooting.
Very early in the 1990’s, particularly as some hotspots in the world – where intelligence-gathering was not collected from 60,000 feet or a hundred miles in altitude as it may be today, but on the ground – my unit held a demonstration of classified material emergency disposal. This was the chemical destruction capability of THERMITE. Given a few minutes to dispose of the contents of a large safe, personnel might not have time to shred documents; some equipment that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands could not be physically destroyed by physical effort. Ergo, a thermite grenade could be ignited, placed in or on it, and the object would be reduced to ash and molten slag.
However, history taught me that this material might have been more for show than practical use. When the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized in 1979, if some stories are to be believed, shredded documents were reassembled by people working furiously over months. When the Iranians again seized our personnel during the Obama Presidency, was there Thermite to obliterate our crypto gear on board? was it destroyed? If jettisoned overboard, was it recovered?
And in the digital world of identity theft, credit reporting thefts, and hacking, there’s nothing to render data irretrievable but for military-grade encryption. And yet it often depends on human beings to practice security. Of course my mind runs to a different form of “thermite”, but if we cannot find the provocateurs, cannot render them sanitized.
Here’s one video demonstration of this material: