INTRODUCTION: Captain Howard C. Ehret (Howie) served in the United States Navy as a cryptologic professional from 1962 to 1992. He developed, honed, and assiduously applied his transformational leadership and unsurpassed technical cryptologic skills against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and regional crises in the Middle East and the Atlantic too numerous to relate. 

His frame of reference was forward-deployed U.S. Naval forces operating “eyeball to eyeball” with the Soviets and other threats, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  He understood the force multiplying potential inherent in the marriage of SIGINT with Naval operations long before TENCAP and other similar efforts. He anticipated the need for, and successfully achieved, the integration of all National assets into the Navy’s sensor suite. He dramatically improved the contribution of tactical sensors to the national ‘picture.’ His understanding was not confined to ‘Blue Water’ or Special Operations. He realized that information demands are nowhere greater than at the Land-Sea Interface, and his pioneering efforts in this realm underpin the Navy’s ability to operate there today. In these, as in all his endeavors, he displayed the uncommon ability to mentor not only his peers and juniors, but equally importantly those senior to him. He institutionalized this mentorship in formal, Navy wide schooling that endures to this day. As a result, he was the acknowledged peerless contributor to the elevation of Naval Cryptology from an intelligence discipline to operational art. This sea change not only vastly improved cryptologic support to the Navy during his lifetime, but also has provided the solid technical and operational foundation on which today’s Information Warfare and Cyber Operations rest. Through his actions, he contributed profoundly to the security of the United States and American people, not just during the period of his service, but for all time. He is most deserving of the strongest possible consideration for selection to the Hall of Honor.


Short-term:   The Navy and the nation did not have to wait for his impact to be felt; it was felt from day one and throughout his career. Many actions which had a marked short term impact are included below in the belief that not only were they far sighted and long lasting, but also that their cumulative effect is what made Captain Ehret’s contribution so remarkable.

Long-term: Captain Ehret’s career began as a linguist assigned to submarines, where he first grasped the value of cryptology to Naval operations and the need to employ his organic cryptologic capability, as well as the National SIGINT System to support Naval operational requirements, all the while accomplishing National SIGINT objectives.  These experiences shaped his career, which spanned the horizon of Naval SIGINT afloat and ashore; from systems development and training to afloat cryptologic operations at all levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.  The expertise he achieved and expanded throughout his career enabled him to heavily influence the who, what, where, when and why of SIGINT for and by Naval forces.

He viewed every assignment through the lens of how he could help influence the application of SIGINT to Naval warfighting.  He succeeded across every aspect: he practiced it as a junior officer; drove the development of specific Navy training to support it as a mid-grade officer; and was instrumental in the development of the tactics, techniques and procedures to employ it when he entered the senior ranks.  In Washington DC tours he played a leading role in resourcing of equipment and personnel to accomplish it.  Most importantly, he served as a mentor to a generation of cryptologic officers and sailors in whom he instilled his vision.  From that small initial handful of waterfront operators he helped Navy groom a respected cadre of leaders that carried that vision forward. That cadre has accomplished the successful establishment of a permanent cryptologic presence in nearly every active duty combatant ship in the Navy inventory today, as well as all afloat staffs, all Fleet and Joint staffs and has a permanent presence on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, strong testimony to the fidelity of that vision.  No less important at the time, he had a profound impact on those senior to him who had grown up in a far more shore based, nationally oriented community. He led them to the understanding of how and why such assets needed to be more deeply integrated into Naval Operations and vice versa. This proved a critical factor in ensuring not only the success of his initiatives, but also the long term health of the Navy cryptologic community.

WHY SHOULD HE BE HONORED:   Captain Ehret changed how the Navy operated.  He accomplished this through the untiring application of leadership, cryptologic knowledge and Naval operational expertise.  He was extraordinarily influential on the direction of Naval tactical SIGINT systems, personnel assignments and development, training, doctrine, tactics and capabilities, an influence which continues to this day. He spent his career advancing and refining the concepts, tactics, techniques and procedures of applying tactical SIGINT to Naval operations.  His influence was far reaching and touched all aspects of equipment acquisition, formal officer and sailor training, development of the tactics, techniques and procedures for the conduct of SIGINT in support of Naval operations and the mentoring of juniors, peers and seniors in his vision of tactical SIGINT and SIGINT support to operating forces. 

His career spanned the breadth of Naval cryptology; from his significant influence on systems development, to his focused development of training curricula, to performing and developing the “how to” for afloat cryptologic operations at both tactical and operational levels, to the career mentoring of sailors and officers in the art and science of applying cryptologic capability to Naval warfare.  Captain Ehret was a consummate role model, mentor and leader. He did not just espouse a vision, he rolled up his sleeves and helped develop the detailed, specific training criteria and tactical SIGINT technical standards of performance for Navy cryptology that service to this day.  He was a central figure in establishing the career motivation of officers and sailors engaged in both fleet and SIGINT shore site operations during the Cold War and intervening crisis events.  He was a major force behind transforming a relatively small Navy community into a well-trained, excited, devoted, tactically relevant and operationally effective combat support organization that was determined to use their cryptologic skills and capabilities to help the nation deter aggression and if necessary, win the war at sea.  His ability to articulate a clear understanding of Navy operations, sensor requirements, essential elements of information requirements, and actionable intelligence needs at all levels of war was unmatched. Where others saw a divide between the tactical and national levels of war, he saw a continuum. Put differently he understood Adm Bill Studeman’s words, that “Tactical intelligence is the building block of strategic intelligence” before they were spoken. 


Training and Readiness:

  • He personally authored Technical Standards of Readiness (TSORs) which established job qualification requirements, curriculum standards and on-the-job performance criteria across the Navy’s cryptologic force. The TSORs morphed into Navy-wide sanctioned Performance Qualification Standards (PQS) and ultimately led to formal training curriculum development by the Naval Education and Training Command, curriculum that is still taught today to sailors and officers at the Center for Information Dominance (CID) at Corry Station in Pensacola, FL.
  • His renowned technical skills and personal persistence produced equipment operations guides and training curriculum that enabled Navy cryptologists to detect, classify and track hostile targets with unprecedented predictability, accuracy and reliability.  His OUTBOARD OPERATOR HANDBOOK was the most important source of guidance for operators aboard permanently installed DF-capable surface ships. 
  • He worked with operators and engineers to develop a procedure to permit temporarily installed shipboard receivers to interface with ship’s Direction Finding equipment to dramatically improve the timeliness to detect, classify and geolocate targets.
  • He directed the development of a Navy Warfare Publication (NWP-5 ), which codified doctrine for Cryptologic Electronic Support Measures (CESM).  This formed the basis for a family of documents that provided critical operational guidance and were made mandatory reading for promotion to Petty Officer through Chief Petty Officer for a generation of Navy enlisted cryptologists
  • He was a driving factor in the decision to send cryptologists enroute to afloat units and commands to staff and ship’s tactical action officer schools as well as other  critical training. This ensured they hit the deck running, a key ingredient in any successful tour.   He personally influenced changes to fleet Tactical Action Officer curriculum, part of the Navy’s Department Head milestone training at Fleet Combat Training Center, Dam Neck Virginia to include SIGINT input to their weapons targeting training.
  • He partnered with the Navy training community to provide timely fleet input and necessary changes to afloat cryptologic officer and enlisted training easily and smoothly.   He personally ensured the steady flow of direct fleet operator input to courses at Corry Station through schoolhouse-to-fleet unit visits. This ensured courseware and training hardware at Corry Station remained on the cutting edge of real-world operations, Fleet capabilities and operating doctrines.
  • Throughout his career, but especially as a Commanding Officer, he was known for his frequent interaction with the Bureau of Naval Personnel to ensure that his highly trained cryptologic technicians and officers were offered challenging follow-on assignments.  Captain Ehret conducted weekly training sessions to share his wide ranging knowledge of and first-hand experience in fleet cryptologic operations.  He prided himself in preparing young officers for sea duty in challenging assignments in tactical SIGINT. 

Systems; Tactics, Techniques and Procedures:

  • He championed the introduction and fleet adaptation of the Cryptologic Combat Support Console (CCSC), a state-of-the-art system for tasking tactical SIGINT assets, processing fleet and national SIGINT data and displaying the results at the Battle Group Commander level.   A forerunner of modern IT systems, the CCSC embodied Captain Ehret’s broad vision of a networked force and facilitated automation of his tactics, techniques and procedures in everyday fleet operations.
  • While serving on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon, Captain  Ehret assisted Naval Warfare Planners and Program Managers with SIGINT techniques, technologies, and products which resulted in robust Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Electronic Counter Measures, and Targeting systems for the fleet surface and air reconnaissance forces. Using his comprehensive knowledge of SIGINT capabilities he helped identify and counter critical Soviet weapons systems capabilities.
  • Following the development of a new afloat wideband signal collection and direction finding system, Captain Ehret conceived, documented, and developed  the personnel skills, recruiting and retention philosophy, operator techniques, tactical development and evaluation (TAC D&E), criteria necessary for system operation and drove their acceptance within the operating forces and SIGINT community.
  • He was unsurpassed in his ability to bridge the gap between operators, analysts, engineers and acquisition experts in order to develop affordable capabilities for fleet units  that delivered  the perishable target information, trend analysis and other data needed to  improve the Fleet’s ability  to predict enemy intent.  The “direction- finding (DF) – on demand” concept he developed produced actionable targeting data through the expert use of technology and equipment he had helped develop. 
  • Serving on an operational fleet staff, he worked closely with National SIGINT authorities and Navy Cryptologic Shore Support activities (CSSAs) to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures to produce weapons-release quality targeting data based on tactical SIGINT.  This information was essential to targeting cruise missile launches and other offensive Naval operations.  His success in these areas set the standard in all numbered fleet areas and were adopted Navy wide.
  • He worked extensively with SIGINT facilities in Spain, the UK and elsewhere to develop a global system of SIGINT “tips” to DF-Capable platforms at sea where none had previously existed. This led to unprecedented DF-on-demand capabilities. He also included the Fleet Ocean Surveillance Information Facility (FOSIF) at Rota, Spain in this architecture to ensure all-source intelligence support for tactical SIGINT operations.
  • DF on demand led to his development of a cryptologic technique labeled “Communications Profiling”; a blend of shore operational and technical support and afloat techniques that assisted in the creation of targeting data suitable for entry into the Battle Staff Common Operational Picture (COP).  As a result of these and related  initiatives, Captain Ehret’s work was influential in changes made to the Fleet Rules of Engagement (ROE) which accepted tactical SIGINT data for use in offensive operations. No other single action had so much impact in moving SIGINT support into the mainstream of critical combat information afloat.
  • Captain Ehret  used his “Communications Profiling” technique to  established the first-ever, U.S. Navy tactical SIGINT operational exercise in the Mediterranean that rigorously  tested the ability of OUTBOARD-equipped warships to provide on-demand, target quality data against real-world targets irrespective of the target’s communications mode.  It ensured that all deploying cryptologic capable ships were able to provide quality Over the Horizon-Targeting data against a peer Navy on call.  It was a mainstay of SIXTHFLT cryptologic operations for over a decade and succeeded in spite of the challenges of using the then state-of-the-art carry-on, hardcopy “tech kits”, 75 baud HF circuits and very limited UHF SATCOM.  It taught a generation of Navy officers of all designators the impact of SIGINT support to the warfighter.
  • Drawing on this experience, he mentored the junior officer tasked with creating Lighting Rod, the first ever Command Post Exercise (CPX) supporting Navy Special Operations using real world Command and Control (C2). His steady hand behind the scenes was crucial to the initial success which led to so many lessons learned and resultant procedural improvements that it became a regular series conducted twice a year.
  • Captain Ehret developed the Lightning Bolt CPX series using real world C2 with ships, submarines and airborne aircraft to exercise the ability of the SIXTHFLT to counter a Soviet Anti-Carrier Warfare strike and to test the ability of distant nodes to support the fleet with real world intelligence while theater assets participated in the exercise. Once again, the value and volume of lessons learned led to this exercise becoming a fleet staple and was adopted by the Navy for use at the Naval War College and elsewhere. It thoroughly exercised the capabilities of national and tactical cryptology and intelligence to support the participating forces and helped to educate operators and intelligence personnel alike. This model was next adopted for Special Project Ocean Flag which was to test the support abilities of certain National Sensors.
  • While serving on the staff of the Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet he was responsible for the development and further refinement of HF/VHF DF  support  to the afloat targeting problem; providing locational data as triangulated among three DF capable Navy ships networked together to form a subnet of the Bullseye HFDF system.
  • As the first Intelligence Officer for Commander, Joint Task Force Five (CJTF-5), he rapidly built a robust 50 person, multi-agency (e.g., NSA, DEA, FBI, Customs, Coast Guard) intelligence structure from scratch.  As part of this effort and employing his broad National SIGINT System and naval tactical SIGINT  background, he specifically requested and received tactical control of Navy Tactical SIGINT capable ships manned with skill specific cryptologists/linguists to identify, locate, follow and capable of stopping at-sea drug carriers.   His efforts were key in supporting the seizure of over 100 metric tons of drugs during his tenure.

Mentoring the Naval Cryptologic Force:

  • The consummate leader, professional, and role model for Navy cryptologists, his talent in this area was never more on display than during this service on the staff of Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet.  His remarkable skills as a leader and role model enabled him to bring the best and brightest among cryptologists of all ranks for problem-solving sessions which often proved far more successful than lengthy ‘staffing’ drills—and more fun, too.
  • He had an uncanny ability to be “on the waterfront” or elsewhere at just the right time to engage the experts and deep-dive into technical engineering problems, operator skill issues, maintenance and readiness challenges and other factors that needed attention.  Armed with solutions, he was relentless in resolving problems and ensuring optimum readiness among personnel and equipment across platform and community lines.   
  • He mentored and taught afloat staff cryptologists the art and science of employing cryptologic capable ships to the maximum advantage of the battle group commander.  There was no gathering of cryptologic officers that was too small for Captain Ehret’s engagement. He was available to and sought out Naval cryptologists from across the fleet concentration areas (Groton, Norfolk, Charleston, Jacksonville) to ensure cryptologists received the best training and education possible; much of which  that was often beyond the ken of their commanding officers. He ensured that experiences and lessons learned by cryptologists returning from deployment were shared Navy wide.
  • He engaged Washington-level acquisition and resource sponsor commands, appropriate fleet and national organizations, the training community and the National Security Agency and for the first time ever invited their participation in the Atlantic Fleet Direct Support Conferences. As a result these agencies came to understand Navy’s needs far better and Navy operators came to understand the capabilities and limitations of those agencies. The result was far better interoperability between and among the participants and a dramatic improvement in fleet SIGINT operations.


From peers:   His peers remain in awe to this day regarding the Captain Ehret’s transformational impact. He was truly Naval cryptology’s Rickover. No gathering of his peers is complete without a few sea stories about interactions with Howie over the years. All told fondly and always with a kernel of truth learned in the encounter that is as true today as it was then.

Recognition of this legacy and the depth of the esteem in which he was held was manifest during a Celebration of Life in his honor in Sonoma, CA on January 21, 2012 where a large number of his former friends, colleagues gathered to remember what he stood for while serving his Navy community and then later his local community of Sonoma.  These are a few quotes:

  • “….had the genius of making us individually feel we were a part of something grand, something worth giving our minds, our sweat, and our very best effort.”
  • “In today’s terms, we can definitely say Howie Ehret was a transformational leader.  He was a major force behind transforming our relatively small Navy community into a well-trained, excited, devoted, tactically relevant and effective combat support organization that was determined to use our cryptologic skills and capabilities to win the war at sea.”
  • “His integrity was impeccable.  His devotion to his country, his family and the Navy was unshakeable. He was a quiet person about all that and avoided the limelight or public displays of his accomplishments.”
  • “I’ve never known anyone more dedicated and caring toward his crew members than Captain EHRET.  Serving as Captain EHRET’s Command Master Chief at Skaggs Island stands out as the most rewarding, challenging and exciting period of my career.” 
  • “Captain Ehret was an icon of the Naval Security Group and cryptology. He was a great mentor to many of us who never forgot his advice, counsel, and great leadership as we started our careers.”

From notables:  Captain Ehret served with and for many “notables” who were leaders in the maritime service SIGINT/Navy Cryptologic communities including the United States Coast Guard who have stated support for this honor:

  • A fellow staff officer with Captain Ehret during his assignment with Commander, SIXTH Fleet, Admiral (then Commander) Bill Studeman stated, “I would strongly support an effort to recognize Howie in the fitting manner being recommended to recognize a great Navy cryptologist who left a legacy of thinking about direct support.” 
  • Former Director of National Intelligence and DIRNSA, Vice Admiral J. M. (Mike) McConnell stated, “Passing of an era. Howie had great impact on all he touched and we all owe him.”
  • From former Commander Naval Security Group Command, Rear Admiral Isaiah Cole, “I most strongly endorse this recommendation. Howie was an outstanding leader with exceptional focus and a clear vision of what cryptology could contribute to the war fighter.  He inspired a generation.”
  • From another former Commander, Naval Security Group Command, Rear Admiral Joe Burns “Let me add another heartfelt endorsement. I had the privilege of working for Howie in the old (Naval Security Group Headquarters) G52. He was the real thing and he “got it” long before most people knew there was something to get.”

From the Intelligence Community:  Captain Ehret received numerous personal, team  and professional awards and other forms of recognition as his career progressed through unique Navy tours, shore based SIGINT tours and a joint tour as the Intelligence Officer on the JTF-5 which was led by Coast Guard Admirals.

HOW DID THE NATION BECOME MORE SECURE BECAUSE OF HIS CONTRIBUTIONS:  Captain Ehret served with distinction during many sensitive and threatening events associated with the Cold War and numerous other crisis events spanning his time on active duty.  His diligent application of his own cryptologic skills and use of tools he mastered alone probably make him worthy of this recognition.  But it is in his direct, personal influence from the top to the bottom of the U.S. Navy cryptologic force where he made the greatest and longest lasting difference. Because of him, naval cryptologists were better led, trained, equipped, and motivated. Because of him, US and allied forces were and are dramatically more aware of the enemy’s intentions, location and vulnerabilities and better prepared to deter and if necessary defeat them.  This contribution was mirrored in his exceptional efforts to improve support to the United States counter-narcotics campaign during the 1980s while he served on the staff of JTF-5.  Serving in a billet normally filled by a Navy Intelligence Officer, he excelled in bringing Navy and National SIGINT assets to bear to detect, classify, track and apprehend narcotic transports and other offenders.  From his first tour as a linguist and throughout his academic, operational and staff tours, Captain Ehret’s contribution to the readiness and effectiveness of cryptologic forces against our country’s enemies was incalculable—and lasting.  

HOW DID HE STAND OUT SIGNIFICANTLY FROM HIS CONTEMPORARIES IN THE CRYPTOLOGIC PROFESSION:  Captain Ehret was a towering figure in the Navy without ever seeking to be one, simply due to his strength of purpose, perseverance and tenacity in developing the operational concepts and tactical procedures needed to apply SIGINT across the spectrum of maritime operations from deterring aggression by the Former Soviet Union to illegal drug trafficking and a host of lesser  threats to national security.   Without ever seeking the limelight, he drove these efforts to prepare maritime forces to deter, or as needed, defeat the enemy.   If you learned only one thing for him it was that the Navy’s mission was to “conduct prompt and sustained combat operations and sea in support of national policy”…and that Cryptology was key to fulfilling that mission.  He instilled a warrior ethic in the cryptologic force as well as compelling justification for manning, training and equipping maritime forces with a “force multiplier” cryptologic warfighting capability.  He was famous for working whatever time was required and often at great personal sacrifice to solve the most intricate and detailed operational problem, system issue, or a training and readiness matter.  Captain Ehret was totally selfless and generous.  His greatest strength was his dedication and determination to sharing his knowledge with seniors, peers and juniors alike; knowledge which was consistently sought throughout the chain of command.   The same things that distinguished him while on active duty made him stand out after he retired from the Navy in 1992 and settled in Sonoma, CA.  As usual, he quickly took up an ever increasing role “behind-the-scenes” and became a powerful influence in his community.  As a result, he was selected as “Sonoma Alcalde” in 2000 (an honorary title of Mayor and the Spanish term for the most important official in a Spanish municipality).  When asked how he decided to settle in Sonoma after more than three decades in the Navy, he answered, “I guess this sounds corny, but if it were really true that the uniformed services were defending our way of life, I wanted to settle down and experience it.” 

Captain Ehret was a Naval cryptologic legend during his career and is remembered with reverence today as the man who operationalized Naval cryptology by melding the capabilities of the National SIGINT System with the finest Naval cryptologic force in history and then taking them beyond integration to the point where they became an indivisible part of Naval Operations.  He is most strongly recommended for entry into the Hall of Honor.