The NSG maintained a SIGINT facility at Sakata, in Yamagata Prefecture, approximately 300 miles north of Tokyo, facing the Sea of Japan, between 1956 and 1962. It was established in November 1956 as a detachment of the NSG Activity at Kami Seya, but was designated an NSG Activity in its own right on June 26, 1957.
The command was decommissioned on September 7, 1962. In 1962, the town of Sakata was a farm community with an approximately population of 100,000. It was a rural community with heavy harbor and seaport business.
According to Toshiko Nakagawa, Sakata’s only administrative secretary and translator, there were four Officers-in Charge (OIC) from first to last were: LT. Kirby L. Robinson (1st), CDR Franklynn R. Sperberg (2nd), CDR William L. Burns (3rd) and LT Robert A. Horan (last).
According to LT Robert Horan, the OIC in 1961-62, Sakata was a small ELINT station which occupied about 30 acres on the edge of the farming and fishing city of Sakata overlooking the Sea of Japan. It operated a 60-foot dish antenna. There were usually 3-4 officers and approximately 55-65 enlisted men stationed at the facility. In James Bamford’s words, the post directed its ear 550 miles across the Sea of Japan toward the intriguing geographic confluence of China, Korea and the Soviet Union. LT Horan’s specialty was Russian linguists. A veteran who served at Sakata in 1961-62 has described it as an ‘excellent multi-purpose facility.’ About 35 Japanese locals worked at the base. They provided security and fire protection, and undertook all public works operations.
The station was notified in July 1962 that it was soon to be closed. Most of the personnel left in late August 1962, when dismantling of the equipment began. The NSG Activity was decommissioned on September 7 and the site was officially closed on October 1, when the US flag was lowered and the last personnel boarded trucks bound for Kami Seya. According to LT Horan, ‘ultimately, increased VQ ELINT flight operations and other sophisticated technologies doomed the mission of NSGA Sakata.’
The Sakata station maintained a small temporary base at the summit of nearby Mount Chokai, which was manned by a rotating contingent from the NSG Activity at Sakata. The sailors lived in large 20 man tents and used ‘Quick Vans’ for operations. A small Marine SIGINT unit was also stationed on Mount Chokai in 1961-62. They were ‘on temporary duty testing antennae’ and were attached to the NSG Activity at Sakata for Support.
Narrative by SK2 Bob McDaniel, USN.
“Upon reporting (to NSGA Sakata, Japan in 1961) I met CDR Burns (OIC). Thus began a tour of duty that I will never forget. In addition to my supply duties, I learned that I was in charge of the movie schedule, setting up a roster of movie operators, shipping and receiving movies. Movies were shown in the combination messhall and All Hands Club. The Chiefs had their own projector. I also ran the small branch Navy Exchange/Ship’s Store. This was a closet sized space in the combination recreation room/chapel. We carried the basics only: cigarettes, toiletries, candy and snacks. Stock was received about once a month from Yokosuka. There was also a liquor store that the Chiefs ran. If you were the duty driver on Sunday, you drove the right hand drive Chevrolet sedan to town and picked up one of the missionary Priests or Pastors to come out to the base and conduct services. All good things have to come to an end. In the summer of 1962 word was received that NSGA Sakata was closing down. We then proceeded to close down the base, and I was left to pack up the supplies and equipment to be shipped out. A good portion of the ops people were transferred, so everyone that left was involved in shutting the place down. The big dish was disassembled and crated up. Household goods of the families crated up and most of the other material and supplies shipped to Kamiseya. The Nippon Express company would drag the stuff to the rail yard for loading on rail cars. It seemed that it was difficult to find enough rail cars to handle our stuff. My Japanese assistant said it was because it was rice harvest time and we were competing with the farmers for tailraces. At that time the typical Japanese rail car was not very big (about the size of a 20 ft container) so we needed a few. A sales contract was awarded to clean up our scrap yard, which started growing as we got closer to shut down. They seemed to be pretty happy with what they were getting. The Navy Exchange at Yokosuka said we should ship back all the unopened bottles of liquor, I believe a few extra bottles got opened so we would have some bar stock to get us through the final days. Some of the local companies and organizations sent out huge bottles of Sake as going away presents. I seem to remember a 32 cup coffee urn being filled with Sake. In the final couple of weeks we were down to 10 or 12 people and had closed up the mess hall. Meals were prepared in the kitchen of one of the family quarters. On the 1st of October (1962) the U.S. flag was lowered and the remaining personnel got in the trucks and other vehicles. We traveled in a caravan from Sakata to Kami Seya. It was a trip that took all day and I believe we arrived at Kami Seya about midnight.”
U.S. SIGINT Activities in Japan 1945-2015, Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability Special Report 23 December 2015