Ex-NSA workers track crime Retirees aid police by building databases

June 21, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

For decades, Jim Blimmel fought the Cold War by poring over top-secret information and overseeing crack teams of analysts for the National Security Agency.

Now, a few years after retirement, Blimmel and five other former NSA managers are quietly fighting a battle against crime -- by building databases and spotting theft trends as volunteers for the Howard County Police Department.

"We're just remnants of the Cold War," said Blimmel, 63, of Columbia. "We look at the statistics and see if something is happening, get police on the problem quickly."

One recent morning in a cramped office at the Northern District police station, four of the NSA retirees worked on computers, studied crime reports and joked about their grotesque golf games. They appear as nondescript as retired spies come -- from pens clipped inside shirt pockets to their close-cropped hair and eyeglasses.

Two days a week, members of the group work with crime statistics, creating databases that eventually become detailed maps of the county that instead of pinpointing roads or rivers show the location of thefts, burglaries and robberies.

It's a far cry from their 12-hour days with America's ultrasecret eavesdropping and code-breaking organization at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

But the volunteers say fighting crime with skills developed during an average 37.5 years at NSA can be more rewarding than dueling the evil empire. And they still enjoy the camaraderie of men who share their secrets.

"It gets the guys back together," said Bill Vennard, 60, between chuckles and wisecracks.

Vennard said they like working without the constraints of bureaucracy such as meetings and memos. "The great thing, we limit meetings to one a month and it's fun," he said.

Just don't ask specifics about their NSA histories; they can't "confirm or deny" anything until their files are declassified.

"The moment that happens," Vennard said, "I'm heading to the [National] Cryptologic Museum and telling everything I know."

A loose collection

The Howard volunteers represent a loose collection of other former NSA types working for law enforcement agencies. Eight former NSAers perform similar tasks for Anne Arundel police.

"I am one person and we have twice the amount of crime as Howard," said Dorris Paszkiewicz, supervisor of the crime analysis section for Anne Arundel police. "If it wasn't for the volunteers, there would be limited crime analysis. This is a great fit for them."

In Howard County, besides tediously entering data and looking for trends, the volunteers jazz up the department's community liaison program by helping design training sessions and ways for police to contact residents by e-mail.

Said Sgt. Karen Shinham, who heads the department's community services section: "It's like having two full-time employees who know what they're doing."

Blimmel's post-retirement career began when he stood up at a community meeting three years ago and complained that officers weren't enforcing speed limits on neighborhood streets.

'Security isn't an issue'

Maj. Mark L. Paterni was there and approached Blimmel after the meeting. When Paterni learned of Blimmel's background, he asked the retired spy to join the department as a volunteer.

Blimmel persuaded five other retirees -- including Tom Beall, 60, and Larry Murdoch, 61 -- to join. Soon, they were analyzing some of the department's most confidential files. "With their prior job experience, security isn't an issue," said George Koch, who heads the crime analysis section.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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