Legendary Security Engineering Officer John Bagnal added to NSA's Interagency Training Center Memorial Wall

May 25, 2018

By Angela French, DSS Public Affairs

John Bagnal

On May 25, 2018, NSA added Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Security Engineering Officer (SEO) John Bagnal’s name to its Interagency Training Center (ITC) Memorial Wall – the only name added in 2018. A legend at DSS, Bagnal served at the U.S. Department of State for 52 years – first as an SEO protecting U.S. embassies across the world, then later as an instructor at the DSS training center.

Bagnal’s early career with DSS’ predecessor, the Office of Security, reads like something out of a Cold War spy novel. In 1964, he was part of the team that discovered a network of clandestine microphones hidden in the walls of the U.S. Embassies in Moscow and Warsaw. Years later, as a contractor, he earned the unofficial title as the father of DSS’ technical security threat awareness program.

People who had an opportunity to work with Bagnal remember him fondly.

“John was extraordinarily generous with his knowledge, and his enthusiasm for our mission was contagious,” said John Fitzsimmons, acting director of the DSS Countermeasures Directorate Office of Security Technology. “John strongly imparted to me the importance of our mission and that being a security engineer was one of the most interesting and fun jobs in the U.S. government. Thirty years later, I could not agree more.”

Fitzsimmons was one of the many security engineering officers trained by Bagnal at the training center. He recalls Bagnal’s extensive knowledge and his fondness for regaling classes with stories of his career.

“One notable story was about a physical altercation he got in on the roof of an embassy where he recovered a listening device that the host nation intelligence service wanted back,” said Fitzsimmons.

Bagnal and Fitzsimmons shared an interest in radios. According to Fitzsimmons, Bagnal had a small collection of old radio receivers that he had fished from dumpsters over the years, but he was unable to use them due to failing eyesight. Bagnal gave a couple of them to Fitzsimmons – a 1941 vintage Hallicrafters SX-28 and a 1955 vintage Collins 51J-4 – which Fitzsimmons restored and operates.

“They are two of my most treasured posessions.”

Former director of the Office of Foreign Missions and DSS special agent, Gentry Smith, stated that Bagnal’s work impacted more than just DSS engineers and technicians.

“We all held John in high regard, and I know his legacy will live on through all of us who had the honor of knowing him,” said Smith.

Bagnal stayed on the job until the day he passed away on Sept. 2, 2013. DSS colleagues wrote a tribute to Bagnal after his death, noting that he was one of the few who made history although the full scope of his contribution is known to just a few:

“John Bagnal was a circumspect security professional who changed history by finding and disrupting technical intelligence activities attacking U.S. embassies in Eastern Europe. He was a technically savvy and security astute professional. He took his responsibility to keep secrets to heart and to his final resting place. But his place in history is not in doubt, only obscured through the needs of national security and the discipline of our security requirements.”

Including his time in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, Bagnal served his country for 67 years. He was born in 1928 in Columbia, South Carolina; was married to Mary Sasfai Bagnal; and is survived by his daughter, Menefee, and son, John, who is a project manager at DSS.

John Bagnal, third from right, receives a Length of Service Award from Office of Security Director Marvin Gentile, third from left. (Date unknown) (U.S. Department of State photo)
John Bagnal, third from right, receives a Length of Service Award from Office of Security Director Marvin Gentile, third from left. (Date unknown) (U.S. Department of State photo)

John Bagnal, far left, served in the U.S. Navy from 1946 to 1949. (Bagnal family photo)

John Bagnal’s 1941 vintage Hallicrafters SX-28 radio receiver, which he gave to fellow Security Engineering Officer and Acting Director of the DSS Countermeasures Directorate Office of Security Technology John Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons restored the radio and still operates it today, May 18, 2018. (Photo courtesy of John Fitzsimmons.)