Reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comments when she referred to supporters of then candidate Donald Trump, MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance — and self-appointed counter-terrorism, cryptology, intelligence, interrogation and linguistics expert — has stated that all military persons that support the President are “not honorable.”
As a retired Senior Chief (E-8), Airborne Mission Supervisor, cryptologist (Arabic) and SPECWAR operative I have given (as most of the naval cryptologic community has) retired Senior Chief Malcolm Nance a wide berth. Bottom line: he left the Naval Security Group in disgrace and we (our professional communities and associations) generally have a good laugh at his self-promotion, exaggeration of performance and associations, and his pretense of expertise.
The proverbial “eye roll” precedes any response we give when asked about his exploits. He has been declared persona non grata (PNG) from his profession, and then presumes to question service members’ honor based on a vote and lawful support for a candidate (now President). Nance, in fact, called for ISIS to bomb Trump Towers in Istanbul following President Trump’s call to Turkish President Erdogan after his reelection; Nance deleted that tweet but did not apologize, according to the Washington Times.
My first experience with then-Chief (E-7) Nance came soon after Desert Storm. If memory serves, it was late 1992 or 1993 and I was on the mid-watch at the Naval Reconnaissance Support Activity (NRSA) in Rota, Spain. I received a phone call early in the morning — it was my Commanding Officer (CO). Having recently been meritoriously promoted via the Command Advancement Program (CAP) to Petty Officer Second Class (E-5) from our Det Jeddah EA-3B missions during that original Gulf war, I nearly spilled my coffee thinking that my CO had changed his mind. Then he said distinctly (imagine the caller in his best southern Georgia draw):
“Petty Office Morlock, do you recognize my voice?”
I replied in the affirmative.
“Open up the log book and write this down verbatim,” he said. “Chief Petty Officer Malcolm Nance is persona non grata in our spaces. You may remove him by force… now read that back to me.” After complying, my CO said good night. I did not know, nor had I heard of Malcolm Nance, but was bitterly disappointed that I did not see a uniform with that name tag on it during my watch.
NRSA was absorbed into the Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA) in Rota as the Air shop. As detachments/deployments would begin to increase in support of the Bosnia and Herzegovina, there was little mention of Chief Nance. The last scuttlebutt I heard was that he was soon fired as Chief of the NSGA sub shop for poor performance. Though I did not try to access his FITREPS for this article, one major issue that his junior sailors had when asked by Nance’s superiors was his propensity to submit himself for personal awards and exaggerate his accomplishments while ignoring his juniors. An interesting consistency. At this point, I had no reason or inclination to concern myself with Nance.
Or so I thought.
Following my 3-year tour at NSA/CSS Fort Meade as Deputy Branch Chief (as a newly frocked Petty Officer First Class), I was back at the Defense Language Institute Monterey (1997-1998) to study Intermediate Arabic and began to lobby and train for the soon-to-be-realized Tactical Cryptology to Special Warfare billets when deja vu struck. A note on the Leading Petty Officer (LPO) board directed me to the Detachment OIC office. The LCDR asked me if I knew of a Chief Malcolm Nance. Without going into specifics, I replied that I had heard of him by reputation.
I was then advised that Nance was going to San Diego in a Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) instructor billet; since he was PNG from the Cryptology community, that was practically the only spot the Detailer could get him for his last duty station. Simply put, no one wanted him. The OIC advised me that Nance may drop by the base (DLI was an open base prior to 9/11) to speak with some of the students in the Middle Eastern schools. I was directed not to allow him to contact any of the students and requested to recruit a few SEALs to ensure that he would make no contact with junior ranking personnel. I followed that direction; there was no issue. At this point, I still had not met this person, yet felt badly that someone who had made the rank of Chief had lost the respect of professionals in his rate and rating (rank and job).
My first direct contact was in Bahrain, post-9/11 and well into my hybrid cryptology/SPECWAR transition. Nance was at the arrival air terminal and the Master Chief I was with saw him, pointed him out and said, “Don’t talk to him, he’s got nothing worth listening to.” Nance came over to my MC; neither offered their hands. Then Nance said, “Don’t tell anyone that I’m here.” My MC didn’t reply, just said to me that he would be surprised if anyone cared. I agreed and couldn’t care less at the time; it was my first exercise with DEVGRU and that was my focus.
Now we are at his “not honorable” comment. Ironically it was noticed that Nance was wearing a Combat Action Ribbon (CAR) on his lapel. In full disclosure, yes, the authorization to wear the ribbon was placed into his service record after he left NSGA Rota, yet as a matter of honor; he had failed to be honest and explain that he was never in combat. The Fleet Navy has its own standard for that award. In Nance’s case he was either on or near a ship that fired missiles, or was close to a SCUD splash down. When this happens, the award goes to all members of the ship(s). As a matter of honor, his personal awards do not show direct action, or even influence in these matters. Certainly, no valor or Combat “V” to be noted.
Nance’s biography notes his proximity to actions in Beirut, Ground Zero on 9/11, and others. The word that stands out is “peripherally” — likely the most accurate word to describe his service. Technically, he was a SERE instructor, yet as a matter of honor, Nance did not train Aviators or Special Operators directly as he did not attend the school simply due to the fact that his “expertise” of counter-terrorism, intelligence officer and interrogator, did not place him near or behind enemy lines.
As a matter of honor, I understand that there are times when a resume is slightly exaggerated, yet this attack on our beliefs and lawful conduct displays the psyche of a man who recognizes his failures and must criticize all others in order to bolster his self-worth. I came to that conclusion without pretending to be an intelligence officer.
As a matter of honor, Nance does not recognize that “expertise” on his resume/biography does not come from self-acclimation or promotion. It comes from the effort and teaching skills of the Chiefs’ Mess, mission supervisors, civilian specialists, colleagues and shipmates — we relied on each other daily and in many cases, we still do. Equally, if not more important is passing along experiences, knowledge and recognition to ensure the next group of men and women are better than we imagined ourselves to be.