Counting Elephants – The Hark-1 Radio

As Vietnam heated up, the Agency’s need for eyes on the Laotian panhandle increased beyond the support that could be provided by Thai PARU and RTSF advisors. As a result, the CIA was forced to look for other solutions to communicate with its illiterate Lao Theung road watching teams targeting the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

To tackle this problem, the Agency came up with a radio that used pictograms to communicate what a team saw. Crafted from a modified USAF survival unit, the Hark-1 or Hark Box was released early in 1967.

Note the depictions of armor, artillery, AAA, trucks, porters, soldiers, time of day, and direction of travel. The circular button at the center was used to transmit the tally of what was seen moving north and southbound on the trail to an airborne relay station. While the radio doesn’t appear to have a pictogram for elephants, it was given the affection moniker “the Elephant Counter” by Paramilitary Officers involved in the project. To avoid detection, the Hark road watching teams – sometimes numbering up to twenty-four road watchers on a target like the Mu Gia Pass – would be inserted via unmarked “Pony Express” CH-3s very far from their objective.

On the third slide you can see the Hark-1 with antenna deployed in front of Case Officer, Gene Norwinski during a briefing in Savannakhet. The project was wrapped up in 1969 having been overshadowed by a variety of Pentagon projects and new sensors and night vision capabilities like those present on the AC-130.

Written by @Immurement

7 Responses to “Counting Elephants – The Hark-1 Radio”

  1. Unimog says:

    So what I’m taking away from this article is, there is a possible future for the USMC to take on the TACP role rather than embedded AF personnel… Nice…

  2. Ex Coelis says:

    Some additional reading, wherein the Hark-1 and Hark-2 radio sets are made mention of – .pdf file titled ‘INTERDICTION in Southern Laos 1960 – 1968
    Jacob Van Staaveren’


  3. MIke Nomad says:

    Neat. Thanks for filling a void in my Vietnam-Comms-Nerd Knowledge Base. Also looking forward to reading the PDF linked to by Ex Coelis.

    Happy New Year To All,