Ex-CIA officer on top-secret work in CNMI in late ’50s revisits Saipan

Posted on Oct 23 2006

A former Marine Corps officer and member of a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency group that was assigned to Saipan in the late ’50s to early ’60s to do some top-secret work is here for a visit.

“Everything is improved, [with] beautiful hotels and homes and so forth. It’s really nice to come back,” Donald Brennan, 78, told the [I]Saipan Tribune[/I].

Brennan was with the Naval Technical Training Unit that was part of the CIA training group on Saipan from 1957 to 1961.

Brennan, along with his wife Carol, arrived on the island last Wednesday and visited his friend, Century Insurance president Dave M. Sablan, yesterday morning.

Brennan is here primarily to see his son, Microl Toyota vice president/general manager Doug Brennan. They will be returning to Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

“We’ve been down from Palau for a couple of weeks, we just came back here for my son’s anniversary, which is tomorrow,” he said.

It was Brennan’s third visit on the island after he left in 1961. He first returned in the late ’80s or more than 26 years later. He came back with Carol in 2000.

Brennan said Saipan is so much different now than when he first came here. “When I was first here, there were only ox carts, no tour buses…” he said.

Brennan said it is just a wonderful feeling to see old friends and the improved living condition of the people. “It’s really nice now. A lot of my friends that Mr. Sablan knows and I know have passed away, like the fire chief for NTTU, Leon Camacho; Mariano Torres was the guard chief. I understand Manny Sablan is still alive, he was the sheriff when I was here. We were good friends…Tony Benavente,” he said.

Brennan said they visited all of the Marpi and Kagman areas. “We trained in Kagman…and lived up on Army Hill, which is now you’re Capital Hill,” he said.

Brennan said it was wonderful to see once more the people whom he used to work with.

“The Igitols, Pablo Igitol, he passed away, he was one of the guard officers and Pete Igitol was with the administration. It’s really nice to see all the people that I used to know and used to work with,” he said.

Before coming to Saipan in 1957, Brennan was an operations officer in the Marine Corps. He spent 13 months in Vietnam in June 1965 to July 1966.

As a CIA officer, he was assigned on Saipan as security officer, making sure that the training areas were secured. He said he liked to revisit the training sites and stuff they used to have out there.

Brennan said visiting the areas make him homesick. “I really do. I love the four years that I spent here. Diving and fishing, there’s a lot of work but…” he said.

Sablan said Brennan and the CIA held extensive training on the island, with the whole Marpi area blocked off, as well as Kagman. The northern part of Saipan from Nikko Hotel in San Roque all the way across the island was a restricted area.

“If you got caught in that area, you got shot with no question asked,” Sablan recalled.

Sablan said Brennan was a security officer for NTTU, which did some counter-insurgency training. He remembered meeting Brennan while he was a sales manager for General Motors in Guam.

“I used to rent cars when the Naval Technical Training Unit people came to Guam for shopping. So they used to fly down there once a week. I used to go out the airport to meet them and that’s how we got to know Dan very well,” he said.

The Century Insurance president said Brennan used to bring coconut crabs and big fish that he caught on Saipan for their consumption in Guam.

“When Dan was stationed on Saipan, they used to come down weekly because the airplanes used to bring down the trainees, and would land in Laolao Golf course, the last road before you turn in, the straight road, that’s an airstrip,” he said.

Sablan said that same airplane would come out here once a week, would take the staff, the trainers and their dependents, their wives and children to Guam to go shopping for a day.

“That’s how I met Dan and his family and Doug, the son, who is now the vice president, general manager of Microl Toyota,” he said.

“What is so intriguing about it is he is one of the few people who were stationed in the Naval Technical Training Unit that comes to Saipan quite frequently,” he said.

Carol, 64, said, she really likes Saipan. “I remember from 2000 to now, it seems there’s a big change. It’s a beautiful island. I don’t remember having so many beautiful buildings, hotels and businesses before. It doesn’t look like the impoverished area that I thought that was then. It’s just beautiful. It’s like paradise,” Carol said.

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