Foreign Service Ambiguities | Change of Plans

American Consulate General | Late October 1977

Al was very punctual when it came time to leave to work from the Clifton apartment building. At 0745 hours he had his Toyota Corolla warmed up in the driveway and the guard had opened the gate.

Directly in front of us sitting on the lawn in a half circle were the Clifton apartment servants. I would witness this ceremony of sorts throughout my stay in Karachi. Basheer would pour very strong tea into small cups laid out on a straw mat in front of them.

When we would return late in the afternoon the gang of six would still be there. It was as if they had not moved all day. Their glassy eyed gazes would cause Al and me to laugh out loud. This Pakistani tea ceremony routine would not be altered throughout my stay in Karachi.

Could Basheer’s unabashed imbibing of strong tea explain why his hands tended to tremble in the evenings? The gravy didn’t always make it over the mashed potatoes.

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Change of Plans

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Al and I arrived at the Am Consul Karachi RCO office to tackle the radio shop. We needed The Six Million Dollar Man’s help to get the radio shop in shape. But, alas, even Colonel Steve Austin’s bionic powers could do little with our available tools: a broom, dustpan, and a box of rags.

At nine a.m. RCO Robert Roberson nixed our plan to work on the radio shop when he requested a radio status of all forty-two posts (he must have read my mind). The report was due by close of business.

Al griped that he had been feeding the RCO reports for weeks. I noticed Al referred to our leader as R.P.R. (Robert P Roberson) whenever things didn’t go well. On this one, Bob’s action seemed to me to be a reasonable one.

We each grabbed a clipboard with a yellow legal pad. The Middle East/South Asia area was in disarray and we had to get highly organized to get it under control. Al and I were new to the Foreign Service and like it or not Robert P. Roberson was the only mentor we had here at RCO/Radio.

Ambiguities | The Moser Safes—Classified Documents

Before embarking on further discussion of posts, missions, embassies and consulates, let me attempt to clear the air of ambiguity:

  • Am Consul Karachi means the same as American Consulate General Karachi or Am Con Gen Karachi. The Consulate General can refer to both the physical structure and the person who heads it up.
  • An official American Embassy, Consulate General, or Consulate is also known generically as a mission. “U.S.” and “American” are both used in reference to a mission (i.e. American Embassy Paris, U.S. Embassy Paris). A mission is referred to colloquially as a post. A Foreign Service assignment can be referred to as a posting.
  • U.S. Interests are de facto embassies located in an office of a friendly embassy or consulate in a country where we have no official diplomatic ties. Currently in Baghdad, Iraq, we maintain a US Interest Section in the Belgium Embassy.
  • For telegraphic traffic distribution, all missions’ designations begin with “American” with the shortened form “Am” (i.e. Am Embassy Paris).
  • The originator of a classified document determines the classification (unclassified, Limited Official Use, Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret). If I were to designate a routine travel message as Top Secret, I would get my ass chewed severely as soon as CRU personnel saw the document.
  • The sole recipient of all traffic into the US from overseas missions holds the designation of SECSTATE (The Secretary of State) within the US Department of State building where the traffic terminates. It will be distributed by office or agency.

Al would have to take a special trip up to the CRU if a message with “priority” precedence came in. Al told me that my predecessor Charles A. had sent RCO Roberson a NIACT (Night Action) Immediate message from Am Embassy Cairo regarding equipment procurements. Bob had to come into Am Consul Karachi at two a.m. Boy was he pissed off.

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Al familiarized me with how radio telegraphic traffic got filed. Four Moser classified document file cabinets held telegraphic traffic for all posts alphabetically in folders. He gave me the combination lock codes. In his best RCO Bob voice-over of Oscar Goldman he said, “Steve, you are the Six Million Dollar Man, but OSI (Office of Scientific Investigation) only budgeted thirty-nine cents on bionics for your brain.”

I liked to see Al loosen up. He had divided the work up. I took my half of the post folders to the empty desk in the small office area and spread them out. He had given me a copy of S.Y.’s classified threat assessment message that I had forwarded him before I left SECSTATE.

To get done on time I had he posts had to be researched in about twenty minutes per post tops. We worked through lunch. Al went up to the small café and got tuna fish sandwiches to go. In the back of my mind I thought Bob might be putting us through a fire drill to see how well we worked together. It didn’t matter. The end result was that we had to produce a final document by five p.m. or our credibility as a team died at the starting line.

Nicosia, Cyprus | A Divided Nation

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Maybe Al thought if he gave me the Cairo or Beirut folders I’d spend hours on them. Am Embassy Nicosia was on Cyprus. The island nation had been divided after confrontations between the Turks (north) and Greeks (south). A U.N. peacekeeping force was present along the divide. Security threat was high as Nicosia was located right at the divide.

The Nicosia CRO had requested six handheld two-way radios, which were on back order. He had forwarded another four handhelds for repair a month ago that sat on the radio shop floor.

In the back of the Nicosia folder a confidential message dated three weeks ago glared at me. The Nicosia CRO begged Bob to send a radio tech to post. I felt like I should leave tomorrow to Nicosia. Why didn’t he send Al?

Am Embassy Nicosia’s threat assessment complied with my thoughts after going through the traffic. I entered all this information on the legal pad and continued the same strategy with the other posts. I created a special folder for messages that I thought were critical to each mission and notified Al.

By 3:30 p.m. both of us had finished our studies. Al offered to type it all up into a report. I sensed he was more of an administrative type guy than a technician. I was okay with that. It occurred to me that Al was probably ahead of me in the 40% portion of Norm Bates’ 60/40 Hypothesis, which stated that 60% of our job was technical and the other 40% “Foreign Service related.” One of these days after I had refined Bates’ study, I’d bring it up over a beer.

Al delivered the final product to BJ after I had reviewed my part. It looked good.

We returned all the classified traffic back into the Moser file cabinets. Before Al secured the locks he said, “Did you check for classified docs lying around?”

I said, “Everything looks good.”

Actually, everything in the folders didn’t look so good.

We left the office with the air around me saturated with question marks.

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