American Consulate General Karachi | Late October 1977
After spending the day cleaning up the radio shop at the Con Gen I dragged into my Clifton apartment with the JOURNAL on my mind. The odor of Basheer’s baked chicken with potatoes and vegetables was a welcome alternative to the dank, rancid radio shop floor.
<feature photo by wired.com
A quick shower washed away two years of radio shop dust and a lot of sweat that swirled down the drain. Afterwards, I retrieved Charles A.’s journal that I had found hidden beneath a stack of radios.
After a terrific dinner Basheer brought a tray to the coffee table and excused himself to go pray.
“Good meal, Basheer,” I called out after him. He dealt with compliments silently, with head high. After the door slammed shut I heard the heavy snap of his sandal soles on the cement stairs.
A CIA Journal?
My predecessor Charles A.’s journal sat there like an untouched dessert. I slowly reached for the coffee, but instead grabbed the journal. Like imbibing coffee, I first stole a quick sample.
His journal was filled with a mixture of work and personal entries. Charles A. printed in letters that yearned to take flight. The many pages contained names and phone numbers, many of the names I either knew or had heard of. Dozens of pages filled the Cairo section. Here the journal became a diary at times. Cairo CRO Hayes was mentioned often in mostly derogatory references. Of course, our boss R.P.R. showed up more often in the journal than R.I.P. at a cemetery.
A few pages into the journal Charlie bragged that he had been the only new OC hire to be assigned straight to an overseas post—Am Consul Karachi RCO. That partially explained why my cohorts, the OC Bandits back in Northern Virginia, had never mentioned him.
I must confess I felt a bit awkward going through Charles A.’s personal/professional journal. On the other hand it obviously offered insight into this assignment and Charles’ psyche.
Charlie in Amman
Halfway through my first cup of coffee I came upon a section of the journal titled “Charlie in Amman.” But it didn’t refer to Amman (the capital of Jordan) at all. The registry of names and codes, with cryptic quotes baffled me. It was common for techs to keep a list of the cypher codes at different missions for convenience. But these codes were different. I scanned through the entries.
Charles had written: “Initial contact with P. Wannamaker 1/Feb/77 was spooky as hell.” After meeting with T. Andrews he wrote: “Acts like paranoid schizophrenic—should I believe him?” This was followed by a twelve-digit code with “PROJECT SANDBAG” in parenthesis. Further down I came across the name Sheila K. Could it be the same Sheila of the U.S.I.A with whom I had attended the luncheon at the Con Gen’s residence? Charles had made a note in parenthesis after her name: “Don’t trust this bitch!”
I couldn’t help releasing a nervous cackle. It had to be the same Sheila.
Did “Charlie in Amman” stand for C.I.A.?
Charlie, whose writing portrayed a guy that would never call a spade a spade, owned a wry sense of humor that permeated his notes like maple syrup over pancakes. He made several comments, I suppose for his eyes only. For example, in Cairo he commented that the RSO, the Regional Security Officer named Childress chased his own shadow. I guess it meant the security man took the wrong track most of the time. Like Al, he referred to the Beirut CRO Blake as “Cracker Jacks.” RCO Roberson, R.P.R., was a “Royal Pain in the Rear.”
The C.I.A. reference bothered me. Charlie may have fabricated all of it. The names, the codes, and the calendar dates looked suspicious. A final note indicated that Charles had a scheduled meeting with Francis D. next month in Bangkok, Thailand at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Next month? I wrote the date on my note pad while wondering if Charlie had planted this journal under the pile of broken radios to rattle the brains of his zealous predecessor.
I flipped back to the Cairo section. His flighty penmanship made it difficult to read. From what I understood Charlie had hired an RF engineering firm to perform a radio survey of the Cairo city core. This is a task that the radio tech should have performed. But it got better. Not only did Charlie fail to notify RCO Roberson, OC/PE at SECSTATE got a bill from RCL Communications for a resounding twenty-two thousand dollars.
I gasped. This was way beyond audacious. The most surprising thing about the incident was that no one back at OC/PE had ever mentioned it. An incident of this magnitude would have gotten it on the war story fast lane with OC/PE.
Why did the upper-echelon of OC/PE put the lid on it? Another thing gnawed at me. Charlie’s journal contained information not only of a highly personal nature, but potentially classified (if any of it passed the truth test). Given that fact, why would he leave the journal behind?
The Sultry Salma
A photo of a beautiful dark-eyed Arab girl fell out of the Cairo section. Charlie wrote of how he had met the Muslim girl named Salma at a Cairo hotel disco. Her father, an Egyptian minister found out about the affaire and threatened to murder her if she continued seeing the foreigner. Charlie scribbled a note stating that he had an emergency trip to Am Consul Alexandria soon afterwards. I found no other references to the sultry Salma thereafter. The thought arose that Charlie might have fled from Cairo to escape the wrath of Salma’s powerful father.
I would have loved to hear the whole story from Charlie about Salma. No doubt he was an interesting guy. “Charlie the Hustler” would have fit in nicely with the OC Bandits—Zoom-Zoom, Gil the Rug Merchant, Playboy Byron, and New Jersey John—my cohorts back at the OC/PE tech facility. But, his over-the-top audacity would have exceeded the threshold of any tech. Our boss Norm Bates wouldn’t have put up with him.
The journal smelled of a hoax. I wondered the real reason why Charles left Cairo without warning. Did he just get fed up with it all? Was Salma’s daddy out for vengeance? Was there an oft chance that he had somehow gotten mixed up with the C.I.A.?
I had to laugh when I thought what a team Charlie and Zoom Zoom (from the OC Bandits) would make. My sudden outburst of laughter resounded in the upper recesses of the high ceiling. I had a flashback to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The immensely popular comedy T.V. show during the late ‘60’s to early ‘70’s featured crazy skits and one-liners.
I had a feeling my upcoming visit to Am Embassy Cairo would be “verrry interesting,” as Laugh-In’s German soldier (played by Arte Johnson) often said while hiding behind bushes.
Perhaps I shouldn’t laugh too hard if the veiled references to espionage and CIA deception in Charlie’s journal turned out to be true…