American Consulate General | Early November 1977
When RCO Roberson called me into his office at Am Consul Karachi Tuesday morning, I had a sinking feeling. Joe, the telephone lead tech had worked for Roberson in Jakarta. He told me that when “Bob” called you into his office it usually wasn’t to pat you on the back.
“Have a seat,” Robert said.
His smile, at first promising, reminded of what Al had told me: “Watch out when R.P.R. smiles at you.”
He said, “By the way, good job on organizing the radio shop. It looks good.”
Bob held up a telegram and let it float to the desktop in front of me. I perused the short message.
20550Z NOV 77
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO AMCONGEN KARACHI IMMEDIATE
INFO SECSTATE IMMEDIATE 7863
CAIRO FOR CRO-HOLMAN, KARACHI FOR RCO, SECSTATE FOR OC/PE
FROM: RSO CHILDRESS
E.O. 12065: NA
TAGS: SEC, OC/PE
REF: STATE 87008, KARACHI 7869
- AMBASSADOR VEHICLE RADIO AND ALARM PACKAGE INOPERATIVE AS OF THIS AM. REQUEST RCO KARACHI TO EXPEDITE CEO/R VISIT FOR REPAIR SOONEST.
- POST RADIO CHECKS HAVE DEGRADED OVER PAST THREE MONTHS.
- ADVISE STATUS OF GE VHF RADIOS ORDERED 8/21/77 (PO #47631-395834)
- ADVISE RSO AND CRO BY IMMEDIATE CABLE OF CEO/R ETA. EILTS.
Bob summarized the message: “An immediate message from the CRO in Cairo. The radio alarm package in Ambassador Eilts’ vehicle went kaput. We need to get you over to Cairo ASAP. How do stand with the post?”
I said, “I’ll finish the repair stuff today and send it out by pouch this afternoon. I’ve exchanged several emails with CRO Holman at post. I’ve copied you on all of them.”
“Yes, I’ve read them.”
“I’ll have the ambassador’s vehicle alarm fixed soon after arrival. They have two main radio coverage issues. One is with the USAID complex located in an area called Maadi. The other area is a housing area south of the city. Unless you want to increase the budget a lot at Cairo I’ll only concentrate on these issues for now. Oh, and Al is looking into the equipment backorder.”
My boss suddenly went off on a tangent about RSO Childress at Cairo and how I should watch out for the guy. When he finished, Bob’s gaze searched my eyes, like he knew that I knew something I shouldn’t. I noticed his speech had become a bit more slurred. Some “W’s” had gotten into words where they shouldn’t have been.
Childress must be a holdover from Charlie’s visits to Cairo (according to his journal). I said, “I’d prefer to depart on the day after tomorrow.”
Before Bob could respond I added, “Cairo CRO Holman said that the ambassador wouldn’t be using the vehicle for the next couple days. He flew to Alexandria for a conference.”
He nodded. “Right then, I’ll let them know your travel message is forthcoming. As always, copy me on it.”
Bob leaned back in his chair, thought for a moment, and then leaned back in. “A further word of warning on Cairo. They’ve had personnel problems in the past. Most of the bad eggs have PCS’d though. When you’re at Cairo stick to your guns. The simple plan you have outlined for me is exactly what we need now. Send me a message if situations or personnel take you off that path. Okay?”
I thought he might mention about my predecessor Charles A. “Sure, I’ll keep you advised.”
He lifted his hands. “Have a good trip. Give your itinerary and passport to BJ. She’ll take care of the tickets and visas. By the way, I suggest you include a visit to Am Embassy Athens after Cairo. As you are aware they have some ongoing radio issues.”
I would also add Cyprus onto my itinerary. Am Embassy Nicosia had a problem with the base station, the critical part of the embassy radio net.
“Thanks Bob,” I said.
As I rose he searched through a stack of telegraphic traffic that applied to radio, telephone, and crypto.
Preparing for Cairo
When I told Al that I was leaving for Cairo in a couple days he grunted while shaking his head.
“Cairo,” he uttered, as if it harbored nothing but terrorists. “Was this R.P.R.’s idea?”
“I just came from his office. The CRO and the RSO have both requested an immediate visit from a radio tech.”
Al looked suspicious.
“The CRO said that the alarm package in the ambassador’s vehicle crapped out.”
He looked surprised. “Oh, yeah?”
“The MSG couldn’t reach the ambassador’s vehicle a half mile away.”
Al had no comment.
I added, “Did you ever visit Cairo?”
“No, after… ah… When Charlie fled Cairo Bob asked OC/PE to provide support to Am Embassy Cairo. Looks like with your arrival the policy has changed… It’s your baby.”
He didn’t say it in a spiteful or jealous way. I responded, “I guess I have to get my feet wet somewhere. It’s just a short trip.”
Al reacted to my last sentence with a devious smile. “Yeah, well, make sure you don’t step on any live coals over there. Charlie said that Cairo was the shits.”
During the pause Al didn’t volunteer a “Charlie” war story. I wasn’t prepared to share Charles A.’s journal with Al just yet, but I needed to know more about the guy. “What kind of guy was Charles, anyway? No one ever even mentioned him back in OC/PE.”
Al offered that same devious smile and said, “Everything was always bigger than it really was with Charlie.”
“Did he make up stuff?”
“What do you mean?”
“In one of the Nicosia messages the CRO made a comment that Charles had claimed a hundred percent improvement of radio coverage after his visit. The CRO said that radio coverage got worse.”
“I better warn you. That CRO in Nicosia is a little whacky. He’s leaving this month, though. Most of the CRO’s out there are good guys.”
“Did Charles exaggerate about the radio coverage in Nicosia?”
Al gazed at me before he said, “Just between you and me, Charlie exaggerated everything. Get this, one night over a few beers at my place Charlie told me he had been approached by CIA to work for them.”
I replied through Al’s grin, “CIA? As in Secret Agent Charles A.?”
Al chuckled and shrugged. “When I arrived in Karachi Charlie had been here alone for about six months… Apparently, Bob disliked him from the get-go and the rest of the techs didn’t have much to do with him. The guy had a degree in electrical engineering. Charlie was really sharp, but only high-level stuff interested him. Radio repair work was beneath him… Charlie had his own office in Cairo.”
“I saw the travel messages,” I said. “He must have spent most of his time there.”
“Charlie was in Cairo six weeks straight while I worked my ass off without any help… Yeah, Charlie created his own empire there. I expect to return to the U.S. and turn the TV on and see him running for congress or something. Man oh man…”
I was starting to get a fuller picture of my mysterious predecessor. While Al shook his head I decided it was time to get back to work. “I’ve got to get the repairs done on the Cairo equipment and ship it out.”
“Let me know if you need any help,” Al said, as he stared down at the heap of incoming messages on his desk.
As I walked into the back room radio shop I realized I had a lot of work to do in the next forty-eight hours. Charles A. had left Cairo (and subsequently resigned) in mid-July, about three and a half months ago. Since Charles’s departure there had been two brief visits to Cairo by OC/PE radio tech Marvin P. with whom I had lunch with before I left SECSTATE.
Why hadn’t Marvin mentioned anything about Charles A.’s antics and instead seemed compelled to talk about how the Great Pyramid was built to such precision?
My Am Embassy Cairo visit loomed on the horizon as mysterious as the pyramids…