November 1977—Athens, Greece
Athens International Airport skirted the seacoast ahead of a Greek coastal town named Glyfada. My contact CRO Hastings at the American Embassy Athens had offered to put me up at a hotel in the scenic seaside town about twenty kilometers (twelve miles) from the mission. Since I was only staying a short period of time I had decided to stay at the hotel recommended by our crypto techs near the American embassy.
<Feature photo Athens Airport by Olympic Airways
The taxi driver flew down the highway from the airport like he was late for his own wedding. Still upset by the smuggling claim that Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman’s had planted in my gut, I glared at the driver in the rearview. His smiled left no intention to slow down.
We jetted past the U.S. Air Force Base where the techs said I could eat genuine American chow and use their BX facility. All I’d have to do is show my black passport at the front gate.
Whereas Cairo had been a faded canvass of shades of beige, Athens imbued a bustling, colorful city ruled by the Acropolis on a hill above the city. The clear blue skies were a welcome change.
As we sped into the city of Athens the sight of a three-car pileup on the opposite side of the highway compounded my angst. The driver slammed on the brakes. He shook his head while cussing (I assumed) at the rubberneckers in Greek.
Had I, too, become a rubbernecker? Did I slow down to savor Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman’s revelation that a fortune in contraband had been smuggled into his diplomatic pouch sitting in the belly of the jet airliner that I had just deplaned?
The taxi driver raised his hands, exhibiting various facial contortions when I told him to wait outside the hotel (or else he wouldn’t get paid). I needed to check-in and unload my suitcase before continuing to the American embassy. When I shut the rear door upon return the driver glared at me in the rearview before he sped off (as my mom used to say: “Like a bat out of hell.”).
I turned behind and glimpsed the big hulk Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman exiting another taxi. I didn’t see any diplomatic pouches, but they could have been in the trunk. It wouldn’t have been possible for him to drop off the diplomatic pouch at the embassy and arrive here at the hotel so fast. It made me wonder.
The American Embassy Athens
The mission was located in the heart of the city, which naturally increased the security threat. The modern structure was number three on our threat list, but unlike Cairo it had been given adequate support by the RCO office (the techs loved to come here). The large embassy exposed various rooftop antennas that warned of more secrets within. The fortress was surrounded by a tall, heavy steel modern day picket fence. I suspected the three-foot high cement berms in front of it were there to ward off potential terrorist car bombers.
The taxi jerked to a halt in front of the mission. I gave the driver a wad of Drachmas, the Greek currency. He laid rubber (in response to my meager tip?)
I passed through the chancery entrance. Security looked and felt excessive; a good thing here. The Marine Security Guard in the bulletproof transparent housing pointed me in the direction of the embassy cafeteria.
My cohort Al’s description of CRO David Hastings had given him away. The bearded man sat alone in the far corner of the large cafeteria. Hastings waved me over.
RCO Roberson had given me a brief bio on Hastings. The guy from Pocatello, Idaho had served in the Foreign Service for eighteen years. He began as a clerk in the General Services Office, the G.S.O., which handled furniture and all that stuff. Like the RCO, Hastings worked his way up to the Communications & Records Unit, the CRU. Bob called Hastings, “A good troop.”
At a little after ten a.m. the café had not geared up for lunch yet. I introduced myself. We shook hands. He asked about how my cohort Al was doing.
“Al said to say hi to you and your wife Hanna.”
“The pleasure was mine,” he said, and added, “By the way, you’re invited to dinner tonight at my place.”
It was no secret that the CRO’s, Communications and Records Officers, took good care of the techs, a.k.a. CEO’s (Communications Electronic Officers). The CRO’s were our contact point at any American mission. Their primary task was to handle the classified messaging at post. They often managed the post radio net, although the MSG (Marine security Guard) operated it. The Communications & Record Unit was the point of contact at any embassy. All official information (and the latest over the grapevine) originated at the CRU.
“You want a cup of coffee,” Hastings said. “They won’t open for food service for another hour.”
“No, I’m fine,” I replied and added, “Don’t tell me, you need more handheld radios.”
“Six, to be exact,” Dave said, holding up a document. “And I’ve got a purchase order to pay for them.”
My boss RCO Roberson would love it. “Now you’re talking my language,” I said.
“I’ve got one urgent issue for you,” he said. “Otherwise, commo works great here. The motor pool worked on the ambassador’s vehicle the day before last. This morning the driver complained that the ambassador’s radio didn’t reach as far as before.”
“Sure, I’ll look at it right after we’re done here.”
Hastings lifted his two-way handheld radio and called the motor pool. “This is the CRO, is the chief’s vehicle available over the next hour or two?”
The quick reply might as well have been Greek to me.
“Roger that, I’m bringing a technician over in a few minutes.”
Hastings returned his handheld to his belt and said, “I hear you just arrived at Am Consul Karachi.”
“Yeah, but it seems like I’ve been there a while. Al and I are getting the radio program back on track.”
“You guys have always given me great support. Man that’s quite a service area—Karachi to Athens and everything in between. Poor Al.”
“Yeah, he really got snowed under.”
After a long pause I said, “Dave, you wouldn’t believe this courier who I flew in with this morning. The guy said he was going to open up a can of tuna fish in his hotel room tonight instead of eating out to dinner.”
“He’s probably been on the road too long,” Hastings said.
“The guy told me something really strange. It’s been bothering me all morning.”
That straightened him up.
“What did he say?” he said, and gazed around as if the walls had ears.
(To be continued)