American Embassy Athens | The Cat Eats the Tuna Fish

November 1977

CRO Dave Hastings gazed at me as we sat in the cafeteria in the American embassy. I paused to gather my words before continuing. What I was about to say could have huge repercussions. If a diplomatic courier was involuntarily smuggling contraband initiated by a member of the Foreign Service staff here at Am Embassy Athens…

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“Are you all right?” Hastings said.

I nodded. CRO Hastings headed the Communications & Records Unit. They were the ones who interfaced with the diplomatic couriers. They placed the seal on the neck of the dip pouch before handing it off to the courier.

“Something’s bothering you, huh?”

“My first trip in the region is an eye opener.”

“I was surprised Bob (RCO Roberson) started you out in Cairo.”

“Cairo pressured him to get somebody over there. It’s a good thing. They had legitimate problems.”

The more I thought about it the more I believed that CRO Dave Hastings couldn’t be involved in smuggling contraband. He was respected throughout the region. But that didn’t mean one of his underlings couldn’t be involved in Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman’s smuggling claim.

After a long pause I broke the ice and said, “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.”

“He’s probably been on the road too long,” Hastings said. “FSO’s can take only so much. Tuna fish?”

Hastings’ genuine concern goaded me on. I said, “The guy told me something really weird.”

That straightened him up. “Go ahead.”

“The diplomatic courier’s name was Victor Rothman. We sat next to each other on the connecting flight from Rome.”

I caught the flicker of a smile that flashed over his face before Hastings brushed it away.

“What is it?”

Hastings had covered his face with his hands. As they slid down an apologetic face preceded his mater-of-fact statement, “Rothman told you that an FSO at the embassy was smuggling diamonds in his diplomatic pouch, right?”

Seemingly at thirty-three thousand feet up in the stratosphere the air had escaped from the pressurized compartment. I felt myself being sucked into Victor Rothman’s vortex of innuendo and lies. “Well… he didn’t specify diamonds, but something of high value.”

“He was pulling your leg. Victor Rothman’s a disgruntled courier who’s retiring in three months. I have been notified by the Diplomatic Corps that he has reportedly been fabricating that same story to every FSO he has run into on this route over the past few months. There have been complaints… I can show you the telegrams…”

“No, that’s not necessary,” I said, my feet now solidly planted on terra firma.

“I guess I’ll have to report him.”

“Rothman looked too young to retire.”

“He started early. To compound the situation I’m told he has had stomach cancer, although they operated on him and as far as I know he’s doing well—it was in remission.”

“Well, don’t lodge a complaint on my account… Besides, he’s leaving the Diplomatic Corps anyway.”

Hastings shook his head and said, “Tuna fish.”

“Yeah, he said he brought a small jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise. Said he would visit a bakery and pick up bread rolls to make tuna fish sandwiches. He offered for me to stop by his room and have one.”

Hastings chuckled. I couldn’t help but join in.

In the seconds that it took for Hastings to catch his breath, Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman had transgressed from a beleaguered burnt-out FSO to the tale-telling tuna fish smuggler; a Foreign Service legend.

Hastings said, “A courier’s life can get pretty lonely… I wouldn’t have that job… They don’t stay around an embassy long enough to say hi to anyone. Maybe it got to Rothman.”

photo by undercurrent

Thus ended Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman’s spell of intrigue. I would call it the “Charlie the Tuna” caper. The grist of a good war story, it wouldn’t shine a very favorable light on me. Was I that gullible or was Rothman a gifted tale spinner? I would cite the lack of oxygen at thirty-three thousand feet. And the enchanting Thai stewardesses…

“You got anything else,” Hastings said. “I mean real stuff.”

I shook my head and said, “No, I’ll get to work on the vehicle then. I leave to Cyprus tomorrow morning, but I’ll be back in the neighborhood soon. Al wants to take a break from travel.”

The Acropolis and Moussaka. The U.S. Air Force Base and cheeseburgers. The beach at Glyfada and pretty Greek girls.

“He doesn’t want to leave his girlfriend home alone, huh?”


Hastings escorted me to the motor pool. It took me all of twenty minutes to fix the VHF radio in the ambassador’s vehicle. A mechanic must have damaged the antenna on the trunk lid. I replaced it and made a quick drive test around the city with the driver. He was satisfied that the radio coverage was back to normal.

After lunch I spent the afternoon up in the CRU, the Communications and Records Unit. My repaired equipment from Karachi had arrived by diplomatic pouch. I tested everything and placed it in Hasting’s radio cabinet.

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The HW-28 Teletype machines continually chattered away in the background. I didn’t see how CRU personnel could ever get used to it. Dave’s group of Communications & Records personnel didn’t seem to notice it as they in-turn typed away on the machines.

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I sent a message to SECSTATE attention OC/PE regarding the post’s procurement of five new PE-66 handheld radios and the purchase order information. I copied CRO Hastings, RCO Roberson, and Al.

Late in the afternoon Dave handed me an “Atta boy” message from Cairo to RCO Roberson. Written by CRO Holman and RSO Childress the message lauded not only my work, but my work ethic in Cairo. RCO Roberson had immediately sent me kudos message and copied OC/PE at SECSTATE on both messages.

Hotel Ouzo

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Back at the hotel a huge weight (Diplomatic Courier Victor Rothman) had been lifted from my shoulders. I had a couple hours to kill before Dave Hastings would pick me up for dinner.

I sat down at the bar at five p.m. The chatty bartender in black suit and bow tie must have sensed my relief. He poured me the traditional local drink—Greek Ouzo. The drink went down smoothly; perhaps too smoothly.

A buxom brunette about the bartender’s age (probably in her mid-forties) leaned into the bar. When she reached over to plant a kiss on him I couldn’t help but smile. Suddenly, the world was a beautiful place.

The bartender poured a glass of Ouzo for his lady friend and himself. He reached over, topped up mine, and turned the music up. The pair began singing in Greek. The bartender who spoke passable English tried to translate the lyrics. They wanted me to join in the song. He translated it something like:

I mourn for you day and night,
My lost joy Farrah, Farrah, Farrah,
Your two sweet lips,
They once gave me kisses…

“Like the actress Farrah Fawcett?” I said.

photo of Farrah Fawcett by

“Farrah, Farrah!” They replied.

I don’t think they knew the actress from “Charlie’s Angels” that I was referring to, but it didn’t matter.

The bartender topped me up again. I raised my hands to the music like they did. I snapped my fingers…

2 Comments Add yours

  1. 53old says:

    That Teletype machine picture with the green covered roll around chair brings back some memories.

    The only thing missing in the picture is the black molding stuff going around the room at the bottom of the wall and the “demented” light pea green walls. 🙂


    1. Yeah, when they started changing out the TTY equipment with a computerized system in late ’70’s the crypto guys had to retool…


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