American Embassy Nicosia | Long Day, Short Visit

November 1977

After I showed my black passport to the MSG behind the public access control booth the guard offered a “Welcome to the American Embassy Nicosia” and directed me upstairs. CRO Simmons met me at the elevator. After a short meet and greet he said, “This is for you,” and handed me a message.

I read the short message from RCO Roberson. The subject was Beirut (I would soon learn that anything that had to do with Am Embassy Beirut was confidential, even a travel message):

CONFIDENTIAL

170550Z NOV 77
FM AMCONGEN KARACHI IMMEDIATE
TO AMEMBASSY NICOSIA IMMEDIATE
INFO AMEMBASSY BEIRUT IMMEDIATE
SECSTATE WASHDC 24424

CONFIDENTIAL 8580

NICOSIA FOR CEO-R MATTHEWS, BEIRUT FOR RSO/CRO, SECSTATE FOR OC/PE

FROM RCO ROBERSON/KARACHI

E.O. 12065: NA
TAGS: SECURITY, OC/PE

REF: STATE 643568

1.REQUEST CEO-R MATTHEWS PROCEED AMEMBASSY BEIRUT SOONEST. IMMEDIATE RADIO SUPPORT REQUIRED.

2.CEO-R ADVISE ALL BY IMMEDIATE CABLE OF ETA BEIRUT. NICHOLS

CONFIDENTIAL

“Looks like I’m in for a short stay here,” I said to CRO Simmons.

“I’ll have travel arrange for your flight departing to Beirut tomorrow morning,” he replied. “It’s not possible to leave this evening.”

“Were you able to arrange a hotel for me?”

“The RSO handled it. I’ll have the driver take you over later this afternoon.”

“What have you got for me here?”

“As I explained in the message last week the post radio coverage has gotten substantially worse since the last radio check. That, and you need to look at the ambassador’s vehicle.”

I said, “Where’s the base station antenna located?”

“It’s up on the roof. I’ll get someone to take you up there. You want a cup of coffee or anything to eat?”

“I could go for a cold soda and a sandwich.”

“I think we can handle that.”

We spent forty-five minutes in what CRO Simmons called the “cantina.” Lunch was over, but the small café served all day. I ordered a club sandwich with fries. A long-bar stretched in front of a picture window that looked out at Nicosia below. A crew-cut muscled fellow with brooding eyes sat on a stool. I thought, That’s what a spy looks like.

Simmons, a low-key guy, updated me on the radio program here very deliberately. The after effects of the ouzo from last night in Athens caused a lingering head throb. The waiter brought the food. Maybe with a full stomach the pain would cease.

During this one-day trip I would try to sort out the post’s radio coverage problem and take a look at the ambassador’s vehicle that Simmons suspected had a problem, but after he spent fifteen minutes talking about it I still wasn’t sure what the problem was.

Simmons said he had to get back to work. He offered for me to come over to dinner this evening but I asked for a rain check. After what looked like a full day’s work I would hit the hay as soon as I laid my tools down.

After I grabbed my tool case a young fellow wearing a Cincinnati Reds baseball cap came up and introduced himself. Jay Warrick, an easy-going guy, worked for Simmons up in the CRU. He rattled some keys, but I said that I needed to go downstairs to the MSG first.

The Marine Security Guards everywhere are helpful courteous young guys who I have no doubt would protect any U.S. mission in a terrorist attack. The base station located in the Gunnery Sargent’s office checked out fine. I’d have to do the same rooftop drill as in Cairo, but this time without the Khamsin sandstorm to deal with.

nicosia-map-green zone2
<photo of Cyprus divided by worldatlas.com

Jay unlocked the door to the roof. It was a beautiful blue-sky day. He pointed out where the green line divided the Greek side of the island that we were in and the Turkish side. He pointed north of us. “U.N. troops are camped all along the green line here in Nicosia. The line extends over a hundred miles across the island.”

I would have liked to B.S. more with Jay, but I didn’t have much time. I looked around and didn’t see an antenna. “Do you know where our antenna is installed?” I asked him.

“No, I don’t,” he said. “I arrived at post three weeks ago. Just getting the lay of the land.”

“No problem, let’s take a look.”

On the other side of the building I found the antenna bent over at a forty-five degree angle. The six-foot or so dipole antenna was still attached to a steel conduit. I picked up a handful of small broken plastic tie wrap. Amazingly, the RF cable attached kept it from falling down completely.

“What happened?” Jay said.

“Those small tie wraps didn’t hold. I suspect you got a strong wind recently and the weathered tie wraps gave way. I’m going to reinstall it with heavy duty tie wraps but the antenna needs to be secured with steel clamps. If I send them to you along with a diagram and instructions do you think you can install the clamps?”

“Sure, I used to work on cars a lot.”

I called down to the Gunnery Sargent to cease keying up the base station while we worked on it. I had already discussed it with him.

Upon further inspection I learned that the antenna currently installed was the wrong frequency bandwidth. More simple mistakes. I made a note to order a replacement for my next visit.

The VHF mobile radio in the ambassador’s vehicle had a receiver issue. I called up to Simmons. He confirmed that he had received a repaired unit that that I had sent before I left Karachi.

A simple job of changing out the mobile unit turned into a couple of hours. The alarm package didn’t work when I put everything back together.

Once again, Jay was a huge help (I made a note to send an “Atta Boy” message for him when I returned to Karachi). He found some spare telephone cable that I used to rewire the alarm switch.

After completing the installation we drove test the vehicle around Nicosia. I told Jay to ask Simmons to schedule a system radio check ASAP and to forward the results to me in Karachi. I would need to know who had problems and their location for my next trip.

At close to seven p.m. Jay drove me over to the hotel, about five blocks away. Tired, I told him I’d take a rain check on dinner. The room service club sandwich wasn’t much. I crashed when I hit the bed.

I got up early and had a lousy breakfast before I took a taxi to the embassy. At seven a.m. the security officer, Hilldebrand, met me with an envelopment containing my tickets and a copy of a travel message. He said, “How was the terrorist hotel?”

“What do you mean?”

“About six months ago a Cypriot terrorist was taken down there in a fire fight with the police.”

“Why did you put me up there?”

“I wanted to get some feedback.”

I wiped my broth, not wanting to listen to this. “Well, I don’t appreciate being your guinea pig.”

The grin crawled off his face. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

I don’t know how he had meant it. “These keys belong in the CRU,” I said. I handed them to him.

Hilldebrand, who I knew was not a Regional Security Officer, but an S.O. (T) assigned here who reported to RSO Childress in Cairo, gave me a disappointed look.

“I’ve got a plane to catch,” I said as I walked off to the motor pool to fetch my rental car to head to the airport in Larnaca.

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