Beirut, Lebanon | A View Through a Narrow Lens

November 1977

We arrived at the U.S. ambassador’s part time residence atop Mount Lebanon around ten a.m. unscathed. George had borrowed Ryan’s Saab sedan. He said it was less obtrusive that an embassy vehicle. I didn’t ask him what he thought about the ambassador cruising around in a black Lincoln Continental. I did ask George if he thought it was dangerous for Ryan to be driving the streets of Beirut at midnight.

<Featured image of 1970’s Beirut by

George said, “I think Ryan knows Beirut better than any of us. He talks to a lot of people outside the embassy. They tell him what’s going on. Don’t underestimate Ryan. Underneath the comic façade is a guy that actually understands this insanity.”

Yeah, that made me feel better.

The ambassador’s lush, older structure surrounded by trees and bougainvillea sat atop a bluff in a suburban area above Beirut city. I thought some of the trees must be cedars from the pleasant odor. Nice view of Beirut. This must be the image of old Beirut that the owner of the hotel had tried to convey to me last night.

George said, “If you squint your eyes you hardly notice the ruins,”

I turned behind. George stood on a short precipice and peered down at Beirut like it was his first visit (Ryan said he had been up here more than a dozen times).

I had a feeling that Beirut might never recover from this civil war that was going on. Right now, sure, it looked peaceful. Ryan said all it took was a single incident and the entire place could collapse. I said, “Beirut must have been really something twenty years ago.”

“Ah, yes,” George said, as if wishing he could have been there.

I felt uneasy realizing that I knew very little about Beirut. For that matter I knew little about the entire Middle East.

I said, “It’s hard to to see what’s really going on, huh?”

At first, George glanced at me like he didn’t understand. Then a knowing expression replaced the doubt. He said, “That’s part of our job, or it should be. Like I was explaining about Ryan’s knowledge of Beirut. We need to understand why these people do what they do. Yeah, that’s part of our job.”

It hit me kind of like an epiphany. That’s what Norm Bates had been trying to tell me in Philadelphia and Boston a few months ago during my O.J.T. trip. The forty percent part of the “60/40 Hypothesis” wasn’t just about learning how to navigate through the halls of the different embassies. It was learning to understand the motivations and historical backgrounds of the worlds around us; Beirut, Cairo, and the many others. That’s what the war stories were really about—passing on information that will enlighten others. And if you can do it with a humor and panache, so much the better.

Just as suddenly, my doubts surfaced. I wasn’t sure if I was up for all this.

“What is it?” George said.

“I’d better get to work,” I replied.

The Secure Voice Radio

First order of business was to install the high-gain directional antenna on the roof, loosely clamped to a steel pole. From there I connected one end of the RF coaxial cable to the antenna and wrapped it with black tape. I ran the fifty feet of coaxial cable down and into the ambassador’s study. I replaced the standard two-way radio with the secure voice radio, connected the cable and turned it on. As expected, I couldn’t contact the embassy.

“Okay, George, you’re on,” I called out over the special radio channel of the handheld radio.

“Roger, Cowboy, I’m in place and ready for your command.”

We had already gone through the crude but effective procedure. Up on the roof, George would scan the antenna in small increments starting from our best guestimate of line-of-site straight to the American embassy below. I made test calls after each adjustment that George made to the azimuth of the antenna.

After twenty minutes of trial and error I heard Ryan’s voice and instructed George to tighten the antenna.

After George finished tightening the antenna I made another call, “Cracker Jacks, this is Cowboy, over. How copy?”

“Visitor…er…yeah, this Cracker Jacks. Testing: One-two-three-four-five. I have you loud and clear.”

“Roger, Cracker Jacks, have you loud and clear, also.”

I went through a series of voice tests with Ryan. Everything went well. The secure voice radio was also capable of sending data, but that required a modem device that G.E. hadn’t sent yet.

We’ll wrap it up here and head to lunch.”

“Bon appetite, Cracker Jacks, out.”

I said to George, “Wow, we got lucky on that one.”

George, beside me, smiled and said, “Cracker Jacks, huh?”

Yeah, it fit the guy that had several cases of the snack like up on the table in the CPU.

George added, “The ambassador will be thrilled with this secure voice unit. You don’t know how important it is here to know someone is out there that you can communicate with.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

George added in a playful tone, “Could you hook up something like the alarm thing in the ambassador’s vehicle to this secure voice radio?”

“The technology isn’t quite there yet,” I said.

“One of the techs told me that in the not to distant future computer technology would take over radios, crypto, and telephone systems.”

George’s insights had caught me by surprise. One of my shortcomings was that I wasn’t one of those guys who looked far ahead. Today was everything for me. “Anything’s possible I suppose.”

I felt relieved that the installation of the secure voice radio in the Ambassador’s residence went without a hitch. I could say that my work here was done. I made a radio check on the E&E (Escape & Evacuation) HF Radio.

KWM-2A photo by

If all else failed the ambassador could call the American embassies at Tel Aviv, Amman, Damascus, Nicosia, or Cairo. After failing to reach Amman I made a successful test call to the net control station at Tel Aviv. The KWM-2A needed to be tuned before using. I made a note to ask Ryan if the ambassador knew how to tune it, all the while thinking that the KWM2-A’s days were numbered—computer technology would soon change everything.

As I put away my tools George said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry.”

“Yeah, let’s head to your French restaurant.”

George rubbed his hands together. Now I was talking his language.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. 53old says:

    How much training did the Ambassadors need in order to operate the KWM2A?


    1. Hi 53old: The amount of training the ambassador’s received varied. They were more motivated to operate the KWM-2A in third world countries or high profile terrorist threat posts. The CRO (Communication & Records Officer) trained the ambassadors (probably one session). We (The RCO-radio group) created a 5×7 plasticized card with very simple tuning instructions in case of emergencies. We distributed them to all posts. I think ambassadors understood that the KWM-2A was a “last resort” that could save there lives. There’s a particular incident in Kuwait that I will create a message about in the future (if I can unearth some research).

      Hope this answered your question. And thanks for the interest you’ve shown over the past months!


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