American Embassy Amman | Déjà Vu and Other Anomalies

Mid-November 1977

I stopped at the bottom of the footsteps leading up to the entrance into the American Embassy Amman chancery. I couldn’t get over the familiarity. It was déjà vu—like I had been here before. This was odd given that I had visited less than ten embassies to date.

<feature photo by pinterest.com

SY-Fig#17-sepia2Once inside, I saw evidence of public access upgrades. The Marine Security Guard sat in a bulletproof booth. CCTV cameras had been installed at strategic locations on the walls.

A tall, thin familiar looking fellow advanced through the metal detector. The Communications & Records Officer held his hand out. I shook his hand, like we had done the same thing right here before.

CRO Paul Messenger smiled. He had been one of the guys at OC/PE at SECSTATE who had helped me “onboard” when I swore in at the state department. I remembered Messenger as a methodical guy who didn’t show a lot of emotion.

“Welcome aboard,” Messenger said, like we were still at OC/PE in SECSTATE and this was my first day.

“What are you doing here?” I blurted out.

“I got tired of OC/PE. You want a cup of coffee or something?”

“Coffee sounds good.”

I followed Messenger through the metal detector. Of course, my tool case set it off. Messenger held his hand up to the security guy and we advanced to the elevator.

Like all embassies,  Amman had a small cafeteria. Messenger brought two coffees over while I sat down at a table. He scooted one of the coffees over to me and said, “Your first assignment.”

Still ensconced back at the SECSTATE cafeteria on my first day, after swearing in. I said to Messenger, “This trip has been a real eye opener.”

“I bet it has. Beirut, huh.”

“Ryan and George took care of me there.”

I had never seen Messenger laugh, but he did express humor through glistening eyes and folded cheeks, which reminded me of a Scottish grunt in the U.S. Army basic training who we had called Fergy. I didn’t ask Messenger how he had went from a desk job in OC/PE to a CRO. Instead I said, “How can I help you here?”

“For starters, my KWM-2A HF radio crapped out. I’ve got a regional E&E [Escape & Evacuation] radio test tomorrow. With all the shit going on in Beirut it’s imperative that Amman has HF radio contact.”

I appreciated people who came to the point. “I’ll take a look at it. Does the KWM-2A at the ambassador’s residence work?”

“Yes, it works fine. If you can’t get my KWM-2A back on the air then Plan B is to conduct the HF test tomorrow out at the residence. Keep in mind that we have no provision to monitor the net out at the residence. As you are aware, up in the CPU we monitor the net continuously.”

“Well, let’s see if I can get your unit back on the air then.”

When Messenger didn’t immediately reply, I said, “Anything else?”

The CRO gazed at me thoughtfully before he replied, “There is some kind of random, weird interference going on. It has a mind of its own. Earlier this week it interrupted our weekly VHF radio net test. I repeated the test the next day… no problem.”

Although I never liked to jump to conclusions, the symptoms sounded like intermod. Intermodulation distortion was the result of another radio carrier frequency that mixed with our frequency to create a “third order harmonic,” the interference. If this was the case, it could be difficult to track down.

“We’re defenseless when it hits,” messenger mumbled.

I said, “About how often does the interference appear per week would you say?”

Messenger said, “I keep a logbook up in the CPU. Every time that S.O.B. interference shows up we make an entry into the log. I think it would be better if you take a look at the log.”

Intermod was a radio tech’s worst nightmare–an unseen phenomenon that could strike at any time. “That would be helpful. Let’s go up and check out that KWM-2A first.”

*   *   *

Up in the CPU Messenger introduced me to his two underlings who were busy processing traffic. The familiar chatter of the HW-28 Teletype machines played in the background. Messenger led me to the table where the KWM-2A sat silently with all the lights off.

kwm2a-7
KWM-2A HF Radio by w8zr.net

He gave me a sorrowful look.

Norm Bates told me in Boston while we sat at that magnificent hotel bar that KWM-2A HF radios were temperamental.

“It’s like my sister’s kid Jimmy,” Norm said. “Sometimes, you gotta just give them a good smack to keep ‘em in line.”

Bates went on to give his reasoning. “There’s like a dozen or more vacuum tubes that power the KWM-2A. Since each tube had nine pins, that’s about a hundred or so contact points. If one pin fails to make good contact, then it’s not going to work.”

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Messenger looked on in horror as I gave the top of the KWM-2A housing a swift whack.

The front panel lit up.

His expression lit up, too. “What did you do?”

“Dirty contacts. Do you have a blower?”

Messenger said, “I know someone who does.”

“See if you borrow it. Meanwhile, I’ll give it a good cleaning.”

KWM2A_Inside
KWM-2A chassis photo by wb4hfn.com

By the time Messenger had returned the main chassis assembly from the KWM-2A case was laid out on the table. I had removed the tubes and sprayed each tube socket with a can of aerosol contact spray from my tool case.

The blower caused a lot of dust to float in the air.

I knew from experience that when everything was reassembled the KWM-2A would be subject to Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong). I carefully returned the tubes to their sockets and installed the main assembly back into its case.

As Messenger monitored the situation I turned on the KWM-2A. The front panel lights lit up—a good sign. We immediately heard faint voices in the background. I scanned over the frequency card and retuned the transmitter for the current time. It tuned up perfectly.

“Long Branch, Long Branch (Beirut), this Clover Leaf radio test, over.”

Seconds past before I heard Ryan in Beirut say, “Roger Clover Leaf, this Long Branch, I have you five-by five. You sound like a Cowboy from the wild west, over.”

“Negative on the wild west, Long Branch. That’s your location.”

“Affirmative Cowboy, I’ve got to return to my day job. Work piling up.”

“Understood, Long Branch, this is Clover Leaf out.”

“Long Branch, out.”

Messenger gave a gleeful thumbs-up and handed the CRU logbook to me.

I poured over the government issue journal during the next couple hours, writing down notes related to the radio interference. I was looking for one of the interfering anomaly’s main weaknesses—patterns…

(To be continued)

3 Comments Add yours

  1. 53old says:

    I got pretty good at hunting down IM. The newer spectrum analyzers help a whole lot.

    Like

    1. Yeah, the old analyzers were bulky and heavy, too. Not something you wanted to travel around with in the Middle East.

      Like

      1. 53old says:

        I didn’t like moving the old ones across the room to another bench. 🙂

        https://cj3a.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/what-i-did-for-the-super-bowl/

        shows one of the wonderful new ones (size of a book and weighing about the same) in action.

        Like

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