At the Cairo International Airport ARRIVALS hall I looked out for the embassy driver dressed in dark trousers, blue cotton long-sleeve shirt with perspiration patches in the armpits, and a well-worn black tie (the drivers all seemed to wear the same uniform).
<feature photo by ghettyimages.com
When the American Embassy Regional Security Officer Childress approached me, I didn’t recognize him at first. I shook his outstretched hand. He said, “I just sent my wife and kids off on a TWA flight. I plan to join them in Rockville, Maryland a few days after the Vance detail. You ready to go?”
We packed up my baggage in the back of the Chevy Tahoe and headed to the embassy. Childress turned to me and said, “Are you aware that Secretary Vance may only be on the ground for less than twenty-four hours to have a talk with Anwar Sadat? Of course, that could change at a moments notice.”
My boss RCO Roberson had filled me in on the sketchy details where Vance and President Carter were expected to do a lot of traveling in the Middle East this year in their quest for a peace agreement. “Yeah, I’m prepared to stay as long as it takes. I’ve got radio upgrades to install here along with coverage tests, after the detail.”
When we arrived at the embassy I agreed to meet up with Regional Security Officer Childress after the detail to go over my work schedule. I stored my equipment and hurried over to the Cairo Hilton.
At the command post in the penthouse suite of the Hilton I ran into the post crypto tech, my pal Bill H. After I heard the BS about the latest scuttlebutt at post I asked if a CRO named Linda was part of the Vance support team.
Bill gave me an embarrassed shrug (like maybe he had heard that I had fawned over Linda during the Vance detail in Riyadh). I waited as he gazed around the room (looking for Linda? Maybe Bill was struck by her, too?).
“The word is,” Bill said, “that Linda’s quitting the State Department and marrying an international businessman whom she met while on TDY in Istanbul.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No, that’s what I heard. Talk to CRO Holman. He’s got the skinny on her escapade in Istanbul.”
I tried to hide my disappointment. “I thought Linda was in the Foreign Service for the long run.”
“I didn’t know her.”
It was my turn to shrug.
I left Bill and quickly ensconced myself in work. Since most of the radio equipment had been left in place from the previous SECSTATE visit last month my job was a slam-dunk. SY (State Department security) Agent Halliday, whom I worked with in Jerusalem, was on site. He and Solano-a rare female SY agent–were partners. Halliday and Solano, both dynamos, were a perfect match for each other.
Radio Interference of a Third Kind
Late that evening the command post buzzed with the agents’ chatter. Radio commo had been great until I heard a distorted noise coming out of my earpiece. The room full of agents, including Halliday and Solvano had heard it, too.
Halliday gazed at me and said, “What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know. It sounds like a foreign language.”
The command post door swooped open. SY Agent-in-Charge Blankenship had called an emergency meeting for all personnel. His grim expression and slumped shoulders took everyone aback. He shook his head at the puzzled looks on the agents’ faces that included Halliday and Solvano.
The grim Blankenship hunkered over the podium. He clapped his hands and said, “Gentlemen—and ladies—I need your undivided attention.”
The room quieted.
“We’ve got a potential crisis going on here. I have reason to believe that our radio frequencies may have been compromised. Listen up.”
Blankenship nodded to one of the agents who turned up the audio on the base station unit for all to hear.
In the background a female voice chattered away in a brusk manner. If someone or a group had pirated our frequencies I didn’t have too many options. Out of the corner of my eye I saw what looked like a smile begin to take shape in Agent Solvano’s expression.
Halliday must have seen what I saw. He said to Blankenship, “Agent Solvano speaks German, French, and some Arabic and Hebrew. Maybe she recognizes some of the words.”
Blankenship ran his fingers around the collar of his shirt and said, “If you have something to add, now’s your chance, Agent Solvano. We’re in the middle of a crisis here, you know.”
“Yes, sir,” Solvano said. “The woman is definitely speaking Arabic.”
The Agent-in-Charge gazed around at his cadre of agents. A smirk emerged in the folds of his cheeks. “Yes, that’s pretty obvious Agent Solvano. We’re in Egypt. They speak Arabic here.”
Agent Solvano didn’t immediately respond. Her cheeks reddened a shade at the put down.
Blankenship ran his hand around his neck collar again. “Let’s ask our expert technician what the hell is going on.”
The AIC had just dumped it in my lap. I said, “Without any test equipment it’s going to be difficult to determine what type of radio interference we’re experiencing. The interference options are that someone has somehow stolen our frequency, or the interference is a by-product of different frequencies, or… the third kind.”
Blankenship’s eyes grew the size of Egyptian eggplants.
“What’s the third kind?”
“Something unexpected that isn’t related to the radio electronics. The surveillance kit—”
“Sir,” Solano called out.
Blankenship held his hand up at me and said, “What is it Agent Solvano?”
With Halliday nodding his head, Agent Solvano said, “Sir, it has to do with the position of the female whom we’re listening to over the radio.”
Blankenship’s cheeks dropped. The room became deftly silent. The AIC said, “You mean to say she’s a higher up political plant? How would you have access to such information?”
Agent Solvano’s head rose slightly. She enunciated her words in clear English: “I meant to say that the woman is in the horizontal position.”
Halliday’s smile spread like a virus to the other agents. I got it.
Blankenship didn’t get it. He kept blinking. His head jerked this way and that until he saw the relief in the agents’ faces. Then the light bulb went on. “You mean—”
Solvano, cool and collected, nodded. “One of our agents is apparently… ahem… fraternizing with an Egyptian female. We have been listening to her via a stuck microphone.”
Blankenship couldn’t help himself. “Well… What did she say?”
“Loosely translated, she was voicing a complaint about ‘Johnnie’s’… overzealousness.”
“It’s Agent John Patterson,” a voice from near the door rang out. “He’s off duty until midnight.”
The red-faced Blankenship barked, “Well, someone go roust up Patterson and unplug that damned mike. I won’t accept lying down on the job on my watch, even if… well, even if he’s not technically on the job. I mean… ah, forget it.”
That spurred a room full of grins.
Boy, was I relieved.
Before the red-faced Blankenship stormed out of the room he uttered in a weak voice, “Good observation, Agent Solvano.”
When the door slammed I saw Solvano offer Halliday a coy look that explained what I had already learned during the Jerusalem Vance detail a few weeks ago.
They, too, had been fraternizing.
Before Solano left the command post I heard her murmur to her partner, “Watch yourself, Halliday, it’s going to be a hot one tomorrow.”