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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2
Final Communications
out of the USSR
The December issue of the
Service Journal
was truly superb. The
articles by Ambassador Jack Matlock
and former political officer Tom Gra-
ham brought back many memories. Of
special interest was the July 1990 cable
Graham highlighted in his article.
While it was just one of thousands of ca-
bles sent that year from Moscow, it
caught this former Information Re-
source Management officer’s eye.
I remember hearing from across the
room: “Tim, come take a look at this
one!” It seems the cable (90 Moscow
23603: “Looking into the Abyss: The
Possible Collapse of the Soviet Union
and What We Should Be Doing About
It”) was sufficiently sensitive to warrant
what was called “double encryption.”
That message would, indeed, as Am-
bassador Matlock asserted, prove
prophetic the next year.
There is no question that it also tes-
tifies powerfully to the divination pow-
ers of the Foreign Service. Such cables
trigger reflections not only on the sub-
stantive intellect and powers of persua-
sion brought to bear on events by our
political, economic and public diplo-
macy officers but, equally important,
the critical support functions provided
by the management section — specifi-
cally, the outstanding team that I led:
the IRM section.
Looking back 20 years, I appreciate
just how skillfully Moscow’s IRM staff
managed critical communications in-
volving cables like 90 Moscow 23603,
supported negotiations regarding “Hot-
Line” improvements and served as em-
bassy liaison to Soviet ForeignMinistry
officials for a fledgling Nuclear Risk
Reduction Center initiative.
We helpedmanage high numbers of
official visitors that year, too — the
most during the Cold War. Assign-
ments behind the Iron Curtain as an In-
formation Resource Management or
Regional Information Management
Center officer were always challenging,
for our access made us highly prized
KGB targets. But they also usually put
us on the fast track to promotion and
greater responsibility sinceMoscowwas
the center of U.S. foreign policy, and
communications support was critical.
During the final year of the USSR’s
existence, IRM had perhaps its finest
hour. On the morning of March 28,
1991, a large fire broke out in Embassy
Moscow. Curiously, it coincided with
several huge rallies by the “Democra-
tic Russia Movement.” Once evacu-
ated, most staff returned to their living
quarters; but for IRM, the fun was only
With speed and courage, the team
restored vital command and control cir-
cuitry and addedmakeshift unclassified
processing (our cafeteria became office
space). Most urgently, it restored se-
cure-voice capability, which the ambas-
sador used to consult Washington that
evening. These accomplishments, per-
formed as sparks continued to fly and
smoke still rose from the charred em-
bassy, won the IRM team a Superior
Honor Award nomination.
Despite the challenges posed by a
rapidly crumbling Soviet society and in-
frastructure, Washington expected a
world-class performance. My IRM
team never flinched.
I thank the
for this opportu-
nity to highlight our achievements.
The department can be assured of the
same dedication from today’s Foreign
Service IRM professionals. With the
leadership support they deserve, they,
too, will be ready to respond as history
Timothy C. Lawson
Senior FSO, retired
Hua Hin, Thailand
Embassy Moscow Memories
I loved reading the December issue
of the
, because it brought back a
myriad of emotions and recollections.
In fact, I have just retrieved from my
father the entire file he kept of my
1987-1991 letters fromMoscow, which
I wrote more as historical diary entries
than as letters. I had been contemplat-
ing what on earth to do with the in-
credible stories I had memorialized in
my letters when I received your issue.
Admittedly, my perspective was to-
tally different from that of those who
were working at the embassy at the
time. Kudos to the
team, not only
because the issue is so appropriate 20
years later, but —at least for me—be-
cause it brought back to the forefront
an incredibly strange, convoluted and