Page 37 - FSJ June 2012

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J U N E 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
37
n September 1968 my employer, the Associated
Press, transferred me from its New York City
headquarters to the Washington, D.C., bureau to
help out with coverage of Latin American issues.
I was quickly issued a State Department building
pass at the tender age of 27, making me one of
the youngest passholders there.
When I retired in 2007, almost 39 years later, I was one of
the oldest. During my tenure, I visited 87 countries on trips
with nine Secretaries of State and made 31 visits to Cuba, al-
most all on reporting trips for AP. Unfortunately, I never got
to travel with the most powerful Secretary of State in mod-
ern times, Henry Kissinger. But I saw enough to recognize
him as the meanest (to his staff, at least), smartest and fun-
niest of them all.
If one stays in the same place for almost 40 years, you al-
most can’t help encountering vivid characters and witnessing
remarkable developments, even in a setting as controlled as
the State Department. In 1985, an angry teen entered the
department with a concealed fold-up rifle, went to the sev-
enth floor and killed his mother, a secretary who was sitting
not far from the office of Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
(As the child of an employee, he had automatic access to the
building.)
A few years before that, police had entered State’s second-
floor press room to arrest a Middle Eastern journalist wanted
on charges of embezzlement. Lars Nelson, a Reuters re-
porter, witnessed the arrest from his cubicle just a few feet
away and fired off a story that soon traveled around the world.
The journalist was convicted and sentenced to a 13-year
prison term.
Other episodes were less dramatic but still raised eye-
brows. Several weeks before President Ronald Reagan took
office in 1981, a Republican transition team was visiting the
State Department. Upset by communist gains in Central
America, they zeroed in on President Jimmy Carter’s top aide
for Latin America, WilliamBowdler, as a symbol of what they
perceived to be a failed policy. The transition aides gave him
24 hours to pack up and leave. Friends said Bowdler, a three-
time ambassador and 30-year Foreign Service veteran, was
devastated by the experience. He deserved much better.
Fortunately, most of the vignettes I’d like to share here
are less grim!
From Haig to Shultz
Pres. Reagan picked General Alexander Haig as his first
Secretary of State (1981-1982). Haig was known for his
rhetorical flights, once referring to the Middle East as “the
vortex of cruciality.” Asked if American military intervention
in blood-drenched El Salvador was inevitable, Haig could
have said “No.” Instead, he said, “It would serve no useful
purpose to put fences around options that would preclude
the formulation of new pathways.”
In 1982, as Haig was flying to London near the end of a
European tour, his spokesman, Dean Fisher, casually offered
the press a delicious news nugget: Haig’s tailor, Peter Tarpey,
was flying to London from Paris to measure the Secretary for
F
ROM
R
USK TO
R
ICE
:
39 Y
EARS
C
OVERING
S
TATE
E
VEN IN A SETTING AS CONTROLLED AS
F
OGGY
B
OTTOM
,
ONE MEETS VIVID CHARACTERS AND WITNESSES REMARKABLE DEVELOPMENTS
.
B
Y
G
EORGE
G
EDDA
George Gedda retired in 2007 after 39 years as an Associated
Press State Department correspondent. A longtime contrib-
utor to the
Foreign Service Journal
, he is the author of
Cuba:
The Audacious Revolution
(CreateSpace, 2011).
I