I went on at some length in Rant # 85 about John Stockwell. Said he had co-deputies, one of which was named Jon R. This is a Jon R. story.
Years after Stockwell had left the Agency all atwitter because of some perceived slight, I was working a multi-national, multi-US agency, trans-Atlantic, top secret operation.
You get a hint how all this is goin’ play out because in describing this operation, I use two “multi.” And in WDC that is a sure harbinger of trouble.
Through an act of God, one of our overseas Ambassadors was called on the rug of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in the country where he served to answer for a little slippage in the execution of this operation. The Ambassador had no idea what was going on, so he had to take the foreign MFA’s spears in his chest and understandably the next morning angrily queried Washington for some answers.
It was plain for anyone involved to see that it wasn’t my fault… but it was one of those things, where someone had to take the fall and our US State Department decided I was the man, because I was their CIA point of contact. So they told their irate Ambassador what was going on and they told him that there would be an accounting of this incident at State Department Headquarters and he, the Ambassador, should be assured that the responsible CIA officer would be roundly admonished by a legion of Ambassadors at Large and Ambassadors in Waiting and Retired Ambassadors and such.
Most of the pin-stripers selected for this “review” had family-name-sounding first names. Not an everday Joe or Tom in the crowd. These were top shelf career diplomats.
After this execution squad had been convened and briefed, I was called to the State Department for the “review” of the operation, in an effort, they said, to improve its execution in the future, as if this thing had a future. A military detailee at State told me in a hushed telephone call shortly before I went that I was going to be the pound of flesh State Department had promised its Ambassador for his diplomatic embarrassment in the MFA’s office in the middle of the night.
I stuck my head in Jon’s office and told him where I was going that morning and what I had heard about why and he said something like, “Hold on, I’ll go with you.”
So he, I and a person who worked for me took the CIA shuttle over to State, found the right conference room in the belly of the beast and at Jon’s suggestion we all went to a seating area and waited so that we would be fashionably late. Not late, late. Late a little bit.
We were three very experienced CIA operations officers. Sort of OK to be a little bit late. Sort of CIAish in fact. We were visitors to Foggy Bottom as it were and what with WDC traffic.... well you understand why sometimes you're late.
I did not know at the time that I was in the company of a master meeting-taker – an art form I heretofore did not know existed.
First, when Jon led us into that conference room a few minutes after the hour, everyone was visibly taken aback to see him. Advantage: Jon.
He looked around with a slight playground glare of defiance at the 8 or 10 Ambassador level people as if to say, “Game On” and he took the seat meant for me in the middle and wind-milled his arms over neighboring chairs and looked directly at the people sitting opposite him. He wasn’t over the top. But he was there in a big way.
An Ambassador at the end of the long table, the Ambassador in Charge (AIC) – my State Department contact – opened a manila folder and began to wax eloquently about the exercise, how it was funded, what it was supposed to do and as he started to get around to how it was executed, Jon cleared his throat, un-wind milled his arms and said, “Hold on a minute, let me get some clarification on…” and he referred to some small detail the Ambassador had mentioned early on. As the Ambassador collected his thoughts to go back to that point, Jon took out a cigarette – this was during a time smoking was allowed in Federal Buildings – and he reached far across the table and got an ash tray. As the AIC began talking again Jon reached in his pants pocket and got a lighter, lit his cigarette with the lighter snapping it open and then shut, conspicuously not loud. Then he started to horn the ashes off the cigarette in the ash tray as if in deep thought. It sounds Hollywood, but it wasn’t. I was there. Jon was just big.
Everyone watched him out of the corners of their eyes as he leaned forward to make little highways through the ashes in the ash tray, creating a center mass away from the AIC at the end of the table.
Satisfied with his advantage, Jon just started talking. The AIC had come to a stopping point and Jon opened his mouth and words started to come out. As he would make this point or that he would look at this older, very distinguished Ambassador sitting across the table and stop talking.
And the Ambassador would politely nod and Jon would continue talking… he talked about his experience with some of the people at the table, about baseball and DC things, occasionally slowing to emphasize a point, he would turn his gaze directly on this important looking man to his front and the gentleman would nod, and then Jon would go on.
Finally when he got to the point where he could just look at the man, and he’d nod, Jon must have known that his work here was done, because he said that the three of us had other business and we had to leave. He looked at the man across from him, who nodded and we left.