With the hugs and kisses that went on all day Saturday, we said our final goodbyes and then departed for Morton Field. We were airborne by 2110 headed east for Portugal. The flight was to be five to six hours, depending on winds.
I made the call to the Portuguese customs office at the Lisbon international airport that a state department delegation would be arriving with armed bodyguards as was protocol; the delegation would go direct to the US embassy.
Then we did as we always did, reclined in the fancy chairs and slept for most of the flight.
Max Grover and Toby Nash were the pilot and copilot for this trip. I asked Max to quietly wake me an hour before landing. It was a smooth flight with little turbulence.
At 0100 Toby shook my shoulder and mouthed that we were an hour out.
I sent an email to Thad Jennings who – according to the duty schedule – should have been the night duty supervisor, “Send both Suburbans to the general aviation customs desk at Lisbon International to pick up two VIP and nine security personnel. Be there at 0200.”
“Ten four” was replied in a couple minutes.
We landed on time and customs was a mess, apparently we were not the only VIP passing through the terminal this early. There were several United Nations delegations ahead of us. One delegation was from Albania and the other from Bulgaria. I did not know any of them but they sure knew me.
I had planned this early arrival time to avoid this kind of meeting and it did not work; the only thing I could do now was to go with it. If I asked them to keep it under wraps that I was here it would start a whisper campaign that would balloon out of control. I certainly did not want that to happen.
Before it turned into a lengthy conversation in public, I moved it to a side waiting room; they were peppering me with questions on working in the White House and my work on terrorism. They wanted to know if I was doing any special terrorism investigations or operations in Europe.
My answer was that with my reduced role, it was time to do more JBG business trips and that seemed to satisfy them.
I introduced Vicky to all of them and her position and responsibilities at JBG. Then they wanted pictures and that did not go over well with the customs people.
A customs supervisor was called. I ended up in a picture shaking his hand for his personal scrapbook.
We had barely cleared customs when the team from the embassy arrived to pick us up.
Burton Walls and Larry Coons walked through the door just as we were picking up our bags. They stopped in their tracks.
“Thad didn’t know who we were picking up, he just said we were picking up two VIPs. That was an understatement; the big bosses and the A team. Now I know someone is in trouble, let’s get you back to the embassy. I want to see Thad’s face when you two walk in,” Burton said.
Twenty minutes later we were in the parking garage behind the embassy. It was a short walk to the back door.
I knew the layout of the Portuguese embassy; I had studied the latest blueprints on file for any changes. In the top secret files I had access to were blueprints for every US embassy in the world.
I had them in case there was any need of an emergency evacuation by rescue teams. That was one item that was part of the JBG training for the embassy personnel. We also used closely aligned plans for training at Fort Smith.
Thad was sitting at the control panel watching video from yesterday’s front door cams and the street cams. I knew what he was doing; looking for individuals who may be doing surveillance on the embassy or looking for soft spots in security. If the same person appeared day after day it raised security flags.
If there were clear face pictures, the images were run through the identification process, Interpol, the State Department’s system and finally they were sent to the EIT group.
“Hello Thad, find anything interesting?” I asked as I was walking up behind him as he jumped up.
“Damn the big bosses, I knew it had to be someone important when I got those instructions. I don’t get orders like that very often,” Thad relied.
“Several things, the same couriers deliver the people requesting asylum or travel visa to the states. Those people are always single males between the ages of eighteen and thirty; never any women, children or family members,” Thad added.
“Who processes the applications once they come in the door?” I asked.
“They have the applications with them when they come; typed all nice and neat, completely filled out, along with a nice rehearsed presentation through with an interpreter,” Thad replied.
“Who did the interviews,” Vicky asked.
“Deputy Ambassador Barakat,” Thad replied.
“That is an Arab name. Why do we have an Arab working at the Portuguese embassy as deputy Ambassador?”I wondered out loud.
“He was sent here by the former Secretary of State,” Thad replied.
“Protocol requires those interviews be recorded and a security person in the room but Barakat disables the official camera when he walks in, he also sends the security person out. We installed a hidden camera and mike in the overhead lighting. We have video of most of the interviews; we have been debating how to get them to you,” Thad added.
“Send them to Robert before you log out, I will tell him what I want done with them,” I replied.
“What time does Ambassador Taylor come into the office?” I asked.
“Anywhere from 0830 to 1100,” he replied.
Vicky and I interviewed Thad and the others on the night shift who had put their concerns on paper. We were finished with the night shift when the day shift came in.
The day shift team leader was Calvin Master and he was half an hour early; nothing unusual for him to be early. Calvin was a brute when we hired him fresh out of the Army Special Forces. He was still a brute; the exercise equipment in the gym at this embassy and he were certainly close friends and spent a lot of time together.
“I wondered if you were here or just passing through,” he said.
Then he placed an issue of “A Voz da Póvoa,” on the table; it was the early edition of today’s paper.
The front page headlines read, “America’s number one terrorist hunter Ambassador Roberta Jones with armed body guards in secret meetings with Albania and Bulgaria delegations at Lisbon International.” It had several color pictures on the front page.
Then he placed an issue of “Diário da República” the other leading paper in Portugal. The Diário da República was aligned with the minority labor party and opposed everything the current government tried to do. Their front page had similar pictures and their headlines were a slap at the government.
“America’s leading terrorist expert is in Portugal meeting with the Albanian and Bulgarian delegations and where are our government’s representatives, not even our police are there? The government continues to ignore the real dangers to the populace. Our friends and neighbors meet with international experts while our government fiddles.”
Make no mistake, this was going to get ugly and fast.
Vicky and I continued to interview the day shift. We were finished by 1000 and it was a good thing. At 1001 my State Department phone rang.
It was Troy, “Where are you, please tell me you are at East Water Cay or South America or somewhere exotic.”
“Nothing exotic about Portugal so far and I’m not going to be here long enough to find out,” I replied.
“You are not there to buy another island or a castle on a hill?” he asked.
“I have no interest on buying a castle on a hill; too cold, dark and gloomy, I hear remodeling is a bitch plus maintenance is a beast,” I replied.
“That’s what I was afraid of. I’m on my way to the Oval Office. Call on MTAC now please?” he said.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.