Catch 22: Confidential supplies
In the early 1960s, our small Special Security Team (SST) worked with 11 other intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the four northern States of Germany and the Netherlands. Later, Denmark would be added.
Consequently, Mr. Price and I were constantly on the road visiting the British (MI5 and MI6) in Rhinedalen, the Germans in Hamburg and Kiel, and the Dutch in Amsterdam. The visits, during which intelligence agents are supposed to exchange bits of mutually helpful intelligence, were, almost inevitably, semi-social events during which alcohol was consumed.
Our small suite of offices in the basement of the headquarters of the 552 Artillery Corps Group was rarely visited by our counterparts. We figured it was because we could not serve alcohol. Also, most Europeans could not abide American coffee.
Nevertheless, our higher Intel headquarters sent us a kit of "confidential supplies." Apparently, the kit was left over from World War II because, in addition to bottles of top-shelf liquor, it contained several dozen pairs of nylon stockings, boxes of chocolate, decades-old cigars, and cigarettes. We trashed all but the liquor.
The liquor, however, had to be strictly accounted for. For sure, our kit liquor was safe because our executive officer -- a lifelong AA member -- was the custodian. Moreover, in order to give a bottle of booze to one of our counterparts, we had to fill out a long form, detailing who got it, where, when, how many people were served, and what kind of intelligence we expected to obtain in return.
So, rather than spend hours filling out forms, we never dispensed any bottles from our kit. Instead, we went over to the U.S. Embassy liquor store (then in Bonn) and bought booze out of our own pockets at ridiculously low U.S. Diplomatic Corps prices.
But then, because we were not dispensing any of the bottles out of our kit, higher headquarters accused us of not doing enough liaison with our counterparts. Reluctantly, we had to fill out the forms and start moving bottles out of our "confidential supplies." After some convivially frank discussions with some of our counterparts, we learned they were caught in the same Catch-22 situation. That gave us an idea: we would put our own secret mark on our liquor bottles and see if any of our bottles came back to us.
During the long Christmas season, Mr. Price and I were on the road bestowing bottles of booze on our counterparts and receiving bottles of booze in return. But, about halfway through our Christmas rounds, we discovered we were being given some bottles bearing our own secret mark. For example, we had given a bottle of really fine cognac to MI5. Evidently, the Brits gave that bottle to the Bundesnachtrichtendienst (German intelligence) who gave it to the Dutch, who gave it to us. Obviously, neither we nor our counterparts were opening any government-supplied bottles.
Finally, some of our counterpart agencies confessed. So, we all went back to buying each other drinks from our own wallets. We saved the U.S. taxpayer some money. And, besides, that was more heartfelt, anyway.
Nota Bene: During these dismal times for the USA, this column will focus on lighter subjects.
©2022. William Hamilton. www.central-view.com