Well it all began in about July of 1970. I had received orders to report to the Defense Intelligence Agency for a new assignment in Washington, but before we departed we prepared for one more trip- to Israel wrapping up my wonderful tour at the American University of Beirut after 2 1/2 years in the Arab Studies MA program and my Foreign Area Specialty assignment. We… my wife and I… left our little darlings with Therese, a very young, very excellent maid, baby sitter, and Lebanese guide into the intricate labyrinth of Lebanon. We flew to Cyprus and then to Tel Aviv. We had to use a piece of insert paper in our passport for entrance into Israel. When we exited Israel they would stamp the piece of paper and take it…therefore no Israeli stamp in our visa…part of the make believe world the Arabs live in.
In out visit to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Army Attache there told me that my orders had been changed. The Army Attache in Jordan, Major Bob Perry had been murdered by a gang of Palestinian thugs in his home in front of his wife and kids.
So we returned to Beirut and shortly thereafter I departed for Jordan. When I arrived in Amman the wives had already been evacuated and the new embassy personnel came without spouses.
Amman and parts of Jordan were in chaos, King Hussein had lost control of the situation and Palestinian thugs of the 12 different wings of the Palestinian Liberation Organization were patrolling the streets, setting up roadblocks, harassing residents and foreigners. the message below lays out the situation. The US Embassy was also in disarray as the Ambassador had been declared persona non Grata and was not at the Embassy. The leadership at the Embassy…,. both State and military ……. did not inspire confidence..
The message from the Deputy at the Embassy pretty well lays out the situation. The Fedayeen were there Palestinian gangs roaming about creating chaos. The second memo was to Dr Kissinger concerning what we were too do about it, BTW The documents were declassified later.
I arrived in the Airport near Amman and went through two customs, one of the Government of Jordan (GOJ) and one of the PLO. A very strange situation and not reassuring. There upon to the Embassy then located in Jebel Luweibdeh , a middle class mostly Palestinian neighborhood. After desultory briefings and and briefs forecasting a coming calamity,, I went to my quarters in the up scale Jebel Amman. The home of the military attache..my boss. It was spacious and the Palestinian cook was a nice loyal fellow.l My boss in his hasty departure left behind his Saluki dog. He kept it on the roof. The cook would take it out for a walk with gunfire going every which a way. Once it got away and me and the cook chased it around the neighborhood midst the fire works as the Jordanian Army exchanged fire with the fedayeen every night. The Saluki, one of the fastest animals alive, was finally cornered and put back in his cage. We shipped it out on a military Aircraft a few days later,
Back in Beirut, since we had already given up our apartment near Hamra street, my wife with three kids, was walking the streets looking for l’Ajar, or a Louer, signs in the windows. There were no realtors one could turn to for help and as we military students at the Embassy were merely hanger ons, there was very little help there.Happily she found one on Rue Mexique in the Armenian district, with an accommodating concierge who was very protective.
In further narrative I will not mention all the names for obvious reasons but the chaos continued until the new Ambassador, L Dean Brown arrived. Short of stature, but a no nonsense, take charge kind of guy, he sent my boss and the Charge packing immediately and new life came back into the embassy. However he did not come until later. For a long time, we at the Embassy were subjected to searches by the Ashbal( teenage fedayeen) carrying AK- 47’s with the safety off sticking the weapon in our faces and asking the same stupid questions day after day as we traveled back and forth from Embassy to home. At this time American media has absorbed the Guerrilla Ethos and were enamored of the Palestinian terrorist in his tailored tight fitting tiger fatigues. Many Western journalists were in town to help build up their largely underserved reputation. On the rare occasion when anybody from the media asked our opinion it was never printed. Also I noticed many Scandinavian chicks arrived en mass to help the Palestinian refugees, primarily by shacking up with the cool well attired leaders . One found her way into my attache house courtesy of the administrative warrant officer who had moved in with me. When she appeared at breakfast I told the WO to send her back to the refugees she was ostensively there to help. The WO said he was getting information on the conditions on the refugee camps.
Anyway I am not writing this chronologically but as my dim memory recollects the events.
At this point I should mention the name of the guy who kept Jordan in the win column for the US. Jack O’Connell was the CIA station chief and had a close relationship with King Hussein and was a tough CIA type of the old school, quite different from the many dilettantes that hang around Langley these days. He had faith in the Jordanians and their army ( JAA) . When many at the top of the CIA, and of course the squishy State Dept., were advocating kissing up to the PLO, O’ Connell stayed the course. He said stick with the King.
As the new people came in to the Embassy I have to say that the State people were the top of the line. They spoke Arabic better than me and knew the culture. One I have to mention. Hume Horan, the political officer was a quintessential Arabist. He would enthrall Jordanians with his recital of Arab poetry and most of all he was a pragmatic Arabist, not one of those who act as facilitators for the inexplicably stupid things the Arab leaders often do, and not go gooey when the word “Arab” is mentioned.The secretaries were very courageous and stayed the course. They we’re older gracious ladies who blended well with the Jordanians.I especially admired the CIA admin lady who always spoke with authority with few words. Jack later married her.
Because of the special situation I was welcomed into into the top floor of the Embassy into the CIA inner sanctum without the usual security clearances required. They were a bunch of hard working folks and they knew what the Fedayeen were doing before their own rank and file did. They were the communication people and as the new Ambassador L Dean. Brown made it clear nothing went from the Embassy without his approval. The CIA often were lone riders, sending in their own opinions oblivious of the opinion of the Ambassador. In the Defense Attache course run by DIA, ( which happily I avoided) they taught the use of the one time code (OTC) which was to enable us military types to send sneaky cables without the Ambassador approval. I never knew how to use one.
The junior CIA guys were ex-military and terrific guys to work with. One was an ex-Naval officer, the other an ex-Marine. Since they were part of the covert side of C IA Im not sure I can use their names, even though one has passed on and the other I lost track of after he left the Agency. They had excellent contacts with the civilian and military Jordanians. We shared sources. I had great contacts with Jordanian Bedouin officers and I was happy to share the info. This is rarely true in my other experiences. To be clear I was not a secret agent. I never asked questions. I just let them talk. If I was sober enough—since they talked the most when in the midst of heavy drinking bouts in the desert– I made a few mental notes.
Of course the King and Chairman Arafat had made a number of pacts to stop the violence- so many in fact that it became a joke… I ran out of fingers and toes counting the peace agreements. But every day the violence got worse and there were several attempts on the life of the King. Just driving to and from the Embassy became an adventure. As the violence increased it became obvious a confrontation was coming. I sent a message to DIA relating what I observed when I was standing near a Bedouin soldier and a Palestinian Toyota came by with one fedayeen manning a 12.7 machine gun, the Palestinian manning it gave a smile to the Bedouin in a way to suggest a Kiss my ass attitude. The face of the Jordanian was one of contempt hatred, and a barely concealed urge to kill. So much for Arabism I thought.
Now in the military office we had me as the chief honcho, since my boss had been fired, and three military training officers and NCO’s.They were a gregarious bunch. Like most military training assistance officers, they were not career oriented and therefore much more fun to work with.
At this time I should mention this is not a narrative of the Jordanian civil war… it has been covered better in Clinton Bailey’s Jordanian Palestinian Challenge 1948-1983 and Avi Shlaim’s Lion Of Jordan The life of King Hussein.
Anyway the the final straw was when one of the Palestinian organizations hijacked four aircraft, forcing three to land at Dawson’s field, a salt flat dirt airstrip in the s desert formerly used as an RAF dispersal field. After terrorizing the passengers, taking about 50 hostage they blew up the planes. The stage was set and at that time our new ambassador, Dean Brown arrived in an Armored personnel carrier.
Part two whenever