Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona on August 15, 1970 · Page 82
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Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona · Page 82

Phoenix, Arizona
Issue Date:
Saturday, August 15, 1970
Page 82
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Page 82 article text (OCR)

; '1TV u I I i 48 The Arizona Republic MAIL , Sal., AafT 15,1970 Jet-age dangers face diplomatic courier The days of Mata Harl may be over, but diplomatic couriers still face danger daily. Only the dangers are tbose of the jet age — less romantic, perhaps, but just as real. And still, nothing stops the diplomatic conricr from making his appointed rounds. By RICHARD E. MEYER AP Newsfcatures WASHINGTON - Once, diplomatic couriers rode the Orient Express. Soldiers guarded the train and poked under the berths looking for defectors. Inscrutable burnettes sipped cognac in the dining car. Shadowy men locked themselves inside their compartments at night. So did the couriers. They traveled in pairs and barred their doors from the inside. They cooked over canned heat in their compartments so they could stay with their pouches. In hurried exchanges, they handed the pouches, filled with government secrets, through the train windows to officials from U.S. embassies scattered through the war-torn capitals of Eastern Europe. But, alas, no more. This is the jet age. The single briefcase shackled to a courier's wrist has become a cartload of dirty canvas bags, heavy enough to pull a man's arm off. Mata Hari brunettes have been replaced by airline stewardesses. And the Orient Express belongs to a more romantic time. Nowadays, couriers ride planes. From regional offices in Frankfurt, Bangkok and Washington, 80 of them fly 14 million miles a year to every U.S. embassy and many U.S. consular posts around the world.' = At each stop they deliver their bags and pick up others or exchange bags with other couriers in a complex system of mail service for things the State Department can't send by radio: personally signed messages from the President to foreign heads-of state; lengthy reports on foreign politics, economics, labor and education; photographs, maps and charts; medicine for foreign disasters; even moon rocks for display in other countries. The mail is classified, in ascending order of importance, as confidential, secret and top secret. Not even couriers know what they're carrying. Their job is to keep a constant eye on their pouches and deliver them — intact and on schedule. Not that the job isn't dangerous any more. Five couriers have been killed in the line of duty. But all of them died in air crashes. . .. A recent trip by John Otto, 50, senior courier with 24 years of almost constant travel, was typical. He walked into the basement of the State Department and into a large room where clerks were sorting diplomatic envelopes. Beyond was a pouch room, and near the doorway were more than a dozen reddish-orange sacks. Otto checked each one against a manifest, by number and destination, signed the manifest and loaded the pouches onto a dolly. He pushed the dolly onto a loading dock and threw the bags into the back of a green truck. Then he climbed into the cab and rode to the airport In broad daylight. "A light load," said Otto, wryly. He was bound for Frankfurt, and his bags varied in size from a couple of square feet to half as big as he was. They were strapped around the neck and crimped with small red plastic seals that said "D e p a r t m e n t of State, Washington, ,D.C." These, plus larger white tags that said "Diplomatic Bag," would provide *free entry into foreign nations with immunity from official search or seizure, under international conventions. At the airport, Otto accompanied his bags to a commercial airliner. As a porter loaded them into the baggage compartment Otto stood next to the fuselage and checked each one. He watched the porter close the hatch and walk away. Then he waited until the last minute and climbed the passenger ramp, and the plane rolled off the apron. He was the last to board. He would be the first off and would go directly to the baggage compartment and check the bags again as they were unloaded. Careful, but routine. Inconspicuous, maybe, but hardly clandestine. And not very intriguing. Otto wasn't armed. And there wasn't a recognizable spy in sight. Two things protect couriers from spies. The first is a basic rule of spying, which says spies should obtain sensitive infdrmation without letting the other side know it's missing. Otherwise, the other side could change codes, plans, defenses and tactics, to make the stolen information useless. "There are better ways of getting information than bothering a courier and letting him know you've got it," says Joseph Sagona, chief of the State Department's diplomatic pouch and carrier operations division. 'Hie second safeguard is iultniatio/ial State Department courier Steve Greenway, left, double checks his manifest with his chief, Wayne Hoshal AP Nowsfeatum Photo the United States without inspection," says Wayne Hoshal, courier chief, "and his country gives our'courier the same privilege." Or, as Sagona puts it, "If you don't bother our couriers, we won't bother yours." • U.S. couriers carry letters from the secretary of state identifying them as couriers and asking that they be allowed "safely and freely to pass . . . without examination of official property." But, just in case, couriers take precautions. While they put their pouches into baggage compartments on American planes flying overseas, on some fqreign planes they buy extra tickets and stack their pouches on the seats around them. On .their increasingly rare trips by train they still lock their pouches inside their compartments. Some couriers have been known to barricade their hotel room doors with furniture when the locks wouldn't work. Unless they know the recipients of their pouches they demand identification. And if it appears their material for "safehand delivery" might fall into the wrong hands they destroy it. In Soviet block countries they travel in pairs. The Soviets reciprocate: their couriers travel two-by-two in the West. U.S. couriers claim an unblemished record. Never has there been an attempt to steal an American pouch, says Hoshal, and, except for those destroyed in plane crashes, none has been lost. The job means long hours, in hotel rooms and in the air; tight connections and late planes; irregular meals; 40 cities in 23 days; 24-hour days and seven- day weeks; the full range of restaurants, from the best to the dingiest; no drinking on duty; early rising. And no' serious mistakes. Couriers aren't allowed to marry during their first year, to give prospective wives a taste of what it'll be like with their husbands gone nearly all the time. And girls who do marry couriers tell about their men sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night, sweating and dreaming about missing pouches. Couriers complain about too little rest and not enough security — particularly at foreign stops, where one courier says embassies send drivers to meet them who aren't security cleared. By way of renumeration couriers get $8,098 a year to start and $10,088 after five years. Couriers, or roadbaggers, as they call themselves, can tell you the best places to eat, to shop, to hunt, to fish; and best mountains to climb; where to spend your vacation;; or what it's like to visit Dr. Albert Schweitzer on your day off. For a vagabond, like Jack Grover, 52, who carried pouches for 20 years before he got married and retired last month to write a book about couriers, it is a great life, During leave time in the 182 countries he visited Grover photographed wonders from the Great Vault of Ctesiphon to the Building with Eyes at Katmandu. He climed the Matterhorn, Fujiyama, Kilimanjaro, Popocatepetl, Misti, Joske's 'Jhunib, Demsvend and the Mountains of the Moon on the eastern This tag identifies this pouch as diplomatic mail for U. S. embassy in London ^0^' ! ' *»1$$$<&$s;, 'i-^j^S^^^^ a ceremonial headdress froth Mall. On the wall is an ancient Balanese caten- dar. His apartment is filled with Souvenirs. Grover held every major post in tht courier service. He designed a golden eagle for its emblem, won two Of its awards and syndicated a column about his travels. He wouldn't trade his experiences. But he concedes: "We all have had our bad moments. Most of them are concerned with the hazards of travel. Any courier who's been in for any length of time has had things happen. We all realize we were pushing the law of averages." Take Manuel Salguero, whose plane crashed in Trinidad. He lived, retrieved his pouches, remembered his expense account back in the flames, retrieved it and discovered the pilot and several passengers still in the fuselage and rescued them, too. James Dean walked away from his plane after it crash-landed in the Brazilian jungle 200 miles from his destination. So did James Conley when his plane fell and burned in Rome; Robert Day after his plane crashed on takeoff in Nicaragua; Gerald Grunwald when his airliner went down outside Baghdad, and Tom Taylor when his plane caught fire and crashed near Windhoek in Southwest Africa. But the law of averages caught up with Homer White, whose plane left Accra on Dec. 4, 1945, and hasn't been seen since; James N. Wright, whose plane fell into the ooean off Lisbon; and Richard Dunning, Willard Fisher and Joseph Capozzi, all killed in Africa. The odds nearly got Frank Irwin when his Yugoslav airliner fell into the Vienna woods. "We missed the airport by 15 miles," Irwin says. "We ripped off the ail section and took off part of a wing. We skidded through the treetops spewing people out. "I had one small pouch in my jacket pocket. There was another one under my seat, but I couldn't get it out be- • cause it was jammed in and my seat was twisted around. "The door was jammed, so I went out. through the aft section. It was burning. "I fiad to roll down the hillside to get away from the plane, because my legs were giving out and it was the only way I could get my fire out." Irwin's right wrist was broken. His seat belt had snapped his pelvis. He'd hit his head, and his glasses were gone. U.S. Navy Capt. Oscar Dodson found hjm near the road. He thought the wrecked plane was Russian, so he spoke in Russian. "My instant reaction," says Irwin, "was I didn't trust him. "'I'm a Navy captain," he told me, and he showed me his American papers. But I held onto the pouch in my coat pocket. I asked him to call the American Embassy and tell them that courier Frank Irwin was on the crashed plane and to get a security officer out as soon as possible. I had a pouch to deliver. "I declined the captain's offer to assume responsibility for the pounch and I kept trying to hold out without taking .any indication, so I could hang onto it. "But finally the pain got so bad I was afsaid I was going to pass out. So I gave my passport and my watch and my valuables — and the pouch — to the captain. "I didn't have much choice." Irwin fainted. A security officer arrived from the embassy, and Dodson gave him the pouch. It was safe and sound. But Irwin remained in critical condition for eight days. He won the State Department's highest honor for "devotion to duty in the protection of a classified pouch regardless of personal safety and welfare." And then there was Horton Telford, who was on an airplane from Switzerland to Rome when Italy declared war on Greece in 1940. He was bound for Athens and Istanbul, but all transportation had stopped at the Greek frontier. He took a train to the border at Djevdjelija, hired .porters to carry his pouches and walked over the mountains to Quevali. During lunch Italian planes strafed the town, and the porters scattered. Telford crawled into a ditch with his bags, waited the air raid out and took a train to Athens. On the train a woman accused him of pulling a gun on her and reported that he was a spy and had bombs on the train. "When we finally got the matter straightened out the officials apologized profusely and departed. I carried no gun," he said. , Police questioned him (or hours when he got to Athens. Finally he set out for Turkey in a car. Rain flooded the countryside, and his car became stuck in 9 mud hole. So he hired an oxcart and rode with his pouches to a railroad station, where he flagged down the Sofia- Istanbul express and rode it into the Turkish capital. Ik- pulled his bags inside the embassy

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