Feed on



The years leading up to the autumn of 1979 in Iran proved to be turbulent, resulting in a radical transformation of the nation. The U.S had backed the semi-absolutist monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, even when the increasing popularity of Islamic fundamentalism, Iranian Nationalism, and opposition to western influence exploded, culminating in protests against the Shah in 1977. The Shah used increasingly brutal tactics to suppress rebellion; his actions only further inflamed the revolutionary fervor of the populace.

Organized armed resistance began in 1977. The Shah fled the country on January 16, 1979, leaving a provisional government in power. Meanwhile, the fundamentalist leader Ruhollah Khomeini, who had lead opposition movements before his exile, returned and resumed leadership over the revolution. Khomeini rallied his forces and disposed of both residual royalist troops and the provisional government that ruled in the Shah’s name, thus formally establishing himself as Supreme Leader of the new Islamic Republic. Rival factions were subverted, and Revolutionary Guards roamed the country to ensure the preservation of the new order.

After the Shah left Iran, he became ill with cancer and was granted medical asylum in the United States in the October of 1979 with the reluctant approval of President Jimmy Carter. Many Iranians viewed the Shah as a war criminal and demanded that the U.S hand him over for trial. When the U.S government refused, a group of revolutionary student protestors rallied outside the U.S embassy in Tehran to demand justice.

On November 4, 1979, students scaled the walls of the embassy and broke into the compound. Fifty two U.S diplomatic personal were captured and held hostage for what would become 444 days. The Khomeini regime welcomed the new-found leverage against the U.S. and Khomeini deployed the Revolutionary Guards to round up any American personnel that may have escaped into the city.

Kathleen Stafford served as a visa clerk in the U.S consulate center within the U.S embassy in Tehran during the revolution. She, along with her husband Joseph Stafford, Robert Anders, Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek and Lee Schatz, escaped the initial breech of the embassy. The escapees divided into two groups to avoid attention.

Stafford and her group evaded capture by moving from vacant house to vacant house before finding a more lasting refuge at the homes of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and Consul General John Sheardown, who welcomed them despite great personal risk.  The group would remain guests of the Canadian diplomats for almost three months until a CIA extraction operation lead by Tony Mendez, made famous by the movie Argo, allowed them to escape Iran on January 28, 1980 by posing as a film production team. The movie was criticized by Ambassador Taylor, who died in October 2015, and others as discounting the role the Canadians played. Kathleen Stafford was interviewed by Marilyn Greene in 2012.




While America was evolving into a more gender-equal society at the end of the last century, conflicts could arise when female Foreign Service officers went abroad to lead diplomatic missions in countries whose foreign contacts were not used to seeing women in positions of authority. This sometimes led to uncomfortable situations. It was the perseverance, forbearance and common sense of these women in pushing past the stereotypes to get the job done that paved the way for a new generation of female FSOs.

Anne Cary was among them. A native Washingtonian, she joined the Foreign Service as an Economics Officer in June 1974. She served at the State Department in the Operations Center, the office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs and other domestic assignments. Overseas, Anne was posted to Brussels, Port-au-Prince, Paris, Addis Ababa, New Delhi, and Casablanca.

Anne Cary overcame gender bias to have a fulfilling career as a Foreign Service Officer, becoming the first female Consul General of Casablanca (1992-1995) and balancing a series of demanding jobs in the State Department with life as a wife and mother.

Anne Cary was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in November 1995.





Among the challenges of serving as a U.S. diplomat in the USSR during the Cold War years of 1945 to 1991 were the certain knowledge that one’s words and actions were being monitored and reported back to the host – and often hostile – government. Intelligence gathering was carried out by both sides to learn about the other’s intentions, technological advances and military capabilities.  Diplomats served under restrictions in terms of the people they could meet and the places they could go, and U.S. officers knew that wherever they went, agents from the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or Committee for State Security) would surely follow.

James E. Taylor and his wife Louise Pfender Taylor were U.S. diplomats stationed in the Soviet Union from 1974-1976. They experienced the KGB’s watchful eyes during their tenure, realized their apartment was bugged and were mistaken as being spies themselves by a grievously disappointed Russian contact.   Charles Stuart Kennedy interviewed James Taylor in December 1995 and Louise Taylor in January 2001.



When Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD, it famously engulfed the Roman town of Pompeii and, less famously, the richer town of Herculaneum. Both places sat under 50-60 feet of volcanic ash until they were rediscovered in 1748. In contrast to Pompeii, the hot gas and rock flow preserved Herculaneum’s organic-based objects, such as wooden roofs, beds, doors, and food. Until recently, it was believed that almost all of Herculaneum’s inhabitants had been able to evacuate.

However, in the 1980’s, some 300 skeletons were surprisingly discovered along the seashore. This was an incredible archaeological discovery and would lead to greater insight into the lives of the Romans. However, the dig ran into serious financial difficulties. Fortunately, one American diplomat was able to get the National Geographic Society involved. Herculaneum is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Walter J. Silva recalls his time in Naples as a political-military officer and discusses the chance encounter that led to his involvement and the sad loss of one of the site’s more unique finds. Charles Stuart Kennedy interviewed Silva beginning in January 1995. 



Harry Barnes had a distinguished Foreign Service career spanning 35 years, serving as Ambassador to India, Romania and most notably Chile. In this excerpt from his oral history, Ambassador Barnes recounts a story of surveillance and footwear in Romania that was mentioned in his Washington Post obituary.



Many stars are (in)famous for the lists of must-have items that are to be stocked backstage or in their hotel rooms. During one tour in London, Barbra Streisand demanded rose petals in the toilet and 120 peach-colored towels. Mariah Carey wants gold faucets and new toilet seats installed in her room before she checks in. (We won’t even go into Van Halen’s reputed liquor requirements.) But such demands aren’t limited to those in the entertainment business. Many Foreign Service officers have had to endure visits by high-level officials who have a seemingly endless list of incredible requests. Tom Stern served as Administrative Counselor in Bonn in the mid-1960’s and had to deal with one of the political rock stars of the era, President Lyndon Johnson.

LBJ’s penchant for shower heads was well-known, as shown in this brief Vanity Fair article.




Two decades of ethnic tension and a civil war in 1990 laid the groundwork for one of the most savage episodes of wanton slaughter witnessed in the past half century. The day after the airplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the president of Burundi was shot down, the Rwandan military responded to the deaths of the two Hutu presidents by starting a murderous campaign to eradicate all the Tutsis they could reach. Thus the Rwandan Genocide began on April 7, 1994, as hundreds of thousands of innocent people were massacred in only a few short months. Robert Gribbin, Ambassador to the Central African Republic at the time and Ambassador to Rwanda in 1996, and Joyce Leader, Deputy Chief of Mission in Kigali from 1991 to 1994, recount the background of ethnic hatred that led to the explosion of violence, their experiences as the genocide broke out, and the massive evacuation they had to oversee to get foreigners out of the country. Gribbin and Leader were interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2000 and 2003, respectively.



Getting a new embassy up and running is a tremendous task, especially when the host city has an annual average temperature of thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Joseph Edward Lake was the second U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia, and the first to reside permanently in the country. He was charged with establishing a functional embassy in Ulaanbaatar and coordinating greater communication between the U.S. and Mongolia.

Mongolia was historically a socialist state with very strong ties to the Soviet Union. The U.S. officially recognized Mongolia on January 27, 1987, and the first embassy was opened the following year. In late 1989, Mongolian students engaged in large protests against the government, leading to a call for democratic elections the following year. Ambassador Lake oversaw the first democratic elections and the coordination of U.S. and international aid for Mongolia.

Lake served as Ambassador to Mongolia from 1990 to 1993. He recounts his experiences in a 1994 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy.


A Hamilton for Henry


When Henry Kissinger became Secretary of State in September 1973, he declined the usual Diplomatic Security (DS) protective detail, preferring the protection of the Secret Service as he was already under its protection as the head of the National Security Council (NSC) and had a good relationship with the detail leader, Walter Bothe. His wife, Nancy, on the other hand, was quite satisfied with the DS agents attached to her detail. Bruce Tully, who was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, is a veteran of both the Secret Service and Diplomatic Security and was one of the agents on her detail.



As General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev authorized the release of thousands of Soviet Jews who wanted to leave the USSR. In 1986 only 914 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate; by 1990 the number was 186,815.  A group of about 11,000 who had been denied emigration visas were known as refuseniks. Natan Sharansky, a spokesperson for the refuseniks during the mid-1970s, helped draw global attention to their desire to leave and to human rights abuses in the USSR. Arrested on charges of espionage and treason, in 1978 he was sentenced to 13 years of forced labor. His wife Avital led an international campaign to free him.

Under pressure from President Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev released Sharansky on February 11, 1986. Sharanksy moved to Israel, where he founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party and later represented the Likud Party, serving as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Israel.  He continues to be active as the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »