I must tell you about this. For those who hate to hear of Government waste, perhaps you should stop reading now.
I grew up in a family of nine kids and was raised to appreciate everything you had. Food was a gift not to be wasted, and we felt lucky to get a belly full of food. It was Pop’s hard work and business ethics that provided for us. We learned not to complain, nor did we have a right to.
My core job is protecting the classified information of the US Government, so when there is a visit by a high level official, if that individual wants to read classified material, we have to be there to protect its access.
Last week, there was a NATO summit in Antalya, Turkey. Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to be there, so we had to be there. If he should want to read a classified cable, it would be our job to keep it secured.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, comprises of 28 countries of North America and much of Europe, was formed on April 4th, 1949. Once a year, they have a summit to listen to each other ramble on.
The Summit was at a 5-star resort on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Weeks before, people from Washington DC and Brussels, Belgium, where NATO resides, came to survey. Usually, there are several pre-pre-survey teams that arrive. Then the pre-survey teams arrived followed by the survey teams. I kid you not. There are many people who make special trips just to survey the 5-star hotel to see if it will be good enough for the Secretary of State and his entourage.
In addition to the Sec State and his people, there will be a magnitude of support people. Security, networking, clerical, transportation, baggage handlers and the typical gophers. All these require rooms to stay in with meals and incidentals. Also included in this will be flights and vehicle expense. Diplomatic Security had a half dozen people there to protect the Secretary. Local guards from the Turkish Embassy and Consulates were there to protect our Ambassador to Turkey who would be attending. I was told there was an issue with rooms, because the advance team requested 80 rooms and could only get 30. This was just for the Secretary’s entourage!
The week previous, 6-10 people from the Embassy went down to Antalya to start preparations. The networking crews installed internet in a room with printers and computers just to use as a control room for operations, and secure connections were in place.
My task was to set up cameras in a corridor of the hotel where the Secretary will stay, leading to where classified information was kept. Cleared Americans came in and set up a series of computers and printers. Copy machines were brought in and set up. Food, bottles of water, clerical supplies and furniture were brought in. Individuals printed up signs designating which way was what and hung clocks on the wall showing the time in Washington DC. Every contingency was studied to make sure nothing would go awry.
It took me a few hours on one day and a few on the next to do my work. Included in that was setting up the recording and monitoring system where several Marines would be posted. The resort I stayed at was next door and it was a 10 minute walk from one to the other. So, once my job was complete, I sat out at the pool bar with cigar and drink until it was time to go and undo all I had done.
When the day arrived for the dignitaries to start arriving, about noon that day, the hotel/resort went on lock-down. Only those having the previously acquired security badge were allowed to enter. I would love to have taken pictures of all this, but it is extremely uncomfortable to take pictures of the local Jandarmas (local police with no sense of humor) standing around in body armor holding automatic weapons. As vehicles rolled in, each was inspected by nervous dogs and armored security people.
I had just finished the last installation of the cameras and headed out the hotel. I passed dignitaries coming off the elevators with baggage, entourages and bodyguards wearing bulging overcoats. As I continued through the lobby passing the concierge, reception and out the front door, I clashed in dress. Everyone wore three piece suits and shiny shoes, whereas I wore denim jeans, dirty tennis shoes and a Ronnie Eaton T-shirt; but damn, I felt good not being one of them.
The Secretary arrived at 2am that night, flying directly in from Moscow. He attended an 8am breakfast giving his speech, then left to catch a flight at 10:30. Eight and a half hours.
That was it. It was over. Everyone jumped up and down on the success of the visit. In everyone’s hotel room, gifts were placed commemorating the Summit. That day, I removed my setup, packed it up, loaded it in the vehicle and headed home. Got to Ankara and went back to work.
There were all the other countries who participated in the Summit, but the Sec State visit was the only one we were there for. Still, I was amazed at the amount of time and resources for a quick 8 1/2 visit to Turkey.
Several years ago, while working in Moscow, we witnessed a visit of the President of the United States. This visit to Antalya was pale in comparison to that. I am truly amazed at the waste associated with these visits, and will always be. My dad, who grew up and survived the Depression, would be astonished if he were alive.
For all you good people, keep your head up and kick butt. D.