Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Tom Clancy Bombs Korea


Clancy Op-Center_coverRemember when renegade South Korean soldiers set off a bomb in Seoul during a festival and make it look like it was done by North Korea? And how the head of the Operations Center and the former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Gregory Donald had to prove that North Korea had nothing to do with it before the situation got hostile? No? That’s because it was only the plot of a 1995 Tom Clancy novel, inspired in part by the career of real-life Ambassador Donald Gregg, who served in the Central Intelligence Agency for 31 years, including in Korea, and was Ambassador to South Korea from 1989 until 1993. Here he discusses his 2002 visit to the Hermit Kingdom of the North and its attempts to understand the U.S. better, including by reading Tom Clancy novels. Gregg was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2004.

 

 

 

GREGG:  They said …“Why is your George W. Bush so different from his father?” I said, “Well, he is a Texan, and his father is a New Englander.” “Why is W so different from Clinton?” I said, “Well, you know in a democracy, that happens. Here you have continuity of leadership, so you don’t have to deal with that. Whereas, sometimes there is a real turn. I watched one at close range from Carter to Reagan. Clinton to Bush is the same kind of thing.”

“So why don’t you understand us better?” I said, “Well, I think because you are the longest running failure in the history of American espionage.” I said, “We couldn’t recruit you people. We could recruit Soviets; we could recruit Chinese.” He sort of swelled with pride.

Then this was funny. He said, “Are you wearing your Op Center hat when you are saying that?” I said, “What?”

He said, “You heard me. Are you wearing your Op Center hat?”

I said, “Are you referring to a very bad book by Tom Clancy?”

He said, “Yes, of course.”

This is what my wife calls an “airport-only” paperback written by Clancy and another guy named Steve Pieczenik, called Op-Center. The leading character is called Gregory Donald. He is former chief of station in Seoul and later ambassador. So it is clearly based on me.

So I said, “Well, I haven’t read the book. My wife has. Would you like her reaction?”

“Yes.”

I said, “Well, she doesn’t mind that I die an honorable death at the end of the book, but she hates the fact that I had a Korean mistress.”

That broke him all up. But I tell you that because it shows the sophistication of these people and the depth of their knowledge about us.

 

Not the Tom Clancy character
Not the Tom Clancy character

 

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