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Harry Barnes: In an Episode Right Out of “Get Smart”

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.


BARNES: There were other ways of keeping track of us. One day, during my first period there, probably early’69, one of my colleagues appeared at the door in my office making gestures to get my attention, obviously not talking and I looked rather puzzled and he made this gesture and I handed him a piece of paper and he wrote, “You are on the air.”

Somehow my voice had been picked up elsewhere in the embassy and broadcast. We couldn’t figure out; was there a microphone somewhere in my office? Was that how they were doing it? It didn’t seem for various reasons to be it. Then my colleague said, “Go to another office and let me check and see whether it’s you or whether it is something in place (in the office),” through a certain amount of triangulation and so on. We came to the conclusion it was me that was broadcasting!

I was asked, “Is there anything different about you today?”

I said, “Yes, come to think of it, I am wearing a pair of shoes that I just had repaired and had new heels put on.” Experimentation determined that there was a microphone in the heel of the shoes. I had sent them out with our maid. She’d come back and I’d put them on one day and then when I started to walk around the house, they didn’t feel comfortable. One heel felt a little bit higher so I sent them back and when they came back they were OK but that of course, gave a clue to as to where to look.

People have told me they have gone through a security course at the Department and that my shoes are on display. Dick Davis wrote back to SY [Office of Security], “We at least sent the shoe in, don’t you think you ought to reimburse Harry for the price of new shoes?”

The Department response was, “We will replace the one shoe.” He finally persuaded them to pay for a pair of shoes.