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Murder in an Embassy, Part II — Paranoid Psychotic or Faked Insanity?

On August 30, 1971, Alfred Erdos murdered his assistant, Donald Leahy, at the small American embassy in Equatorial Guinea. Delusional and paranoid, Erdos accused Leahy of being part of a massive Communist plot against the U.S., tied him to a chair in the communications vault, and stabbed him to death with a pair of scissors. While awaiting trial, he frightened secretaries at the State Department by waving a pair of scissors in front of them. His trial, however, brought to light alleged homosexual contact between the two men and questions about his apparent psychosis — had Erdos really gone mad, or was it all a fabrication to make the stabbing seem less heinous? Ambassador Hoffacker (who oversaw the embassy at Equatorial Guinea) details the contentious trial in this continuation of his account.  Read more

Murder in an Embassy, Part I — “I am not losing my mind”

A Communist plot, a gruesome murder, a maniacal dictator:  all were elements in what would seemingly be the scandal of the decade, if not the plot of a Hollywood thriller.  This all-too-real incident, however, has largely fallen under the radar, as only a few now can vaguely recall the remnants of something approaching an urban legend:  the story of one Foreign Service Officer who murdered his co-worker in a far-off embassy somewhere in Africa. Read more

The KKK’s “Coup Attempt” in Kenya

Kenya of the late 80’s was essentially a single-party state, with the president holding almost complete control. President Moi ruled from 1978 through 2002 and worked to crush movements among academics to initiate democratic reforms. Two failed coups d’état were attempted almost simultaneously in 1982, and then just a few years later the Kenyan government publicized a letter asserting that the Ku Klux Klan was attempting to overthrow the Kenyan government. Elinor Constable, who was Ambassador to Kenya from 1986-1989, recounts the discovery of this letter and the kidnapping of an American citizen that followed. Read more

Zimbabwe — The Death of a Nation

On April 18th, 1980, Southern Rhodesia, the richest nation in Africa, officially gained independence from the United Kingdom and established majority rule for the first time in its history. Anti-colonial freedom fighter Robert Mugabe became the new president and the country was renamed Zimbabwe. Keeping a hold on power through rigged elections, intimidation and violence, Mugabe subsequently ran the country’s economy, health and education sectors and food supply into the ground.

In 2000, the government introduced a fast-track land reform program in which war veterans and other Mugabe supporters marched on white-owned farms and seized the land, killing many in the process. Much of this land was redistributed not to the black poor as was intended, but to Mugabe’s cronies and other party supporters. Read more

The Suez Crisis — And A Different Side of Nasser

Gamal Abdel Nasser was one of the most influential modern-day leaders in the Middle East. As part of the Free Officers Movement, he helped overthrow King Farouk I in 1952 [read about the U.S. embassy’s response to the 1952 Cairo riots] and began modernizing Egypt. He took a hard-line approach towards Western domination of Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. On July 26, 1956 he announced he was nationalizing the Suez Canal Company.

This came on the heels of strengthened ties with the Soviet Union and recognition of the People’s Republic of China, which in turn led the United Kingdom and the U.S. to withdraw funding to build the Aswan Dam, seen as integral to Nasser’s plans for modernization. Nationalization of the Suez Canal Company prompted an attack by the Israeli, British, and French military forces of Sinai and the bombing of Cairo with the objective of reestablishing Western control of the Suez Canal as well as removing Nasser from office. Read more

Combating Blatant Racism during an Evacuation from Liberia

The process of evacuating a country is filled with unexpected challenges. Many of these are logistical, while others include safety concerns that arise as a result of the unstable conditions. In this excerpt from a November 1995 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, Ambassador James Bishop, Jr. discusses a different type of challenge: a social issue wherein racism and domestic politics complicated the evacuation plans. Read more

A Book you can Swear By: Becoming Ambassador in the Most Unusual of Circumstances

Traditionally, U.S. government officials put their hand on the Bible for their swearing-in.  In recent years, some have used alternatives, such as the Qur’an or the U.S. Constitution.  In June 2014 Suzi LeVine was the first ambassador to be sworn in on an e-reader. Ambassador Peter de Vos, however, had nothing readily available when he was rushed off to Liberia in 1990, set to take over the post in the midst of a raging civil war.  Read more

The Headache That Is the Fourth of July Party

The Fourth of July is a celebration of the United States’ independence.  It is a day of family, friends, food, and a few beers.  However, this is not typically the case for those representing the United States overseas.  When the time comes, members of an embassy overseas are charged with putting on a big party to showcase the American pride and unity that comes with this historic day.  Yet, these parties often come with more headaches and fake smiles than one would expect. Hosting a Fourth of July party comes with the responsibility of representing the United States to the host country; this type of party could help mend or, possibly, worsen relations between the two countries. Below are a collection of stories from Fourth of July parties all over the world, including an embarrassing speech in Zimbabwe in front of former President Carter, the clever ways ambassadors signal guests that it’s time to go, and a well-meaning, but criticized, hot dog reception. Read more

Escape from the Congo

During the Congo Crisis (1960-1966), which began after the colony was granted independence from Belgium, the province of Katanga declared itself a sovereign state. The situation in the Congo became so grave that in November 1961, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 169 to remove foreign military and other personnel not under the U.N. Command, “including the use of the requisite measure of force, if necessary.” In response, the Katangan gendarmerie planned an offensive against the UN peacekeepers and set up roadblocks to isolate UN units from one another. This prompted another major UN military operation, launched on December 5 to take control of strategic positions around Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi), which resulted in heavy fighting and casualties. Amidst all of this, Terry McNamara had to evacuate all Americans from Elisabethville at the end of 1961. Most of the evacuees were missionaries, who managed to test his patience and diplomatic skill with their vacillating and even ingratitude. Read more

Did he do it?: Navigating the Alleged Murder of a Kenyan Prostitute

An unfortunate, but not uncommon, part of a consul’s job is to help American citizens who are in distress — and often not of their own doing. Robert Gribbin, who later served as ambassador in the Central African Republic and Rwanda, was assigned to set up a consulate in Mombasa, Kenya, where he had to deal with an American who was unfairly charged with the murder of a prostitute. Coincidentally, he is one of the select few Foreign Service officers who also had to deal with a “delegation of prostitutes” as part of his official duties. Read more