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Diplomacy in Cold Blood: Fatal Encounters Around the World

An American citizen abroad accused of murder: this is a particular nightmare for consular officers. These cases can become public scandals and political quandaries, and it is the job of American Citizen Services to ensure that Americans accused of major crimes beyond U.S. borders receive appropriate treatment in accordance with international law. If an arrested American citizen requests that authorities contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate, they must do so. The consular officer will visit the detained person in jail and contact family, friends or employers with the  prisoner’s consent. The consular officer will also try to make sure the citizen is getting appropriate medical care. What they can’t do is get U.S. citizens out of jail overseas, provide legal advice, serve as official interpreters or pay legal, medical, or other fees. Many Foreign Service personnel have had to deal with murder abroad – by fellow Americans, local despots and other killers – during the course of their careers.

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Charlie Wilson’s Warpath

Congressman Charlie Wilson was a twelve-term United States Democratic Representative from Texas from 1973-1997 who was known by his (in)famous nickname “Good Time Charlie.” A self-proclaimed “ladies’ man,” Wilson embraced his hard-partying image, claiming that his constituents knew they were not electing a “constipated monk.”

Despite his playboy persona, Wilson was known for his passionate anti-Communism. He famously fought to increase U.S. funding and support for the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which was later described in a book and movie, both titled Charlie Wilson’s War.  Congressman Wilson made several trips to neighboring Pakistan on fact-finding missions – sometimes accompanied by one of his attractive “Charlie’s Angels.” Read more

The U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands gets Addicted to Pac-Man

July 2016 saw the explosion of the global phenomenon Pokémon Go, where people walk around town (and often into traffic or ditches) trying to catch various animated creatures that look like they are actually sitting there in front of you. (If you really do believe they are in front of you and not just on your smartphone, please seek medical attention immediately.) While many welcome this as a fun way to get out off the couch and others see it as another Sign of the Approaching Apocalypse, truth be told obsession with video games has been around at least since the 1980s and has even affected high-ranking government officials who ought to know better. Read more

Getting on the Seoul Train — The 1988 Summer Olympic Games

The Olympic Games represent the height of sporting diplomacy, with thousands of athletes transcending politics for two weeks as they represent their countries on the world stage. While the athletic spectacles entrance and amaze on television, without the behind-the-scenes political efforts and negotiations, there would be no Olympic Games. For many countries, hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to show the world its culture, hospitality, and innovation. The 1988 Summer Games served as just such an opportunity for South Korea, as they gave the world a preview of South Korea’s impending economic boom, as the country moved alongside Japan to become a leader in technological development.

Moreover, the 1980 and 1984 summer Olympic Games, held in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively, were marred by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent boycotts.By 1988, there were no such issues and Seoul had one of the highest participation rates to date, with 159 countries and 8400 athletes attending. It also marked the swan song for Olympics powers the USSR and East Germany. as both ceased to exist before the next Olympic Games. Read more

The Day the Fountain Ran Dry: An Indian Duck Tale

As a Foreign Service Officer serving abroad, it is natural to become close friends with the colleagues with whom you share embassy offices; in many cases, they get to be like your family away from home. In the same way, any creatures which happen to be resident in diplomatic spaces become like family pets. As with every family, there are those who like animals and those who do not. It follows that if something happens to those creatures, there is bound to be trouble. Such was the case with the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, where jobs were nearly lost, ducks were kicked and ambassadors were insulted.

Former Ambassador to India William Clark Jr. (1989-1992) recounts the time when resident ducks were forced to depart the premises of the embassy. He was interviewed by Thomas Stern in January 1994. Read more

Alexander Haig’s Fall from Grace

A highly decorated military leader and influential political figure, Alexander Haig’s career, which included such roles as Supreme Allied Commander to Europe (SACEUR) and Chief of Staff to Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, culminated with his appointment as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State on January 22, 1981. As White House staff and Department of State personnel quickly discovered, however, Haig’s wealth of experience did not prepare him for smooth sailing in Washington or abroad.

Haig’s brash leadership style was met with growing frustration from within the administration.  During his one-and-a-half-year stint as Secretary of State, Haig’s approach toward Israel during the Lebanon War of 1982 and the developing dialogue between China and Taiwan over the One-China policy and arms sales helped to seal his fate. After repeated clashes with his colleagues over his operating style, Haig submitted his resignation on June 25, 1982 and was replaced by George Shultz less than a month later. Read more

The Battle to Create the Foreign Service Institute

The art of diplomatic relations and negotiations is as old as civilization itself. However, the State Department did not have any formal training facility until the Consular School of Application was founded in 1907. Then came the Wilson Diplomatic School (1909), the Foreign Service School (1924), the Foreign Service Officer’ Training School (1931) and the Division of Training Services (1945). By the mid-1940s, the need for an enhanced and permanent Foreign Service training center became apparent. As a result, Secretary of State George Marshall announced the establishment of the Foreign Service Institute under the authorization of the Foreign Service Act on March 13, 1947. FSI consists of five schools: Leadership and Management, Language Studies, Professional and Area Studies, Applied Information Technology, and the Transition Center.

For years, FSI occupied two increasingly inadequate high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Foggy Bottom. Read more

What Goes on Behind the Scenes When POTUS Comes to Town

One of the most daunting and stressful tasks a Foreign Service Officer abroad can face is supporting a visit by POTUS, the President of the United States. Concerns about security, cultural sensitivities, press coverage and political effectiveness turn such events into an all-encompassing, embassy-wide obsession from the day the idea of the visit is floated until “Wheels Up” when Air Force One departs. There’s plenty of drama, bruised egos, hurry-up-and-wait, and silliness in the planning and implementation of such a visit. The outcome can make or break a career.

A mark of a great FSO is the ability to support a presidential visit while maintaining a sense of courtesy and good humor, especially when demands from everyone from the pre-advance team to the press pool verge on the ridiculous.  Lloyd Neighbors showed his mettle when he was in charge of press arrangements for President George W. Bush’s October 18-21 visit to Shanghai for the APEC conference in 2001. Read more


As in so many other professions, integrity is the hallmark of a good diplomat. In most cases. As Henry Wooton famously said way back in 1604, “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country” (or, for you classics students, “Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum rei publicae causa”).

And while the examples provided below do not deal with lying, they do show diplomats using untoward language in the heat of the moment. (And if you didn’t guess already, yes, they do contain some raw, Not-Safe-For-Work language, so you have herewith been forewarned.)

Check out NSFW FSOs, Part I and then read Ten Things You Learn from a Hostage Situation

Return to Inside Foggy Bottom

Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Kissinger Sizes Up a New Colleague

Henry Kissinger is widely regarded as a brilliant thinker and foreign policy tactician. Nurturing, warm and fuzzy — not so much. When Mark Palmer first met Super K, looking for a job as one of his speechwriters, Palmer earnestly told him, “I’ve read all of your books. I’ve virtually memorized them. I am certain that I can write in your style. And I am a Foreign Service officer and we (meaning the Foreign Service) have a right to be considered for any position and you’ve got to give me an opportunity to write one speech for you.”

Not surprisingly, Kissinger looked at an aide and dismissively said this.



Assistant Secretary Toria Nuland Offers Her Frank Assessment of the EU

Toria Nuland is known as an “undiplomatic diplomat” for her honest, upfront way of dealing with other diplomats. Which many people find refreshing. Unless you happen to be someone or something that displeases her. In 2014, Ukraine had just experienced massive protests against the Russian-backed government and was on the verge of losing Crimea to a de facto Russian invasion. Nuland’s European colleagues did not stand up to Moscow as they should have, which led her to utter these immortal words (for which she had to apologize later).



William Watts tells Al Haig and Henry Kissinger he’s quitting

William Watts, who at the time had been promoted to the position of White House Staff Secretary for the National Security Council under President Richard Nixon in 1969, worked closely with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. Watts became increasingly disillusioned with the administration’s policy in Vietnam and the planning for an invasion of Cambodia.

Despite his opposition, Watts discovered he was going to be the person overseeing the operation. He then decided to resign and had a fiery confrontation with Kissinger, who told him “Your views represent the cowardice of the Eastern Establishment.” That’s when Watt came up out of his chair and tried to hit him. Haig then looked at him and said, “You have had an order from your Commander-in-Chief and you can’t refuse.” Watts looked at him and said this.

Ambassador Urges Air Force Pilot to Move It — Now!

In 1996, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 was hijacked by three men who wanted the pilot to fly to Australia. Although the plane was nearly out of fuel, the hijackers ignored the captain’s warnings. Out of options, the captain was forced to ditch the plane. Only 50 passengers survived. Ambassador to Mauritius Harry Geisel coordinated efforts to get the deceased Americans returned to the United States. This was no small feat given the incompetence of local authorities, the lack of facilities, and the obstinance of one particular NSC official, which caused the Ambassador to react in a less-than-diplomatic manner.


Ambassador Robert Ford Criticizes White House on Syria

In October 2011, Robert Ford, a career Foreign Service Officer and widely respected Arabist, was recalled from Syria due to what the State Department called “credible threats” to his safety. Although he was reportedly in line as the next U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, he left the Foreign Service a few months afterward to protest the Obama administration’s inaction in the face of growing atrocities by the Assad regime in Syria.

When his critics asserted there was no such thing as an Arab moderate, Ford offered an equally undiplomatic response.




An Exasperated FSO Tells Off His Ambassador 

Beauveau B. Nalle served for 30 years in the Foreign Service. After years of serving in Africa, he finally got a nice, cushy assignment at the U.S. Mission in Geneva, with his own staff, a large budget, and a fancy title. It should’ve been a dream job. Except his boss was a former used tire salesman who despised the UN and hated the Foreign Service. And because this was his last assignment and there was no real chance for promotion, he didn’t feel at all constrained in letting his feelings be known, as undiplomatic as they may be.

So when the Ambassador insisted Nalle bypass regulations, because “nobody has to know about this.” That’s when he lost his temper, stood up and uttered those words that many frustrated office workers wish they could say to their incompetent boss.



The Return of the King — Saud Visits the U.S.

Visits by dignitaries of other countries can be quite productive and even pleasant or, depending on the state of bilateral relations and the scale of faux pas, tetchy and awkward.

Such was the case with King Saud, who ruled over Saudi Arabia from 1953-1964 and visited the United States two times during his reign— an official visit in 1957 and an informal visit in 1962. The first visit had more than its share of tensions — a three-day visit stretched out to nine, an excessively large coterie with some Saudis sleeping in tents across from the White House.

But it was the second, when Saud was in the U.S. for medical care, which really threatened to set relations back, as President Kennedy had to be dragged to see the King, while the White House insisted on serving alcohol during the dinner — during Ramadan no less. Read more