For those of you who have read my romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY, you know that I wrote about intelligence matters that took place in West Germany under U.S. military occupation.
I’d like to share here what actually happened to me after my security clearance finally came through in the summer of 1971.
I was now qualified for a GS-3 secretarial position at the 66th Military Intelligence Group. (My husband and I were stationed with the U.S. Army in Munich, where Mitch was an officer with the 18th Military Intelligence Battalion.)
My new job begins with a spy story. Sounds good, right?
I sign my life away concerning the military intelligence secrets I will be typing. It is the Cold War — and suspicions run high. I am under the same restrictions that Mitch is:
- Cannot enter East Berlin or take the U.S. Army duty train through East Germany to Berlin
- Cannot visit any Eastern European countries
- Must always be on the alert for any attempt to get me to work for THE OTHER SIDE
Before I start, Mitch and I go off for a week in Copenhagen to make up for our disastrous attempt to get to Copenhagen a year earlier.
(The occasion when we were dumped off the train late at night between Germany and Denmark because we had the wrong papers and Mitch might be trying to go AWOL. No, it did not do any good to explain that officers do not go AWOL from Germany.)
And since I made peanuts at my previous job at the Army-Air Force Motion Picture Service typing movie lists for the U.S. soldiers stationed on mountain tops in Italy, we can only afford to eat at Arthur Frommer’s suggested cheap places.
Picture this. It’s September 1971. Most of the American summer tourists have already gone home. Mitch’s hair is cut so short he broadcasts ARMY. And we are eating fish sandwiches in some second floor Frommer “special” where only Americans advised by Frommer would eat.
An older man with grey hair sits down next to us. In English he says, “I’ve just returned from visiting Russia. The people there are so nice. Serious. Not like the fun-loving Danes.”
Now the normal American tourist would shrug this guy off. A nut case. Mitch and I know better.
We touch knees under the table. A classic spy recruitment pick-up attempt. Right out of the pages of the military intelligence manual I had to read before signing my life away.
We gulp down our sandwiches and flee out of there. Where to? What if he follows? Quick. To Tivoli Gardens. We can get lost there among the amusement park rides and food offerings. Just like in the spy movies.
We run the three or four blocks and thrust our admittance money at the ticket taker.
For good measure, once inside Tivoli we dash hither and thither among the fun-loving Danes to ensure escape.
By the time we get back to Munich we do not report the incident as required. A week with the fun-loving Danes has clouded our judgment. Was it really a pick-up attempt? Maybe the guy was just a nut case.
I report to my new job. An American serviceman has gone missing, presumed recruited to THE OTHER SIDE.
My new boss — a GS-12 — jiggles the coins in his pocket and waits for news from the Austrian border with the East. This is not a case where no news is good news. There is no news.
I sit in a room with six men, two warrant officers and four civilians. Or perhaps it is the other way around, I cannot remember. My men are monitoring important activities, reports of which I type. Six copies — requiring five pieces of carbon paper — are disseminated, including one to the Munich branch of the CIA.
When I am not typing this important information that keeps Europe safe from communism, I am allowed to read.
Then the new colonel arrives. He reorganizes.
Two of the men and I are swept into a large room with an assortment of other men. The other four men in our unit are swept, for all I know, into a dustbin.
The fun begins. The highest-ranking man in the room is a GS-13. He spends his entire time discussing whether it was Taiwan in ’64 or Honduras in ’58 where civilians were required to wear uniforms.
Otherwise he allocates the Christmas gifts to friendly German nationals — liquor and perfume. These decisions take him an entire year.
One day he fires me. Just like that. No warning. Nothing. He is not even my boss. But my boss cannot save me because he is only a GS-12.
I need the money. I still have not gotten to the Eiffel Tower. I throw myself on the mercy of the artillery major who has just joined the group of merry men who sit in the large room with me.
(He is horrified that we paperclip our secret and confidential documents rather than stapling these as is done in artillery. He astutely points out that a secret document could accidentally get attached by paperclip under a non-classified document.)
With prodding from the major, the GS-l3 condescends to tell me why he has fired me.
“You do not answer my telephone.” The one that rings only on his desk, certainly not on mine.
“Heidelberg might be calling” — he means the GS-l4 who outranks him — “and I should have a secretary to talk to his secretary.” Mind you, he hasn’t asked me to answer his bloody telephone.
“And besides, when you have nothing to do, you read. How does that look for me if you are not busy?”
Ah, now we come down to the nitty gritty. We must keep up the appearance that allotting Christmas gifts takes all year. (Remember, taxpayers are paying his salary.)
The major negotiates a truce. I will answer the GS-l2’s phone and look busy. I am to read the army manuals when I have nothing else to do. (I can just manage to slip The New Yorker under the manuals.)
And I am to type the weekly report to the colonel perfectly. I cannot correct an error. Every time I make a mistake I must start the page over. Now I am a good typist, but not perfect. Typing the weekly report fills a great deal of time.
Also I smile at the GS-12. I say “good morning, sir” and other such “polite” nonsense.
And two months before Mitch is due to get out of the army, I resign so we can use up our remaining leave.
On a tight budget we finally tour Western Europe, including the Eiffel Tower, and stay in a Paris hotel that turns out to be a brothel.
© 2013 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks, including TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO MARKET YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON AND FACEBOOK and the romantic suspense spy story CIA FALL GUY.
She also has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the co-founder of the online marketing company www.MillerMosaicLLC.com