Diplomats have a justifiable reputation for being impeccably proper, bloodless figures whose passions get stirred by a good concerto, a stimulating dinner party, a good book. But diplomats are human too. After all, they do procreate just like real people; though, perhaps they have fewer progeny.
The U.S. State Department has a well deserved reputation for being manned by people who are morally irreproachable, temperamentally self-controlled and emotionally repressed. It is reflected in the cascade of grays and blues one observes in Foggy Bottom attire, the orthodox hair styling, the faces that don't register easily in one's memory. Family values of a progressive bent pervade the culture. Conformity is the creed. Norman Rockwell on steroids. Like nonconforming meerkats, the wild in behavior, the over-the-top eccentrics, the loners, the terminably weak, the wildcatters, the truly innovative and those who are too New York menschlich are either driven off the reservation or insidiously sidelined until their career comes to a premature end.
But sex is a fact of life. And, like it or not, Foreign Service folk can't escape it. The peccadilloes keep State's security cadre very busy indeed. First, let's categorize the broad rubrics of sexual behavior in the American Foreign Service:
- Midlife Adolescence: the married middle-aged male who suddenly finds himself in a sexual playground like Bangkok or Manila and loses it.
- The Poor Soul: the man or woman whom love has passed by and plunges into a marriage with a Third Worlder who recognizes a free ticket out of misery when s/he sees it.
- The Political Appointee Who Mistakes 'Diplomatic Immunity' for Diplomatic Impunity: When to mischief we bend our will, how soon we find the instruments of ill.
- The Gays: (a) those open about their sexuality (tending to be younger), and (b) those firmly in the closet (tending to be older).
- Sleeping With the Enemy: violators of the "non-frat" policy who have affairs with the nationals of hostile powers.
- The Nut Cases: exhibitionists, predators, the morally unhinged.
And there was the notorious case of a colleague who was sent packing from another Asian post because he had decided to divorce his generic American wife for a young Chinese woman with whom he had fathered babies. But the wife hung on and both women lived with him at the same time. This harem chief confided that what ticked him off was that the ambassador who made him depart was himself living with a local mistress.
It's a sad yet all too familiar tale. Middle-aged men tossed into overseas sexual playgrounds where any Western gentleman is a catch by dint of his income and passport. I lost count early on as to how many male colleagues I knew who dumped June Cleaver for Suzie Wong. There's something about women raised in traditional societies who know how to serve their men. They exhibit no pretense of gender equality, spend loads of time in the kitchen cooking up spicy curries, are often good in bed and just don't complain too much. Some were indeed bar girls. Others, however, were middle or upper class in their native countries. In my experience, most are smarter and sharper than the Caspar Milquetoasts they marry. Love is not so important to them as is security. And, though they pamper their men, they usually are the ones who call the shots.
A place like Thailand is great for self-deluded studs, but a hellhole for foreign women. Frustrated in love, many of the latter hit on the available bachelors within the embassy community. Being the target of such approaches over the years by both married and single Western ladies, I speak from personal experience.
The Poor Soul: How often one encounters the frumpy plain Jane with her new hubby -- an Ethiopian rock star half her age, the Paul Giamatti look-alike wed to buxom 22-year old Miss Ukraine. I recall the 40-something Foreign Service secretary who married a tattooed Fijian Hell's Angels Harley aficionado. A match made in heaven. The face-in-the-crowd mid-life consul, trained as a classical pianist, biggest suck-up in the Service, who fell deeply in love with a smashing young college-educated Korean girl. Like teen love birds, they were. Until she got her American passport. The first thing Miss Korean Beauty did upon landing at LAX was to file divorce papers. Another common scenario. You see, foreign spouses are entitled to almost instant U.S. citizenship upon marrying an American diplomat. Too many have discovered this Get Out of Teeming Developing World Free card. The ones with a trace of moral conscience might wait a year or two before ditching Mr. or Ms. Meal Ticket. Others, like the Korean babe, have it all scammed out and ditch their new mate as soon as the ink is dry on their shiny new eagle-embossed passport.
Political Appointees: Someone needs to collect 200-years of lore and write a book about the idiots who are allowed to buy United States ambassadorships. No banana republic rivals our diplomatic spoils system, a topic to which I plan to devote a special entry soon. But here are just two examples of political appointee ambassadors who were caught in sexual misconduct:
Former U.S. Ambassador to Norway Mark Evans Austad, an outspoken former Mormon missionary who hurled verbal attacks against a variety of Norwegian liberal institutions as well as the press was taken by police at a house where he was bellowing loudly and banging on a woman's door at 3 a.m. Austad claimed that, after hosting a cocktail party, he headed to a friend's house "to plan a salmon fishing trip," and the taxi had taken him to the wrong address. The police returned Austad to his residence.
Joseph Zappala, a wealthy Florida developer and fundraiser for President George H.W. Bush, was appointed ambassador to Spain despite his inability to speak Spanish. Zappala's tour in Madrid was marred when he took up with another woman, ending his 30-year marriage. "This guy's roaming eye for the Spanish ladies became very embarrassing for us in the career Foreign Service," said someone who served in Madrid with Zappala.
Gays: A senior protocol official was nabbed in a raid on a Washington gay brothel years ago. He faced a dual dilemma at that time: the shame and security implications of being outed as gay when it was not condoned, and the legal issues of being arrested as a john in a pay-for-sex situation.
Prior to the 1990s, homosexuality was grounds for exclusion from the Foreign Service. Enforcement, however, was spotty at best. Everybody had friends and colleagues known to be gay. It was no big deal. But the gays themselves were forced to remain in the closet. When the ban was lifted, gays organized themselves into their own Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. While younger FS members are open about their gayness, many of the older ones remain closeted, whether out of habit or whatever. The bottom line is the Foreign Service is a much friendlier institution for gays than in previous years, particularly since Secretary Clinton initiated some reforms to accommodate partners.
Sleeping With the Enemy: the national security agencies have what is called a "Criteria Countries List" comprising those nations whose intelligence services target our personnel (see "On Spies, Counterspies, Would-be Spies and Just Plain Losers - Part I"). A "non-frat" policy applies. Think: Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, etc. It is verboten to have romantic relationships with the citizens of such countries. Nonetheless. . .
There was the junior FSO who fell in love with an East German woman while posted in another communist country. The young female FSO who had a torrid romance with a Cuban man while serving in Havana. The embassy communicator who up and married another country's army officer while serving at a communist post. Diplomatic Security pulled their clearances, yanked them from their postings and placed them in dead-end nonprofessional jobs back in D.C. At least two were assigned to the Department's mail room. They got the message and quit. BTW, the guy with the East German lady and the woman who married the foreign officer enjoyed happy marriages outside of the Foreign Service.
Nut Cases: There was the USAID official who had a penchant for displaying his private parts to females who entered his office (yes, he was dismissed). And the admin staff sleezebag in one of our large embassies who coerced his local national female employees into sex acts with him in his office (got off scot-free; an all-too familiar crime in our embassies). The married, sixtyish political appointee Under Secretary of State who preyed sexually upon his female secretary (who filed a grievance action leading to his quiet dismissal). And there is at least one confirmed case of incest.
The U.S. Foreign Service consists of America's best in terms of brains, abilities and relevant knowledge. But its members are all too human just like the rest of us. No, Foreign Service personnel are not a bunch of kinky perverts lusting after the people with whom they work and associate. But funny things do happen in life. And the system is pretty good about policing itself. Messy adulterous affairs overseas often end up with the involved parties being sent back home, with a cloud over their careers. Our diplomats are held to high standards which are taken seriously.
I incorporate sexual escapades as described herein in my novels about the American power set and their many fallabilities. As you can see, you can't make this stuff up.
See also: Love, Romance and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service - Part II: Bombs and Bureaucrats