Irene Worthington Baron

BURMA-INCIDENT

BURMA INCIDENT

 What happens when private individuals in another country want to contact the President of the United States?

This happened in Southeast Asia in 1969. At that time I resided in Bangkok. I worked for Battelle Memorial Institute and was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency, Research & Development Center, Supreme Command Headquarters, Thailand.

 CIA MAP OF BURMACountrymen in Burma wanted to know if the United States would recognize them as the new government representatives of Burma if they had a successful coup and overthrew the current government. They didn’t want to go through the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. They said they had been informed there was a “spook” at the embassy, meaning a double agent. There was someone working both sides of the fence.

They felt if they contacted the American Ambassador, or anyone in the American Embassy, they would be compromised. Word would get out to their Burmese leader as to who they were and what they were about. Doing so would result, they said, in death when they returned to their country. They were not even supposed to be outside of Burma. They were very secretive about who they were and where they were staying in the city.

During his enlistment in the United States Air Force, my former husband, due to his excellent language skills, had been assigned at times to work with NATO. During those times he became acquainted with many high ranking officers.  It was this connection which drew the Burmese people to him. They needed to pass information to the President of the United States. A former officer with contacts to generals and other high ranking officers could accomplish that.

My husband was contacted by Mr. Jim Beck, an in-country representative for General Motors. Mr. Beck, who is now deceased, worked with many different persons in numerous night clubs and had various contacts throughout Bangkok. He asked my husband if he would meet with some Burmese people trying to arrange a coup in Burma. The president of the country at that time was an extreme isolationist and created much hardship on the part of the general population. These individuals seeking a meeting were trying to open the country up for businesses to grow and prosper in the international market, in addition to other concerns. They were also troubled with the welfare of the populous.

The meeting was arranged. Jim, my husband and I, and the Burmese contacts attended the meeting which took place in a night club. We had to ensure we were not followed, and that no one knew what we were about. The whole affair was very secret. We were asked to not discuss this information with anyone before, during or after the event. 

The night clubs of Bangkok are very different from those in the United States. There are no lights inside Thai night clubs except for where there may be an entertainment area. There is no bar where you can walk up to get drinks. You have only waiters.  The man who escorts you to your seats uses a flashlight aimed at the floor to find a small and narrow path between the 12-inch diameter cocktail tables. Four or more small chairs would surround each table. There were no exit signs anyplace. Inside a normal Thai nightclub, if you could see everyone, you would count over 200-persons sitting butt to butt in a small area. If any emergency took place, like a fire, no one would know where to go to escape. That’s why in such places when a fire occurs, hundreds of people die. I went to one night club and found it so worrisome; I never went to another until this secret meeting.

This night club of the secret meeting was more elegant than the run of the mill night clubs, in that it had nice chairs and lighting adequate enough to walk without a waiter lighting your way. You could see persons at other tables 4-5 feet away, but it was so dark, you couldn’t tell who they were. No one talked, they whispered. The nightclub owner was sympathetic to the Burmese men and gave us every consideration. He had arranged our table and comfortable chairs so they were further away from everyone else to give us privacy.

Jim, my husband, and I were seated awaiting the Burmese countrymen. When they arrived, all but one of the men went into a separate room prepared for them to talk quietly. I sat with the other gentleman at the table. During the meeting, my husband was given a written message to pass to the President of the United States. The event took less than 30-minutes.  As soon as the men greeted one another, a discussion took place with reassurances given. The message was passed. When the Burmese men left, Jim departed in one direction and my husband and I left through the main entrance. 

During the next day, my husband found out the location and address of the Air Force officer he wanted to use to pass the message to the White House.  He called the officer and discussed only that he had a message for the President and asked if it would be carried personally. The officer agreed to walk the message to the President. The next day the message was sealed and sent on its way.

About ten days later the answer was received. It was secretly passed from person to person until it was in the hands of the individuals planning the coup. The answer given by our President was “NO.” The United States would not recognize those persons preparing for a coup within the country of Burma. The men had to stand down in their attempt. The coup therefore never took place.

What was impressive was that these men from Burma wanted the opinion of the President of the United States and not any other country. They felt if the new government they installed would be recognized by the United States, it would also be recognized by the rest of the world. That respect gave the United States much honor.

I thought that was the end of the affair … until I returned to the United States a year or so later. Persons I knew from different states inquired to find out what I was doing overseas. Granted, I couldn’t tell them as I signed paperwork stating that I would not discuss what I did with anyone. We had been instructed to not discuss our mission with family members, friends or acquaintances. Even when Congressmen came on their fact finding missions we were not to tell them what we were doing. We were to be polite but vague if asked direct questions.

Evidently, the President wanted to know who my husband and I were and how we came to be involved with people from Burma. Previous to this event, we had been off the political grid. Of course the Ambassador knew me. He had a daughter my age. At different parties and events we would discuss politics. Since Jim Beck was not part of the message pass, his participation had been ignored by the US government. They didn’t know about his involvement.

The President wanted to know how deeply involved we were with these Burmese nationals and their coup. He wanted to know how and why we were contacted and all the details. But, NO ONE EVER ASKED US.  Instead, they asked everyone else and told them not to discuss the conversations.

One businessman in my Midwest home town stated he was drilled for almost three hours by two men from the FBI. The FBI wanted to know everything about me, who my friends were, where I worked, and every fact that could be recalled. They then went to interrogate all the persons whose names were brought up in the discussions. The web enlarged.

Friends in Nebraska said the same thing happened to them. Local people didn’t know what to think about the whole incident and were frightened about the grilling they received. They were worried I was doing something illegal and they didn’t want to get involved. I never knew any of this took place until I returned to the states and people asked, “What in the hell were you doing over there?”

The only time I was personally questioned by the FBI was earlier in my career. I had studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris where I lived as a student in 1961. The dormitory where I stayed kept no record of my habitation. The FBI agents investigating to check out my background for security clearances needed proof /more information. They came to visit me in my Bangkok office at the ARPA building (now DARPA). The gentlemen were polite and considerate. I gave them all the information I could at the time. My Top Secret clearance came in soon after, so I assumed they were successful in that info quest.

I figured with all those people being interviewed about me, there should be some files someplace with my name on them. When the public was finally allowed to access documents within the government, I sent a written request to see if there were any papers in the CIA or FBI with my name on them. The answer was a negative. After all that? Really?

:-)

Comments

WOW! I could sit and listen to these tales all night...such an adventure....

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