A friend who worked overseas and at HQ sent me this story of when he worked for Jack Vaughn as the Peace Corps Liaison Officer to the Department of State.
“I was invited to a meeting at State,” he wrote. “When I got into the room, there were some 15 different agency representatives seated around a large round table. The person at the head of the table was acting as its Chair — probably from State’s Intel Services. He posed this question: ‘Which agency here has access to what is going on in the villages of our world; which agency has people in the field that speak their languages; which agency has the most credibility with these villagers; which agency can report back to us on a regular basis in reference to what’s going on out there that we need to know about?’”
“As he moved his finger around the table, the Dept. of Labor representative would say something like, ‘Not our people, we are only in the capital of countries.’ And the Dept. of Commerce guy would say: ‘We are only there to represent international trade issues.”
“And so it went, with no one claiming to have the answer — but without me saying anything.”
“Finally, the Chair said ‘Okay, let’s quit this cat and mouse game.’
“Looking at me, he said, ‘We all know it is the Peace Corps that has Volunteers out in almost every village in the world and that it speaks their languages, and that it can help us here, right? You need to be on our team here . . . this is very important to our nation!”
“Right,” I responded, “our Volunteers can provide all that you are seeking, but they can’t and won’t. Your office needs to look for another source of intelligence on this issue. At that, his face flushed.”
“I was easily the youngest officer in the room and my comment must have sounded impertinent to him. He said: ‘Well, we’ll see what Secretary Rusk has to say about your response to our request. I want to assure you of that.’”
“The manner in which he spat out my last name for effect told me that the Chair must have been a military officer at one time in his career.
“I went back to PC headquarters and requested to see Director Vaughn immediately. I was shown in. He kept me standing in front of his desk while I reported. Without hesitation, he picked up a red phone on his desk that had a direct line to Secretary Rusk, motioning me with his other hand to back off so he could speak confidentially.
“The conversation lasted well under a minute. Vaughn called me forward, saying with some emphasis: ‘and that is the end of that’. And … it was.”
In mid-2012, the Washington Post ran a story describing why the government of Bolivia had requested that all Peace Corps Volunteers be withdrawn. The article went through the events which brought this about, namely that the Volunteers were providing detailed information to our State Department’s Intelligence unit on the daily goings-on in various villages around the country. PC/La Paz and PC/W admitted to these facts, as did our Dept. of State in Washington. Given the tense political situation in the country at the time, its government felt that it would be better if all Volunteers were recalled, and they were.
The incident was further reported by Stanley Meisler’s When the World Calls, (pp 206-209), wherein he wrote that a La Paz Embassy Security Officer had asked Bolivian Volunteers to report information to him. The Deputy Director of Peace Corps/Bolivia stopped him, told the Volunteers not to do that, and complained to the American Embassy. But apparently, since the Embassy later admitted that it had been the recipient of such information from Volunteers, the Deputy Director’s complaint fell on deaf ears.
We need the next Peace Corps Director to have a red phone on his or her desk. A direct line to the Secretary of State. And the new Director needs to drop a dime on the Secretary. Inform him or her that the Peace Corps can expect the example of Bolivia to be repeated over and over again. There are far too many host country officials who don’t wish the Peace Corps well, and having it directly under the U. S. Department of State would lead to the accusation that Peace Corps Volunteers are simply “spies.”
The Peace Corps goes to developing countries to help, not to sniff around to find dirt on our hosts. PCVs are better than low-grade State Department spies. We’re Kennedy Kids.