Brick Autry advanced the throttles on the left console of the cockpit and taxied the aircraft to the center of the runway where he would remain until given approval by the tower to take off. He felt a little guilty about sitting in the pilot’s seat of an F-4 Phantom rather than at his desk in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. In a matter of seconds, he would light the afterburners of this powerful aircraft and repeat a procedure he had completed nearly one thousand times in the past. Every time he was airborne, he experienced the thrill of flying as much as he had the first time a neighbor took him up as a twelve-year-old in a small propeller plane. The world looked so peaceful and beautiful from three thousand feet above the ground. This is what he was born to do. Why he ever entangled himself in the political world of the nation’s capital was a question he always asked himself whenever he had a chance to fly.
An air-force first lieutenant who would serve as Brick’s navigator was strapped into the rear seat of the Phantom. The young officer was excited about plotting the path of the airplane halfway around the world on a seven-thousand-mile flight to Amman, Jordan. He was also feeling lucky to get a mission assisting a senior officer who had become somewhat of a legend in the air force.
“You ready back there, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir. All navigation systems are good to go.”
“Boxer Six, you are cleared for takeoff. Winds are from two nine zero at ten knots. Contact departure control at two thousand feet AGL on channel two. Have a good flight, Colonel.”
Brick firewalled the throttles, lighting both afterburners, and the Phantom powered itself into the air, leaving a tidal wave of fumes and sound behind it. The climb-out was uneventful, and the aircraft made a smooth ascent to forty-one thousand feet as it headed eastward over the Atlantic Ocean. Two hours into the flight, the navigator guided Brick to a rendezvous point with a KC-135 tanker. The tanker would serve as a flying gas station for Brick’s airplane as it made its way toward the United Kingdom. Brick flew on the wing of the KC-135 for three hours, engaging the flying boom that descended from the rear of the larger airplane twice as they crossed the ocean, refilling the body of the Phantom with the fuel needed to make this long trip. About eight hundred miles west of the English coastline, the KC-135 did a 180-degree turn and headed back to the United States. Brick and his navigator flew the final leg unaccompanied, and made it to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base without incident. At Mildenhall they would get something to eat, take a shower, and catch eight-hour sleep before repeating the aerial ballet with a second tanker that ferried them over Europe and the Mediterranean Sea to Israeli airspace. At that point, air controllers in Tel Aviv vectored Brick to his final destination in Jordan.
Brick touched down on the runway of a Jordanian Air Force Base just ten miles outside of the capital city of Amman. He followed a small pickup truck with a sign on the back that said, “follow me,” to a spot on the ramp where he was to park the jet. After shutting down the engines, a mechanic pushed a mobile walkway up to the Phantom so Brick and his navigator could deplane. When his boots hit the tarmac, several Jordanian Air Force officers stood at attention and rendered a salute. They made this gesture of respect in the style of the British military, with the tips of their right hands touching their temples but the palms of the hand facing forward. Brick returned the salute in the custom of the American armed services and then reached out to shake the hand of the senior officer standing before him.
“Colonel Autry, I am Wing Commander Saeed Khalidi. I am to escort you to see King Hussein. Our maintenance people will service your aircraft, and one of my junior officers will escort your navigator to the quarters we have reserved for your visit.”
“Thank you, sir. I look forward to seeing the king. I have brought a dress uniform with me. Is there somewhere I can take a quick shower and change?”
“Oh no, Colonel Autry. The king gave me orders to bring you to him straightaway. The king is also a pilot. He won’t have any problem talking to a man who just spent six hours in a flight suit. This way, please.”
Brick was ushered into the backseat of a black limousine with tinted windows. The car left the air base and drove at high speed to a palace about seven miles away that served as a residence for the king. Once there, Wing Commander Khalidi escorted Brick through a beautiful garden to a terrace behind the palace. Sitting beside a reflecting pool was the king of Jordan. As Brick approached he saluted the king, who returned the salute and shook Brick’s hand. “It is great to see you again, Colonel Autry. You look well. It seems that working in Washington hasn’t been an overwhelming burden on your health.”
Brick laughed. “I’m not so sure about that, Your Majesty, but it is certainly an honor to be with you again.”
The king was a short man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair and a moustache. He had a warm smile and was very fit. He had been educated at the Harrow School in London and graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, so he spoke English with a British accent. Brick had spent several days with Hussein in Belgium when the king was a guest observer for a NATO conference. He had found him to be an intelligent and thoughtful man and was impressed by the moral compass that guided the king’s thoughts and opinions. In many ways, Hussein was not your typical king.
Brick sat down with Hussein as servants scurried about, placing cold drinks and platters with fruits and nut breads on the table in front of them. When the servants retreated to the house and they were alone, King Hussein began to brief Autry on his reason for requesting his presence in Amman. “About three weeks ago, a KGB agent who was working in the Soviet embassy here in Amman fled that location and asked representatives from our intelligence service for political asylum in Jordan. The defector had only been stationed here for a little over three months but for personal reasons had decided that she wanted to stay here and become a Jordanian citizen.”
“She? The agent is a woman, Your Majesty?”
“Yes, it’s a woman, and her defection is causing quite a rift in our relationship with the Soviets. As you know, we have a firm and undying connection with the United States, but we also try to keep our relationship with the Soviet Union on a positive note. We purchase military equipment from the Russians, and we occasionally receive humanitarian aid from them that helps with the flood of Palestinian refugees we protect within our borders. The Soviet embassy is demanding the woman’s return, and they are using what leverage they have to make our decision to grant her asylum as painful as possible.”
“If you are being squeezed by the Soviets, you must have a good reason for keeping her.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good reason, Colonel Autry, but it’s certainly an existential reason. General Sharif Abdullah is the commander of my army. He has developed a personal relationship with this female agent, and I understand this relationship to be the primary reason for her defection. It is problematic because Sharif is also my cousin and a Bedouin. Our army is overwhelmingly Bedouin, and this tribal connection provides a fierce loyalty to my cousin and to me. As the king of Jordan, I must be sensitive to the traditions embodied in that culture, and it would be difficult for me to order my cousin to deliver the young lady back to the Soviets.”
That’s a tough spot to be in, thought Brick. Even a king has to keep a constituency happy. He decided not to offer an opinion and waited for Hussein to continue.
“I told my cousin that we would stand behind the young woman and allow her to stay in Jordan. But I made it clear that she would have to be debriefed by our intelligence service about her past experience working for the KGB. We would obviously want to understand Soviet intentions regarding Jordan and other countries in the Middle East, and if she had information that could be useful to our American allies, then I would want that data passed on to the CIA. That interrogation was competed two weeks ago, and in the course of that dialogue, your name came up.”
“My name, sir? This woman knew my name?”
“That’s correct, Colonel Autry. It seems that she worked for a very senior officer at the Committee for State Security in Moscow. That man had mentioned your name to her. When I was made aware of this fact, I decided to request your presence so that you could have an opportunity to speak with this agent in person. From what I have been told, I think you will find here story to be quite interesting. You may take as much time as you need to interrogate the defector.”
“Your Majesty, I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I look forward to meeting with her.”
“Fine. I have arranged for you to meet tomorrow morning. In the meantime my military aide will get you settled in a guesthouse and have some authentic Jordanian food delivered to you. I hope you will have a restful sleep and recover from your long flight to my country.”
“That’s very kind of you, King Hussein.”
The king stood and asked Brick to walk with him around the garden and reflecting pool that was situated behind the palace. They began to chat, and Brick quickly realized the king had another reason for wanting him to come to Amman in person.
“I’m a military man, and he’s the commander in chief. I just follow orders.”
Hussein smiled. “That’s a very by-the-book answer, Colonel. I’ll assume that my sources are correct and proceed accordingly. Please, have a seat.”
They stopped and sat at a small table that looked out over the verdant garden surrounding them and also provided a view of the barren desert in the distance. The contrast in color was striking. Two glasses of iced Turkish tea flavored with mint had magically appeared on the table as they approached—the work of a servant who knew how to stay out of the way. The king continued, “We will clearly see a decrease of assistance from the Soviets as a result of the issue with the female defector. Beyond that, however, we have significant needs that must be met if we are to continue to support the American push for peace in the Middle East and the resettlement of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Some of our needs are humanitarian in nature, and some are military. Although we do our best to support our Palestinian brothers, we must be mindful of the fact that members of the PLO are not necessarily our friends. We must be able to protect our sovereignty and control our borders. To this end we have an important request for aid being staffed within your State Department. I realize that all governments are bureaucratic, but our request is being bounced about like a soccer ball as the various factions within your executive branch, and Congress will try to decide the most politically convenient way to dole out foreign aid and military assistance. I believe I have shown a consistent commitment and support to the United States for several decades. This intelligence-gathering gesture I have just made to you is further evidence of my willingness to work with your country. I would like to know, Colonel Autry, that your appreciation for my loyalty could be rewarded by an effort on your part to speak with President Reagan on this subject of Jordanian aid. I believe he listens to your opinions very carefully, and I would like your help.”
Brick thought back to General Jim Young’s advice about guarding his relationship with Reagan. He never anticipated that a king would be the one putting the strong arm on him to leverage that connection. “Your Majesty, I think your request would be better put to Mr. Woodson, my boss. He is, after all, the president’s national security advisor.”
“I have no faith in Mr. Woodson, Colonel Autry. He has never led men into combat. He has not survived warfare and the humiliation of being a prisoner of war. He has never been in a position where he had to give his life for his country. You have done all those things. My faith is in you, as is the faith of your president.”
Brick took a breath and thought for a moment before answering the king, “Your Majesty, I give you my word that I will present the issue of Jordanian aid to the president. I will not be an advocate or a detractor regarding the Jordanian request. I can only be an objective presenter of the information.”
King Hussein nodded and smiled. “As-salaam alaikum.”
Brick responded, “Wa alaikum as-salaam.”
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