|It was seven oclock on a Thursday morning when I first walked into the American Embassy on the sea front, a few hundred feet from the monument where Vasco Nufiez de Balboa stands looking proudly out at his great discoverydiscovery for Europeansthe Pacific Ocean. The instruction of the junior political officer began. My boss the First Secretary explained what I already knew; that there were normally three officers in our section but for now there were just the two of us, plus Natalie Worcester who had worked there for years. She was married to a Canal Zone teacher, and she was both our stenographer and the person responsible for preparing our biographic reports on important Panamanians. She was quiet, and she knew a lot. |
So what was I supposed to do? Reporting and representation, the boss explained briefly. He and his wife were planning a reception for my wife and me, the following week, to introduce us to a number of influential people. I thanked him. Meanwhile, he said, today was a weaker day. At least that was what it sounded like in his Louisiana accent; but I knew that he meant Weeka. In those days before optical character readers and computers made it possible to send cables faster than we could write or read them, embassies were instructed to send the department a summary and assessment of the local political scene, once a week, by diplomatic pouch. This was the Weeka, and of course it was supplemented by cables on urgent matters and by longer despatches reporting on various subjects in detail.
My boss said he would show me how he composed his, or rather our, Weeka. I could start helping the following week. It began with the scissors.
There were four or five American intelligence agencies, civilian and military, operating on the Isthmus of Panama. Each sent a lot of reporting to Washington on recent and potential Panama events, and they copied our Embassy with their reporting. My chief found it convenient to snip pieces from the various reports as they came in during the week. Then, on Weeka day, he would combine these snippets, using Scotch tape, with little paragraphs he pounded out with two fingers on his typewriter. Thus was the Weeka constructed. By late morning there were four or five pages of it, which the master let his apprentice read. What the master typed largely summarized the reporting in Panamas numerous and generally unreliable newspapers. My chief had very little of his own to contribute. He handed the mess to Natalie to type in final form as a despatch to the department, and invited me to join him for a sandwich in the Embassy snack bar. Next day, he said, he would introduce me to an informal Friday luncheon group which included some of the Embassys most reliable contacts.