by Robert Morrison
March 7, 2013
In a recent column, my colleague Ken Blackwell and I raised an alarm about the appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA. We are deeply concerned when a top American intelligence official sends a signal to the entire Arabic-speaking world that the city he loves most is al Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
Ambassador Ken Blackwell served at the highest levels in America’s diplomatic corps, working with the legendary Max Kampelman on human rights, negotiating with the Soviets in Moscow.
I served at the lowest levels of negotiation—with the Soviets on their fishing trawlers in the Bering Sea. But Ken and my perceptions of the Soviet Union and of today’s threats to religious liberty are remarkably congruent.
My service in the 1970s was as a Russian language interpreter. My skills have become as rusty as those rusting hulks I used to board, but I remember some essentials about language interpretation.
One of Ronald Reagan’s very skilled Russian language experts told me before I ever set foot on board a Soviet ship never to let the other side drive the conversation. When you let our adversaries do the translation—even if they are more skilled in English than you are in Russian—you surrender the initiative. It’s the reason Americans don’t want the football to be intercepted.
Reagan’s adviser told me that Sec. of State Henry Kissinger made it his practice to enter into high stakes negotiation with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko attended by only one interpreter—a Russian. The Reagan man taught me what a disastrous idea that was. Gromyko, who understood English very well, had plenty of time to calculate his answers while his interpreter was taking notes on the translation.
When everything hinges on the meaning of a single word, a single foreign language phrase, you want Americans doing that translation.
Which is what makes John Brennan’s statement that the city he “loves most in the world is al Quds” so alarming. How many Americans would choose a foreign city, even one so beloved as Jerusalem, as their favorite city? But if they chose Jerusalem it would be because it’s the city where the Temple was built or the city where Jesus walked and rose from the dead. Then, would they call it al Quds?
John Brennan in his very convincing Arabic-language address to an appreciative audience said “don’t tell the non-Arab speakers what I said.” It was said in a humorous vein, obviously, but it still gives us a chill—or should.
I would sometimes go off script. To ease tensions as we set foot on what was legally Soviet territory, I would cheerily call out “Ribaki fsyeck stranh soyedyenyeetyes!.” It was a joke: “Fisherman of the world unite!.” It was a play on “Workers of the World Unite!” That was the first line in the Communist Manifesto and the banner of the Communist Party newspaper, Pravda. (It was also a nod to Scripture, where Jesus calls us to be “fishers of men.”)
During my time as translator, I spent hours faithfully interpreting what my Coast Guard seniors wanted translated to the Soviets. And I was always careful to keep my senior officers informed of whatever the Soviets were saying to me—or to each other.
The idea of using my skills to keep a secret between those Russian speakers and me is repugnant. I cannot dream of saying—even in jest—don’t tell the non-Russian speakers what we’re saying.
To be able to speak a foreign language is a great gift, especially helpful in ministry. Americans would be helped if we spoke more foreign languages. But we must never use this strength to talk behind our countrymen’s backs.
We are seeing the unraveling of America’s national security. Barack Obama was close friends with Frank Marshall Davis, a lifelong Communist. This Grove City College professor Paul Kengor has admirably shown. John Kerry negotiated—in violation of the Logan Act—with Vietnamese Communists in Paris.
With known associations like that, these men could have been banned from setting foot on my cutter. And those were not Ronald Reagan rules, or even Eisenhower rules. The security regulations that governed these matters were set in place by liberal Democrat Harry Truman.
Let us pray the Senate will follow the brave lead of Sen. Rand Paul and reject this dangerous nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA.