Where are my ex-secretaries of state?

I began the week reminiscing about my travels with four secretaries of state, so I thought I’d end it by answering another question I’m frequently asked: What happened to the three secretaries I covered before Hillary Clinton? Starting with the most recent, they are Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

I’ve also been asked often about the differences between those former chief U.S. diplomats, especially during travel. I usually point out an obvious similarity among them first: None of them is a white male. In fact, the last secretary to fit that description was Warren Christopher, who left office in January 1997, when Albright ended the centuries-old tradition.

Embassy bombings spur security boost

It was lunchtime on April 18, 1983, and the cafeteria of the American Embassy in Beirut was buzzing with customers. At about 1 p.m., a powerful blast tore apart the front of the seven-story building. The bomb, hidden in a van reportedly stolen from the embassy 10 months earlier, killed 63 employees, including 17 Americans.

It was the first time that a U.S. embassy had become a terrorist target, and it forever changed the way the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the State Department’s law-enforcement division, operates around the world.

“The bombings of the embassy in West Beirut in 1983 and of the embassy annex in East Beirut in 1984 were a major catalyst for creating the Bureau of Diplomatic Security,” which oversees the DSS, said John C. Murphy, special agent in charge of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s protective detail and a DSS agent for 29 years…

Natural-born misfit

Milos Forman has never rebelled against his films being labelled “quintessentially American” — he is just not a revolutionary type, he says — but the Czech-born director passionately dismisses such categorisation every time he is asked about it.

“For me, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is a Czech film, because when you are young in a communist country, all you dream about is breaking free,” he says of his 1975 film set in a psychiatric hospital, which earned him his first Oscar and established him as one of the world’s most prominent film-makers.

“Hair” (1979), another Forman movie now considered a classic, “was about young people rising up against the status quo — something we all dreamt about under communism but didn’t dare to do,” says the 70-year-old director…

Albright’s final bow

Madeleine Albright is almost shouting. She can’t hear me any more, she says. The noise on her aircraft has, indeed, become more deafening; but she also seems to be deliberately avoiding my question, and with good reason. This very moment is probably her happiest as secretary of state because of “the most important thing that has happened” during her nearly four-year tenure.

She has just received news about the Belgrade revolution and the ousting of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and here I am, asking how she feels about having to leave office in three months. We’ve just spent a 30-hour day, having saved six hours by flying east-west from Egypt to Washington, and she says that’s exactly what she intends to continue doing for the rest of her term — “working every minute and extending the days”…