Kissinger’s new book “On China” reminds me of the only time I met him. As a young Foreign Service officer on his second assignment, I was working in the State Department INR watch office, which monitored incoming intelligence reports. While he was Secretary of State during the Ford administration, Kissinger was holding Middle East peace talks. One quiet Sunday afternoon while Egypt’s Sadat was in the US, we got a highly classified intelligence report that there was an assassination plot against him. We in the watch office and the operations center debated about whether we needed to tell Kissinger, who of course was in negotiations with Sadat. We decided we should tell him. He was in the State Department building, and his secretary said to come down and brief him.
Because the report was so highly classified, State Department rules were that you had to carry it in a locked briefcase, even if just walking a few yards from the Operations Center to the Secretary’s office. So, I took my locked briefcase down to Kissinger’s office. His secretary said he was meeting with Assistant Secretary Phil Habib in a small conference in the back of his office suite, where they were discussing the peace talks with each other. I went back and found them. I started unlocking my briefcase to show them report, and Kissinger said, “Just tell me what the report says.” So, I said, “There is an assassination plot against Habib.” Phil Habib looked up at me incredulously, and I said, “No, no, I mean against Sadat.” And they said something like, “Okay, thanks.” and that was it.
Sadat, of course, was not assassinated then and not for several years afterwards, but he lived under constant threats of assignation for all those years. As far as I know, Phil Habib only lived under an assassination threat for about ten seconds.