Pot Shards

Title:                      Pot Shards

Author:                 Donald P. Gregg

Gregg, Donald P.(2014). Pot Shards: Fragments of A Life Lived in CIA, the White House, and the two Koreas. Washington, DC: New Academia Pub./Vellum

LCCN:    2014941748

JK468 .I6 G734 2014


Date Posted:      December 28, 2016

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[2]

Many CIA officers would be happy with a career summed up by the subtitle. But Donald Gregg also served in the Army Security Agency (ASA), was ambassador to South Korea, and after retirement taught at Williams College—his alma mater—and also worked with The Korea Society. Pot Shards gives a glimpse of these and other fragments of time well spent.

During his senior year in college (1951), Gregg was interviewed by an astute government recruiter who quickly decided he was best suited for the CIA: “they jump out of airplanes and are going to save the world.” (p. 17) He did that and more during his training at The Farm with his classmate Jack Downey; later, he would meet Downey in Japan, the night before he left for Korea, just prior to his ill-fated mission to China with Richard Fecteau.[3] They would be reunited many years later at CIA headquarters.

An early career challenge arose when his preference for an Asian assignment yielded a language course in Bulgarian. Before overcoming that obstacle by threatening to resign—an unusual step for a young officer—he introduced himself to a young lady in the CIA library, beginning a relationship that continues to this day and is an inspiring theme throughout the book.

After service on Saipan, training Asian paramilitary troops, Gregg spent several years in Japan where he learned the language, played tennis, and made important friendships. Then came duty at Headquarters on the Vietnam desk, two years in Burma, and a tour in Vietnam. The year 1970 began a memorable period, first as Chief of Station in Seoul, South Korea, then back to Washington—this time on the agency staff that dealt with the dysfunctional Pike Committee investigation and later serving under DCI Stansfield Turner. Gregg adds firsthand insights about this difficult period for the clandestine service. By the end of the decade he was on the National Security Staff under Brzezinski, and he remained there during the Reagan administration.

Gregg’s White House years are some of the most interesting of his career. He traveled widely with Vice President Bush and records a memorable account of the “missing brassiere” during dinner at 10 Downing Street[4]. He endured the Iran-Contra affair without career damage, and when Bush became president he appointed Gregg Ambassador to Seoul.

With the advent of the Clinton presidency, Gregg’s government career came to an end. But his service continued with The Korea Society, a non-profit group dedicated to improving relations between America and Korea. His work there also led to six “unofficial:” trips to North Korea, and his account of those experiences casts new light on that enigmatic country.

Pot Shards closes with some thoughts on the “Dangers of Demonization” (pp. 311ff) in international relations and some personal reflections that are well worth considering. All agency careers are unique and Don Gregg’s was one of the most noteworthy.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance—at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 124). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at  https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no4/two-cia-prisoners-in-china-1952201373.html

[3] The story of the decades-long imprisonment of officers Downey and Fecteau in Chinese prisoner-of-war camps is told in the 2010 film, Extraordinary Fidelity, and in the unclassified 2006 Studies in Intelligence article, “Two CIA Prisoners in China, 1952-73,” on which the film is based.

[4] See chapter 19 of Pot Shards, “Denis Thatcher and the Missing Brassiere.” “After all the guests had gone through a receiving line, Mrs. Bush approached me with a wicked gleem in her eye. She had noted that a handsome and sometimes aggressive female guest…was wearing a low-cut and very loose-fitting gown. Mrs. Bush said,, “Don, you know [pseudonym]. She has forgotten to put on her brassiere, and I want you to go over and remind her.” …As soon as possible, I checked [pseudonym] and saw that Mrs. Bush had been correct.” President Bush makes an unpresidential comment on the lady at dinner.

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