Visiting My Personal Map of London Prior to Tomorrow's Meetings
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Visiting My Personal Map of London Prior to Tomorrow’s Meetings

by | published June 26th, 2019

It seems I end up in London more than any other foreign city.

There are always tangible reasons for each return. Travel here is not for leisure, but the city also provides a comfortable feeling that comes from many years of familiarity.

Upon landing this morning, I once again feel the routine setting in.

I used to live here in my younger days, and even now some things are hard to shake off. Once again, the memories start flooding back.

And since my meetings don’t start until tomorrow, I thought I would take you along on a brief stroll down memory lane, or at least my London version of it.

Open your maps, ladies and gentlemen…

My Beginnings in Counterintelligence

I may have begun my intelligence life on the Mekong in Vietnam, but London was the first foreign location in which I cut my teeth on Cold War operations.

For an extended period, this city was my base – the first location outside the U.S. in which the three parts of my professional life (academic/scholar, energy/security analyst, and counterintelligence officer) came together.

Here, I had appointments as a resident fellow at The British Museum and the Centre for Strategic Studies, while also serving as visiting faculty at the London School of Economics (and Political Science, lest one forget its full official title). The energy and security part centered about The City (the financial district close by St. Paul’s Cathedral) and Birkbeck (now Birkbeck, University of London) in Bloomsbury. Intel gravitated from what was then the U.S. Embassy on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, earlier known as the Chancery Building.

This was the embassy I remember:


Source: U.S. Department of State

Since January 2018, the diplomatic mission is in its new “cubist” location across the river at Nine Elms:


Source: U.S. Department of State

About time.

“My” embassy was a terrible building in which to work – cramped offices that were cold in the winter, hot in the summer and things were always breaking down… and we had a background symphony of constantly clanking pipes.

That old building has been purchased by a real estate venture group from Qatar intent on turning it into what London apparently needs most: another five-star hotel. Good luck guys!

At least in my time, the White Elephant was further up the square and a welcome release. A fabled watering hole that appeared in nobody’s guidebook, this was where British, American, and Canadian intelligence officers (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS, had its London station on the other side of Grosvenor) could let hair down without worrying about starting a war or who might be taking notes.

As an aside, for years there was a location having a very similar function in what was then a Howard Johnson’s in Tysons Corner, VA just down the road from Langley. It’s now a Wyndham Hotel and, while there is still a bar, it’s not the same.

Anyway, as it happens on this trip, I will be staying about halfway between the new embassy and the gaudy edifice at Vauxhall Cross on the Thames. This is the home of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the British external espionage agency.

If there were a Guinness World Records category for the government building having the most wasted space, Vauxhall would win hands down.


Source: SIS

Smelling Horses and Security

During my initial posting to London, MI6 was somewhere else entirely. Here:


Source: WordPress.com

This is Century House, Lambeth, not far from Vauxhall Cross and on the same side of the river. And in my day, it was one of the dreariest and depressing looking places imaginable.

Among other peculiarities, it had no single elevator that went all the way to the top. You would have no idea from the outside what was going on in there if it were not for the armed security personnel who would suddenly appear and whisk you to the other side of the street or the briar patch of antennae visible on the roof.

It also was next to the Horse Guards stable, conveying a memorable smell throughout the building, especially during the hot summer months. The picture above shows what it looks like today – an (expensive) apartment building. The horses are also gone.

I still have my favorite pubs (the “public houses” keep class consciousness alive even in modern Britain; you can always tell if you have walked into the wrong crowd), know the place to get the best fish and chips (at The Albert in Victoria – they call it the “Cod Father”), visit former neighbors in Kensington whenever I am in town and feed the swans on The Serpentine before walking down to the famous Speaker’s Corner at the far end of Hyde Park.

Each time I come here, there is a different agenda. And that remains the case this time around.

The Agenda for Tomorrow’s Meetings

Tomorrow, June 27, my private meetings commence surrounding the annual Iraqi Petroleum Conference held in a venue close to all the above buildings.

I also have a part to play in the formal proceedings at the conference: on the 29th, when Iraqi ministers announce the initial energy and infrastructure project tenders for areas around Kirkuk and Mosul taken back from ISIS. My responsibility will be to provide public commentary on ways to lower financial risk in the projects.

But it is the side bar meetings here over the three days that will be most important on this trip. There is to be a tight lid on what transpires.

Veteran readers of Oil & Energy Investor know about the Chatham House Rule. It allows one to disclose conclusions made in discussion but not to ascribe a particular opinion to a particular named person. The Rule governs our annual Energy Consultation at Windsor Castle and will be strictly adhered to at my meetings starting tomorrow.

In the case of what will be transpiring here in London, even the names of the people attending will have to be withheld. Nonetheless, there will be much to talk about.

Because we will be addressing the crisis in the Persian Gulf, the state of the security implications there, how the energy market has been changing in response to events, and where the movers and shakers believe energy investment is moving in response.

I’ll give you an update on what has taken place next time and set the stage for my sessions on Monday and Tuesday with a whole different group of players at a very different location.

Sincerely,


Kent

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