An Iowan who served overseas as a U.S. ambassador says he was “surprised” there appears to have been “not much security” at the U.S. consulate in Libya.
Ken Quinn served as U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia from 1995 to ’99 and he calls the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya a tragedy.
“I was shocked that there weren’t Marines there,” Quinn said Thursday afternoon. “…And in a place like Libya where there’s been all this fighting and everything, I would have thought there would be American security.”
In 1997, while Quinn was an ambassador, Quinn and his family were attacked in Cambodia at his residence which was being guarded by unarmed Cambodians.
“All of a sudden an explosion hit right outside the window, narrowly missed coming into the living room where we all were. An explosion blew all the windows and then suddenly automatic gunfire erupted all around the house,” Quinn said. “Turned out the light, threw the kids on the floor and my wife and I laid on top of them — to protect them.”
Quinn and his family escaped and, ultimately, Quinn was able to rent a hotel ballroom in Cambodia as a refuge for U.S. citizens.
“The city had been ablaze with the fighting…We had gotten all the American citizens there. I beat the French ambassador to rent the ballroom so we had a place for our citizens to go and everybody was safe and I came over from our Embassy. American citizens were out there and they applauded me,” Quinn said. “What better feeling could there be in your career than to have your fellow citizens thank you for protecting them?”
Quinn, a native of Dubuque, entered the U.S. diplomatic corps in 1967 and had a three-decade-long career in the foreign service. According to Quinn, one of the hardest things to predict is when a demonstration will spiral out of control as has been the case recently around some U.S. embassies.
“We had people trying to come over the walls in our embassy in Cambodia and it’s that moment of, you know, if you’re pushing people off, trying to understand those forces and predict,” Quinn said. “How can you predict what’s going to happen?”