It was almost a scene from a Grade B movie. The tall Texas congressman in his monogrammed, black leather cowboy boots threatening to cut off the funds of an embassy halfway around the world after it refuses to allow his girlfriend, a former Miss World USA, to ride with him on a U.S. government plane.
That was nearly two years ago and it wasn't a movie. It was another real-life scene from the life of flamboyant Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.) who last month made good on his threat.
Tucked away in the omnibus spending bill approved by Congress just before Christmas were two provisions engineered by Wilson to cut the number of government airplanes available to U.S. embassies around the world and to reduce the staff of the Defense Intelligence Agency -- the Pentagon arm that refused to give his girlfriend a ticket to ride. The story of Wilson, his travels and his eventual retaliation appeared in yesterday's editions of The New York Times.
The episode began in February 1986, when Wilson, his girlfriend, a reporter and a lobbyist friend flew to Pakistan for a closeup look at the war in Afghanistan. Wilson's troubles began when the VIP party arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad en route to Darra Adam Kheel in the mountainous northwest corner of Pakistan.
Embassy officials told Wilson that his girlfriend, Annelise Ilschenko, a former Miss World USA who was traveling to the war front with her fox fur and white, high-heeled leather boots, could not ride on the Defense Department's C12 airplane because she was not part of the official party. The C12, a military version of the Beechcraft Super King 200 airplane, is operated by the DIA for the embassy and its staff. The Pentagon services embassies throughout the world with a fleet of 33 C12s, 22 of them under the control of the DIA.
"Wilson was furious and had a snit about it," Kathleen Kiely said yesterday. Kiely, a Washington-based reporter for the Houston Post, accompanied Wilson on the trip. She said Wilson was so angry he told both the military attache and embassy officials that he might consider cutting their appropriations.
Kiely said Wilson expressed his displeasure "very vividly and openly." In the story she wrote for her paper at the time, Kiely said Wilson "went into a first-class rage" when told his girlfriend couldn't fly on the government plane.
Eventually, Kiely said, Pakistan's government provided the Wilson party with a plane for the flight to the Afghanistan border. Wilson, who has been a champion of the Afghan guerrillas in their war with the Soviets, has been well received by the Pakistan government during his frequent visits to the war front. At one point last year, the Naval Academy graduate spent several days in Afghanistan with the guerrillas.
Wilson was unavailable for comment yesterday. He had told The Times that his legislative efforts were just part of the routine budget-cutting process. He said he was a "non-vindictive person" and never directly threatened to cut Pentagon appropriations if the DIA air travel policy was not changed.
Charlie Schnable, Wilson's administrative assistant, acknowledged yesterday that "he does want to bust their ass, there's no doubt about it."
In last month's spending bill the Defense Department was ordered to cut six planes from the DIA fleet of C12s, thanks to Wilson's efforts. He also is credited with killing a provision that would have exempted the DIA from personnel cuts.
At one point last May, according to The Times, the Pentagon became concerned about Wilson's budget-cutting efforts and sent Lt. Gen. Leonard H. Peroots, the head of the DIA, to try to make peace with the congressman. The Times, quoting congressional officials, said Wilson told Peroots the matter was "above your pay grade."
A Defense Department spokesman said yesterday two C12s have been removed from the DIA fleet over the "strong objections" of the Pentagon. Maj. William O'Connels said the Pentagon was concerned because "there was never any testimony put forward" on the reasons for the cuts. He acknowledged that the DIA had refused to allow Wilson's girlfriend on the plane.
O'Connels said he did not know if the DIA policy was still in effect.