Friday, June 26, 2015

UFOs, Washington, men's magazines, and Mario Biaggi

In 1978, I was a Foreign Service officer in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in the Department of State. I was an authority on the political leadership in North Korea. We had two pre-school sons and lived on Valewood Drive where I'm typing this now.

Being the Kim Il-Sung watcher for U.S. intelligence was a more than full-time job.

Still, I found a time to write for magazines.Everybody knew it. My men's adventure magazine tales were a topic of water-cooler banter. I'd been getting paid to put words in print for twenty-three years but had not yet published a book.

I was reading the obituaries in the Washington Post every morning hoping—then, as now—to encounter a certain figure. I plan to remain on this planet until I do.

This morning, June 26, 2015, I read the obituaries. The person I want still wasn't there.

Mario Biaggi was.

The link to today's news story is here.

In 1978, Phil Hirsch, editor of MAN'S magazine in New York, phoned to say that a congressman had stated publicly that unidentified flying objects (UFOs) "are real." The men's adventure magazines were dying and their publishers had turned to UFOs for market share.
Phil was responsible for IDEAL'S UFO REPORT, where I was the editor and wrote all of the articles. I also worked with Martin Singer, editor of SAGA and of SAGA'S UFO REPORT, later re-named, simply, UFO REPORT.

Although I almost never interviewed anyone for my stories in those days, I visited Biaggi and took photos of him reading our magazine. He was gracious and courteous but very busy. He said enough about UFOs to enable me to write about him.

Biaggi was a former New York City police officer who spent two decades on Capitol Hill and much later was convicted of federal corruption charges. I don't know the details. I can find plenty of Americans who believe our whole system is corrupt and who classify those convicted, like Biaggi and Randall Cunningham, as amateurs. I remember Mario Biaggi as a generous host, hard worker, and dapper figure who was well liked.

And I remember a Washington where Americans could still walk into the government buildings they owned. In those days the security presence around the Capitol and White House was light and not terribly intrusive.
It's very different today. Americans, it seems, want to be secure, or at least to feel that way.

You can be secure. You can be free. You cannot be both.

My visit to Biaggi, easily arranged, was probably my first visit to a lawmaker on Capitol Hill. More than a decade later, I returned to visit high school classmate Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md), who is currently the second ranking Democrat in the House.

Mario Biaggi lived from October 26, 1917 to June 24, 2015. He died at age ninety-seven. For part of one day, he was part of my life. Thank you, Congressman.

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