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In 1972 Quinn, a minor official in the Foreign Service stationed on the border of Cambodia, repeatedly warned the outside world of the murderous threat of the Khmer Rouge. In 1983 he was the only officer of the Foreign Service to enter the Palestine Liberation Organization's camp hear Tripoli, Lebanon. After serving as the second ranking United States diplomat in the Philippines, Quinn was promoted to deputy assistant secretary in 1990. Since then he devoted his time to Cambodia and Vietnam issues. In October 1991 Quinn accompanied Secretary of State James Baker to Paris to sign the Cambodian Peace Settlement that had the goal of bringing peace to the war-torn region.
In 1978 Quinn was assigned to Iowa Governor Robert Ray and became the contact person when tornadoes struck Algona and Manson. He also streamlined procedures for agencies responsible for responding to problems of Iowa's nuclear power plants. Quinn assisted in organizing the Iowa SHARES program that resettled Southeast Asian refugees in Iowa.
In 1991 Quinn headed the Inter-Agency Group on American POW/MIAs that coordinated activities of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in tracking down leads of Americans being held hostage in Southeast Asia.
At his retirement ceremony, Ambassador Quinn was presented the Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism and Valor for his efforts to protect American Citizens exposed to danger in Cambodia and four life saving rescues in which he participated in Vietnam. He was then the only Foreign Service officer to have three times won the American Foreign Service Association Award for intellectual courage in challenging policy. Quinn also received the Department of Defense Award for Distinguished Civilian Service, a Treasury Department Award for the arrest of an international counterfeiter and terrorist and the Presidential Distinguished Service Award—the highest recognition accorded career State Department officers.
Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, assumed the leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation on January 1, 2000, following his retirement from the State Department. In this role, he heads the annual Iowa Hunger Summit which celebrates Iowa's successes in fighting hunger and poverty. In September 2011 he was one of eleven people honored by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for their role in strengthening food security.
Reber, Craig. "Loras Grad, Ambassador Honored." Telegraph Herald, September 19, 2012