Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

Combining Forces to Counter Terrorism — The Birth of S/CT

U.S. inter-agency coordination on countering terrorism was limited, for bureaucratic and technical reasons, prior to the mid-1980s. As hijackings and terrorist assaults against U.S. military personnel became more frequent after the Vietnam War, Washington responded in part by creating the position of Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the State Department (S/CT). However, the position was not given funding priority until the Reagan administration.

Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer discusses how S/CT was created and the bureaucratic wrangling and inter-agency cooperation which followed. He also describes a hijacking that went sadly wrong and his experiences in dealing with his counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.  Read more

The Stolen Victory and Mysterious Death of Moshood Abiola

In June 1993, Chief Moshood (M.K.O.) Abiola, a Muslim businessman and philanthropist, ran for the presidency of Nigeria and appeared to win the popular vote in what was considered a free and fair election.  The vote was annulled by Nigeria’s military leader on the basis that the election was corrupt. When Abiola rallied support to claim the presidency, he was arrested for treason by the military regime led by General Sani Abacha and sent to prison for four years. Religious and human rights activists from across the globe called for his release.

In June 1998, General Abacha was found dead under mysterious circumstances.  One month later, on the day that Abiola was to be released from prison, he met with a U.S. delegation in Nigeria which included Assistant Secretary Susan Rice and Under Secretary Thomas Pickering to discuss the country’s planned transition to democratic rule. During the July 7 meeting Abiola suddenly became ill, collapsed and later died in a hospital. Some claimed he had been poisoned by members of the U.S. delegation after drinking tea during the meeting. Read more

Escape from Japanese Internment in China

In June of 1937, Beijing became one of the first cities to fall as Japanese forces began their conquest of China. In contrast to the atrocities committed by Imperial forces during their capture of Nanjing in December of that year, residents of Beijing lived relatively peaceful lives after occupation. This included the city’s population of Westerners, who could move freely throughout the city even under Japanese rule.

This all changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 (December 8 in China) 1941. With Japan’s entrance into World War II, Westerners from Allied countries living in Beijing were placed in a walled off portion of the city and put under heavy surveillance. On March 25, 1943, these expatriates would be forced into the Weixian internment camp in Shandong Province where they would spend the remainder of the war. (Picture at right by William A. Smith)

Arthur Hummel Jr., at the time a twenty-year-old English teacher, was one of the American civilians imprisoned by Japanese forces in Beijing. After being interned for three years, Hummel was finally able to escape in May of 1944 and would spend the rest of the war aiding a Nationalist guerilla group as it fought both Japanese and Communist armies. Read more

Iran-Contra: Who Knew What When?

In the Iran-Contra Affair, Colonel Oliver North and others within the National Security Council and CIA used back channels and secret bank accounts to funnel money from arms deals with Iran, which was then under an arms embargo, to the Contra rebels fighting the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. One aim of this plan was to circumvent Congress, which had prohibited the Reagan administration from providing more money to the Contras.  A secondary goal was to curry favor with the Iranians, who would in turn pressure Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia, to release American hostages it had taken throughout the 1980’s.

When the full extent of the illegal scheme was revealed and justified by President Reagan in a televised statement on November 13, 1986, the political fallout impacted not only Colonel North and his superiors, but also State Department personnel working in the Middle East who came under suspicion of facilitating the plot. John Kelly, at the time the Ambassador to Lebanon, experienced this fallout, being interviewed by the FBI and facing off against Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

Read more

The Velvet Revolution, November 1989

In 1989, change was in the air throughout all of Eastern Europe. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – signaled a radically different tone from Moscow and people in the Eastern Bloc took notice. The Berlin Wall, which had long stood as a concrete symbol of the clash between East and West, fell on November 9th. Czechoslovakia’s particular insurrection was known as the Velvet Revolution because of its relatively peaceful nature.

It began on November 17, International Students Day, ironically enough at a government-sponsored rally, as Czech students filled Wenceslas Square to peacefully march in remembrance of the students killed by the Nazi occupation 50 years earlier. Protests began to swell to hundreds of thousands and the government, to its credit, realized it could not win by force and quickly gave in to popular sentiment. Read more

The U-2 Spy Plane Incident

On May 1, 1960, an America U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace, causing great embarrassment to the United States, which had tried to conceal its surveillance efforts from the USSR. In 1957, the U.S. had established a secret intelligence facility in Pakistan in order to send U-2 spy planes into Soviet airspace and secretly sent the spy plane into Soviet territory.

Upon release of the news, the United States initially covered up the story by claiming the U-2 was a NASA aircraft that had gone missing north of Turkey. However, President Eisenhower had to eventually admit the mistake after the Soviets produced the missing U-2, the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, and pictures of Soviet bases that the spy plane had captured. Read more

French Colony to Sovereign State: Moroccan Independence

Moroccans celebrate November 18 as Independence Day in commemoration of their Sultan’s return from exile in 1955 and Morocco’s transition from French protectorate to autonomous nation the following year. France claimed Morocco as a protectorate in 1912. Moroccan nationalists would eventually base arguments for independence on declarations such as the Atlantic Charter, a U.S.-British statement that set forth the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which to live. Moroccan nationalists believed an Allied victory in World War II would lead to independence, but when it did not, in 1944 the Istiqlal (Independence) Party demanded self-rule.

A 1952 riot in Casablanca prompted French authorities to outlaw the Moroccan Communist and Istiqlal parties and to send Sultan Mohammed V into exile in Madagascar. This kindled opposition both from political nationalists and from those who revered the Sultan as a religious leader. Faced with such opposition, the French brought Mohammed V back to Morocco, where he negotiated independence through reforms that would transform the country into a constitutional monarchy. In 1956, France officially relinquished its protectorate.

Read more

Eyes of the Dragon — Under Surveillance in China

The extent of the surveillance operations of the Soviet KGB is legendary, but the Soviet Union was not the only country to maintain an intelligence service. China established its own version, known as the Ministry of State Security (MSS), to provide for national security, gather foreign intelligence, and coordinate surveillance activities to identify subversive activities against the government. Although the MSS generally keeps a low profile, U.S. diplomats have inevitably come into contact with Chinese security over the years, creating memorable stories along the way. Read more

Frenemies: Warm Encounters with Cold War Soviets

Just because the war between the two superpowers was cold didn’t mean that relations between U.S. and Soviet diplomats had to be frosty. While there were certainly some testy times, U.S. diplomats report that their relationships with Soviets were sometimes warm, funny, and congenial — especially if the Soviet officer was trying to convince them to defect.

And while they may not have cared for U.S. politics, a number of Soviet diplomats loved other aspects of American culture, especially Westerns, rifles, magazines, and, of course, Kentucky bourbon.

Thomas F. Johnson reports the amusing exchanges he had with Soviet diplomats during his time in Liberia in a 2003 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy. George G.B. Griffin and Ernestine S. Heck both share their experiences with Soviet defection with Kennedy in 2002 and 1997, respectively. (The happy poster says “Person to person. Friend, Comrade and Brother!”) Read more

Smashed Cars and Tall Blondes

For many diplomats, the time spent under constant surveillance while in Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War could lead to serious frustration and close brushes with angered KGB agents. David Evans’ story of being stonewalled by the Soviet police and then targeted by a potential honeytrap is one such example of the absurdity of living in a country where the police and State Security all worked to frustrate American diplomats. Read more