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An Embassy in Flames: Islamabad, 1979

The November 21, 1979 attack on the American Embassy in Islamabad started as a small group demonstration in front of the embassy, where protesters shouted anti-American slogans and demanded entry into the campus. Police officers were able to stop the protesters and have them leave the area. However, about fifteen minutes later, some six busloads of Pakistani students arrived and laid siege to the American embassy compound for several hours, from midday until nightfall. The students were angry because of suspected U.S. involvement in the coup d’état of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and execution in April 1979. The final straw came from false reports, made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, that the United States had launched a terrorist attack on the Grand Mosque, Masjid al-Haram, at Mecca. Read more

Admitting the Shah to the U.S.:  Every Form of Refuge has its Price

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, departed Iran on January 16, 1979, fleeing political unrest led by the Ayatollah Khomeini and seeking medical treatment for lymphoma. Pahlavi first flew to Aswan, Egypt, where Anwar Sadat welcomed him, and would spend the next ten months moving among Morocco, Mexico, the Bahamas and Panama while requesting permission to enter the United States for surgery. The Carter Administration hesitated, recognizing potential consequences for U.S. interests in Iran if Pahlavi were welcomed into the country.

At the same time, many in the United States, notably former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chase Bank Chairman David Rockefeller, agitated for the Shah’s entry, arguing it was reprehensible not to let him in for medical treatment. Pahlavi was admitted to the U.S. on October 29 and underwent treatment at the Cornell Medical Center. During his stay, anti-American sentiment grew in Iran, concluding in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. Read more

The Bombing of U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

On August 7, 1998, between 10:30 and 10:40 a.m. local time, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi , Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were attacked in coordinated truck bombings. Approximately 212 people were killed and an estimated 4,000 wounded in Nairobi,, while the attack killed 11 individuals and wounded 85 in Dar es Salaam. The bombings were timed to mark the eighth anniversary of the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia and were later traced to Saudi exile and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

President Bill Clinton ordered retaliatory military strikes on August 20. In Afghanistan, some 70 American cruise missiles hit three of Osama bin Laden’s training camps. An estimated 24 people were killed, but bin Laden was not present. Thirteen cruise missiles hit a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan where bin Laden allegedly made or distributed chemical weapons. Read more

What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours

Life in the Foreign Service certainly has its advantages – working in often exotic locales, meeting fascinating people, being a part of important, sometimes historical, events. But, like other glamorous jobs, it has its drawbacks, not the least of which come with the drudgery of first and sometimes second tours, where most FSOs end up doing thankless consular work or drafting tedious reports.

Theresa A. Loar discusses the challenges of entering the Foreign Service as a first-tour consular officer in Mexico City in 1986 and how, despite feeling that her work was unsatisfying, the tour became unexpectedly dramatic. Loar was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2001.

Albert Thibault describes his challenging first tour in Conakry, Guinea as a Political/Economic Officer between 1969 and 1971 when the Portuguese invaded Guinea in an attempt to overthrow the Guinea government. He was by interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2005. Read more

The Chile Burn Victims Case: Containment vs. Human Rights under Pinochet

During a 1986 protest in Santiago, Chile against the human rights abuses of Augusto Pinochet’s regime, teenagers setting up barricades were arrested by a military patrol. What happened next to Rodrigo Rojas DeNegri (seen right) and Carmen Quintana is a matter of dispute, but in the end, Rojas was dead and Quintana severely burned. An official Chilean report claimed that Rojas, an American legal resident, and Quintana, an engineering student at the University of Santiago, were carrying Molotov cocktails which broke, setting them on fire.

Quintana maintains that both were brutally beaten by the army patrol, soaked with gasoline, set on fire and dumped in a ditch. Rojas died of his burns and injuries. In 2015, seven Chilean army officers were charged in connection with the killing of the 19-year old Rojas and attempted homicide of the 18-year old Quintana.

Chile was in a state of political upheaval during this era. Mass protests demanding democratic reforms were commonplace and many erupted into violence. The U.S.-Chile relationship was strained. Read more

Death of an AUB President and Father of a Future NBA Coach

He was a brilliant scholar who focused on the Middle East and whose books were widely read by Arabists. His son Steve would later play for the NBA champion Chicago Bulls and then become coach of the Golden State Warriors and lead them to a championship in 2015 and break the record for most wins in a regular season in 2016. Malcolm Kerr grew up in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB), where his parents taught for forty years. He returned to the U.S. and went graduated from high school at the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and later got his Bachelor’s from Princeton.

After teaching at UCLA, he moved to Cairo and in 1965 published his book The Arab Cold War. He became President of AUB in 1982, in the midst of the Lebanon Civil War.  U.S. Ambassador Frank Meloy and Economic Counselor Robert Waring were assassinated in 1976.  U.S. Embassy Beirut was bombed in 1983 and the Marine Corps barracks were attacked just a few months later. Sadly, Kerr would also become a victim to the violence:  On January 18, 1984, he was shot and killed by two gunmen outside his office. He was 52. Read more

“Years of Lead” — Domestic Terrorism and Italy’s Red Brigades

Beginning in 1970 and spanning over a decade, the “Brigate Rosse” (Red Brigades) and other smaller groups incited a wave of fear across Italy as political sabotage, kidnappings, and murders shook many metropolitan centers in what was later called “The Years of Lead.”

Boasting up to a thousand members in their heyday, the Red Brigades remained well funded with a combination of ransom money from kidnappings, weapons dealing, drug smuggling, bank robbing, and associations with the Camorra, the Italian mob which originated around Naples. They borrowed their main ideology from extreme leftist ideology and sought to overthrow the Italian state and the capitalist system and install “a dictatorship of the proletariat.” Read more

A Blind Eye — Fighting Terrorism in the 1980s

The U.S. focus on terrorism began to intensify in the late 1970s and 80s. However, it was often difficult to get actionable intelligence on many groups, given how hard it was to infiltrate them. And in those cases  where the U.S. was able to track a major terrorist figure down, that person was often able to elude capture.

L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) in 1986, discusses the many difficulties the U.S. encountered in infiltrating groups, dealing with countries like Greece, which often turned a blind eye to terrorist groups, and his experience with Delta Force.  He also describes how they were able to capture one terrorist by inviting him to a party on a yacht with women in bikinis. Needless to say, he was surprised to discover those women were FBI agents. Read more

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

Billion-Dollar “Plan Colombia” to End Decades of Civil War

Published January 2016

A guerrilla organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo, FARC–EP and FARC) has been at war with the Colombian government since 1964, marking it as the hemisphere’s longest-running armed conflict. The FARC has claimed to be a Marxist-Leninist army representing the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy, opposing imperialism and the privatization of natural resources. The FARC funded its campaign through the drug trade, kidnapping, illegal mining, and extortion.

Experts believe that the FARC continues to be active in 25 of Colombia’s 32 provinces, with around 8,000 fighters, down from 16,000 in 2001. The conflict between the rebels and the government has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced almost five million people over 50 years. In 2016, the UN Security Council approved a political mission to monitor implementation of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), following a joint request by the parties.

Both sides sought negotiations to create an environment where violence is no longer the means of securing social change. The two sides began formal peace talks in Cuba in 2012 and have reached an agreement on four key topics in preparation for signing a final peace document. Read more