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North Korea Blows up South Korean Airliner

Someone once described the dissolution of the USSR as a typical Soviet divorce — you’re no longer married but you’re still forced to live in the same apartment. So it is with North and South Korea, which have had more than their share of animosity the past half century, which has, not surprisingly, affected the U.S. in one way or the other.  North Korea has tried to assassinate the South Korean President and when that failed, it doubled down and seized the USS Pueblo.  A few years later, North Korean soldiers hacked two United States Army officers in the DMZ to death. And there’s the more recent missile-rattling by current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Read more

Creating Yaounde’s First Consulate

The first official U.S. diplomatic post in Cameroon was founded in 1957 during its waning days as a United Nations trust territory. The country was divided between the French and the British; both colonial powers had been preparing their respective territories for self-rule since the end of the Second World War. With other nations, including Morocco, Libya, and Ghana having declared independence, there was confidence among the people of Cameroon that their turn would be next. In 1959, the people of British Cameroon voted to join their French counterparts to form the greater Republic of Cameroon, which was still technically under French jurisdiction. The following year the largely Muslim two-thirds of British Cameroon in the north voted to join Nigeria, while the largely Christian southern third opted to join the new republic. 

Independent elections were held for the first time, and Ahmadou Ahidjo was elected as the Republic of Cameroon’s first Prime Minister. Although Ahidjo had been a key leader in the independence movement, a political party known as the Union des Populations Camerounaises (UCP) grew impatient with the slow pace of negotiations towards full sovereignty and initiated a guerrilla war to speed up the process.  Cameroon became a sovereign nation in 1960. Read more

The Diplomacy of Extraditing an Alleged Terrorist

In 1973 three bombs, timed to explode with the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to the U.S., were found in rental cars in New York City. The cars were parked near two Israeli banks and the El-Al cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The explosives did not go off, but rendered fingerprints that led investigators to Khalid Duhham Al-Jawary, a known passport forger affiliated with Black September, a militant group that targeted world leaders during the 1970’s. It took eighteen years to track Al-Jawary down, and once he was found in Rome, the U.S. needed Italy’s permission to arrest him there.

Getting the authority to arrest and extradite Al-Jawary required the skillful negotiations of U.S. Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia. Secchia spent months working individually with Italian ministers to get the votes for extradition.  He recalled this episode in an interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy in June 1994. Please follow the links to learn more about terrorism, Black September, and the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.

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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

Remember, Remember 17 November

The shock of terrorist attacks in Europe in the past decade, notably in Paris, London, and Madrid, sadly recall an even grimmer period during the 1970’s and 80’s when terrorism was a widespread and chronic threat throughout the continent, especially in Greece. One of the chief culprits was the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, also known as November 17th or 17N, which carried out numerous attacks over the better part of three decades in Greece. Borne out of the armed struggle against the Greek military junta that ruled the country from 1967-1974, the group carried out attacks against Greek targets as well as American and British diplomatic personnel.

Due to poor police work, popular support for the group among many Greeks, especially those on the far left, and a lack of political will to crack down, the group was able to carry out attacks for many years. Only in the early 2000’s, with the threat of a possible boycott of the 2004 Olympic Games over security issues did the Greek government finally end the group’s reign of terror. 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.

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Pablo Escobar and the Siege of Colombia’s Palace of Justice

Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, the wealthiest criminal in history once responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine entering the U.S., was also believed to be the force behind the siege on Colombia’s Supreme Court on November 6, 1985.  The assault marks one of the deadliest conflicts between the Colombian government and revolutionary groups. By the end of the operation, 12 Supreme Court Justices had been killed, along with 48 Colombian soldiers. 35 members of the M-19 guerilla group and their leader also died; in total, over 100 lives were lost.

Escobar’s reach extended to government and politics, with his famous saying “plata o plomo” (silver or lead) when dealing with politicians and police: those who would not accept bribes would be eliminated. Escobar and the Medellin Cartel allegedly provided $2 million to the M-19 rebels to finance the siege.

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The Murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Warrior for Peace

The assassination of 73-year old Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv in favor of the Oslo Accords. Rabin had served two terms as Prime Minister, from 1974-1977 and again from 1992 until his death. He was a soldier with extensive experience combatting Arab states, serving as Defense Minister from 1984-90, yet he was willing to take on equally great risks for the sake of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

In 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rabin along with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for concluding the Oslo agreement. It was seen as potentially a huge step toward resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, beginning with a partial Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and the creation of a Palestinian Authority. Rabin was killed on November 4, 1995 by three shots fired by an Israeli right-wing nationalist who opposed the Accords.

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The “Other” Embassy Attack of November 1979 — The Siege of Embassy Islamabad

The attack on the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and the subsequent 444-day imprisonment of American personnel has become the stuff of legend – it was followed day by day on the news by millions of Americans, many of whom put yellow ribbons on trees and their houses as a sign of solidarity. It was the subject of an Academy-Award winning movie, Argo, and ultimately led to the downfall of President Jimmy Carter. However, most people would be hard-pressed to recall a similarly dramatic attack, which took place a mere 17 days after the attack on Embassy Tehran.

On November 21, rioters, incited by false Iranian radio claims of an American attack on Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia, stormed U.S. Embassy Islamabad, trapping more than 130 people inside the communications vault for several hours. Several people died, including one young Marine Security Guard, Steve Crowley; the entire embassy was burned and eventually had to be rebuilt (with money from the Pakistani government). Read more

A Tale of Two Countries — and One Bizarre Hostage Situation

If you think your relationships are complex, consider the convoluted ties among Ghana, Guinea, and the United States in the mid-1960s. The friendship between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, and Guinea’s first President, Ahmed Sékou Touré, proved problematic for the United States, and even led to the first U.S. diplomatic hostage situation, years before Iran.

Nkrumah and Touré were both anti-Western presidents of recently independent countries. In 1966 after Nkrumah was deposed while on a trip to China, Touré welcomed Nkrumah to Guinea, and named him Co-President of Guinea. Washington, which was glad to see Nkrumah go, had little desire to deal with him now in Guinea. However, the new Ghanaian government then kidnapped the Guinean Foreign Minister and said it would not release him until they got Nkrumah. On October 29, in an odd counter move, Guinea then detained American diplomats until their Foreign Minister was released. Read more