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Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

ADST BenSeveral times a month, ADST highlights compelling moments in U.S. diplomatic history, using our substantial collection of oral histories.

Note: These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual(s) interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

1200 Monkeys Was the Least of It: a Case of Kickbacks and Sexual Harassment at USAID

Ann Van Dusen’s long and successful career USAID brought many challenges, including the case of a contractor implicated in kickbacks, sexual harassment and and the irregular importation of 1200 monkeys to the United States.  Her conclusion from the sorry 1980s episode? “It is important to find ways to make it safe for whistleblowers to speak up.” Van Dusen’s moral compass was set early. She was deeply influenced by a grandmother who was a suffragette, anti-war and civil rights activist.   Van Dusen went on to serve in multiple senior positions at USAID, and helped design the agency’s child survival strategy. After retirement, she was a founding director of Georgetown’s Masters Program for Global Human Development and served on multiple boards. Van Dusen was interviewed by Alex Shakow in October 2017.

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A “Very Japanese” Arrangement to Dismantle a Soviet MIG-25

On September 6, 1976 a MIG-25 (foxbat), the most advanced Soviet fighter jet at the time, landed at Hokadote Airport in Hokkaido, Japan. Pilot Viktor Belenko emerged waving a pistol in the air and requested asylum in the United States.  Washington promptly approved Belenko’s asylum request and asked young diplomat Nicholas Platt to handle his transfer. Washington also wanted to analyze the MIG-25. Platt and colleagues at the Japanese Foreign Ministry came up a plan to tell the Soviet Union that the landing gear on the MIG was damaged.  The aircraft needed to be transferred to the Chitose Air Base, they explained, for dismantling and shipment back to Russia. The airbase happened to be jointly operated with the United States. U.S. Air Force personnel meticulously examined and repackaged the parts of the aircraft before shipping it back. The United States got the intelligence it wanted, and the three nations avoided a more serious diplomatic standoff.

Nicholas Platt went on to a distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service, culminating in service as Ambassador to Zambia, the Philippines and Pakistan.  He is perhaps best known as a China expert, however, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) is proud to have supported publication of Platt’s memoir China Boys: How U.S. Relations with the PRC Began and Grew (2009).  Platt’s interview with David E. Reuther began on March 7, 2005. continue reading »

USAID’s role in helping rebuild Rwanda after the Tutsi genocide of 1994

Philip-Michael Gary’s career with USAID put him face-to-face with then-Vice President and Minister of Defense of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in the aftermath of the infamous Rwandan genocide. Following the 1994 genocide, which led to the deaths of up to 800,000 Rwandans of Tutsi ethnicity, Kagame reached out to USAID to assist him in restoring order and rebuilding the infrastructure of the war-torn nation. Gary was instrumental in facilitating relations between Kagame and USAID as the two worked in tandem between the years of 1995 and 2000. (Rwanda’s de facto leader in the late 1990s, Kagame became president in 2000). Gary was recruited by USAID in 1981, and represented the organization in matters of international development during several notable events in recent world history. Such events include the Israel-Jordan Water Negotiations of 1988, and USAID’s response to the Haitian earthquake of 2009. Gary was interviewed by Carol Peasley in January 2017.

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Combating the flow of Foreign Fighters affiliated with the Islamic State

The rapid ascent of ISIS in 2013-16 was fueled by a flow of “foreign fighters” from across the Middle East, North Africa and portions of Europe and Asia. Foreign fighters in ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known by other names, notably “Da’esh”) numbered up to 40,000 by some estimates. Interdicting the flow of these fighters was a major diplomatic, military and intelligence challenge for the United States and its partners. Thomas Krajeski was a senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015-16 and worked closely with the rest of the U.S. government to counter the movement of these fighters.

Krajeski’s career included appointments by President George W. Bush as ambassador to Yemen, and by President Obama as ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain during the Arab Spring. Krajeski also completed tours in India and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Ambassador Krajeski is a recipient of both the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, and five Superior Honor Awards. He retired from the State Department in 2016. This interview was conducted by ADST’s Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in February 2016.

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“We didn’t know if they were all dead…” The attacks on American embassies during the Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War of June 1967 Israel fought and won a decisive victory against Thomas Gallagher
Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Lebanese forces. As a result of America’s backing of Israel, U.S. government facilities and U.S.-based companies were targeted throughout the Middle East and North Africa. For many embassies and consulates, including the embassy in Jeddah, it was not until after the attacks had ceased that communication capabilities were restored. Until that point it was not known whether or not American diplomats and citizens elsewhere had been harmed or had found safety during the conflict. U.S. diplomat Tom Gallagher was serving as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and recalls what this period was like for American diplomats in Jeddah and throughout the region. Gallagher entered the Foreign Service in 1965, and to this day remains the youngest person to ever lead a U.S. diplomatic mission when he served at the U.S. consul general in Ecuador. After coming out in 1973, Gallagher also became the first openly homosexual foreign service officer in the history of the U.S. Department of State. Gallagher was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in October 2012.

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From the 1985 Achille Lauro Hijacking to the 2014 Ebola Crisis: Steven Browning’s Foreign Service Career

Steven Browning was a third-tour Foreign Service Officer in Alexandria, Egypt when he found himself in the midst of the U.S. response to the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro oceanliner. Egyptian commandos rescued the ship from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists who seized it, but “the Italians were involved, we were involved; everybody wanted a piece of these guys,” Browning recalled. It was a long way from Odessa, Texas, where Browning grew up, and his theology studies at Baylor University. Browning joined the Foreign Service in 1981 and went on to a distinguished career that took him from Egypt to Sri Lanka to the Dominican Republic to Iraq. He served as our Ambassador to Malawi and Uganda. At the end of his career, Browning was enjoying the relative quiet of service as Diplomat-in-Residence at the University of California-Berkeley when he was recalled to Washington to coordinate the State Department’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Ambassador Browning was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in August 2016.

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When a Newly-Elected President Putin Welcomed USAID’s Advice

President Putin once welcomed USAID’s assistance (at least for a time). Carol Peasley served as USAID’s mission director in Moscow from 1999-2003. This tumultuous period witnessed the fall of Boris Yeltsin and the emergence of Vladimir Putin as a tough-minded leader frequently at odds with the United States. But it was not always that way. Peasley recalls how a key Putin aide asked USAID to assemble a broad-ranging team of international experts to advise Putin’s new government. Putin met with the experts for several hours, on topics ranging from privatization to pension reform. They were impressed with the new Russian leader and his technocratic expertise. Peaseley also recalls USAID’s productive relationship with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos Oil Company — initially a powerful figure in the Putin government, who fell out with the new president and was later famously jailed for fraud. Peasley’s distinguished USAID career lasted from 1970 to 2003, with stops in Nepal, Costa Rica, Thailand and Malawi. Russia was her last foreign post. She also served in multiple senior positions in Washington. This interview was conducted by Kenneth Brown on January 29, 2015.

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Human Rights and USAID: Remembering the Turbulent 1990s in Indonesia

Political and economic crises abroad have a dramatic impact not only on American personnel at our embassies, but on locally-employed staff as well.  In 1996 opponents of the regime of President Suharto occupied the headquarters of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party (or PDI). This became a focal point for popular protest, and were dislodged in a bloody raid attributed to Suharto’s forces. The attack led to an escalation of violence between political factions, including instances of assault, rape, and murder. By 1998, in the midst of an economic crisis, Suharto resigned. Gartini Isa, a USAID employee was witness to all these events, which led to the withdrawal of “non-essential” U.S. personnel from Jakarta from May to September 1998. Isa remained at her post, however, and maintained invaluable contacts with opposition figures, imprisoned students and others. Isa’s career USAID spans more than three decades. She was the recipient of USAID’s prestigious John Withers Human Rights Award in 2009.  Isa was interviewed by Carole Peasley in January 2017.

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Thumbs Down on a Nelson Mandela Speech

Nelson Mandela is justifiably revered, but not every act or speech by the Nobel Peace laureate was universally acclaimed.  American diplomat Tom Krajeski, who served as our ambassador to both Yemen and Bahrain, gave Mandela a candid — and negative — assessment of his speech after both addressed a conference in Dubai.  Mandela asked for Krajeski’s opinion, and they shared a laugh when Krajeski gave it.  Krajeski concluded that Mandela was indeed “a remarkable man.”

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Senior Diplomat Marc Grossman Reflects on NATO’s Bombing in the Balkans

Marc Grossman’s distinguished Foreign Service career put him in the center of multiple crises, including NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign in the Balkans.  Grossman supported President Clinton’s decision to use only air power during the NATO intervention.  As Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, he briefed Congress on the conflict almost daily, including after American forces accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999.  Visiting Belgrade in later years, he marvelled at the impact of the bombing campaign — and Serbia’s insistence on showing selected ruins to one of our most senior diplomats.  Grossman’s career with the Department of State spanned almost three decades and included posts in Islamabad, Amman, and Brussels.   In addition to service as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs (1997-2000), Grossman served as Ambassador to Turkey (1994-1997), and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (2001-2005).   Ambassador Grossman was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in January 2006.

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