When diplo­mats get pun­ished for do­ing their jobs

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - David Ig­natius

ON Oct. 21, 2014, Robin Raphel, a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state, got an ur­gent call from her daugh­ter, who said that some­thing had trig­gered the bur­glar alarm at home. When Raphel ar­rived, she found FBI agents search­ing her files and other per­sonal ma­te­ri­als. Raphel fran­ti­cally tele­phoned her of­fice at the State Depart­ment to ask what was hap­pen­ing; col­leagues said they had been in­structed not to speak with her. Agents were al­ready rif­fling her desk at State and putting up yel­low tape to warn off work­mates.

Raphel’s voice still shakes with emo­tion as she re­calls that af­ter­noon. The FBI search war­rant said she was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated un­der 18 US Code Sec­tion 793(e), a crim­i­nal statute that cov­ers il­le­gal gath­er­ing or trans­mis­sion of na­tional-se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion and is used in es­pi­onage cases. The war­rant of­fered no other de­tails. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials pri­vately told at­tor­neys and jour­nal­ists that they had prob­a­ble cause, based on in­tel­li­gence in­ter­cepts and other sources, to be­lieve that Raphel, one of the gov­ern­ment’s lead­ing ex­perts on South Asia, had been spy­ing for Pak­istan. They also re­vealed that they had found clas­si­fied doc­u­ments in the search of Raphel’s home. The gov­ern­ment’s case col­lapsed in March, when the Jus­tice Depart­ment in­formed Raphel’s at­tor­neys it wouldn’t pros­e­cute her, for ei­ther es­pi­onage or im­proper re­ten­tion of the doc­u­ments. That seems a wise ex­er­cise of judg­ment — but it came way too late. The case leaves be­hind some dis­turb­ing ques­tions about how a di­plo­mat with nearly 40 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence be­came the fo­cus of a ca­reer-shat­ter­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion — ap­par­ently with­out any­one seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion from knowl­edge­able State Depart­ment of­fi­cials about her as­sign­ment to open al­ter­na­tive chan­nels to re­pair the badly strained re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan.

“If the Bureau had talked to se­nior peo­ple at State who were knowl­edge­able about her work, I be­lieve they would never have launched this in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” ar­gues Jeff Smith, a for­mer CIA gen­eral coun­sel who was one of Raphel’s at­tor­neys. The threat that gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance and na­tional-se­cu­rity in­ves­ti­ga­tions pose for pri­vate cit­i­zens has been hotly de­bated for the past decade. Less un­der­stood is the dam­age done to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials them­selves when they fall into the drag­net. Raphel’s ex­pe­ri­ence is a case study in what can hap­pen when the gov­ern­ment launches a toxic in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out ad­e­quate due dili­gence. “The FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of me was flawed from the be­gin­ning be­cause they had a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of what diplo­mats do,” Raphel ex­plained to me. “I was never told what trig­gered the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but I am con­vinced it was a mis­read­ing of raw in­tel­li­gence by per­sons who sim­ply did not un­der­stand the con­text.”

Three of Raphel’s su­per­vi­sors at State’s Of­fice of the Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan and Pak­istan, known as SRAP, ex­plained Raphel’s mis­sion when she be­came a spe­cial ad­viser in 2011 af­ter leav­ing a post in Is­lam­abad over­see­ing US as­sis­tance there. At that time, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Is­lam­abad was poi­sonous, with deep dis­trust among in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials. Raphel’s as­sign­ment was to “aug­ment ex­ist­ing chan­nels” at the em­bassy by talk­ing to Pak­istani friends and con­tacts, ex­plained one su­per­vi­sor.

Raphel, with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with Pak­istan, added an ex­tra di­men­sion. A sec­ond su­per­vi­sor said her mis­sion was to “dou­ble track” the mes­sages be­ing passed by the em­bassy. A third re­called that in 2011 and 2012, “mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence chan­nels were closed. It was the other chan­nels that kept the re­la­tion­ship on life sup­port and helped nur­ture it back.” Dan Feld­man, Raphel’s last boss at SRAP, says the case shows that other agen­cies need to bet­ter un­der­stand diplomacy: “I wish there had been bet­ter and more co­or­di­nated knowl­edge about the na­ture and im­por­tance of di­plo­matic chan­nels, and what it en­tails for diplo­mats to be ef­fec­tive in pur­su­ing crit­i­cal na­tional se­cu­rity pri­or­i­ties.”

The case had a “chill­ing ef­fect” on other diplo­mats, who feared they might be next, a half-dozen State Depart­ment of­fi­cials told me. But Raphel’s col­leagues stood be­hind her, even when the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was still ac­tive. Beth Jones, an­other for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state, or­ga­nized a le­gal de­fence fund last sum­mer. The fund raised nearly $90,000 from 96 col­leagues and friends, many of whom, re­calls Jones, voiced the fear: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Diplo­mats of­ten go last in our na­tional-se­cu­rity parade. Peo­ple cheer at ball­parks when they see sol­diers and sailors. They stand in line to watch movies about snipers and spe­cial-forces op­er­a­tors.But a di­plo­mat’s re­ward for years in dan­ger some­times seems to be a con­gres­sional or FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion for se­cu­rity lapses. That’s wrong. Raphel and many hundreds of col­leagues de­serve bet­ter sup­port.

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