BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The headline of the May 17 opinion column by David Ignatius in The Washington Post — “When diplomats get punished for doing their jobs” — triggered unhappy recollections of the forced resignation of John Evans, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, for daring to speak about the Armenian Genocide, as described in his recently published book, “Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide — What then? What now?”
The Ignatius article was about the scandalous treatment of another diplomat, Robin Raphel, a former assistant secretary of state, who was investigated by the Justice Department for espionage.
Raphel was a distinguished American diplomat. In a 2014 article, Washington Post reporters described her as “a fixture in Washington’s diplomatic and think-tank circles…. At the time of the raid, Raphel was a senior adviser on Pakistan for the office of the special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that job, she was chiefly responsible for administering non-military aid such as U.S. economic grants and incentives. The 67-year-old longtime diplomat was among the U.S. government’s most senior advisors on Pakistan and South Asian issues…. At the time of the FBI search of her house, she had retired from the Foreign Service but was working for the State Department on renewable, limited contracts that depended in part on her security clearance.”
Raphel began her government career as a CIA analyst. She served 30 years in the Foreign Service while stationed in Great Britain, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Tunisia. In 1993, she was appointed as first assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs. She retired from the State Department in 2005 and returned in 2009 to work as an advisor to Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prior to that position, Raphel worked as a lobbyist for Cassidy & Associates, representing Pakistan, Equatorial Guinea and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, according to The Washington Post.
Raphel’s investigation began on Oct. 21, 2014, when the burglary alarm was triggered in her house. Incredibly, FBI agents could not bypass the alarm system, something common burglars are able to do! Raphel rushed to her home and found the agents going through her files which included some classified documents. Simultaneously, other FBI agents were searching and sealing her State Department office. Subsequently, Raphel was placed on administrative leave, had her security clearance revoked, and her contract with the State Department was not renewed.
The New York Times revealed in March of this year that “the inquiry began when American investigators intercepted a conversation in which a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from Raphel, conversations that led to months of secret surveillance,” and accusations that she was spying for Pakistan.
In his opinion column, Ignatius noted that her case raises “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.”
Raphel explained to Ignatius: “The FBI’s case of me was flawed from the beginning because they had a fundamental misunderstanding of what diplomats do.”
Jeff Smith, a former CIA general counsel who was one of Raphel’s attorneys, told Ignatius that “if the Bureau [FBI] had talked to senior people at State who were knowledgeable about her work, I believe they would never have launched this investigation.”
Amy Jeffress, another one of Raphel’s lawyers, told The N.Y. Times in March: “It is of utmost importance to our national security that our diplomats be able to do their work without fearing that their routine diplomatic communications will subject them to criminal investigation.” Raphel’s colleagues raised $90,000 for her legal defense fund.
Even though the Justice Department ended up dropping all charges against Raphel, her case had a “chilling effect on other diplomats, who feared they might be next,” several State Department officials told Ignatius.
The hounding of experienced personnel like Amb. Evans and former assistant secretary of state Raphel deprives the United States of competent and honest diplomats who can fearlessly defend the foreign policy interests of the United States in an effective and fair manner.
It is still not too late to hold a congressional hearing on the appalling mistreatment of two outstanding civil servants Evans and Raphel. At the very least, the President or the Secretary of State should issue a formal apology to both diplomats!