It has suddenly become high season for treachery: The National Security Agency’s Edward Snowden last week declaimed his treatment by the U.S. government on NBC while Jane Fonda has now been invited to deliver the UCLA graduation address. It is as though we had become so wedded to the do-your-own-thing zeitgeist that the fed-up fates suddenly decreed our punishment: You have to sing it until you know it.
Case in point: The strange release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. President Obama, his national security reputation sinking in quicksand, announced that a long-missing U.S. soldier had been “rescued” by American special forces. Standing with the soldier’s adoring parents as the father pronounced an Islamic blessing, President Obama smoothly claimed credit before rapidly flying off for once-friendly foreign capitals – barely a step ahead of the news cycle. Senior prevaricator and presidential adviser Susan Rice was once again dispatched to the Sunday talk shows, spinning what turned out to be only the first wave of appalling but terribly stubborn facts:
The “rescue” was no rescue at all, but a prisoner swap, the trading material consisting of five top Taliban commanders suddenly transported to Qatar like “snakes on a plane.”
Sgt. Bergdahl wasn’t quite the hero that Mrs. Rice said he was. By leaving his uniforms and weapons behind, he may even have exhibited behavior more typical of deserters or even defectors.
Sgt. Bergdahl‘s fellow soldiers promptly began emerging with tales of his odd behavior in a combat zone, where the first rule is that your survival depends on your fellow soldiers doing their duty, beginning with not leaving your assigned and heavily fortified post.
Worst of all, the parents of Lt. Darryn Andrews, killed while leading a patrol that was searching for the missing sergeant, came forward to charge that the American military command had lied about the circumstances surrounding their son’s death. Five other American soldiers may have been killed during that same operation, allegedly while pursuing a “Taliban commander.”
Amid further allegations about “nondisclosure agreements” or why high-level Taliban commanders were traded for a possible deserter, there were the predictable cries that this was just another Benghazi-style cover-up.
Before much else happens, there must be some pointed questions from Congress directed toward the initial and follow-up investigations of Sgt. Bergdahl, standard operating procedure anytime a U.S. soldier goes missing and then returns to military control.
During the Cold War, for example, I was a special agent in the Army equivalent of the FBI. Whenever our GIs attended a rock concert, where drugs and alcohol were always present, it was almost inevitable that one of them would board the wrong train and end up in East Germany. Whenever they returned, I often got the call to meet them, obtain a sworn statement and to conduct a short, pointed investigation before the soldier was returned to his unit (where the real punishment took place).
The format was always the same, beginning with a Miranda warning that often prompted the soldier’s sudden return to sobriety. When satisfied that he understood his rights, I then explained the real purpose of the investigation: To ensure he had not tried to desert, defect or to compromise classified information. “Oh, no, man, after the rock concert, I was just like, you know, really wasted. Umm I mean, no sir, it was all just an unfortunate mistake.” We left little to chance, though, because the East Germans were notorious opportunists. Who had questioned the soldier, for how long and about what – these were always standard elements of information during those intense interrogations. In almost five years, we caught no returning soldiers who had agreed to become spies – but had no repeat offenders, either.
If that was the standard back during the Cold War, then how much more intense do you suppose American operational security standards must be today – especially when those safeguards protect the lives of soldiers deployed in the midst of Taliban territory? The following is a short list of questions that Congress must demand from the Directorate of National Intelligence and the military chain of command:
First, did the commander and intelligence officer of Sgt. Bergdahl‘s unit conduct an initial investigation of his disappearance? Were the sergeant’s teammates and supervisors asked to supply sworn statements? What were the conclusions of that initial investigation: Capture, desertion or defection?
Second, based on those initial conclusions, was an Army regulation investigation conducted by the command? When, and what were its conclusions?
Finally, were any of these investigations consulted before it was decided that Sgt. Bergdahl‘s release was justified on national security grounds?
A version of this piece previously appeared on Washington Times.