Serial: Podcast Responses

Serial 2: Episode 5

In the fifth episode of Serial 2 titled Meanwhile, in Tampa, Sarah Koening, our host, gains perspective on Bowe’s case and its development by creating distance and returning to the US to inspect how US officials reacted to Bowe’s capture. She looked from the smallest participating member, like Kim Harrison – a friend of Bowe, to the larger acting agents like the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Through scrutiny, Sarah was able to piece together the trail of influence that lead to Bowe’s case gaining the attention of Barack Obama, the President of the United States. But in order to do so, it took a lot of extraneous effort on the part of self involved employees divided across various departments. Why was this so when everyone was apparently “doing everything that [they could]?” (Nathan, Serial 2) The effort towards retrieving hostages should have not been as difficult as it was, but it was and Bowe, as well as other hostages, would have pay reap the consequences.

In Bowe’s case, plenty of hands were on deck: The Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and CENTCOM as well as individuals of other organizations. The need for so many hands on deck was due to location and jurisdiction. While initially it was CENTCOM’s, the United States Central Command, responsibility to find missing or captured people, Bowe was Pakistan. His location bypassed every responsibility of CENTCOM – “to layer all this intel to get the clearest picture they possibly can of where the person is, and… hand that information off to the people who can actually do something about it: [military, engineer, diplomat]” (Sarah, Serial 2) – making their work irrelevant. Due to messy dealings of politics, Pakistan was an off limits area for CENTCOM, but it was in the Central Intelligence Agency’s jurisdiction. Only then, even the Central Intelligence Agency had their own set of priorities that didn’t include Bowie. There were too many other important events occuring during that time period that intervened or conflicted with rescuing Bowe such as, “the Raymond Davis debacle … the U.S.-led NATO air strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border … The Haqqanis, based in Pakistan, [attack on] embassy in Kabul and NATO headquarters,” and, “the US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden”. With everything occurring, the Central Intelligence Agency was immobilized leaving any main actors useless.

Nathan, an intelligence analyst indirectly involved with Bowe’s case, knew this and understood that attempting to get Bowe back through direct methods wouldn’t work. But if little by little, information was fed through the chain of command swaying towards Bowe’s favor, an opportunity could appear. Nathan accomplished this through Bowe’s parents, an unused resource, informing them of the truth about Bowe’s situation.

Once informed, Bowe’s parents – Bob and Jani Bergdahl – were, “sad, scared, fierce,” but, “determined.” (Nathan, Serial 2) Immediately Bowe’s dad, Bob, took charge learning as much as he could as possible about the Pashtun culture learning their language, law, and tradition so to be prepared to argue Bowe’s case. Using his enthusiasm against Bob, Nathan took the opportunity to spur on Bob telling him the proper buttons to push in order to get things moving.

Bob, as if discovering a new super power, used his influence as best as he could even going so far as to record and release a video on youtube directly addressed to the Taliban in effort to save his son. “I’m the father of captured U.S. soldier Bowe Robert Bergdahl. These are my thoughts. I can remain silent no longer. I address the Pakistani armed forces. I personally appeal to General Kayani and General Pasha. Our family is counting on your professional integrity and honor to secure the safe return of our son. We ask that your nation diligently help our son be freed from his captivity.” (Bob Bergdahl, Serial 2)

Bob’s effort to plead to the Taliban was abnormal in the sense that his address didn’t beat around the bush, it stated that he knew where his son was, and that they were helpless. Bob’s efforts went against every pretense the United States government was attempting to uphold and could have effortlessly destroyed any relationships the US had built. For these consequences, Bob’s behavior could have been viewed as treason, but any person who knew how to empathize could understand that this was just a father wanting their son back. This would have been an action others placed in the same situation would have also taken as well, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. While families of captives shouldn’t have the highest clearance, especially since they’re emotionally involved, they shouldn’t be completely shut out. It’s like putting a lock on a door and expecting it to keep a thief out. While it might divert their attention for a while longer, it won’t stop them. Like putting a bandaid over the wound, or stopping the symptom, but not the cause it’ll take a better system to fix the problem that is rescuing hostages.