Another chapter of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's story has unfolded in the latest
episode of Serial, "Meanwhile, in Tampa," the fifth episode
of the podcast's second season. In the latest episode, host Sarah
Koenig and her team focus on the many flaws that hampered the search for
Bergdahl before his release in 2014.
Following Bergdahl's 2009 disappearance and capture by the Taliban,
there was an exhaustive "boots on the ground" manhunt in Afghanistan
and parts of Pakistan to find him. However, when those searches proved
fruitless, the search for Bergdahl was placed in the hands of Army intelligence
agencies—or at least, that's what Bergdahl's friends and
Kim Harrison of Portland, OR was a close friend of Bergdahl's and was
notified of his disappearance in 2009. She later took finding him into
her own hands and bounced around several different, laborious administrative
hurdles with the Army, the NSA, the CIA and Interpol and other agencies.
Her efforts finally caught the attention of one Tampa-based Central Command
analyst (who is not named in the Serial episode) who helped Kim navigate
the chain of command—including recommending that she buy one officer
scotch and beef jerky just to get a meeting with him.
What Kim and the analyst discovered is that finding Bergdahl was not a
priority of any the higher-ups that they were pointed to. In fact, some
of them hadn't even heard of Bergdahl. Even more troubling was that,
during this effort, they learned that other hostages were also being largely
ignored. Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle had been captured
in Afghanistan in 2012 and, left to languish, Coleman even gave birth
while in Taliban captivity.
"It Was This Big Loop"
Kim Harrison wasn't the only person who felt determined to do something
about Bergdahl's case. Retired Lt. Col. Jason Amerine was tasked with
helping find Bergdahl around the same time, as well and encountered a
"loop" of different attitudes, agency-to-agency, that assumed
others were looking for Bergdahl. “CENTCOM assumed SOCOM had it,"
Amerine said, "SOCOM assumed the State Department had it, and months
later, after a lot of meetings, I finally figured out the State Department
assumed that the military had it. It was this big loop."
Besides that, Amerine also discovered that there was a corrosive attitude
towards Bergdahl in general. "The refrain was almost always that
the guy’s a traitor," Amerine told Koenig. "That attitude
was everywhere up and down the chain of command." Harrison, too,
came up against this attitude, noting that she didn't expect to have
to sell the fact that Bergdahl deserved to come home to the decision-makers
she met with. Bergdahl and even Caitlan Coleman were often dismissed as
foolhardy because they "shouldn't have been there" in Afghanistan
in the first place.
Another former analyst named "Nathan" saw Bergdahl's case
fall down the ladder of Army priorities as officials continued to tell
Bergdahl's family that they were doing "all they can." While
Nathan didn't work on Bergdahl's case directly, he was so frustrated
with his colleague's treatment of the effort that he reached out the
Bergdahl family via Facebook to tell them how little the Army was doing
to get Bowe back. The message inspired Bergdahl's father Bob to later
release a YouTube video addressing the Pakistani government, pleading
for its help with the return of his son.
Parsing all of this information, Koenig brings up a critical point: while
certainly there were other Army and U.S. Intelligence priorities in the
five years the Bergdahl was missing, how much diligence was his case actually
receiving if the climate surrounding the effort was so negative? And more
than this, how many suggestions, ideas, and concerns from lower-ranking
personnel went unsaid because of the prevalent bias against Bergdahl among
You can listen to the fifth episode of Serial season 2
here. Episode six will debut on February 4, 2016.
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