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 families assumed.
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 their superiors?
You can listen to the fifth episode of Serial season 2 here. Episode six will debut on February 4, 2016.
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