Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

We were not always happy with Ambassador Crocker’s often glass is full assessment of what was going on in Afghanistan when he was the Ambassador there, but the following news is not one we were hoping to read on his second post-retirement.

KXLY.com of Spokane, Washington (h/t to The Cable’s Josh Rogin) reported that Ambassador Ryan Crocker was arrested at 2:05 in the afternoon on August 14 by the Washington State Patrol for hit-and-run and driving under the influence in Spokane Valley. The report cited the State Patrol saying that Ambassador Crocker crossed two lanes of traffic, clipped a semi and damaged the passenger side of the Ford Mustang he was driving. He was pulled over, taken into custody and transported to the Spokane Valley Precinct where he received a sobriety test. He reportedly had a .16 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) on one test, twice the legal limit in Washington State. Another test reportedly indicated a .152 BAC.

“It was fairly obvious that Mr. Crocker was highly intoxicated ,” Briggs [Washington State Patrol Trooper] said, adding that the arresting trooper said that Crocker was very cooperative throughout the incident.

The State Patrol believes he was intoxicated by alcohol, not prescription drugs, due to odor and the high blood alcohol count. The WSP added Thursday there is no way Crocker could have crossed two lanes of traffic, hit the semi and continued to drive without knowing it.
[…]
On Aug. 15, the day following his arrest, Crocker pled not guilty to the hit and run and DUI charges. Both charges carried a $1,000 bail.
[…]
His next court appearance is scheduled for September 12.

Read in full here.

Just a day before this incident, Yale News reported that Ambassador Crocker has been named Yale’s first Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy and was scheduled to teach both undergraduate and graduate students during the 2012-2013 academic year.

In his long career with the State Department, Ambassador Crocker served as ambassador six times.  He was the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to July 2012. He was also previously  United States Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007, to Syria from 1998 to 2001, to Kuwait from 1994 to 1997, and to Lebanon from 1990 to 1993.

Of course, prior to becoming ambassador he served in a host of other places like Qatar and Iraq.  In 2003, he was also a political officer at the US Embassy in Lebanon when it was hit by a suicide car bomb. A total of 63 people were killed in the bombing: 32 Lebanese employees, 17 Americans, and 14 visitors and passersby.

Almost all mention of Ambassador Crocker’s name also mentions some of the most dangerous hotspots where he served since joining the Foreign Service in the early 1970’s.  We don’t stop and pause often enough to ask if we can send our diplomats to all these dangerous places in the world over and over and over again without any personal consequences on their part. What part of themselves did they lost in Beirut or Peshawar? We never really ask and they did not tell, except sometimes, decades later.

Kristin K. Loken was a Foreign Service officer with USAID who worked at the US Embassy in San Salvador for two years in the late 1970s during El Salvador’s brutal civil war was later diagnosed with “post-traumatic shock syndrome,” (the term used for PTSD in the early 1980s):

“I went to my boss and told her I thought I was going through some postwar emotional problems and asked if the State Department or USAID had some counseling services available. She said she was sympathetic but thought senior people would probably frown on my having emotional problems, and advised that disclosing my condition might negatively affect my eventual tenuring with USAID. So it would be best to keep a “stiff upper lip.” Her advice was to see a private therapist, for which she would give me as much administrative leave as I needed.”

In her 2008 FSJ article on PTSD (Not Only for Combat Veterans (p.42)), she writes about subsequently working on the Lebanon program and the 1983 US Embassy Beirut bombing:

In April 1983, I had just left the city and arrived back in the U.S. when the embassy was blown up. In the bombing, I lost my mission director, Bill Mc-Intyre, our Lebanese secretary and many other colleagues and good friends with whom I had worked for the last year.
[…]
I noticed that many of the symptoms of the previous PTSD episode returned at this time, but I felt that if I were patient, they would pass as they had the first time.
[…]
More than two decades after I first experienced PTSD, the symptoms have for the most part passed — except when I am overcome by exhaustion, physical pain, illness or stress. Then I can feel myself slipping back into a bad place.

We cannot presume to know what is ailing Ambassador Crocker or if he has been screened for PTSD.   We can only hope that he gets better.  An unnamed official told CNN that “the serious health problem he had in Iraq came back, so he is forced to leave a year early for genuinely serious health reasons.” The State Department Spokesman also confirmed this to the press last May without additional details when news first broke that Ambassador Crocker is stepping down from his post at the US Embassy in Kabul.

We note that Ambassador Crocker was reportedly arrested at 2:05 p.m. with a .16 BAC, twice the legal limit in Washington State.  USVA’s PTSD page notes that PTSD and alcohol use problems are often found together.  Below is a a description of what happens when an individual has a BAC of between .12 to .15:

.12-.15 BAC = Vomiting usually occurs, unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance to alcohol. Drinkers are drowsy.

Drinkers display emotional instability, loss of critical judgment, impairment of perception, memory, and comprehension.

Lack of sensor-motor coordination and impaired balance are typical. Decreased sensory responses and increased reaction times develop. The vision is significantly impaired, including limited ability to see detail, peripheral vision, and slower glare recovery.

Here are other important details on PTSD and alcohol use from USVA:

  • Having PTSD also increases the risk that an individual will develop a drinking problem.
  • Up to three quarters of those who have survived abusive or violent trauma report drinking problems.
  • Up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters report drinking problems.
  • Alcohol problems are more common for survivors who have ongoing health problems or pain.
  • Sixty to eighty percent of Vietnam Veterans seeking PTSD treatment have alcohol use problems.

We don’t know that we’ll hear from Ambassador Crocker, himself. But we hope he speaks out.

In any case, when my best friend in the Foreign Service retired, he got a signed certificate from the Secretary and once or twice a year, he gets a statement of pay from some office at State and that’s about it. He gets more correspondence on military news, pay, benefits, etc. from the U.S. Armed Forces from where he retired prior to joining the State Department.

What support can Ambassador Crocker expect from the State Department?

We’ll shortly find out.

Domani Spero

Update:  Seattle’s kirotv.com covers this here.   CNN is reporting that he was charged, car impounded then released on his own recognizance.  According to CNN conditions of his bail, as outlined August 15, include “refraining from committing any crimes and consuming alcohol or drugs except as prescribed by a doctor, the court docket states. Crocker was also ordered to go to a drug testing office within 24 hours and undergo alcohol testing twice a month.”

 

 

 

10 responses

  1. Poor Ambasador Crocker–give me a break. Thank goodness for Dan’s input–the sole voice of reason. I generally enjoy your posts but when I read this item I thought I was losing my mind. I heard a lot of excuses for a man who committed a very serious crime. I don’t care about his 30 years of service, his contributions, his poor health or his potential PTSD. I’ve known folks who have served three and four AIP assisgnments and have never once stooped to driving drunk. Crocker could have killed someone Let’s save the kum-ba- yah speeches and hand-holding until after he’s had the book thrown at him.

    • Julia, you may have your break. I am sorry my blog post made you lost your mind. I hope you get it back. While I do not approve of driving drunk, and do not want him to get a golden pass for this, such disapproval does not mean I cannot feel sympathy. I heard that it is a subjective human weakness.

      And plueeze – I do not do kumbaya. Roger out.

  2. It sounds as if State could and should do more with or for retirees. Until that happens, please remind retirees they have a few options to stay in touch on both practical and political issues. One is staying connected with AFSA, which does follow and advocate on some retiree issues and has a section on its website for retiree issues. It also has a page on its web site about Foreign Service retiree organizations around the country. This is a good way to stay in touch with colleagues, current issues and, perhaps, be a launching pad for ideas and actions to lobby State for more. State Magazine is also available online and as a paid subscription, albeit a pricey one ($48/year) Here is the AFSA link for foreign affairs groups: linkhttp://www.afsa.org/foreign_affairs_and_other_associations.aspx:

    There is also a New England chapter (Known as FARNE)

    (PS: I believe the certificate signed by the Secretary is available to all retirees with a certain number of service years, but you need to request it and it can take up to six months to process the request and get the Secretary to sign it. (Probably if everyone requested one, the time frame would increase.) I think there is something in the FAH about it, under Awards.)

  3. Thank god he didn’t kill anyone! You shouldn’t be making excuses for him by suggesting he has PTSD. A lot of people served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in more stressful jobs than AMB, and aren’t driving drunk at 2 PM.

    • Dan,
      Thanks for your note. Not making excuses. Just some parity. When service members cross the line of acceptable behavior, service to war zones is often mention as accompanying fact. I don’t see why it should be different for FSOs who served in war zones. I am asking if he might have PTSD; just because he was an ambassador does not mean he could not suffer from PTSD.

  4. Signed certificate from the Secretary of State? I have an ID badge that says I retired after x number of years of loyal and meritorious service. Not signed by anyone in particular, just a scrawl over the line “validating signture.” Thanks very much! (That card, apparently, is no longer any good and you must get a new one should you have some curious desire to frequent the State Department.)

    As for news, there is the annual “annuitant newsletter,” which has lots of riveting information, such as how to get a new retiree card and the importance of reporting your death immediately. Compared to the daily news from “military.com” (my spouse is retired Navy).

    I had a similar experience regarding any mention of mental stress. At the beginning of my service my mother died of a massive heart attack, just as I moved to a new city and began a new (second career). I experienced some depression and consulted the medical office. My boss knew about this and told me immediately to consult an ouside counselor, that any official record of mental health counseling would seriously damage my standing as I competed for new assignments.

    • Thanks for sharing, Helen. The annuitant newsletter sounds morbid, maybe my friend gets it and shreds it without reading.

      From best I could tell, the subject of PTSD started getting talked about beyond whispers when FSO Beth Payne wrote about Living with Iraq in the FSJ in 2006. An entire FSJ issue in 2008 had more talk on PTSD. But from what I hear support for PTSD within the State Department still has a long ways to go.

  5. What will the State Department do? I think the question is, what will WE do — those of us who know the man and the leader, the incredible sacrifices and contributions he has made for our country and for peace. The comments on the web have been incredibly vicious. What would the public reaction be if it were David Petraeus instead? Would his fellow troops and his generals leave him out to hang? They would not, nor should we when it comes to someone like Ryan Crocker.

    • Jane, thanks for your note. Unfortunately, the web has been known to bite viciously on many occasions, particularly diplomats (see bite marks after infamous 2007 town hall with then DGHR, Harry Thomas, subsequently awarded an ambassadorship to the Pearl of the Orient). If this were David Petreaus, I doubt if we would be talking about this; his institutional home would have taken care of him, long before an incident like this happens.

      Ambassador Crocker spent over thirty years with the State Department. He worked for the American public but his home his entire career was the State Department. While it has not been confirmed that this is a result of PTSD, the official reaction and support to this high profile case would be telling. I do hope that his institutional home and fellow diplomats do not leave him out to hang while the chattering public watch in glee.

      That said, alcohol use problem is not an unknown issue in the Foreign Service even before the war zone deployments in the last decade. How has that been exacerbated with multiple,and back to back war zone and hardship assignments? Is MED tracking these cases? And what happens to lesser known, lower ranked officers with similar issues?