Photo of the Day: New Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) Headquarters Open

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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Via state.gov:

The dedication of the new Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) headquarters building marked the completion of the MCESG headquarters compound, where Marine and Department of State personnel screen and train U.S. Marines for duty as Marine Security Guards at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad. The building is based on a U.S. embassy design to help accustom the Marines working there to an embassy environment.

ARGO Systems, LLC Chief Operating Officer Jeff Johnson; Diplomatic Security Service Director Bill Miller; former commanding officer of Marine Security Guard (MSG) Battalion Col. William Rizzio (USMC Ret.); Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG)  commanding officer Col. Rollin D. Brewster; Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy; and Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey cut the ribbon at the dedication of the new Marine Corps Embassy Security Group headquarters building on August 12, 2016 in Quantico, Virginia. Rizzio was the initial planner of the MCESG headquarters project, and ARGO Systems designed and built the facility.  The dedication ceremony was attended by about 70 guests including Rocky Sickman, and Bill Gallegos who were Marine Security Guards (MSG) at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and were taken hostage when the embassy was overrun by militants in 1979. Both were retroactively presented with the MSG Ribbon.

 

On August 12, 2016, the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) and U.S. Department of State dedicated the new MCESG headquarters building (center background) and its memorial wall at the MCESG compound in Quantico, Virginia. The MCESG headquarters trains and deploys personnel for 175 Marine Security Guard detachments assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates in 147 countries, with the mission to protect U.S. diplomats and prevent compromise of national security information. (U.S. Department of State photo)

On August 12, 2016, the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) and U.S. Department of State dedicated the new MCESG headquarters building (center background) and its memorial wall at the MCESG compound in Quantico, Virginia. The MCESG headquarters trains and deploys personnel for 175 Marine Security Guard detachments assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates in 147 countries, with the mission to protect U.S. diplomats and prevent compromise of national security information. (U.S. Department of State photo)

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CRS: Former U.S. Hostages of Iran to be Eligible for Compensation

Posted: 12:29 am EDT
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From CRS Legal Sidebar (PDF) via Secrecy News:

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Americans Held Hostage at US Embassy Tehran For 444 Days Win Compensation After 36 Years. Finally!

Posted: 4:47  pm EDT
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Very happy to see that this finally happened after so long a wait!

Via NYT:

After spending 444 days in captivity, and more than 30 years seeking restitution, the Americans taken hostage at the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979 have finally won compensation.

Buried in the huge spending bill signed into law last Friday are provisions that would give each of the 53 hostages or their estates up to $4.4 million. Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks such as the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa would also be eligible for benefits under the law.
[…]
The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000.
[….]
Some former hostages and their family members had expressed frustration at the Justice and State Departments for blocking efforts over the years to get compensation. In a sense, the spending bill represents Congress’s taking control of the BNP Paribas money back from the Justice Department.  Some hostages did not want to discuss the legislation. “It’s enough,” said Barry Rosen, who was a press attaché at the embassy. “We’ve gone through enough.”

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Related posts:

The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation (August 2015)

State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage (September 2015)

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy (March 2015)

November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day (November 2013)

Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran Hostages (May 2012)

Iranian Mob Attacks British Embassy in Tehran — It’s Dejavu All Over Again! (November 2011)

January 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years Later  (January 2011)

Canadian Caper’s Ken Taylor, an American hero dead at 81

Posted: 2:51 am EDT
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Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Tehran known for his role in the Iran hostage crisis, has died, CBC News reported Thursday. He was 81 years old. We’ve previously blogged about Ambassador Taylor when the movie “Argo” first came out. In 1980, he was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Below is an excerpt from President Reagan’s remarks on June 16, 1981 at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the former Canadian Ambassador to Iran.

We’re today honoring another act of courage, this one with a happier ending in which the courage and ingenuity were rewarded by success after 79 days. I’d like to sketch briefly the events of those 79 days, to describe not only Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.

Four days after the storming of the American Embassy, Ambassador Taylor received a call from five Americans who had escaped from the Embassy when it was overrun. They were hiding, but they were afraid that they’d soon be discovered and captured. Ambassador Taylor immediately recommended to his government in Ottawa that Americans be given shelter. Without any hesitation, the Canadian Government granted the permission. Two days later, the Americans were taken to Ambassador Taylor’s residence and that of another Canadian Embassy family, the John Sheardowns. Two weeks later, another American joined his five compatriots. For 79 days, they lived there pretending to be visitors. I understand they’re the best-read and the most skilled Scrabble players in all of North America.

There were several tense moments in the weeks that followed. At one point, an article was imminent in a Montreal paper which would have disclosed the story of the sheltered Americans. In an admirable display of responsibility, the journalist who had written the article agreed to withdraw it from publication. However, from this article, and more immediately from an anonymous phone call to the Taylor’s residence asking to speak to two of the escapees, Ambassador Taylor knew that the chances of his guests being discovered were high.

At this point, the Canadian Government in Ottawa and the Embassy began the ingenious preparations for an escape. The Canadian Government agreed to issue fictitious passports to the Americans. The Canadian Embassy staff began making flights in and out of Tehran to establish a travel pattern and to learn airport procedures.

Finally, on January 28th, 1980, the Americans packed the bags that were given them by their Canadian hosts with the clothes also given to them. Using their Canadian passports, they flew out of the country. Ambassador Taylor and three others of his staff saw them off and then left themselves. Even this brief outline of those 79 days highlights what a team effort it was.

The Canadian Department of External Affairs in Ottawa and the Canadian Cabinet responded with speed and decisiveness to help an ally. Ambassador Towe is here today representing the Canadian Government. The U.S. State Department is represented today by Ambassador Stoessel, and there were others who were working at the State Department during the crisis who played a part with discretion and skill. And here today also is Representative Daniel Akaka, the sponsor, and several of his cosponsors, of the legislation which resulted in the gold medal which I am going to present today.

Also present today is Lee Schatz, one of the six whom the Taylors rescued, as well as Bruce Laingen and Victor Tomseth, who had to wait a little longer before they could come home.

Mrs. Taylor is here with her husband and was directly involved with him in this deed. She shared the risks. She did much of the work. It was at her residence that several of the Americans were actually staying. And, finally, it’s my great honor to present the medal to Kenneth Taylor whose valor, ingenuity, and steady nerves made possible this one happy chapter in the agony of those 444 days of hostage crisis.

Major Kline. The medal is inscribed by an “Act of Congress, March 6, 1980. Entre amis, appreciation for the noble and heroic effort in the harboring of six United States diplomats and safe return to America. Thank you, Canada.”

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Related posts:

Canadian Caper’s John Sheardown Who Sheltered U.S. Diplomats During Hostage Crisis Dies at 88

Canadian Caper, CIA Exfiltration, Ben Affleck’s Argo and Hurt Feelings

November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day

— Domani Spero

Thirty four years ago today, the US Embassy in Tehran was taken over by a mob of Iranian students supporting the Iranian Revolution.  52 embassy employees were held hostage for 1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days until their release on January 20, 1981.

Below are some excerpts from ADST’s Oral History project’s interviews with Ambassador Bruce Laingen, the chargé d’affaires at that time,  Ambassador John W. Limbert who was assigned as Political Officer at the  US Embassy in Tehran from 1979-1981, and Penelope Laingen, the wife of Ambassador Laingen.

Bruce Laingen | Read The Iran Hostage Crisis Part I and Ambassador Laingen’s interview:

“Their real intent was not to get the Shah back, despite the slogans that were so useful to them in that sense to get passions in the streets aroused. Their intent was to use that device to destabilize and undermine the provisional government of the revolution and to facilitate a greater role for the more radical elements.

At any rate, it did not seem that the situation was all that bad at the outset. In retrospect we should have begun destruction earlier. I, obviously as chief of mission, had that responsibility and today bear that responsibility for the way in which not enough of our classified documentation was destroyed. We had too much, we started too late, and we had equipment that was not the best….

Of course, a lot of the paper that did not seem to have that urgency of destruction, including unclassified biographical material, would also in time prove to be a very damaging element of the situation, because lots of that stuff has Central Intelligence Agency logo stamped on it even if it is unclassified. That was enough to fire the fury of the more radical elements of the revolution, even though it was material of an unclassified, descriptive nature. That was sufficient to cause a great deal of pain and hurt to a lot of Iranians.

And that is the real pain that I have felt since. Not that our security was threatened, our strategic interests, or political interests in Iran and the region. They were not seriously affected by what was leaked. It was clear in any event at that point that our relationship with the Iranians was not going to be reestablished very soon. But the human hurt for a lot of people in Iran because of the way we were not able to destroy incriminating documentation, that is the legacy that hurts me very much today.”

John Limbert | Read more here or his interview here.

“I did probably one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done in my Foreign Service career. I volunteered to go out and talk to these guys. I’m a Persian speaker, so perhaps I can go out and see if we can defuse this someway, or delay it, defuse it, divert it. We did not see these guys being armed or anybody getting hurt. So that’s what I did. I went out, they opened the door, I went out the door and started talking to these guys. And at first they were shocked, because they thought I was an Iranian. I kept reassuring them, “No, no, no, I’m not an Iranian, I’m an American employee of the embassy, you should get out of here.” I took my most professorial tone with them and was as overbearing as I could be and saying, “You are where you should not be. You have no business here. You should get out as soon as you can. You are causing trouble. Who do you think you are?” So forth and so on. And they weren’t having any of it.

I’ll tell you a little story about this. About 1991 or ’92 there was a made-for-TV movie about the hostage taking. It wasn’t a great bit of moviemaking but it was not bad. And part of the movie shows this particular incident, where the actor playing me goes out to talk to these guys and gets taken. I was showing this at one point to an audience, using this as an example and one of the people in the audience, perhaps he didn’t realize this character was supposed to be me and in this stage whisper said, “God, what an idiot!” although he didn’t use the word “idiot.” He used a more anatomical descriptor. True, I must admit he had a point. I’ve always called this the low point of my Foreign Service career and my least successful negotiation.”

Penelope Laingen | Read her 1986 interview here.

“In my whole history of being connected to the Foreign Service, whenever I’d started a project, for instance — I am a writer and I had three chapters written in a novel and my teacher said “You have a real winner here and should get an agent now” — then, Bruce was taken hostage, so I put that away and I’ve not gotten back to it. I will someday, I hope. I had also upholstered a chair and I had everything but the back done when we went to Malta, (so I had to put that away, too). I mean, it’s just been a history of deferring or putting aside something. So when he was taken hostage, I just had to put everything else out of my mind and concentrate on that. I also called all my training in the Foreign Service to bear, even though I felt I had been “dismissed” by the Foreign Service.

[…]

So, here we come to the hostage crisis, a terribly public, international crisis, where you are on television. I think most people recognize and say, okay, this is the wife of the Chief of Mission (and how she behaves reflects not only on her husband, but perhaps on the whole Foreign Service or on Americans on the world scene). If I had gone on television and cried nightly, if I’d flown off to Iran and called the President stupid or the Government’s policy stupid, I think I would have heard in two minutes just how private a person I was! (I would have been reprimanded by the very Department of State which had proclaimed me to be a private person with no responsibility to my husband’s career). I mean, I’m being sarcastic and I realized I wasn’t a private person. You can’t be a private person. You are a part of the Foreign Service and particularly when you are on the public stage like that. It’s a public life. How can you be a private person in a public life? See, this is what Sandra Gotlieb found out. You cannot be a private person in a public arena. There’s no way.

So, the hypocrisy of this official policy has just gnawed no end at me. And I got no support from the Department in that role. I got sort of superficial support. Well, not even that, not even that.
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One thing that made it difficult was the lack of esprit de corps among the families. I mean, we had never served together, so that was one of the drawbacks. And there were all different services involved. There’s a study done of fourteen hostage wives. Those of us who had served the longest in the Foreign Service expected the most, yet felt we had received the least support. Those foreign-born spouses in the group expected nothing and were deeply grateful for whatever they received in the way of support. They had no great expectations of the Department, which was perhaps a cultural difference. And the military wives felt they received the greatest support, which they did, and in return kept their allegiance to those services in tact. I believe Sheldon Krys and other Department managers did the best they could under the circumstances, but they had much to learn from the Iran crisis in the management of families during a crisis. It was always a source of great disappointment to me, for instance, that not once during the crisis did any of my husband’s colleagues offer to take our youngest son to a basketball game or call to inquire about the house or other personal matters. It was up to us unite ourselves and support one another in that personal way.”

According to the CRS report dated September 2013, “the former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits.”   Also see this Brief from USDOJ before SCOTUS dated April 2012.  See  Roder, et.al v. Iran to catch up on the litigation history.

So 444 days by $50 is exactly $22,200.00.

Currently in Congress, is Senate bill S. 559, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013, which would establish a fund to compensate the former hostages. The American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund would pay to each former hostage or estate of a former hostage $150,000 plus $5,000 per each day of captivity ($2.37 million total per former hostage).  Over at the House, the Justice for the American Diplomats Held Hostage in Tehran Act, H.R. 904, was introduced and referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.  Each former hostage or estate of a former hostage would receive $10,000 for each day of captivity ($4.44 million each); each spouse or child of a former hostage would receive half that amount.

In both bills, the funds would come from fines and penalties imposed for violations related to Iran. Both cases also include a provision that recipients waive and release all existing claims against Iran and the United States arising out of the hostage crisis.

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Canadian Caper’s John Sheardown Who Sheltered U.S. Diplomats During Hostage Crisis Dies at 88

John Sheardown, a Canadian diplomat in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis who sheltered four of the six Americans who evaded capture during the US Embassy takeover in 1979, died   Sunday, December 30 at The Ottawa Hospital. He was 88.

john sheardown

John Sheardown. 1980.  Photo via screen capture from YouTube

The six Americans escaped out of Iran in what was originally known as the Canadian Caper in January 1980.  Click the video here of the PBS piece made in 1980 describing their escape from Iran.  That escape, recently dramatized in the 2012 Ben Affleck movie Argo would not have been possible without the help of Canadian friends like John Sheardown who took care of their American “house guests” at great personal peril.

John Sheardown was a World War II bomber pilot and an Order of Canada recipient.  The order recognizes the achievement of outstanding merit or distinguished service by Canadians who made a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavour, as well as the efforts made by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. According to The Star, Mr. Sheardown was offered the keys to New York by then mayor Edward Koch but he apparently declined, saying Ambassador Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Tehran during the crisis had received them on behalf of all who were involved.  His home city of Windsor, Ontario honored him this year by declaring November 10 the John Sheardown Day.

Requiescat in pace, John Sheardown.

domani spero sig

 

 

Canadian Caper, CIA Exfiltration, Ben Affleck’s Argo and Hurt Feelings

In 1980, PBS aired a 54:02 video about the escape from Iran by 6 Americans who were United States Embassy employees.  The “Canadian Caper” as it is known is the rescue effort by the Canadian Government and the Central Intelligence Agency of six American diplomats who evaded capture during the seizure and hostage taking of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979.  If you watch the video below, you will note that there is no mention of the CIA.  The closely guarded secret of the CIA’s role was only revealed in 1997 as part of the Agency’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Two years later, in the Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000), the CIA’s former chief of disguise, Tony J. Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in Argo) wrote A Classic Case of Deception: CIA Goes Hollywood. You can read it online here.

The six rescued American are as follows:

Robert Anders, 34 – Consular Officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular Officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular Assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agriculture Attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular Officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular Assistant

The Ben Affleck film, Argo reportedly borrows from the memoir of Tony Mendez, “The Master of Disguise,” which originally details how he devised an incredible escape from Tehran for American diplomats posing as a Canadian film crew.  According to Mendez’s website, http://www.themasterofdisguise.com/ Warner Brothers and George Clooney optioned the rights to his book “The Master of Disguise” following a May 2007 “Wired Magazine” article on Tony’s rescue operation during the Iranian hostage crisis.  The script was written by Chris Terrio who reportedly also drew on that 2007 Wired Magazine article and called the movie “a fictionalized version of real events.”

In addition to The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (William Morrow and Company, 1999. 351 pages), Mendez has also just released the book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (Viking Adult, September 13, 2012. 320 pages).  That’s 320 pages of details on how the escape came down from the perspective of the chief exfiltrator.

In any case, Argo had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7, and who was not invited? For godsakes this is Toronto as in Canada!  Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran who sheltered the six Americans, that’s who, and our next door neighbors were not too pleased.

Via The Star:

Friends of Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran, are shocked and upset by the way he was portrayed in Argo …. The ultimate put-down comes with a postscript that appears on the screen just before the final credits, savouring the irony that Taylor has received 112 citations. The obvious implication is that he didn’t deserve them.

A separate piece had this quote from the former ambassador:

“The movie’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s pertinent, it’s timely,” he said. “But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”

Ambassador Taylor was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1980. In his remarks on presenting the medal, then President Reagan described not only “Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.” 

According to Reuters, both Affleck and writer Chris Terrio maintain that the broad thesis of the film is based on actual events, although traditional Hollywood dramatic license includes a climax scene where Iranian police chase a jumbo jet down a runway.  In his presscon after the TIFF premier, Affleck was quoted saying: “Because we say it’s based on a true story, rather than this is a true story,” he said, “we’re allowed to take some dramatic licence. There’s a spirit of truth.”

Things could still have gotten messy but did not.  Affleck apparently changed the offending postscript at the end of the movie, which Taylor’s friends regarded as an insult both to him and to Canada, was removed and replaced by a new postscript: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”

Ambassador Taylor and his wife were invited by Affleck to Los Angeles and attended a private screening of Argo on the Warner Bros. lot. They were also invited to the Washington DC premiere during a private screening at the Regal Gallery cinemas in downtown Washington on October 10, 2012.  Click here for a video of Affleck addressing a packed auditorium during the screening that included embassy staff, lawmakers, former CIA and former hostages.

Ambassador Taylor and his wife have reportedly taped a commentary for the extra features on the DVD version of Argo, but this will not be released until 2013.

Meanwhile, the film has now also upset the British diplomats who helped our diplomats in Iran.

I should note that among the six Americans featured in Agro, one is still in the Foreign Service. Joseph D. Stafford, III is currently assigned as Charge’ d’ affaires at the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan.  Except for a brief mention that he joined the FS in 1978 and that he had earlier assignments in Algiers, Kuwait, Cairo, Palermo, and Tehran, there’s no mention of that daring scape from Tehran in his official bio.

But Mark J. Lijek, one of the Argo six has written a detailed memoir of his experience in The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery.  The book is available in digital edition at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Image from http://marklijek.com/index.php

After Tehran, Mark J. Lijek went on to assignments in Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Warsaw, Frankfurt and several tours in Foggy Bottom. On his website, he writes that the Iran experience remained a constant in his life but that while media interest came and went, he never forgot the selfless help provided by Canadian Embassy personnel during the crucial months following the takeover.  He writes that remained in touch with several of the Canadians and served as the US-side coordinator for the periodic reunions hosted by the Canadian side.  He and his wife, Cora, apparently also continued their friendship with Tony Mendez who masterminded their rescue. Both have been involved on the margins with the film which he calls “a dramatized version of Tony’s escape plan.”

Click here for Mark’s photos in FB from his Escape From Iran Album and the Argo Six Hollywood experience.

If you want to have a rounded view of what happened behind the Argo rescue and the hostage crisis, you may also want to read a couple more books:

Our Man in Tehran: The True Story behind the Secret Mission to save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked with the CIA to Bring Them Home by Robert A. Wright

Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam by Mark Bowden