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Tonight's Meet the Author program features Mark Bowden, author of Guests of the Ayatollah: the First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. Mr. Bowden's new book, the result of five years of extensive interviews, analyzes why the Iran hostage crisis happened, why it played out the way it did and how it had affected the world in ensuing years. Mark Bowden has written numerous books including the best sellers, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War and Killing Pablo: the Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw. He is also the author of Dr. Dealer, Bringing the Heat, Our Finest Day and Finders Keepers. Mr. Bowden has worked as a screenwriter on the film version of Black Hawk Down and his Killing Pablo is currently being adapted for the big screen by Paramount Dreamworks. Mr. Bowden is and Atlantic Monthly national corespondent and has contributed to many publications including the New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He has lectured at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Yale University Law School and Georgetown University as well as at the CIA headquarters and the Pentagon. Mr. Bowden is also an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Loyola College of Maryland where he teaches creative writing and journalism. Please give a warm welcome to Mark Bowden. Well thank you very much. I apologize for that long introduction, thank you Belle, but that was the long version of uh, usually its just here's Mark Bowden, take it from here. I'm very proud to be invited, I'm flattered to see such a turnout here and particularly pleased to be at a venue that memorializes the Marines. My son B.J. was a Marine and as those of you that have served in the Marine Corps know that if you have a family member in the Marines you're a part of the broader family and so I'm always very tickled to be at an event sponsored by the Marines. One of the hazards of writing non fiction books, I've discovered, is that people mistake you for an expert on many things that you're not actually an expert in. I, when I began to work on these books that I write, I usually know next to nothing about the story that I'm investigating and at the end of it I feel that I've learned enough to write the story that I want to write, but I am not by any means a uh, an expert on a particular region of the world or even in American foreign policy, which of course does not stop television from putting me on shows and putting little emblems on the bottom of the screen that say something like, "TERRORISM EXPERT", which seems to me like you'd have blown yourself up to qualify for that one or you know "MIDDLE EAST EXPERT" or something, none of which I am. I was interviewed once on a program, I guess it was meet the press or something and I always do my best to answer the questions. My son, my youngest son B.J., or Ben rather, sixteen at the time, walked in the room and he sat down and watched this show where I was being interviewed and at the end of it he looks at me and he says, "Dad, why are they asking you?", which I thought was actually an excellent question. In my experience as a journalist, nothing so confirms your ignorance than knowing a little about something. And that kind of defines, you know my role in all of the stories that I write, this story of the Iran hostage crisis was by far the biggest project that I've ever undertaken. It was the most ambitious in scope certainly, it involved hundreds of people, lots of travel, it involved digesting a tremendous amount of material that's already in print. Just the newspaper coverage of the Iran hostage crisis as you can imagine, fills boxes and boxes and these are just the stories from the major newspapers and news wires. Something on the order of thirty books have been written on the subject and you go to the national archives in Washington and they have boxes and boxes of declassified documents and the Carter Center in Atlanta has all the documentation from Jimmy Carter's presidency including some hundreds of hours of videotape of all the television coverage of this thing, so for me just the research part of this was huge and them of course finding the hostages of whom forty two or forty three are still living, finding the men who participated in the rescue mission, finding members of the Carter administration who are willing to talk about this episode and traveling to Iran to find the hostage takers and that had to have been, you know for me the most dramatic part of the whole project. I started working on this in 2001 and so it, really after twenty something years, it was really a time when some of these Iranians that were involved in taking the embassy, were willing to talk about it, so that's actually one of the big pluses I think in this account of the episode is that you get the perspective of these Iranians. I made several trips to Iran and I had lists of the hostage takers to interview and one of the people who I requested an interview of on my first trip, was a fellow named Mohammad Hashemi, who really, of all the people I wanted to talk with in Iran, it seemed like he was the least likely to accept a request from an American journalist because in the years since the take over of the embassy, he had gone on to become one of the founding members of Iran's intelligence agency and had risen to the point, to the level of Deputy Minister, which is roughly equivalent to being the Deputy Director of the CIA in this country, so I had no expectation that Hashemi would talk to me, but much to my surprise he was one of the first to accept my requests. So I went to see him and he's a short chubby little guy with thick curly hair to his shoulders turning gray and a big bushy beard and he was terrific. In fact if you read the book, you'll see the opening pages described, Mohammad Hashemi as a younger man preparing the morning of the takeover of the embassy and he was terrific. He told me all about his background and the planning for the takeover and the day of the takeover all of it through a translator and at the end of it he tells me through the translator that now he has something he wants to talk to me about. And it turned out that the reason Mohammad Hashemi was eager to speak to an American journalist is that he and his wife had this business investment, they were building a resort on the shores of the Caspian Sea and they had brochures printed up in Farsi, but also in Italian and French and English, so they were looking to attract tourists from all over the world. He had a model about the size of this table next to me here with all the little golf courses and hotels and everything and he was looking for, you know, for me to write about this and maybe help attract people to their resort and uh, he's telling me about it very excitedly and then he tells me through the translator that he just has had this brilliant idea that maybe he should invite the American hostages to come back and stay as his guests, I kid you not, true story, I was flabbergasted and it shows you how much the world can change. So I asked the translator to ask Mohammad if this time they would be allowed to come home when they wanted to. And Mohammad kind of glowered at that question and he spoke one line in English to me which was, "You make a joke". Which I was really pleased he saw the humor in it because I was worried about my coming home at that point. I work on these books and they are, they prompt generally a lot of discussion, whether its Black Hawk Down or Killing Pablo, or this book, they prompt a lot of thinking and discussion about foreign policy which is great, but basically these books that I write are not academic works at all. I am a journalist, I come out of a newspaper writing tradition of books in the work that inspired me to become a writer were books by Truman Capote and Norman Mailer and Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe. And when I sit down to write a story, I'm trying to write a dramatic, first and foremost a dramatic story. So whether in writing about the battle of Mogadishu, my goal in Black Hawk Down was to recreate the experience of combat. In this case it was to recreate, this book attempts to recreate this episode of being taken hostage and the bulk of the book is about the experience of the hostages, but its a lot more than that. Its also the story of this incredibly courageous and audacious rescue attempt and the story of a president struggling against really a (word undetermined) knot of a problem, in his final year, the final year of his first term. So if this book qualifies as anything, its much more a non fiction novel than it is a history or foreign policy analysis and as such I think its much more like a 19th century Russian novel than most of what passes for fiction today in that its a sweeping story with hundreds of characters that takes you from jail cells in Tehran to the deserts of Utah where American soldiers are practicing again and again this rescue mission that ultimately failed, to the walls of the White House and the Pentagon where the Carter administration and the American military are wrestling with this...thorny problem. You know what to do about the taking of American hostages. For me to get my arms around a story of this size was a tremendous challenge and you have to come up with a strategy and my strategy was to envision this story as a three layer cake basically, of which the first and most important layer is the story of the hostages and the hostage takers. That to me, what I look for when I write a story is what I call the dramatic center of the story. Which means you find the people who were most directly involved, most directly affected by the story and you get them to relate what happened to them. That's where the drama is in any story and in this story the most important actors were those who were in Tehran who took over the embassy and who were held hostage. I've always been fascinated for whatever reason by stories of, of people in prison or captives. I remember actually one of the first books that I read with tremendous interest was "A Day in a Life of Ivan Denisovich," Alexander Solzhenitsyn's fantastic little novel about an inmate in the gulags of the Soviet Union, stories of people held and deprived and interrogated and, have always just been fascinating to me and the stories of these Americans were no less. We think back on this episode, and we know that these Americans came home safely at the end of it and that colors our perception of their experience, but in fact as, and I quote from Philip Roth at the beginning of this book that, what history hides is the terror of the unforeseen, so obviously as these hostages were in the middle of this crisis they had no way of knowing that they would come home safely at the end. In fact they had every reason to expect that they would never, ever come home and they were repeatedly threatened all of them, even the nineteen, twenty year old marines who guarded the gates of the embassy with trial and execution as spies, I think its hard to imagine some, not having gone through it anything like that myself, the level of fear that you would experience in that kind of an ordeal so I was interested to, to explore how the different ways that these American hostages coped with the experience. One of the stories that really fascinated me which has never been told before, is the story of Tom Ahern, who was the CIA station chief, one of three CIA officers at the embassy. And Tom Ahern, obviously had the most to fear of all of the hostages and also had the most to, the greatest responsibility ultimately. The Iranians were on a witch hunt, they were trying to find people who were plotting to destroy their revolution and so even you know, to have your name on the Rolodex of an American official at the embassy was enough to send an Iranian in to prison or even to their execution and Ahern of course is the CIA station chief had Iranians who were cooperating with him and his other two officers and realized that if he revealed their names that that could very well mean, be a life or death, death thing for them. And he was interrogated months, beaten, threatened repeatedly with trial and execution, he had one of the most difficult experiences and I found his story to be compelling. One of the things that Tom Ahern did in, he was kept in solitary confinement for the entire four hundred and forty four days. He would pass the time by, he was a pianist and he practiced the piano in the air and he would, he got ahold of some sheet music of Schubert concertos and he would practice playing them in the air and play them in his mind and he told me that as time went by he would be able to, so vividly imagine these works of music as it was though he was playing a real piano in a concert hall and it became a real source of entertainment for him and you could just imagine how bizarre that must have looked to his captors, but that was how Tom dealt with this ordeal. One of the other stories that really fascinated me was the story of Katherine Koob, who was one of the two women who was held for the whole year and a month. Katherine is a, was from Idaho. She was the head of the Iran-America Cultural Society and their job, or their role in Iran was to arrange for American artists to come to Iran, performers, and for Iranian artists and performers to come to the United States. She was a great lover of the theater was Katherine and that led her into when she joined the foreign service she migrated over to cultural issues and she loved her job. For her pains though she was tied to a chair and locked in a room and accused of being a spy and threatened with execution which is not something that Katherine ever signed on for certainly. But she was a religious woman, she had been raised in the Lutheran faith and Katherine's way of coping with this terror was to pretend that she was on an enforced spiritual retreat. She created for herself prayer routines that she would religiously perform, to use as a bad adjective, morning, afternoon and evening and this gave her days real structure and one of the things that anyone who's been through instruction on how to cope with captivity has learned is that it is very important to maintain that rhythm and structure to your days, so this gave her something to hang on to and gave her the sense as well that she was using her time productively and she was growing as a person and I think that it was a particularly admirable way for somebody to deal with it. Another way of coping with this experience was a young army Sergent named Joe Subic who basically dealt with being held captive by becoming as cooperative as he possibly be to his captors. So on the first day of the take over of the embassy when all of his colleagues and he were tied to chairs and blindfolded, the Iranian captors were obviously eager to find out who they had and the Americans who had been taken hostage were not particularly eager to let them know who they were. Most of them figured, most of the Americans figured that this couldn't last more than a day or two, so the more important, higher level officials at the embassy, military officers and foreign service officers were not eager for their captors to know exactly who they were, so when they were being asked who are you and what's your job, the Iranians were getting answers like, you know, my name is Bob Rodgers, or and my job is delivering pizza, you know to the embassy. But Joe Subic took it upon himself to take his captors around and introduce all of his colleagues. This is Col. Chuck Scott, he is the military liaison and this Col. Tom Schaffer, he's the Defense attache, this is Michael Metrinko Chief Political Officer, oh and by the way he speaks fluent Farsi, so the Americans were obviously eager to strangle Joe who went on to perform very enthusiastically, anti-American statements in front of the television cameras and exhortations to his countrymen to give into all of Iran's demands and so forth, but that was Joe's way of being a captor, a captive rather. The opposite extreme and my favorite of all of the hostages is my Michael Metrinko, who I just mentioned and you know, maybe in part he's my favorite because he was the Philadelphia hostage and I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Michael is from Oliphant, Pennsylvania. And maybe you've met people like Michael, but I, he's the, the original as far I'm concerned. But he's the kind of person who if you take him to a country that he's never been to in his life, he looks like, in a week, he's been there his entire life. And he dresses the way they dress, he walks the way they walk, he absorbs languages effortlessly, he's like a chameleon and he had gone to Iran six years earlier as a Peace Corps volunteer and he had fallen in love with this country, the culture and the language. He spoke Farsi fluently like a native and he was also political scientist, Metrinko was. He was in Iran in Tehran in 1979 in the middle of the most interesting revolution in modern times. He likened it to being a geologist, camped on the rim of an active volcano. He was studying this revolution. He was a guy that loved to eat and drink and smoke and he was out till three o'clock or four o'clock ever night and every morning, dining with, talking with asking questions, absorbing information, trying to understand this chaotic upheaval that was going on in that country, so he had had never in his life been so professionally engaged. And all of the sudden these young Iranian students come in an tie him to a chair and lock him in a room. And Michael was pissed. He was angry about being taken hostage and he was angry just because he had appointments that afternoon and that evening that he was really looking forward to and who were these people to stop him you know, from doing his work. So on the first day even though Michael was a chain smoker, he was offered a cigarette tied to a chair and he refused it because he felt that even taking so much as a cigarette would be legitimizing in some way, what they were doing to him and he tells me actually twenty five years later he has not smoked since so that was the one good thing that came out of this experience. But Michael nurtured this hatred, this anger over what was happening to him and he fought his captors everyday, he was captive he used his knowledge of Farsi and the culture to insult and humiliate and annoy and aggravate his captors and you'll read about it in this book and everyday you can imagine and in consequence was kept in solitary confinement, was beaten frequently and was loathed by the Iranians. Twenty years later when I was interviewing these Iranian hostage takers, I would ask them about which of the Americans did they remember and you know what? The one they all remembered was Metrinko. And I could tell they were talking about him even though they were speaking to me through a translator because they would kind of slow it down and I would hear Metrinko, you know Masoumeh Ebtekar who was the very annoying, hostage takers spokesperson, who later became a vice president of Iran told me that Metrinko hated and was hated in return and he carried this to the point where on the final day, on the last day when they loaded all the hostages on buses and took them to the airport, he picked a fight with the guards on the bus and was hauled of the bus and beaten and again, one last time and as the bus pulled away, and Michael said he thought he maybe had pushed his anger routine a little too far, but they out him in a car and took him to the airport and a little bruised and scrapped they put him on the plane with everyone else. Now when Michael came back as and this is also true of Tom Ahern, the CIA station chief, they never talked about their experiences, they went right back to work. Both of them had long and distinguished careers in the foreign service and in the intelligence service. In fact, I just got an email from Michael about a month or two ago from him where he's living in a tent in Afghanistan working as a translator for American forces in that country, so he is a truly remarkable person and I'm thrilled that in this book, finally Michael's story is told. That's the first and I think the most significant layer of this three layer cake. The second is the story of the rescue mission which deserves its own book. As truly one of the most audacious, boldest military missions ever undertaken in American military history, there are certainly I think probably, you could probably find equally audacious military missions in American history, but this one given the fact that the whole world was watching, that it was really all of our eggs in one basket so to speak meant that when it failed, it certainly became the most spectacular failure in the history of the U.S. military. And when you read this story of how this mission was cobbled together from the beginning when Carter asked his military advisors what can, what will I do or what can I do if the Iranians start executing these hostages, you know, what capability do we have and the answer was next to nothing. Tehran was so far away from any friendly military base or even an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf that projecting a small force into Tehran to accomplish this rescue and getting everyone safely out of Iran was a very, very tall order. Bucky Burruss who was the Deputy Commander of Delta Force actually briefed the Generals of the Pentagon, Generals and Admirals the day after the take over with this mandate, what will you do if the President orders you to go try to rescue the hostages and the best they could come up with on day 2 was that they would parachute Delta Force into the outskirts of Tehran, they would literally hijack vehicles off of the road, they would throw the drivers out, drive the trucks into the middle of the city, fight their way onto the compound, rescue the hostages, throw them on the vehicles and fight their way five hundred miles to the Turkish border, presumably with close air support. Bucky began this briefing with the line, "Obviously we don't want to do this." But it was all they had to offer. Over the next three or four months the various branches of the military cobbled together a what I call a Rube Goldberg contraption of a mission which combined men and equipment and helicopters and tactics from various units that were not used to working with one another to conduct what was an extraordinarily complicated and difficult mission. It was a mission that I think even the most optimistic estimates by the people who went on it, had maybe a twenty, thirty percent chance at most of success. And yet, these men went on it and they weren't suicidal, they are the kind of men who if you tell them you have a ten percent chance of success, think those are reasonably good odds that they can pull it off. I actually met a fellow like this, he, he flew a glider plane in the invasion of Normandy, which is really one of the most brave roles that anyone played in that engagement and he said that a couple days before they went on that mission, his commanding officer got his men together and told him that they wanted to give him an opportunity to back out if they wanted to because they really didn't really expect that, that he thought that maybe three out of four of them were never gonna make it back. And so I asked this guy, "Well how did that make you feel?" and he said, "Well I felt really bad for those other three suckers who weren't gonna make it back." So this is kind of the mentality of the men who go on these missions. They knew that there was a good chance that they'd end up stranded in the city of Tehran so they learned how to hot wire cars and they memorized the route out of the city. They memorized the maps to get themselves to the closest border. Some of them even knew where jewelry stores were on their way out of the city, so they could raid the jewelry stories and grab gold and silver and diamonds to bribe people with on their way out of the country. The story of this rescue mission, which failed in its very early stages, is one of the most remarkable, I think, in a modern, certainly modern American history. And in this book, for the first time, it's told through the eyes of many of the participants, the Delta Force officers, soldiers, the air force pilots and crews, the marine helicopter pilots, it's truly an amazing story. We excerpted a piece of it in the Atlantic Monthly, so maybe those of you who have not read the book you have seen that part of it. But it was, that's my second layer of this story. The third and final layer of the book is the story of Jimmy Carter and his administration and his presidency I would have to say with the possible exception of LBJ is the only American presidency that was really brought down by a single foreign policy issue or problem. And Carter, for better or worse, made the decision early on to equate the safety and the lives of these Americans who were being held hostage in Tehran with our national pride and our image around the world because that what were talking about in this story. We're not talking about a vital threat to the Untied States. The fact that fifty to sixty Americans are being held hostage in Tehran is a galling and humiliating experience for the United States, but it is not a threat to our national security. And so Carter struggled to deal with this problem at the level that it deserved to be dealt with and he's, and as I said he equated the fate of these Americans being held hostage with whatever perception there was of American strength in the region and he had on his own staff, real divisions of opinion about how to handle it. He had Zbigniew Brzezinski as his national security advisor who had grown up in Europe during World War II and was very hard headed about the importance of national prestige, national power who was far more inclined to conclude that sacrificing the lives of these American hostages was a terrible thing, but it was worse to let the United States basically be held hostage and humiliated in this way by the country of Iran. The other extreme was Cyrus Vance who was the Secretary of State for whom many of these hostages worked. These were his employees in a sense. He knew many of them personally, he knew their families and he's the one who invited all the families of the hostages to Washington for a periodic briefings on how this, the whole situation was being handled. Brzezinski wouldn't go to those meetings because he didn't want to be influenced by the emotion of, of the families who were so concerned about their loved ones so Carter walked this very difficult line between these two poles even inside his own administration and he tried everyway imaginable to get this crisis resolved. He went to the UN which issued pronouncements, he went to our allies who issued pronouncements and finally he negotiated or opened up back channel negotiations with Iranians who he thought were in a position to help. The elected president of Iran, Abolhassan Banisadr, and the foreign minister of Iran, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, with whom he actually made a deal to get the hostages released only to have the Ayatollah pull the rug out from under it at the last minute. So every avenue that Carter attempted he was thwarted until finally he realized that he was in a position of either waiting to see what Iran was going to do with these hostages or act and he decided at that point to send, to authorize this rescue mission, which failed disastrously. It's interesting to contemplate how different history or even our own history would be if that mission had been successful. I think almost certainly Carter would have been re-elected so is was a critical turning point in the history of the world in the history of our country certainly and also in the history of our military because the failure of that rescue mission prompted the creation of today's special operations community which has become such a big and important part of our military. I'll tell you one more little story and then I'll answer the questions we have, going over my time. One of the perceptions that I gained in my travels to Iran is how unpopular this mullah regime is in that country. Twenty five years after the revolution in my experience, most Iranian are not happy with the way it's turned out and there's plenty of hard evidence to support that conclusion. But you run into anecdotal evidence of it all the time. One of the things that we did in addition to this book, is we've created a four hour long documentary film which will air on the Discovery-Times channel beginning on June 26th and the Discovery-Times channel sent a photographer over to take some promotional pictures of me and I was posed on the sidewalk in Tehran in front of a wall-sized mural of the Ayatollah Khomeini and as I was standing there an Iranian walking by on the sidewalk said in perfect English, "What do you want a picture of that asshole for?" And I assumed he wasn't talking about me. Thank you very much. Q&A